Thursday night, I was clicking around BuzzFeed and found this article about how stretch marks aren’t that bad and there’s a trend now of women who are taking pictures showing their stretch marks and saying, hey, this isn’t gross or imperfect, almost everybody has these. One would think that a post like this is fairly harmless. One has never been on the internet.
Stretch marks aren’t lovely or ugly. They’re a sign that your insides outgrew your outsides a little too quickly and nothing more. They’re not something to flaunt or cover up. They just exist. I don’t view my stretch marks as scars or badges of honor. This whole “pro body image” thing that has been all over media lately is getting old.
That was one of the first comments I read on the story. This comment is the perfect informational tool, if you ever need to teach someone about the standard format for incendiary internet comments. First, it starts off with a perfectly rational statement of opinion, with some fact:
Stretch marks aren’t lovely or ugly. They’re a sign that your insides outgrew your outsides a little too quickly and nothing more.
Then we get into some dodgy territory:
They’re not something to flaunt or cover up.
The comment has now moved from statement of opinion to judgment of a hypothetical person’s actions, which will never affect the commenter’s life in any way. The commenter isn’t just saying, “I don’t believe my stretch marks are something I would want to flaunt or cover up,” they’re saying, “All stretch marks are not something to flaunt or cover up.”
Then we move back to personal opinion:
They just exist. I don’t view my stretch marks as scars or badges of honor.
Before we land on this whopper:
This whole “pro body image” thing that has been all over media lately is getting old.
A large portion of the comments section on this article take exception not to the existence of stretch marks (although there were comments to that effect, including a mom who said she covers her stretch marks “out of respect for myself and my kids.”), but to the very idea that women would celebrate something they see as a flaw in order to normalize it and feel better about themselves.
This isn’t the first time I’ve noticed these types of objections to people taking a body positivity stand. We see these positions every summer when plus-sized bloggers talk about their experiences on the beach. There was recently a mother who had stretch marks and a saggy tummy who wore a bikini and wrote a think piece about it, and similar comments were made. Somehow, for some reason, a stranger liking their own body is such a powerful, threatening prospect that people can’t stand to let it go by without comment. Why is that? A different commenter gives us insight:
Because when you are satisfied with anything in life you stop trying to make it better [...] Body positivity and delusional ranting aside… making people feel better about things they want to change only temporarily makes them feel better. Get it now?
Feeling good about yourself in spite of flaws you’d like to change (but, in the case of stretch marks, you simply can’t), makes you feel satisfied. And if you feel satisfied, you don’t want to change. And you should never not want to change something about your body. You need to be in a constant state of dissatisfaction with yourself, and always striving for unobtainable perfection, because that’s the life this person has chosen to torture themselves with.
And of course, that commenter goes on the same thread to boast that she has no stretch marks, and tells a woman who doesn’t agree with her, “Enjoy your stretch marks, sweetie,” indicating that, for her at least, the preoccupation we have with policing each others’ bodies isn’t about striving for excellence or health or any sort of philosophical ideal, but ranking each other in terms of worth according to proximity to physical perfection. Our opinions, feelings, and self-worth are invalid if we’re not shaming ourselves into an oblivion of apologies for our imperfect bodies.
It didn’t surprise me that the majority of the negative comments about the stretch mark selfies were coming from people who appeared to be young women who were slender, on the conventionally attractive end of the facial prettiness scale, and made up with cosmetics and styled hair. Yes, I am making a judgement based on appearances here, but stay with me. They have achieved, either through hard work, genetic luck, or camera angles, but most likely a combination of all three, to present themselves to the internet as a woman as close to the traditional western standards of beauty as they can possibly be. They have put on make up, dyed their hair, posed with their timidly bent index finger resting on their bottom lip like they’re auditioning to be the star of a creepy 1970′s Love’s Baby Soft ad. They’ve done all of this, and someone else, someone who hasn’t done all of these things, has the audacity to take a photo not just of themselves, but of a flaw that most women cover up, and they’re receiving attention for it. Attention that should rightfully be lavished upon the women crying foul in the comments section. And why do they feel entitled to the prioritization of their beauty over another woman’s? Because we have all been taught that this is not just the social order, but the moral order.
When it comes to our bodies, we are playing Monopoly with friends in a neutral space. The house rules are completely different. Some people want to play with Free Parking. Some people want to ban mortgaging. Some don’t like the three-doubles-and-you-go-jail rule because they don’t play it that way at home. We have some women saying, “I love my body,” some saying, “I don’t love my body,” others saying, “I don’t love your body, but my body is fine,” and others saying, “I love my body, but you don’t get to love yours.” But most often, the dissenters are saying, “I don’t love my body, and you don’t get to love yours, either.”
I do NOT have to love everything about my body and I shouldn’t HAVE to love it all just to fit someone else’s idea of what self-esteem is. I don’t love everything about my body and that’s perfectly fucking fine, because I accept it all and I’m just living my life happily DESPITE what I don’t like, which I think is healthier anyhow
Nobody cares if you love your body. Personally, I would like it if everyone loved their bodies, but I know that’s only true of very few people. I’m comfortable with my body, but there are things I would like to change about it–stretch marks, freckles, ruddiness, acne, the way the nail on my little toe is–and that’s okay. I’m not harming anyone else if I don’t love my little toe. But if I turn my dissatisfaction with that toe into an edict that says you’re not allowed to love your toe, either, does it make my toe more beautiful? What if I tell ten people they have to be unhappy about their toes? At what point does my toe become less offensive to me? Never. It never does. I have to come to terms with that toe, liking it or not liking it, totally independent of other people and their feelings about their toes.
No one in the body positivity movement is saying that you absolutely must share their views when it comes to your body. We’re just asking that you don’t demand we share your view of our bodies. And that’s all it really comes down to.