My Body Tells A Story: Embracing my Scars and Imperfections By Michele Stopera Freyhauf

As we approach New Years Eve, there is an emphasis on losing weight, getting in shape, etc. in the coming Year.  We make resolutions to better ourselves and reflect on the year that passed us by.  With the impending New Year, there is also a realization that we become a year older, which for some means more grey hair, wrinkles, or other marks that appear on our body.  It is safe to say that we live in a world that is obsessed with body image and the search to find the fountain of youth.  In fact, TV is plagued with reality shows that perpetuate this obsession.  Keeping up with the Kardashians displays such a problem.  People who watch this show watch Kris Jenner’s facelift to her struggle with body image despite the fact that she gave birth to six healthy children and is 56 years young.  There are also shows that show people obsessed, even addicted to plastic surgery – they are trying to attain perfection, attempting to reverse the aging process, and remove the scars of their lives.

As I reflect on this plastic surgery and the body image obsessed culture that we live in I reflect on my own imperfections.  When we are born, we are born relatively mark free.  As we age, marks begin to appear.  As we become older, scars begin to appear because of different incidents in our lives.  They help shape us and serve as a reminder.  For me, it is the scar on my hand from the hot glue gun I used to make floral arrangements for mine and my friends weddings.  The chicken pox scar on my face reminds me of how my mother cared for me and warned me (actually constantly hollered at me) not to scratch or I would have scars – and as usual she was right.  The scar by eyebrow that resulted from my daredevil actions on a swing that caused me to hit a screw that stuck out from the frame.  Then there is scar on my knee and forearm from the moped accident.  The same moped my mother did not want me to have because she did not want me to get hurt,  but gave it to me anyway (until the accident, then it was quickly sold).  Another scar is on the front of my right foot reminds me of last Christmas when I painted and redecorated my daughters rooms as their presents because it was our first year without Santa’ visit and I just had to make it special.  Then there is the round scar in my left arm that once contained a pick-line that fed magnesium through my veins for seven weeks to keep my twin daughters from being born too prematurely.  Also the hernia scar that adorns my right lower hip that resulted from a tear in the muscle that I received from the weight of carrying my daughter during my pregnancy – a muscle that my uterus was permanently attached to in an attempt to preserve my fertility as I fought endometriosis since age 15.  A repair that tore again from the weight of my second daughter.  A scar that became further distorted from the twin pregnancy that came four years later.  The scar is ugly and the stretch marks that came with each pregnancy are forever engrained in my abdomen but I would not change it, hide it, or do anything to remove it.  All of the scars and marks that appear on my body, a once clean canvas, tells a story of my life.  A story that will no doubt be added to as I continue to age.  All of these marks make me who I am, so to reject, hide or alter them is a rejection of who I am.

I am not alone in my viewpoint.  For as many people who strive for perfection, there are role models that also dawn our television sets that embrace their scars – scars for them that indicate survival. A veteran like J. R. Martinez who suffered severe burns all over his body, yet went on to win America’s favor in Dancing with the Stars.  Tina Fey does not hide her scar, a scar that represents violence that she experienced as a child.  It is a part of her and it is part of her beauty.  Her scar represents survival.  Elizabeth Taylor and Catherine Zeta-Jones sport scars from life-saving tracheotomies.  Harrison Ford sports the scar of youthful mis-adventure on his chin, not from treasure seeking or fighting droids in roles he has played as an actor.

In essence, Hollywood is filled with imperfect people with scars and imperfections.  Perfection is a result of airbrushing, spandex, corsets, surgery, etc., something that more people need to see. The illusion of striving for physical perfection can be diminished or even squashed.  In fact, Jamie Lee Curtis is responsible for giving us the first real look of what she looks like without all of the glam and special effects.  What we saw was a picture of a rather ordinary woman, someone that we might work with or see in the grocery store.  In this picture, though,  I believe it emulates Jamie Lee Curtis’s real beauty – raw and imperfect, just like me.

I would me remiss if I did not address the beautiful scars of everyday survivors.  For instance the breast cancer survivor whose scars from a mastectomy tells a brave story of survival.  Even survivors of abuse, crimes, or self-inflicted scars tell a story.  Their body shows a story that may be filled with pain, struggle, and hopefully healing and power.  Scars should not be judged as imperfections, but rather marks of bravery and perseverance.  Is that what the scars of Christ represent?

I believe that those that have scars are in the majority.  In fact, could be we also constitute the 99%?  If we are in the majority, then why do we allow the 1% to dictate how we should look and what perfection looks like?  In this New Year,  I resolve to embrace who I am, in all of my imperfections.  If we are made in the image of God, then how can we not be pictures of beauty and perfection in our own imperfection?  Leonard Cohen said in The Favourite Book (1963)  Children show scars like medals.  Lovers use them as secrets to reveal.  A scar is what happens when the word is made flesh.  What does your scars say and reveal about you?

Michele Stopera Freyhauf:  Feminist scholar, activist, and has her Master of Arts degree from John Carroll.  She is now a graduate student at the University of Akron in the Department of History focusing on Religion, Gender, and Sexuality.  Michele is the student representative on the Board for Eastern Great Lakes Biblical Society (EGLBS) and author of several articles including “Hagia Sophia: Political and Religious Symbolism in Stones and Spolia.”  Michele can be followed on Twitter @msfreyhauf and her website can be accessed here.



Categories: Childbirth, Christianity, Ethics, Family, Feminism, Feminist Awakenings, Feminist Theology, Gender and Sexuality, General, Identity Construction, Motherhood

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6 replies

  1. Dear Michelle, thank you for addressing the positive side of scars. Your courage inspires me to weave in my experience with yours. For me scars appeared with mothering and ecstasy. I was born with the conviction that life was too short and I may not live long enough to experience what I wanted to “learn.” This lead me to experience spirituality from a romantic point of view, and I chose to become pregnant very young. At 15 I felt planets, moons, universes, galaxies, gods and goddesses inside me (after the morning sickness). These experiences, or cosmic pulsations within me, “marked” my life as a spiritual mystic and informed me about the sacredness of every embodied spirit–sound made flesh. I have often wondered how many women have experienced subtle to gross psychological abuses and rejection from their spouses after giving birth, when their bodies change, develop marks or furrows from embracing and making room for life. I also wonder to what extent is the newly coined, and labeled “post-partum depression” (of course, for profit according to the DSM IV) related to a woman’s mourning the passing from one stage of beauty, that which is more external, into other more lasting and resilient beauty internal. The acceptance of who I am which you describe, in spite of the scars that keep appearing can be even more devastating when one has been conditioned to believe that one is only a/the body, and nothing else. Scars liberated me from a kind of facade of invulnerability. After the person whom I loved chose to find me undesirable, I felt like a bird out of the cage of objectivity, no longer anyone’s object of desire, no longer exclusively identified with the surface of the body, which excluded an infinitely more interesting and fulfilling subjectivity. Did the experiences of unity-love with the whole universe lay down a bridge or a continuum evolving the thrill of spirit immanent and transcending body? After the “other” redefined our embodied positions on the basis of scars, I found other definitions of who I am: body of energy, body of sound, body of art and laughter, body of passion and compassion for others… many bodies, many masters, many lives! If I am the body, I am also the flawless bodies born at every moment, as well as the flawed bodies that die before birth. I am woman, I am life and death unto myself. As a woman, sure I have deep scars… the scars of love and of errors, the scars of joy and attachments, and the scars of letting go… Scars can be like a line drawn on water, vulnerability opening and holding compassion. Blessed Holy days!

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  2. Michele,
    As I was reading your post I immediately reflected on the scar left by my three C-sections and that many abdominal surgeries. Now, 27 years since the last birth, my belly has lost its strength to rebound with the firmness I believe should be present. I go back and forth with the desire to have a tummy-tuck with the realization that this is the site that allowed my babies to experience life as opposed to death in the birth canal.

    Maybe my (at times) obsession is driven by the realization that I may be sharing this body with a man who has not traveled with me during my childbearing years. But when I stand in my own truth, I know that that man (whoever he might be) will be the kind of person that sees this imperfection as life-giving and not distortion.

    Thank you for a beautiful and hard to hear truth.
    Cynthie

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  3. I consider the plastic surgery industry to be criminal. In Greece many women have gorgeous big noses and curvy bottoms. Why can’t those be understood as forms of beauty instead of deviations from so-called norms? The feminist movement has failed miserably in its goal to encourgage all women to embrace our bodies as ourselves. Women continue to feel that we are not OK as life has made us. The amount of money women are now spending on unnecessary surgeries could go a long way to ending poverty or saving ecosystems. This morning a beautiful friend arrived at my door with a cap pulled down over her face wearing a surgeon’s mask. She had just come back from Turkey where she had “the flaws” in her face “fixed.” I wanted to scrreeaaammmm!!!! But instead I held my tongue and made her a coffee. What if we all took a pledge not to do it?

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  4. Carol, I agree with you on all accounts. I would love to see more women embrace their own beauty and take that pledge – maybe as a New Years Resolution?

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  5. Cynthie,

    It took me the longest time to accept my body as it transformed from the shape and size of my 20’s to now. What I found is that my husband thinks I am as beautiful today as he did 20 years ago. We have changed together and love is not just about the physical – our partners should be a just that. Someone who journeys with us and embraces the journeys from which we came, that molded and formed us, that made us into the person that they fell in love with – scars and all (visible and invisible). Plus to take that step of acceptance, imagine the message we send our own children not just about body image, but what authentic love is and is not.

    Happy New Year,
    Michele

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  6. Vrinda,

    Thank you for your profound insight. Your reflection on this is poetic and I love the analogies in it. Happy Holidays!

    Michele

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