Even though it's estimated that 80 percent of Americans have stretch marks, those familiar lines on our tummies and inner thighs still receive a lot of unnecessary attention — and discovering how to love your stretch marks subsequently becomes even more difficult. I've had stretch marks since junior high, and over the years I've come across many a stretch mark "expert," selflessly offering unsolicited advice about natural ways to get rid of stretch marks or dropping some serious knowledge about what causes stretch marks. While I'm sure we can all agree that it's interesting to hear other people's ideas about how to "fix" our bodies, it would be nice if everyone could take a 2007 Chris Crocker stance and leave stretch marks alone.
"What's the problem with making comments about other people's stretch marks?" you ask. Well, aside from being generally icky and wading into the deep end of the nacho business realm, it furthers the bogus sense of entitlement we feel to point out things — and attempt to "correct" things — we see on other people's bodies. Whether it's acne scars, cellulite, freckles or stretch marks, our jurisdiction for curing or concealing what we perceive as flaws begins and ends with ourselves. Just because you can spy someone's stretch marks with your little eyes doesn't mean you should share your mother's homemade stretch mark remedy or jump to conclusions about where those stretch marks came from. Flaws are not universal, but respect should be, so can we let everyone live and stop saying these things to ladies with stretch marks, please?
1. “I thought you only got stretch marks when you have a baby.”
This is probably the most frustrating misconception about stretch marks. Stretch marks don’t only result from pregnancy, and they’re not even exclusive to women. According to Mayo Clinic, what causes stretch marks, besides pregnancy, is weight gain, medication use (mainly steroids), and certain diseases (like Cushing’s Syndrome and adrenal gland diseases).
Most commonly, anytime you’re experiencing rapid growth where your skin can’t keep up, stretch marks will be a possibility. That includes everything from going from an A cup to a D cup during puberty, gaining 20 pounds freshman year of college, or being pregnant with twins. Stretch marks can also result from muscle growth, because that counts as weight gain, too. If you’ve ever checked out the hardcore lifters at the gym, you may notice some of them have stretch marks on their biceps or calves. Stretch marks are not exclusive to having a bun in the oven.
2. “It’s too bad stretch marks ruined your body.”
Can we stop talking about things “ruining” our bodies? No one should ever feel like the body they wake up in every morning is ruined just because of some lines on their skin, regardless of what caused them. If you look in the mirror with the mindset that your body is damaged, that negative mentality is going to do much more harm to your confidence. Even though many of us have mixed feelings about having them, there’s nothing about stretch marks that makes them inherently ugly or embarrassing. Even more importantly, no one should ever presume to know what’s “ruined” someone else’s body.
3. “Why do you have those?”
Involving a fairy’s curse or a harrowing tale of survival would make stretch marks a lot more interesting to talk about, but most of the time the origin story of a woman's stretch marks is pretty average. Maybe she had a baby, gained weight, lost weight, or started hitting the gym more aggressively. Whatever the reason, stretch marks aren't rare, and we shouldn't treat them like some mystical force that only strikes once every hundred years. Curiosity can be polite, but shock and disgust can feel really brutal.
4. “I used to have horrible stretch marks, too. Thank goodness they faded.”
For ladies who are insecure about their stretch marks, the good news is that stretch marks fade as time passes, but whether they’re prominent, red striae, or the subtle, white marks that have gotten less noticeable with age, we shouldn't concern ourselves with whose stretch marks look better. Stretch marks are stretch marks. They’re only unsightly if we think they’re unsightly and treat them as such. Don’t put your stretch marks — or anyone else’s — on a pedestal.
5. “Getting stretch marks is my biggest fear about getting pregnant.”
Most people associate stretch marks with having a baby, but before I was anywhere near thinking about the possible changes my body might undergo during a pregnancy, I developed stretch marks on my thighs and boobs at 13. Maybe living with stretch marks for more than a decade has desensitized me to that initial feeling of horror I felt when those lines appeared on my body, but I can’t help but get a little miffed when people talk about stretch marks like they’re monsters lurking beneath your skin just waiting to sabotage your tummy, especially relative to something as empowering as being pregnant.
It took years to get to the point where I was no longer embarrassed by people seeing that I have stretch marks, but I truly believe the more you think stretch marks are ugly and horrible, the harder it will be to live with them if they show up on your skin. Pregnancy causes a lot of changes to a woman’s body, but if you look at what women really look like after giving birth, I think you’ll find we’re every bit as gorgeous and glowing post-baby as we were pre-baby. There’s beauty in growth and in change; don’t forget that.
6. "Don't you want them gone?"
I think a lot of people with stretch marks have wished — at least once — to banish those lines and go back to being stripe-free. It's like anything else that appears on your body without your consent. I wasn't always so chill about my freckles or the weird bumps that appear on my chin when my mouth is closed because my upper lip is too short, either. But no matter what the Internet promises, you usually can't completely get rid of stretch marks entirely once you have them.
The appearance of stretch marks may "improve" over time, and buying those specially-formulated moisturizers or bathing in Vitamin E may make a difference, but I think it's harmful to make your confidence contingent on getting back to the way you used to look rather than finding a way to accept and love your present self. Take a note from the Love Your Lines Instagram account, which celebrates stretch marks of all kinds with powerful black and white photography. It's not cool to ask people why they aren't trying to get things off their own bodies, and it's okay to be okay with your stretchies!
7. "You know you can cover those up, right?"
I'm sure with the right combination of concealer, foundation, and fabric, it's entirely possible to keep your stretch marks hidden 24/7, but that doesn't mean you should. Accepting stretch marks definitely takes time, but it categorically never feels good to receive unsolicited advice from people making you aware that you can totally hide something that’s on your body. Deciding the parts of yourself that you cover up and the parts of yourself that you bare is solely up to you. As individuals, we have no right to check in with someone else to figure out why they aren't hiding parts of their body. Besides, if Chrissy Teigen shows her stretch marks on Instagram, we can definitely face the shaders.
Images: Chrissy Teigen/Instagram; Giphy