I was a really small kid. I’m not exactly towering over anyone now, but before I turned 12 my size bordered on abnormal. I was perfectly healthy, just - small. It really bothered me-having to speed walk to keep up with lanky limbs, and running out of breath after a single flight of stairs-to the point where I got upset when people called me shorty, bite-sized, or even just cute. Then I hit 13, and grew 4 inches in a year. I passed 5 foot 1, and joined the track team. I went from waiflike to cardio five days a week on stilts built way too fast. My body couldn’t keep up-so it broke. Bone and muscle thrived on being torn apart day after day, but my skin wasn’t made to melt so easily. The first few times I saw them, I dismissed them as the usual cuts collected from a rough-and-tumble lifestyle. When they refused to heal, I took a closer look. And I hated what I saw. Angry welts crisscrossed my thighs, my waist, the backs of my knees. Stretch marks. The rips were red and irritated, furious at my bones for grasping at heights well out of their reach. It felt like I was going to spill through the gaps, blood and guts and soul flooding through these new flaws like water through a sieve. At first I thought they were some type of disease, a condition. Nothing this ugly could be natural, could it? Nothing so obviously would-like could be healthy. Could it?
This may seem incredibly dramatic for a few scars, but you have to remember that I was thirteen and in the midst of middle school. A pressure cooker of hormones, half-truths, and a deodorant to sweat ratio that would shock any statistician. I used concealer pretty much daily, and still thought that Brandy Mellvile was the height of fashion. Being suddenly littered with permanent blemishes was just about the end of the world. And so it continued. I ran, I grew, I tore. Everything came to a head under an red sky on the redder track of an 8th grate city meet. The girls’ sprint uniforms have always been the same-black spandex and a purple tank. The only pair of non-logoed spandex I had were just a little too small, and I hated them. They were too tight, chafed, and bore my stretch marks for all the world to see. And see, they did. Another girl on the team, whose face has blurred with time, wandered over to stretch with me before the first heat of 100m hurdles. I was pulling my hamstrings until they burned when I heard her gasp. Loudly, shrilly, in a voice that demands attention the way that car accidents and roadkill forbid you from looking away, she said, “Oh my God. Are you okay? What happened?” She sounded so scandalized. It took me a second to even realize her horror was directed at me. I followed her eyes. They stared, blown out and blatant, at the insides of my thighs. I didn’t say anything at first-I still didn’t understand. She asked me again if I was okay, if I needed help. The conspiratorial intrigue with which she spoke made it suddenly clear. She thought I had been raped. The moment comprehension dawned, I wanted nothing more than to collapse in on myself, to be swallowed by the dusty red track until even my scars blended in. I was inexperienced with hatred then, but at that moment I hated that girl more than anyone and anything. People had started to stare. I wanted to strangle her and her roadkill voice, really give someone a reason to look. So I smiled. I laughed, and through chipped porcelain teeth, explained that I was fine and didn’t need her to call anyone. I had just grown a little too fast. She let out a big, “Ooooh.” and laughed with me. At me. I became acquaintanced with homicidal tendencies at the ripe age of fifteen. (That was a joke- I’ve never attempted murder.) I went home that night tired, dirty, and filled with shame. And I stayed that way, for a long time. My eyes stuck to mirrors like the glass was wet cement. The edges of my shorts frayed from the force with which I tugged them lower on my legs. I was fading in my skin, but two stupid words managed to push me back into full color. Tiger stripes. I wish I could say a teammate, or my friends thought it up for me, but they didn’t. It was a stranger on the internet, who had painted glitter over her stretch marks and stripes on her cheeks. Nevertheless, they changed the dimension in which I saw myself, upped the resolution. Tigers don’t worry about spandex, or why their stripes are the way that they are. Tigers eat people. It was silly, but it made me hate myself a little less. Now, my stretch marks have faded to a pale white, a reminder of everything I’ve done. I actually like them-makes me feel like I can eat people too (metaphorically, not cannibalism-y). The vast majority of women get stretch marks at some point in their lives, from growth, weight gain, pregnancy, or something else. I don’t know the stats for other people, but I hadn’t been afflicted by some rare malady as I had originally thought. We’re all a little tigerlike. Scars are proof of life, and I just happened to have lived.