Learning to love my skin again

The following skin story is by Louise.

The skin we live in is the youngest organ of our bodies, it is so quickly replenished and yet it is still littered with the marks of our past like the words in a journal. We try so desperately to cover them or erase them, but these imperfections on our skin are signs of life, not war wounds to be shamed. They are reminders that we have lived. Flawlessness doesn’t tell stories. Flaws should be worn proudly, each one the reminder of a tale, for better or worse, that make up our own life stories.

Almost all of us have scars, maybe only one, maybe only hidden away in secret crevasses we don’t want to share. Some scars serve only as a reminder of a trauma our minds long to forget but our skin won’t allow. Some are the gateway to fond memories; they remind us of light-hearted childhoods and teenage transgressions. I have a few of those. At an age I don’t remember, but fear was older than seems sensible, I stepped straight into the door of our family’s bathroom and burst a blood vessel in my eyelid – it’s still there today, at 22 years old. A purple line which crosses my skin like a river on a map. It’s hidden from those who don’t already know, but it’s not one I choose to keep secret.

My body has become littered with scars in its short time here. I have twin scars on my hip bones, one brown, one white, from two separate incidents right outside my house. The first of these came by tumbling to the ground at around 7 years old – 15 years on and it still lives to tell its tale. I have little memory of the incident that produced its matching counterpart, but I adore the strange coincidence. Not all scars come with a trauma at all, some are a memory I wear like a tattoo, reminding me of parts of my life that otherwise would be long forgotten. I have scars on my ankle from scaling cliff faces, and one on my foot from the day a schoolboy ran over it with a trolley full of sound equipment.

Our teenage years bring our skin to the forefront of our minds. We’re no longer bumped and bruised from carelessly playing until something bled, we’re frowning in the mirror at spots and hairs which appeared as if out of nowhere on skin which once was soft, and only tainted with dirt and grazes from the playground. When acne arrived at thirteen, I became dangerously obsessed with my skin. My forehead was covered in spots which connected together like constellations, and I despised them. I scrubbed and cleansed and picked and popped anything I felt was imperfect. I desperately wanted to look like the other girls with flawless porcelain skin. I would drag myself out of bed before the sunrise to cover the marks I hated. I used so many artificial moisturisers so my layers of make-up would be smooth, forcing my overwhelmed skin to forget how to produce its own.  I wanted to be beautiful like everyone else. Looking back, I realise we were all wearing masks to cover our skin. We all craved the same idea of beauty. I had no concept of these flaws being a teenage rite of passage, I could only think of them as a hideous curse.

At seventeen, I had a nervous breakdown and suddenly my skin wasn’t important at all. Washing it didn’t matter, covering it didn’t matter, nothing mattered when my nervous system felt like it was on fire. I stopped eating. I lost weight that I couldn’t afford to lose in the first place, and I had no energy for self-care. My skin had never been better. After years of obsession, of forcefully removing or heavily covering any mark I didn’t like, my skin was finally left to breathe.

It flourished; I was miserable.

Five years later, and I’m back on my feet again. My skin maintains an average level of adult acne, redness, bruising and dryness for a person with the level of adrenaline which courses through the vein’s underneath – and I couldn’t be happier. I care for my skin, but I don’t take it for granted. Some days I cover it in makeup like it’s a blank canvas waiting for an artist. Some days I don’t touch it at all, because at my lowest I learnt to be comfortable in the skin I was given. I have been blessed with stretch marks on my thighs, and I couldn’t be more grateful. They tell me that I found my way to health again, that I am once again the shape I ought to be. I have nothing but adoration for my tiger stripes, for they tell the story of my mountain climb back to where I belong.

This year, for the first time in many, I am tanned. My near translucent skin has taken on a golden hue that tells me that I have seen the sun again, in a way I haven’t done for many years. Mosquito bites have speckled my legs and left red, unsightly marks in their place, and again I hold no grudges.

These unsightly marks which adorn my skin remind me of the adventures I have had and the stories I have lived. They remind me that I am finally alive, and for that, I will never look to my imperfections with distain again.

Louise.

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