'My body is soft. My curves are generous. My clothes are snug, and my breasts are noticeable. My chin is round. My belly is plump. My arms are expansive. Yes, I have a fine road map of stretch marks, and no baby to blame them on. My body reflects my experience and the fine
meals I have shared with family and friends.'
(I am a Fat Girl zine, issue three: 13)
The above was a quote I used when I was writing my MA dissertation. I’d highly recommend the series of zines it came from, which can be found at this etsy shop.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about histories lately. This has come from further self-reflection, spending time thinking about my own body, and the parts of it I show and the parts of it I don’t. I’ve also become interested in fat bodies and marked bodies as corporeal histories, and how this is represented as threatening by society, because as people (particularly as women I guess) we’re supposed to be unmarked - we’re supposed to aspire to look clean and new, as if we’ve never fluctuated in size, taken part in physical activity, fallen over or, realistically, left the house!
I’m a marked person - scarred (both accidentally and intentionally), with stretch marks, cellulite and varicose veins. I’m lumpy and bumpy, and I can’t claim to have a body of smooth feminine lines.
To elaborate a little further with a case study: I have varicose veins around the back of my calfs, just below my knees. I wanted to photograph them for this post, but sadly my laptop is still fucked - in any case, they’re sizeable, bumpy and blue, and they’re noticeable whenever I wear a skirt. They’re something that I’ve known to run in my family, and something I despised when I was younger. I remember first noticing them about the time I was 14 - about the time I began inspecting my body in more detail. They were something I knew well from my relatives, so I knew they were there to stay.
I was really ashamed of these marks. To me, I associated them with coming from a family who worked on their feet - which I know to make them protrude more and colour more. I grew up ashamed of my working class roots, largely because I came of age in a middle class suburb, around friends who never seemed to struggle or have to work or walk anywhere. Now, I’m proud of the estate I grew up on, but back then, my roots were something I tried to hide. I felt that the marks betrayed me, somehow, which I know sounds absurd, but they made me feel more different than I already was, and they connected me, physically, to a history I didn’t want to claim. I dressed for these veins - everything I owned had to cover them. No one ever mentioned them (in fact, only two people have ever brought them up with me, both recently), but because I noticed them, I couldn’t let anyone else see them. They made me feel vulnerable, and different, and I guess to an already insecure teenager with militant defense mechanisms, it made sense to cover them.
Two things changed to make me stop doing this - firstly, I realised that I didn’t care about these marks on other people. Actually, in all truth I realised that I liked them - that I found them attractive in other people, and that as such I was applying double standards to the way I looked at my own body. The qualities that I perceived as weaknesses, imperfections and faults were unique differences on others. This is something I later learnt to apply when I thought about my fat - why was I letting it control how I viewed myself, when it made so little difference when I looked at others? Secondly, I guess I decided that I wasn’t going to let me enjoyment of anything (clothes, spaces etc) be hampered by a set of veins that I couldn’t even see! The back of my leg was not going to control my wardrobe preferences.
Your body is a history - it’s a visual representation of where you came from, where you’ve been, how you’ve felt and who you have become. It’s one of a kind, and those differences are what make it unique. Don’t be ashamed of your experiences. Think of your stretch marks as tiger stripes, your varicose veins and scarring as a landscape. Next time you look at yourself in a mirror, or next time you talk about them, change your vocabulary. Speak about them as part of you, rather than as a dissociative, abject substance. Just as your past has shaped who you are, so has it shaped your body. Don’t be ashamed of this.
Also, for more skin related thoughts, check out the tumblr Our Skin, which is really super awesome. /end rant