I have many, many scars. And I’m not talking the psychological kind, but physical scars formed after a wound hasn’t healed properly. Each tells a different story. The one on my right calf, for example, is long and pale, shaped like the tooth of a dragon. I got it on holiday as a child, having been overly enthusiastic in my ability to jump over a stone bench. Mum had to bandage my leg with napkins from a nearby restaurant. She occasionally mentions how much she regrets not having it properly sewn up. She seems to hate the fact that I now have to live with a pretty obvious blemish, but I kind of like it. I used to tell people at school that I had been bitten by a shark while swimming in the ocean and, being seven-year-olds, they all believed me. It made me feel dangerous, exciting, like a pint-sized badass. Now I hardly think of it – it has become as much a part of me as the lines on the palms of my hands.
I have another scar beneath the fingernail of my right index finger. It is almost invisible, but I can still feel it if I press my fingers together really hard – a rough callous under the skin. I got this one after accidentally shutting my hand in the car door on the way to school. Admittedly, not my finest moment. Yet I was a hero in class that day and had to wear a bandage that made it look like I’d broken my wrist. It felt good, even exhilarating. Not in a masochistic, self-destructive way, but in a way that made me feel tough. This was the kind of physical damage that said I’d been through some shit and come out the other side – a feeling we don’t often get to indulge in, having moved past an age where battle scars are commonplace.
There are many others, of course, ranging from tiny white marks to much larger blemishes, all proclaiming to anyone who cares to look that this is a body that has lived. Experienced the world. Had some good times, and some bad ones too.
there are the
scars on my face.
They are not very large - some people may even say that they are imperceptible. In many ways I am lucky; they could have been much worse. But they are scars nevertheless, and they will never go away. These scars aren’t glamorous. I didn’t acquire them saving someone from a burning building, or battling a particularly ferocious sea-monster. No, their origin is mundane, almost boring. I got them from a severe bout of acne in my early twenties - acne I had for only a few months, but whose markings will stay with me forever. For some reason, I am less enthusiastic about these scars. Perhaps it’s because they’re on my face. Perhaps it’s because they don’t comply with current beauty standards. Maybe it’s because when I look at them I think about how my body is a mistake. How it may have been a defect in my genetic makeup which caused them, and how that somehow makes me less of a person because it means that I am less than perfect.
I know that thinking this way is self-indulgent, and yet I can’t stop myself from doing so. So many people have acne scars or facial imperfections. Pretty much everyone has a bit of their body that they don’t like, or an aspect of themselves they wish they could change. So many people are scared of their appearance altering, fluctuating over time. Afraid at the scars they might accumulate, the wrinkles that will begin to form, the hair that will start to fall out. We can say that beauty is skin deep all we like but that doesn’t make us believe it.
There is no perfect solution to this problem of beauty. But I can’t help but feel that it is the stories we tell ourselves about the way we look that are to blame. When we see our blemishes as markers of our failure to live up to an impossible standard of perfection, rather than as emblems of beauty in their own right, we become complicit in a reductionist system which perceives only certain bodies as attractive. Perhaps, after all, my acne scars aren’t so different from the other scars on my body that I have learned to accept. They, too, can be markers of courage rather than inadequacy. They can be a story of overcoming the emotional weight that accompanies that feeling of being unbeautiful. The story of these scars can be rewritten as a story not of imperfection, but strength.
I may not love all of my scars, but they do say something about me, even the scars on my face. They say that this is a body that I am not ashamed of. That this is a body I respect enough to send out into the world and let it do things, experience things, without the fear that it will be irrevocably changed just by the process of living. It will be changed, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing or something to be afraid of, because that change tells a story. A story of overcoming. And perhaps, in the end, there is nothing more beautiful.
Words: Sophia Rahim
Editor: Amira Umar