On each of my hips and along the sides of my breasts, I have a series of discolored lines. They’re thin, but noticeable (though I rarely see them anymore). When I do realize they’re still there — in the same spots they’ve been for years — I’m neither bothered nor frustrated. I bought a cream to “fix” them last year on a whim, but never used it because it just wasn’t a priority. If I run my fingers down them, I can feel a slight groove that deepens along the widest parts of me. The more that I stare at them, the more I remember how much stress they used to bring me.

At 14-years-old, I went from a 118 lb. size 0 to a 140 lb. size 8/10 in just nine months. Nine months. Think of the last time you gained enough weight to constitute a size jump, and imagine that a few times over. My hips suddenly grew and my boobs increased two cup sizes, but I didn’t grow an inch height-wise. The lines were white so, due to my extreme resemblance to the title character in Powder, they barely showed up on my flesh for years. I ignored them, they ignored me; we had a good relationship, my stretch marks and I.

Then, however, I moved to California and gained a bit of skin pigmentation for the first time even, which was all well and lovely — except my stretch marks suddenly became apparent, and I finally understood why these frustrate so many people to the extent that they do.

Suddenly, rather than ignoring them the way I had for so long, I could see their true extent. They ran down around my hips like ski trails, criss-crossing and getting deeper in some spots. The ones on my breasts were even worse: they had somehow darkened. I would run my fingers down them, cursing myself for not wearing enough sunscreen and realizing why saying, “Nobody will notice them!” was not nearly as valid of an argument as I once thought while trying to convince my friends that wearing a bra during sex was stupid (okay, I actually still think it’s really stupid, stretch marks and all). They were what every Maderma commercial called “unsightly.” My hips and breasts — two of my most distinctive “womanly” parts — were unseeable. I felt shitty and ashamed and afraid to take my clothes off for sex with the lights on (something I had previously actually looked forward to).

Looking back, I wish I had been more like this girl:

Remember Stella Booncroft, the blogger who didn’t give a shit what people thought of her stomach or stretch marks or fat? Yeah, I wish I had been like her; I likely would’ve been so much happier. I also would’ve actually worn shorts and a bathing suit at some point (neither of which I even bothered to try until I was 20). Then again, so many people have similar issues with theirs — but why?

Most of the women I know — and many, many men — have stretch marks on some spot of their bodies. Whether the result of rapid height changes in adolescence, weight gain, pregnancy or muscle accumulation, the skin often has a difficult time stretching at the same rate as the increasing mass. It’s completely normal.

During pregnancy, it’s one of the things many new mothers are most worried about, though apparently, half will have them. When your body needs to accomodate a multiple pound fetus inside of it that grows at a ridiculously fast rate, it can often be an issue for your skin, which only has so much stretch to give. It’s a natural part of pregnancy and, again, nothing to feel embarrassed or ashamed by.

Nevertheless, when you’re staring at these long, puckered lines that look like blown-out scars from tiny lightning strikes, it can be difficult to remember that stretch marks are not to be worried about. So many of us buy those creams that supposedly help, try to apply them religiously and cover our marks up when on the beach.

However, I came across this article which declares stretch marks to be far more dangerous than they actually are, then explains how one might “fix them.” According to them:

Stretch marks have become a serious health issue among all age group today. Getting rid of stretch marks is believed to be quite difficult as all treatments do not turn out to be fruitful.

They go on to list several treatments that might help, often ones that are “costly” and most likely ones that sponsored the post in some way. But stretch marks are not some “serious health issue”; in fact, they’re not a health issue at all. In the same way a scar from skinning your knee as a kid isn’t dangerous or getting some crow’s feet over time is completely safe (no matter what The Daily Mail tells you), there’s nothing “serious” about stretch marks.

Somehow, rather than making me feel more troubled about my dark marks, it dawned on me that these are exactly the same as cellulite, wrinkles and anything else people typically are shamed about. Yes, these little skin inconsistencies may bother you deeply — and by all means, try out some products if this is the case — but try not be ashamed of your body because of them. Being ashamed of any part will only give way to harm, not progress.

For a long time, I had bought into the “stretch marks are gross” philosophy, albeit only applying it to my own (as many of us tend to do with body image stuff). But after reading this stupid, short article, I realized just how much I had been buying into the same type of thinking I frequently try to dissuade others from having about themselves, I decided my preoccupation with these silly little lines was done. If they went away eventually, lovely. If not, that was a-okay, as well.

stretch marks Flickr

The above photo is pretty much exactly what my breasts look like nowadays (I would’ve just taken a picture for you, but all I have is an iPhone and I’m not feeling like sexting the entire Gloss readership today, ya feel me?).

Sometimes, regardless of my rational side, it’s difficult to find role models who will support the same type of thinking I need to pursue. I want to be more self-loving, but my mindset fights me constantly.

So it only helped more when friend of mine, one who’s extremely anti-bodyshaming and very pro-confidence for all body types and qualities, started publicly talking about how much she loves her own stretch marks. By being so vocal about hers and posting photos like the one below, she reminded me that — as with all parts of our bodies we may or may not love — stretch marks are still a part of us and that makes them worth revealing, not covering up like some ugly secret. Instead, she shows them off and makes them into some beautiful detail:

stretch marks Kayla

Kayla Anne Diaz

I briefly thought about getting my own tattooed over, as I had with other dermatological issues like scarring and discoloration. I thought if I got something meaningful to represent change (or whatever) in my life, I would start to like that part of my body more. But after much deliberation, I realized that these were my body’s way of tattooing  itself to track its own changes, and that’s perfectly all right with me to have stick around.

You don’t need to feel like you have something ugly or wrong with your body simply because a natural reaction to growth occurred; we are not Photoshopped creatures walking around sans blemish or scar. Your body can expand and change magnificently, isn’t that wonderful in and of itself (particularly relating to pregnancy)? So this coming summer — or if you’re swanky enough to have vacation time soon — whip out your bathing suit and don’t bother trying to cover up those lines. They’re just fine being out and about with the rest of you.

Photos: StretchMarkProductAdvice, PinterestFlickr & S Pallavicini.