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The stories our skin tells: Stretch marks, scars, and tattoos


As someone with tattoos, scars, and stretch marks I’m fascinated with the phenomenology of bodily changes, of what we accept, what becomes part of us, and why. (There are also changes that are temporary and they’re interesting too. I’ve written about bruises, for example, in an earlier post and you can read that here.)

For the non philosophers reading the blog, and that would be most of you, phenomenology is about the way things from feel from the inside. The usual dictionary defines it as the study of consciousness and the objects of direct experience. The Stanford Encyclopedia defines the term this way, “Phenomenology is the study of structures of consciousness as experienced from the first-person point of view. The central structure of an experience is its intentionality, its being directed toward something, as it is an experience of or about some object.”

I decided to get my first tattoo in my forties. Why then? Well, for years I’d thought, what if I don’t like it when I’m old? And then it dawned on me, I’m pretty much old now! That was a weirdly liberating thought. I also had a few friends my age die and started to realize that if this was gong to happen now was the time.

I was nervous getting my first tattoo that I’d hate it and spend the rest of my life wishing I hadn’t done it. I knew that was irrational since I spend a lot of time admiring ink on other people. But still, that worry shaped my choice of my first tattoo.

I chose an abstract pattern for a wrist band and it had it inked on my left wrist. I love bracelets but unless they can just stay on, I tend to lose them. I like the idea of tattoos as permanent jewelry. Also, I’d recently stopped wearing a wristwatch and kept looking at my left wrist. And I figured, if I hated it, I could start wearing a watch again. Ever reasonable and practical, that’s me.


The second tattoo was my bike tattoo. You can read about it that here.


And my third is the one I like best, bright green and blue, a celebration of nature. I’ve been looking for a good photo of it, searching all my social media posts, but you can sort of see it here.


And here,


I’ve got an appointment with Anthony Veilleux at True Love later this month for more. Yay! One of the things that fascinates me about them is how very quickly I adjusted to them. I look at old, pre-ink pictures and something seems to be missing. Within days/weeks, I’d look at the new tattoo with this very strong sense of recognition. They became me very quickly. I kind of wish I had more to say about it. I would have liked to have a paper in this anthology


What are other permanent bodily changes I’ve undergone?

There’s also the scars, the medical ones are the most obvious. A friend thought I’d wear scarves forever after my thyroid surgery but again, very quickly, the scar seemed to be part of me. I wore scarves while it was healing but now it’s part of me, part of my story.

I’ve got others. Teeny tiny ones from my laparoscopic gall bladder removal. I can’t believe that they removed a whole organ with day surgery and I came home with just a band-aid over the incision. It’s not a very impressive scar. Also amazing to me that we don’t need our gall bladders. I’m also missing bits such as tonsils and adenoids and some days I joke that I’ll just gradually disappear as pieces get taken away. Oh, there are also little holes where moles used to be.

And then there’s the scars from accidents, a missed box jump at CrossFit where you can still see the dent on my shin and gravel removal from my arm after a bike crash where there’s still flesh missing underneath. Another bike crash left a dent above my eyebrow. Other scars tell different stories. There was a sad break up and an exacto knife that ran through the cardboard and sliced my the joint at the bottom of my thumb as I was packing boxes to leave her apartment for the last time. That incision took almost a year to heal.

Stretch marks are different again.  And interestingly, oddly (since I’m almost entirely happy with the body I’ve got) they’re the only bodily change I’d erase if I could. My lower abdomen is the only place where I’ve never really adjusted to the change. I’ve wondered lots about that. I think partly it’s because I survived two pregnancies with nary a mark. I think I figured I was immune to stretch marks. I was cocky about it. My third pregnancy  did me in. (The babies were different sizes: number one was 6 lbs and 5 weeks early, number two was 7 lbs and three weeks early, and number three was 9.5 lbs and only a week early. We spotted a trend and stopped there.) I even remember waking up one day and feeling that my lower abdominal skin had changed.

stretch marks

But they’re here for good and generally speaking don’t get in the way of me enjoying and appreciating the body I’ve got and the stories it tells.

How do you feel about marks on your body that tell a story, whether they’re self-imposed like ink, or from an injury or surgery? How quickly did they become you?  Would you change anything back if you could?


16 thoughts on “The stories our skin tells: Stretch marks, scars, and tattoos

    1. Why? What’s the worry? Lots of people have them and I think most people heal just fine.

  1. That is an interesting way to look at it. I’ve always thought that my stretch marks are a part of me. I really like the twist you took on it!

  2. I only just got my first tattoo at 43. Getting it feels like embracing the me I want to be, not the me everyone else wanted me to be!

    I have Scars from 2 c sections that I am proud of. And no stretch marks, as both my kids were born 5 weeks early.

    I already want more tattoos. I have a plan to write serenity, courage, wisdom down my inner arm.

    Liberation! I own my body. Wow.

  3. I have always wanted a tattoo since I was a kid. I got my first as my 35th birthday present from my mom. It’s an abstract sun dragon. I have another dragon on my right upper arm and tribal tats on each foot. I have two facial piercings (nose and labret). I have stretch marks from Wright gain and various scars from surgeries (tonsil and adnoid removal as well as gall bladder removal) and surviving childhood (from playing and bike riding). They are all a part of me and they tell they story of who I am. I wouldn’t have it any other way ☺

  4. P.S. That should be weight gain (damn auto correct! 😜) and I also have scars from chicken pox. Fun times 😝)

  5. Stretch marks are evidence of our growth, our journey to womanhood, to motherhood. I look at the tiger claws on my very body and say. I wouldn’t be the beautiful woman I am if it wasn’t for these

  6. My brain surgery scar is a something I still am in the process of accepting. I’m not embarrassed of it yet I feel odd when people see it….always in flux.

  7. I have been contemplating for years to get a tattoo but there is always something holding me back , I just need that push, so hope it comes soon as I have so many great ideas for my first tat.

  8. I’ve never had the desire to get a tattoo, but what a story my stomach tells! It started with a few laparoscopic scars when trying to figure out why I wasn’t getting pregnant. Then LOTS of stretch marks having a 10.1 lb baby at 37. 4 months later, my appendix ruptured and was untreated for a month (an unusual case, but it can happen). I had a 7″ scar right down the middle of my puffy, post-partum belly. I had a really hard time with my belly then, it looked like a cat face, with the belly on either side of my scar bulging out. I eventually decided to get plastic surgery to repair it all, which left me with an at least 12″ scar low on my belly. Then gall bladder surgery.
    Last but not least, I donated a kidney 1.5 years ago. I had an open procedure, due to risk from previous surgeries. So a 7″ scar on the left. Zero regrets about that one.
    As you can imagine, I have little sensation in that region, which I find sad, as it feels a bit dead. The whole thing does map out the story of a strong, resilient woman. I don’t wear a bikini because of all the scars, but maybe I should.

    1. I bet you’d look fab in a bikini! 🙂 And show the world one more strong, resilient woman – maybe inspire another.

  9. I absolutely love the words on the graphics in this post!!

    Thyroidectomy (cancer) scar 2006 – wore makeup and scarves and choker necklaces and mock t-neck (short sleeve ugh, surgery was in August) that now I can barely see…but it has changed the way the skin/muscles on my throat move when I speak (weird looking), and unseen effects of fatigue when talking a lot, damage to singing (but I can still talk and sing – not so much and not on key – and there was a surgery risk that I wouldn’t be able to). Scar on butt from cyst removal (no one sees), scalp from same (same). Acne scars. Stretch marks from a 3″, 30#, 3 month growth spurt at age 13. Big brown birthmark on outer thigh, size of a Kindle. Tons of spider veins and a couple varicose veins. Scars from restaurant work (knives). Scars from a fall off bike as kid, and when running as adult. Freckles and moles and psoriasis patches and their wake.

    I’ve had to learn to live with all of them, and they bothered me so much probably up until after the thyroidectomy at 40 (I’m now 53). The scar from that was the worse I’ve dealt with in terms of visibility to others and how vulnerable and fragile and afraid that (and the reason for the surgery) made me feel. Over time as worse things have happened health and life wise, I roll my eyes at how much time I spent trying to fix or cover some of these things as well as feeling bad about them, as it’s time utterly wasted. I still wish they were gone and my body/face unmarked (and wish some things hadn’t happened), but if wishes were horses….and again, that is taking time and energy that are so precious and finite. I still have almost all my original parts and my body works well enough to get by, I can move, breathe, my five senses work, I can take practice taking joy in what I can do and try to ignore what I can’t. (Ellie J Greenwood, ultrarunner with long term injury says “You may not have what you want, but don’t waste what you’ve got.”)

    One of my favorite things to share with someone starting to deal with a scar that can’t be hidden is this poem, Proud Flesh. I found it at the time of my thyroid surgery and it helped, has stuck ever since.

    My best to all – may you be well, may you be safe, may you be happy…and may you see your unique beauty.

  10. I got pregnant and was worried about getting stretch marks on my belly. I’m naturally a real person and stretch marks have a history with the ladies in my family. I did my research and decided to offer dermalmd stretch mark serum a try. a day after I showered, I might massage dermalmd serum into my skin. It worked better than I assumed possible. Not only did I not get one stretch mark during my pregnancy, but my labor nurse complimented my great skin. Also, I even have plenty of it left, even after daily use. Great value, great quantity, does what it says.

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