Since recently having my appendix removed, I have had a flurry of people asking me how I feel about my surgical scars. At first I wondered why people were asking this. Then it occurred to me that people often pair body image and Eating Disorders, and here I am specialising in working with Eating Disorders and attempting to promote body positivity.
So, what people are really asking is – have my new scars changed how I feel about my body? Specifically, do I feel negativity towards my scars? The simple answer to these questions is no – but let’s explore that a little more.
The reality of the situation is that my scars are small.
The surgery I had was laparoscopic – this means the scarring I have is actually very small. I had three incisions; one under my belly button, one on the bikini line, and one off to the side nearer to my hip bone. The smallest one is about 1 inch, and the biggest one about 2½ inches. In years to come the scars will continue to fade, and are likely to be barely visible.
This is not said with the intention of minimising the potential for small scars to be bothersome to people. I’ve no doubt that someone is reading this who has a small scar (or scars) and who is upset by it. However, personally, I believe the fact that my scars are so small is at least a part of why I’m not too bothered by them.
Another point to mention is that if you have a scar that you feel self-conscious about, you will notice it more. It is almost as if it is actually bigger than its reality. So, for psychological health, reminding yourself that the scars are small (if they are) is a positive. The funny thing about body image is that we tend to fixate on things which others would barely notice.
Surgery might just have saved my life.
Appendectomies are a straightforward, routine operation. However, people do die of appendicitis. The day I was admitted to hospital, I was about to hop on a plane. If I’d taken that flight, and my appendix had ruptured, there could have been a very different outcome. Therefore, for me, part of the emotional process is – would I rather be dead, or have a couple of scars?
The answer personally is very obvious; I’d rather be alive! However, again – I’m aware that for some people scars are so upsetting that they might feel differently about this statement.
My way to combat those types of thoughts is to focus on the future and be thankful; there are many things I wish to do, see and achieve in my life. Those little scars mean that I can still be here to do them. How lucky am I that I live in a time where a few days in hospital can mean I am still here to do those things?
My body is a vehicle – this is something I often say to clients with Eating Disorders, which I think is particular relevant here. My body (and yours) is nothing more than the vehicle in which you travel through life. The car I drive (quite literally) has some bumps and dents – but I don’t send it to the scrap pile just because it doesn’t look perfect. It still does its job; it still gets me from point A to point B – as does my now slightly scarred body.
If I felt really strongly about some aspect of my vehicle (the car or my body), to a point where it was impacting my life negatively, I might consider doing something about it. I might get the car re-sprayed, or I might have a tattoo over my scar. There is nothing wrong with doing this if it is what you need to do, and if it will help you feel more positive about your body.
However, a point to mention is that you can only ever cover the damage. Therefore, the scar will always be there, underneath the shiny new paint (tattoo). This might mean that, if you don’t work to move yourself to a psychologically healthier place, you could continue to focus on this ‘imperfection’ in a negative way. Sometimes covering it won’t be the answer.
I also like to think that scars tell stories. Sure, not every story you might be willing to share, and that is your right. But my surgery scars are a memory of a moment in my life – a story of a missed trip, of focusing on life priorities and of friends who were there for me when I needed them. So, it’s not all that bad after all – at least to me.
Lastly, it is worth noting that I believe it’s important we are open to things changing. Just because I feel okay about my scars right now, doesn’t mean I still will (in some situations) in the future, and vice versa. Body image is not a fixed thing – it fluctuates all the time depending on lots of factors such as mood, general levels of confidence and self-esteem, hormone level, the situation, the people around us and so on. This just goes to show that body image is not a fixed reality-based fact, it’s more about feelings. Therefore, your body image is never something that can be used to measure you, or your worth. You are way more than that.