I once asked my mom if they were noticeable in the middle of Target. She said they were. My mom doesn’t sugar coat most things. Which is fine, that’s why I asked her. I needed the truth. I also decided, that I needed to stop wearing capped sleeves that day.
See, before I turned 18, my youthful skin had never experienced stretch marks. I wasn’t a stranger to skin issues, though. Growing up, I was the kid that had the kind of sensitive skin that wasn’t allowed to get it’s face painted, or wear scented lotions, without breaking out.
Any scrape or scratch left a scar, no matter if I actually listened to my parents when they told me not to pick the scab, or how much vitamin e oil my dad would put on them to make sure my skin stayed “pretty.”
I always knew scars were not ideal, but I was full of them. Never before though, had I felt shame for my ankle scar from that roller blading incident in 6th grade, because I didn’t feel like it was my fault. The stretch marks on my arms, however, were on me. Literally.
And now, almost 10 years later, they’re still on me. Serving as a reminder of my freshman year of college, when I gained the 20 pounds, that could be blamed on various factors – among them being, free ice-cream and unlimited meal plans.
And while I would love to leave the blame with the reckless choices that come with new-found college freedom, (which for me, looked more like bingeing on Cinnamon Toast Crunch, rather than alcohol) that year really just unearthed a deeper issue of self-image, that had gone unnoticed before.
It’s not like I was unaware of the fact that I didn’t like myself. It’s just that I didn’t know I didn’t have to feel that way.
I think I was waiting until I got over it to write this post. You know, like when I finally figured out the whole “body image” situation, I would sit down and write a whole book on the subject. But I realized I wasn’t sure when that was going to be, so I didn’t want to miss out on helping someone in the meantime.
Let’s be real, this is probably going to be more therapeutic for me, than anything else anyway. So here we go.
There were a lot of things over the years, that contributed to my poor self-image, and subsequent stretch marks, but I can pretty much pin point the majority of the issue, to my 9th grade algebra class.
Let me explain.
I was sexually harassed for all of 9th grade. I was never assaulted physically, and I think that’s why I felt like it wasn’t anything I needed to report. But I do know, that I’ve been forever scarred and in some ways, defined by that experience.
9th grade was the first year that I had curves. Hopefully I don’t need to explain puberty to anyone, but things happened, and I became a woman. Or at least I became, “womanly.” At 14, I was still very much a child in many ways.
Physically though, I became fair game for cat calls, comments, and looks that made me want to walk the long way to class, to avoid certain hallways. It was the first year I became aware of the fact, that my body could be a topic of conversation amongst a group of guys that didn’t even know my name.
Without getting into too much of the vulgar details, the majority of the harassment came from a boy who sat next to me in algebra, the whole year. I’m not sure if he thought it was funny, if he was trying to flirt, or if he was just really stupid, but he spent every free moment of the class commenting on my body parts, asking me for sexual favors, or informing me whenever he was aroused.
“Your daddy let you leave the house in that turtle neck?” were the kinds of things he would say, when I showed up to school in a shirt that was a little too tight. I wanted to burn that shirt. I felt a mix of embarrassment and guilt for not hiding myself better. Maybe if I was invisible, he wouldn’t bother me anymore.
Again, this was the year that I “developed,” so I was still trying to figure out how to dress my new body. Modesty was a new topic of conversation in the youth group circles at that age, and I had yet to be taught all of the things that I needed to do, to prevent boys like that from “lusting” after me. Somehow I still felt shame. Like I in some way caused this, even though I was completely unaware how I could have.
I’m in no way saying that modesty should not be a topic of conversation for young Christian girls, but I do think that we spend an unequal amount of time there, verses telling our boys how to control themselves, and their mouths. (another day, Jillana.)
I’m just saying that it wasn’t my turtle neck, that made him steal my cheerleading pictures off my desk that day, and pass them around to all his friends so they could rate my thighs.
Maybe this boy was just as naive as I was. Maybe he just wasn’t taught how to handle his hormones yet. Maybe there wasn’t anyone around to teach him.
I actually looked him up on Facebook for the first time, the other day. Seeing his face after 13 years still caused my stomach to drop, like when kids used to jump on elevators just to scare me. He probably has no idea that he had that big of an impact on my life, but I do genuinely pray that he’ll teach that little boy standing next to him in his profile pictures, how to treat girls better than he treated me.
If this post does anything, I pray that it empowers another 14-year-old girl to speak up if she feels like she’s being harassed like this. Just because there isn’t a physical interaction, it doesn’t mean his words aren’t doing harm. Had I spoken up, I might have given someone the chance to tell me that it wasn’t ok what he was doing, I was not at fault, and there was nothing wrong, or sinful about my body changing.
I remember considering telling my father. But that daydream quickly turned dark, when all I could picture was my 6 foot 2 father, striding down the hallway of my school with those really long, fast steps that he took —that helped him cross a room much quicker than a man his size should have been able to—and ending that boy’s life right in front of me, and the rest of the class.
Was it a realistic outcome? Definitely not, and I should have told him. At the most, he would have yelled at a bunch of people until I got put in another class. (which at 14, that would have been just as embarrassing as if he would have killed him…but I still should have told him.)
Regardless of that boy’s intention or naivety, that experience planted the lie in my head that a guy wasn’t going to love me for my mind, my love of Spider-Man, or my sense of humor. He was only going to give me attention if I looked a certain way.
I think that lie is sold to the majority of little girls in our society. Some of them, at the realization, start doing everything they can to attract that attention to their bodies, and settle solely for physical affirmation from men. It’s like they’ve resolved in their minds that since this is all society tells them they have to offer, they’ll take what they can get.
I just happened to have a different reaction, that in some ways, was just as destructive.
I chose to try and hide myself physically as much as possible. Sometimes, this translated into wearing hoodies for the rest of high school. I hid behind a “cool girl” facade, that would explain my new style, but not let on to the fact that I loved the idea of being girly and looking cute, but felt extremely uncomfortable in anything that hinted at me having an actual figure.
But mostly, especially when I got to college, this translated into me over-eating as a form of self-medication.
Freshman year Jillana, was sad. In many ways, I thought college was going to be this completely magical experience, where I would hit a switch and morph into the fabulous Adult Jillana, that I’d been picturing in my head for the past decade. That Jillana, would meet a boy in class that would like all of the same things she did, and wouldn’t comment on her body or steal pictures off her desk, but fall in love with her and take her to see Twilight when it came out in theaters. That Jillana, was going to be ok with herself and her body. That Jillana, would finally have all of her stuff together.
(tbh, I’m still waiting to meet that Jillana.)
But in college, uncomfortable stares from senior boys in the hallway, turned into honks and jeers from men my father’s age.
In college, there were mean roommates, who spread lies about me around our tiny campus, saying I cried to my mom on the phone every night to buy me new pants, because I’d gained so much weight, mine didn’t fit anymore.
Now I know for a fact, that phone call never happened – but points to her for accuracy, because that does sound like me. A lot of my phone calls home involved tears, and asking for money, so she wasn’t too far off. Either way, no one was taking me to see Twilight, now.
The idea that I needed to be invisible was solidified. To me, being “beautiful” meant being skinny. Being curvy, or having an hourglass figure, didn’t make me beautiful–it made me a sex object. Since I knew being skinny was probably out, I opted for hoodies and Oreos, so no one would look at me.
I’m sure no one would be surprised to hear this, but this tactic only turned Sad Jillana into Depressed Jillana.
While all of my suffering was done mostly in silence, looking back, I see evidence of it in unhealthy friendships where I played the role of people pleaser effortlessly, and unhealthy crushes on boys, whose attention consoled my insecurity, until I realized they had no intention of dating me.
By the grace of God, I was able to find some healing after college. I went through various forms of counseling, where all of these issues were brought to light and explained to me in a way that helped me understand that the lies I’d been holding onto, were not reflective of the life that God wants for me.
Once I was in a better place emotionally, I was able to lose that “freshman 20,” plus a little more. I’ve since gained a little back, but not because I was self-medicating. Adult Jillana finally showed up at 25, and brought a new, slower, metabolism with her. Awesome.
I’m still figuring it out, honestly. I started lifting weights at the beginning of this year, and after two months of working out 5-6 days a week, I got on a scale and the number was larger than when I started.
Before you say “but Jillana, muscle weighs more than fa—” I know. But that didn’t stop me from curling up in a ball and crying about it for 10 minutes. We all have days.
I’m still learning how to not to be defined by a number on a scale, or a pant-size. But more importantly, I’m learning how to come out of hiding.
The weight came off, but the stretch marks are still there. No amount of cocoa butter has faded them over the years. But it’s ok. I wear capped sleeves again. Because, while the Sad Jillana season might not have been my proudest, it did bring me closer to Jesus and into a better understanding of who He says I am. His Jillana. And I like her.