Each week the Honey newsletter includes a column from women and LGBTQ folks in the South, in collaboration with See Jane Write. This month it’s all about bodies and how they’ve carried us and helped us tell our stories. We’re always looking for more stories from you. Click here to learn more about how to get published.
By Mia Ransom Parnell
My mother has flawless fair skin, sprinkled with freckles and she taught me that scars, marks and blemishes were to be avoided at all costs. Like my 4C hair that could only be tamed with heat and chemicals, those shameful things had to be covered, hidden or surgically removed. But I have learned to adore my scars because my body tells the story of my life.
I remember getting my first boo-boo, skinned knees from a fall, and mom cleaning up the blood, picking out the rocks and debris, and then worrying about what it would look like. My knees were already dark (GASP!) and the idea of a scar on top of that was unacceptable. She used creams and ointments to try and prevent it, but my body had other plans. So, it had to be hidden by knee-high socks, even in summer. Our conversations were often admonitions of “be careful” and “don’t fall” in addition to “don’t hurt yourself.” And my little ears heard “don’t make new scars!” But it wasn’t just my family defining what “good” skin and hair looked like. It was Jet and Ebony magazines and the bikini-clad ladies on television whose skin was smooth and perfect.
As I hit puberty, something new happened to my skin: stretch marks! Those tiger stripes covered my thighs as I gained weight, grew taller, and started my period. Out came the cocoa butter creams, baby oil, and lotions to stitch my skin together and banish the marks. But nothing worked so I stopped wearing shorts altogether, even in the Alabama summer.
I soon developed an unhealthy obsession with my skin and internalized the idea of its imperfections. I started avoiding activities that might cause new scars and seldom showed skin. Go for a hike and possibly fall down? No. Ride on my boyfriend’s motorcycle, roller skate or ride a bicycle? HELL NO! I had a come-apart when I found varicose veins on my legs because there were no creams or ointments to hide them.
Pregnancy brought new alternations to my body and skin with successive cesarean births. And although the cuts were down low, I knew they were there, eating away at my ego. Then my confidence collapsed when my breast cancer was diagnosed, and I had to have all of the surgeries and radiation to fight it. I began to refer to myself as The Bride of Frankenstein because I looked like a patchwork of seams and stitches under my careful attire. I struggled with intimacy and the idea that I was still desirable and beautiful.
My mind began to open when I decided to run a Susan G. Komen 5K to celebrate my cancerversary. I had walked several of them, but I wanted to run one. However, I’d need shorts and ankle socks and tank tops. Would my fears keep me from reaching this goal? No! So, I bought a pair of running shorts and tank tops and ankle socks and shoes. Training for the 5K forced me to examine my body, to treat her kindly, to pamper her when she was sore, to feed and hydrate her with nutrient-rich foods, to lavish her with rest when she was tired, to admire the ripples of her muscles and to love her potential for speed and endurance.
And I have endured so much, clearly etched on my body. That “A” scar on my chest happened when my purposefully airborne bike suddenly crashed into the earth and asphalt. I had never been in an airplane, but I flew that day. That dark line above my right breast is from the chemo port that broke in the middle of the night long before I finished chemotherapy. My navel is off-center and looks weird and wacky because my tummy fat was used to rebuild my left breast. My left knee is off-center thanks to a sledding accident when a rare snowstorm hit the city and my knee hit a stop sign. I would have been a winter Olympics reject. The four newest scars, still tender, were from my latest anti-cancer surgery. Go home cancer, you’re drunk. Those slanted fingers on my right hand happened when I tried to stop a small tree from hitting my kid. The tree broke my fingers instead of their head. And my stretch marks, which adorn my abs, arms, chest, ass, and legs, prove how pliable I am. I will not break. This amazing body has carried and nurtured humans, had several fights with the Big C, run half marathons, taken solo treks across the world, eaten lots of tacos and chocolate, survived broken hearts, and plans to have more injuries and adventures.
I invite my lovers to touch me, caress my dimples and curves and gaze in wonder at my asymmetrical beauty while I share my body stories and ask them about theirs. I am not interested in “Kens”, unblemished men who have never dared in their lives. I need someone who has also fully lived their life and it shows. You got tattoos? Cool, show me and tell me about them. Scars from stitches? Sweet, what did you break and have repaired? Crazy skin thing? No worries, what do you need to feel safe and affirmed with me? I am a safe space for you.
And I am also a safe space for myself. I am my body’s greatest lover and admirer. I take pleasure in every cell of my being to my very DNA. I know I will gather more scars, more bruises, more bumps, and more cuts because I will continue to fall off of something, cut down trees, get sunburned while running, fail at winter sports, and try some new semi-dangerous-life-threatening-thing throughout this wild life of mine. And those “imperfections” only add to my beauty because I am a fucking diamond. Forged in the fires of this world and my life, I have become immune to the arrow and bars thrown my way. They bounce off of me and fall fallow to the ground. But life on this earth is sometimes a war and battles leave scars. My scars tell the story of my life, my resilience, and my recoveries. I must go to battle if I want to win. And I’m going to win.
Mia Ransom Parnell is a runner, chocolate devotee, and multi-decade breast cancer survivor. Her writing can be found at www.MRPsays.com.