Photo by Megan Elemans.
Written by Anjuli Smith.
Being able to take all of the things society has told us aren’t beautiful about ourselves and turning them into motivation for self-care is the closest thing to having a superpower. Embracing all of the things that make us who we are, and not being ashamed or afraid to show the world, is the best and truest way to create happiness inward and outward, as is using your scars and turning them into proud battle wounds—which is very specific to my story.
When I was 17 years old, I got pregnant. It was something that wasn’t “supposed” to happen to someone like me, as my parents kept telling me. Given these circumstances, and given how stubborn I was, I had the baby. You know how 17-year-olds are, seeing the world through rose-colored glasses and thinking that they know the answers to life’s hard questions. Ha! If only my 27-year-old self was there to tell me different. (Would I have listened? Probably not.) I gave the baby up for adoption. It was the right choice, and as someone who was adopted herself, I am sure of that now.
After having the baby, my body changed forever. I was told, “You’re young! You’ll bounce back!” Bounce back I did not. With the drastic change to my hormones came a drastic change to my body. I have stretch marks all over, loose skin around my belly, and my areolas are huge. All of the things that society does not show you after someone has a child were suddenly staring back at me in the mirror. It became hard to cope with the fact that this was the way I would look forever.
I gave the baby up for adoption. It was the right choice, and as someone who was adopted herself, I am sure of that now.
At first, I furiously worked out and counted calories, thinking that if I lost the baby weight, somehow the scars would miraculously disappear. They didn’t. After months of that, and more months of googling plastic surgery payment plans and miracle creams that allegedly got rid of stretch marks, I realized, Wow, these are all scams that brainwash women into not owning their bodies. This is my body, and the only one I’ve got, so I’d better learn to love it.
Instead of looking in the mirror, trying to imagine what I would look like without my scars, I looked in the mirror and thought, Fuck it. You’re you and you’re beautiful. You’ve got two choices in this life: love the body that you’re in or spend it trying to meet the needs of others.
I chose the former. It started with Post-it notes everywhere—little affirming messages wherever I went, because seeing it is the first step to believing it. I also taught myself that society can go fuck itself. The first step to that is realizing that our inner critics are actually outside voices that have been internalized as our own.
With my newfound acceptance of my skin came the crop tops and the short shorts, the glares and the whispers from strangers—and the sex. (The protected sex, I might add.) Being intimate with a new person is so vulnerable, I knew I had to become confident in my own skin first. As a naturally private person, that was hard, and it was extremely uncomfortable at first. The last thing I wanted to do was tell some person I was about to have sex with about the most defining moments of my life—to explain to them I have the body of a mother, but the only person I was mothering was myself. With my story being written on my stomach and my breasts and my inner thighs, it was kind of hard to ignore. To be able to lay all of yourself out there for someone without knowing what the reaction will be is never not scary.
I use my body and scars as a segue to building honest and transparent relationships. At first I thought I was forced to lay it all out for a prospective partner, and I hated it. Now, I see it as a blessing, and each time it gets easier and easier. When meeting someone new, I am honest about my intentions and about who I am. That automatically gives me a much stronger sense of self.
“I encourage partners to run their fingers along the divets in my tummy and ask me questions about how my body is this amazing vessel that once created life before I continued to live mine.”
I think my stretch marks and my loose skin are sexy. It’s fun, it’s human, and it’s what makes me me. I encourage partners to run their fingers along the divets in my tummy and ask me questions about how my body is this amazing vessel that once created life before I continued to live mine. I still get nervous before I undress in front of someone—I think that’s only natural. But life is just one big series of us saying, “Fuck it.”
It’s critical in one’s journey to self-love to radically care for the vessel that has gotten you this far. Society tells us we have to look and act a certain way to sustain a specific lifestyle that isn’t even real. The images and videos we see in mainstream media, on Instagram, or plastered on the sides of subways are not real, either. That is the empire of illusion, and the first step of tearing that down is embracing our scars, our bodies, our choices, and our minds. Overcoming our setbacks is hard but, dammit, it’s worth it. Grab your tummy and grab your thighs and love every inch of you that’s pulsing with blood and water and feelings. Dance in front of a mirror naked and revel at the parts that jiggle and hop and move in sync with you. Have wild, fierce, and tender sex and lose all inhibitions. Doing this has helped me grow into a badass, unapologetic woman, and there’s really not much sexier than owning what makes you you.
Anjuli Smith is a 27 year old California native who is currently based in Chicago. She is a writer, an activist, and proud cat mama who spends her time navigating new cities and the romance that comes along with that. When she’s not writing, you can find her lounging in a patch of sunlight at a park, somewhere in the city.