By Hannah Rankine
hen I worked in a women’s clothes store alongside university, we were expected to deliver a certain caliber of personal service in the fitting rooms. I enjoyed my time at this station, chatting to women, getting to know them if only for a short while and helping them feel confident in their appearance. Worst case scenario I was bored and tired if the interactions weren’t stimulating. On one occasion, however, I was left drawing the curtain, instead to conceal myself, as I burst into tears.
The lady I had assisted was looking for a dress to wear to a party. I complimented her as the dress fitted well. She pulled and tugged at the modest V-neck, attempting to close the gap of absent fabric across her chest. I asked her what it was that she didn’t like about it so that I could find a suitable alternative for her. The customer let go of the neckline and revealed a scar obviously from a mastectomy. “I can’t have this showing. It’s so ugly and I don’t want everyone to stare.” She left the shop without a dress; the process was overwhelming for her, she explained before departing.
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“There is a double standard when it comes to how we view scars. On men they are stoic, heroic, the mark of admirable survival. On women they are a defect, a flaw.”
There is a double standard when it comes to how we view scars. On men they are stoic, heroic, the mark of admirable survival. On women they are a defect, a flaw. Mastectomies aren’t the only way to obtain the lumpy tissue; caesarians, appendicitis, netball, cooking, mole removal, self-harming, growing upwards and outwards and gaining stretch marks. They are not rare but they are unique. Should we hide them, disguise them, have them surgically shrunken? Gloria Steinem poses that scars and marks from birth show courage without violence. In contrast the more admirable scars from accidents at war, glorify it. That double standard serves us no favour.
I’ve never seen a scar on another woman and felt distaste for it. On the contrary, my own have brought me to tears. I have an amalgamation of marks on both my knees from tarmac and AstroTurf. These don’t faze me at all. However there are five horizontal lines, bulbous, that lay across my left wrist. These have caused me much distress and self-consciousness. I was seventeen when I made the incisions into my own flesh. I had many other manifestations of my poor mental health and I only tried this once, before realising it wasn’t for me. Nevertheless I bear the marks of this pursuit for relief forever. I used to daydream about having them removed surgically.
“Even if I am a vivaciously happy and confident woman now, it may not have always been that way. And that’s okay for people to know; in fact I’d dare to say it is good for people to know.”
My father isn’t well versed in the realms of mental health. Yet he gave me a surprising answer when I voiced my brainstorm. “No one worth your attention will care about them, or let it affect how they view you, and anyone who does you shouldn’t waste your time on.” Yes, Dad. You are right. It's been over a decade since I required a bandage on my wrist. I no longer care if anyone notices them.
They have acted as a way for people struggling to feel safe being honest with me. They have been conversation starters for serious, deep, beautiful discussions. Even if I am a vivaciously happy and confident woman now, it may not have always been that way. And that’s okay for people to know; in fact I’d dare to say it is good for people to know. Not hiding parts we don’t like about ourselves has a positive effect on the collective. Casting prudishness aside and being vulnerable amongst others’ bare bodies helped widen my appreciation and acknowledgement of the human form.
This happened most notably on a girl’s holiday to Spain. Four of us stayed in a friend’s parent’s villa in a quiet town. We didn’t have much to do, or much money to do anything, and we were more focused on our tan, what music was playing and comparing sex stories than we were in seeing the sights. That week the four of us only put clothes on for our evening outing. Our tans were even, our bodies exposed, differing from one another but united in ease. Big boobs, small boobs, uneven boobs, scarred boobs, flat tummies, flat bottoms, sticky out tummies, sticky out bottoms; it was all there.
By day five I was so uninhibited I felt a shift in my soul. I purposefully commented on this and thanked the friend who had encouraged me to feel free. I told her I’d never felt so at home in my skin and it was down to their attitudes to their own bodies that I was able to feel that way too. I loved them and I could see their unique beauty regardless of their shape, form and dress size and it made me apply the same attitude to my own being. I came to love myself as I love my friends.
I’ve had a chronic illness that put me in a wheelchair. My recovery took two years. Since then I regularly give thanks to my legs. I love my tattoos dearly (even my tramp stamp!) and contrary to my mate’s mum’s belief, I do not fear what they will look like when I’m older. When my tattoos are old, I’ll be old too. I even love my scars. They remind me of what I’ve accomplished in the last decade and that hard work does pay off.
Our natural form, our scars, our tattoos are visual representations of the path we’ve trodden, the obstacles we’ve overcome and our triumphs that preceded today. By loving ourselves it helps teach our sisters that differences exist. I don’t hide my body, I embrace it. Most importantly of all, though, I don’t think too much about what it looks like. I’ve got bigger fish to fry. I’ve got an education to obtain, a business to run, books to read, equal rights movements to march for, health to pursue, fun to be had and wrinkles from laughing to earn. This body of mine enables me to do all these things and more. Thanks bod.
When men’s scars are seen as heroic, women’s are seen as unattractive. Hannah Rankine unpacks for The Stack.
By Hannah Rankine
The ‘Pure O’ or ‘purely obsessional’ type of OCD is characterised by distressing, intrusive thoughts and mental rituals to cope with them. Rae Elliman shares her experience of living with – and learning to manage – these hidden compulsions