When my stretch marks popped up, I was in fifth grade. They were on my inner thighs, a dark purple, and I thought for sure they were some sort of varicose veins. At the time, I had never heard of stretch marks, but based on the way my Grammy’s legs looked in the summer, pale, with the same colored lines, stretching across her lower legs like some sort of complicated freeway, I just assumed that’s what I had too. I just had no idea it could happen to someone so young.
For months, I kept my stretch marks to myself, as if they were a dirty secret. I was embarrassed and horrified. But, by the time the summer rolled around, I had to tell my mother. She needed to know that I had inherited that complicated freeway of veins that my Grammy seemed so unembarrassed to display in the summer. Within seconds, and with a bit of a chuckle, my mother confirmed that they weren’t varicose veins, but stretch marks. “You had a growth spurt where you grew five inches in a year,” she explained. “Do you really think your skin could get through such a thing without leaving something behind?” Although my answer was, “yes,” as stretch marks were news to me, my mother explained that most women have stretch marks, adding, “Just wait until after you get pregnant — I mean, talk about stretch marks."
For years, I was horrified by my stretch marks. For the longest time, they were so dark and so obvious and whenever I went to the beach with friends, I walked with my legs pinned together at the knees, so no one could see them. Even though I noticed in high school and college that some of my friends had a few stretch marks on their hips or outer thighs, theirs were white and barely obvious. In fact, the only reason I noticed them was because I was looking for them on others, so I could feel less alone. Yes, this discovery made me feel less alone, but jealous at the same time. How did they get white ones? Marks that were near-invisible and I was cursed with these dark purple ones? Was it some sort of punishment for loathing the color purple as much as I did?
When I finally showed them to my doctor, he told me they’d fade in time. How much time? “It could take up to a few years," he said. At this point, I had already had them for seven years and they hadn’t done a single bit of fading and had actually expanded, spreading even further across the inside of my thighs. I felt as though it wasn't just a curse, but a plague. And, when I started having sex with my first boyfriend when I was 19, the effort it took to hide them was overwhelming and exhausting.
Over time, just like trying to hiding my stretch marks from my first boyfriend for those two years, trying to hide them from everyone else became exhausting, too. While they had started to fade by the time I reached 30, they still hadn’t faded enough to be that white color that I had so admired on my friends — well, as much as one can admire stretch marks. So I started to talk about them with my friends and what I learned was that everyone I knew had them and, yes, even some had the dark purple ones like me. When one of my closest friends lifted up her shirt to show me that her boobs were covered in them, I no longer felt alone. Instead, I felt a sense of camaraderie; we were all in this sea of unwanted stretch marks together. Then when a Google search informed me that as many as 80 percent of people — women and men — have stretch marks, I felt even less alone. I was, to my surprise, in the majority.
Since that realization a few years ago, my stretch marks have faded a bit more, but have also added a few more lines to their crew, as my weight has fluctuated quite a bit in the last couple years. While I no longer try to hide them and I will never say that I love them, I have learned to accept them. I’ve tried to see them as a positive imprint on my skin; a reminder that when I was 11 I was briefly taller than all my friends thanks to the growth spurt, but it just doesn’t work. The only thing that does work is realizing I’m not alone. And, for me, sometimes that’s all it takes.