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.

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?

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