Why can’t stretch marks just be stretch marks?
On body “branding” and misinformation.
Photo by Max van den Oetelaar on Unsplash
There’s a TikTok video of a young guy addressing his contemporaries about why they need to “grow up” about things they could encounter with women in their lives. Grow up about period blood, he demands of the fellas. Grow up about body hair, he proclaims–these things are normal!
He mentions stretch marks, too. “Tiger stripes,” he playfully calls them. Tell ‘em, I say, as a woman who has stretch marks all over her body from suddenly growing several inches and cup sizes at age 12, and from gaining weight quickly later in life. Yes, they’re normal.
I just wish we didn’t have to call them tiger stripes.
The urge to sassily or cutely “rebrand” body attributes is understandable when those attributes have been insulted. If you’ve felt ashamed about your stretch marks et al., you might be tempted to call them something more palatable. This strikes me, though, as the blue liquid in period product commercials of language–why do we have to couch it? Why can’t the liquid just be red? Why can’t stretch marks just be stretch marks?
In addition to tiger stripes, I’ve also seen cellulite called “fancy fat” and upper-lip hair called “angel hair.” As someone who has cellulite, a dark lady-mustache courtesy of my Italian forefathers, and stretch marks, these twee terms don’t soothe me; they make me feel patronized and somehow marketed to, like a girlboss lurks ‘round the bend ready to sell me a Fancy Fat Smoothing Loofah, Angel Hair Bleaching Cream, or Tiger Stripe Taming Tonic. Pass.
Your mileage may vary, but my idea of body acceptance, neutrality, or positivity isn’t predicated on twisting the narrative of what things actually are–if some troll pointed out my cellulite, I wouldn’t feel compelled to say, “Pardon you, but that’s my fancy fat!” I’d say, “That’s cellulite, it’s a thing that people of all body types have, and it’s fine.”
The more energy we put into rebranding these normal, neutral body things, when we exclaim that, No, they’re not that gross thing, they’re something else!, the more it feels like we can’t accept them ourselves–and isn’t that the point of these movements?
Some body rebrands are based on misinformation. I’ve come across a couple instances of influencers insisting that the “lower belly pouch” or the “bump at the bottom of your stomach” is the uterus. It’s not. It might be fat.
It is in my case, see?
I even took it out of my pants for ya.
As the doctor in the second linked article explains: “Unless you’re pregnant or have [fibroids], you can’t feel your uterus in your tummy. It’s usually only 3-4 inches long and is tucked away inside your pelvis.”
I don’t think people need to GET REAL about how FAT they are and LOSE that GROSS POUCH. I think that instead of saying, “It’s OK that your stomach isn’t flat because that’s your uterus ,” we could be saying, “It’s OK that your stomach isn’t flat.” Full stop.
I’m not going to tell you I haven’t wished my pouch of fat didn’t exist. To lose it, I’d have to shed probably another 15 or more pounds. I’m not doing that. The pouch stays, along with a great many things about my body that have driven me nuts: I lost around 70 pounds so I now have some saggy skin. I have a belly button area I can only describe as “frowning in disappointment.” I have breasts that were once the size of my head and are now a modest C-cup full of a fair bit of loose boob skin–another charming post-weight loss thing no one tells you about! Everyone’s got their pictures of them standing in one leg of their old pants, but no one’s posting the snaps of the loose boob skin! Loose boob erasure!
Sometimes these things bother me, but I want all bodies–and parts of bodies–to be acknowledged and accepted even in their explicit, unglamorous truth, so I must accept my own most of the time. If at age 32 I wish I didn’t have a belly pouch, I dunno, 8 percent of the time, that’s a big improvement from the younger me who wanted to change almost every single thing about my body almost 100 percent of the time. Growth.
I know it can be difficult to wrap our heads around accepting body weight or body fat-related things. I’d wager there’s just more complicated baggage for some of us around fat and weight than there is around even periods and body hair–I got comfortable with calling it my Period-with-a-capital-P instead of “the monthly visitor” or whatever long before I got comfortable with the fat on my body. This kind of work is hard. I just think we have to run at it.
You don’t have to do that by somehow deciding to love parts of your body if you really don’t. You can just notice body attributes and say, “OK. There that is.” Just see them as things. Think of them like the top part of your ear, or your palms, or your shins, or whatever other body parts give you no aesthetic agita at all. It might take some time.
Or it might just take getting a little older–one of the finer features of staggering ever closer toward my mid-30s is that I just don’t care about some body things anymore. Saggy boobs, stretch marks, loose skin, fat deposits, frowny belly buttons–them’s the breaks when your body changes or just exists, and the fellas and anyone else who ever sees any part of my body will, in fact, have to grow up about it. I already have.
Tell me: What body thing do you not love, but accept? Am I wrong, and the body rebrands are helpful for you? I’d love to know either way.
Great post. I have stretch marks/loose skin from Binge Eating Disorder. For me, I think of it more like scar tissue (I mean, it is...). It helps me with the narrative around it in my own head: something negative happened (BED), it caused damage (scars), and now it's part of my story. People calling it Tiger Stripes at best triviailises it and at worst glamourises it.