Illustration by Tessie Orange-Turner
TW: mentions of self-harm
Scars – we all have them from innocent childhood falls, to reminders about our darkest days. But for some of us, scars hold more of a story, serving as a daily reminder about an illness we have gone through or are still living with. These scars can affect a person’s body confidence and their sex life yet, it is a part of illness that rarely gets discussed.
Mine curves around my right rib cage ever so slightly bumpy from the keloid formation. It feels numb unlike anywhere else on my body – the sensation has never fully returned since I had my scoliosis surgery when I was aged 14. On the longest days, it aches where the raised, scalpel incision ends underneath my right shoulder blade. Directly underneath there lies another criss-cross shaped incision from where I had a chest drain to re-inflate my lung after surgery, but this one you could miss.
Today, I am body confident. I love my scars and proudly show them to my partner and my friends. It’s a time for me to explain how my body works, how it differs and for loved ones to get to know things about me. But the year following my surgery was difficult, I struggled, having previously been quite athletic. I had a back brace for a year and I lost a lot of weight – I could not articulate what I was experiencing and I remember my parents becoming increasingly frustrated with the person I became.
“I love my scars and proudly show them to my partner and my friends. It’s a time for me to explain how my body works, how it differs and for loved ones to get to know things about me”
For Saschan, the founder of the Womb Room, her surgical scars were acquired from her battle with endometriosis and the removal of her right ovary and fallopian tube (due to ovarian cysts). “I have eight scars in total. I have six small scars roughly one inch each dotted across my abdomen. Two are slightly keloid and sit at the bottom of my left rib cage they stand out in comparison to the other small scars as they are raised and lighter than the rest of my skin. There’s another small scar just inside what I like to call my ‘new’ belly button…(and) at the centre of all of these is one long scar which begins its journey just below my belly button and travels a slightly uneven path down stopping just below my bikini line…This is the scar that changed my life.”
Despite Saschan’s scars being a reminder of issues such as incontinence and infertility, secondary to endometriosis she has found a way to embrace them: “I’ve always taken pride in the journey they remind me I have been on. As time goes on I like to watch how they change in colour and texture. I love the way they have softened over the years and feel different next to the skin surrounding them.”
“I have had a partner previously tell me that they were ugly and made him feel sick to look at them so I should cover them up especially when having sex”
Despite her confidence, Saschan has still faced challenges: “I have had a partner previously tell me that they were ugly and made him feel sick to look at them so I should cover them up especially when having sex. That hurt a lot at the time but it also made me more resilient about loving the body I have.” Yet without these challenges, Saschan states she may not have felt compelled to build her platform – the Womb Room. Having nearly died undergoing one of her surgeries she feels lucky to be around. Despite her resolve, I still cannot help but think how emotionally abusive this was and that we must be doing more for those who have their bodies reshaped by illness. People who feel their bodies are lesser may be tempted to settle for less.
Alex* still has the small cuts from self-harm scars over their arms and their stomach from the depression and anxiety that they experienced as a teenager: “For a long time, I would cover these up and waited a long time before I had sex because I did not want to have to explain about that time in my life.” Now that they have a long-term partner who knows all about their battles with depression but they acknowledge that starting afresh with someone new would be “challenging”.
Scars are a reflection of our personal journeys and can be a great insight into the lives we have led. It is important to remember that nobody owes you an explanation about how or why theirs appeared and not everyone will be able to embrace theirs. Be kind, do not stare and in time people may share their story.
*Some names have been changed
This article is part of gal-dem’s Sexual Health Awareness Week series. You can keep up with the series here