There are always things that we see, hear, smell that make us think of a certain time in our lives, that bring back memories of joy or those that we’d really rather forget. When the thing that you’d rather forget is emblazoned all over your body it becomes rather difficult not to think about. But every day when I see my scars I’m thankful that now I don’t need to deal with my emotions by taking it out on my body, that waking up to another day is something that I enjoy. However, baring my scars in public does not come naturally to me and consequently, the summer can be a difficult time. Here are some of my thoughts on how you can help people with scars feel more comfortable this summer.
Top tip number 1:
People with scars should not have to hide them to make you feel comfortable.
No matter how far I have moved forward from that time in my life, learning to live with my self-harm scars and the way that others perceive me because of them is something I find difficult every day. Summertime and warm weather is my favourite thing, the sun streaming across my face fills me with joy. It also makes me very hot, which makes wearing long sleeves impractical. At the same time, I feel enormous pressure not to bare my scars, not because I’m embarrassed by them, but rather because of the way they make other people feel. I am always particularly conscious of children, who not knowing any better, may ask their parents about the origins which could lead to uncomfortable conversations. But this reason is not enough for me to have to hide my body.
Top tip number 2:
Don’t stare, don’t raise your eyebrows, don’t say anything.
For most of the year I keep my arms covered, whether or not people are looking and passing judgement is irrelevant because it feels like everyone is staring and making assumptions about the type of person I am. I am not my depression, I do not need to be pitied, I do not need you to come and talk to me about ‘how brave I am’. What I need you to do is to ignore them. I do not presume that the way I feel about my scars is the same way that others do and some people may find words of encouragement useful but let those words come from the people closest to them. Wearing the darkest time of your life on your body for everybody to gawk at is not my summer wardrobe essential of choice but it is something I have to accept, and for the most part, I have.
Top tip number 3:
Do not presume to understand the way the individual feels about their scars.
When people talk about self-harm scars they’re normally divided into two groups, those who view them as battle scars- the thought of this makes me cringe but if this helps you learn to love your body that’s great! More often than not though they’re seen as something you should be embarrassed by. I recently got some of my scarring tattooed over. I never expressed my reasoning behind this to my tattooist, who is a lovely lady and I know her intention was not to make me feel this way, but she kept saying she wanted to make me ‘proud to wear my skin again’. Now whether or not this was her intention, this implied to me that I should be embarrassed by my scars, which I am not. Similarly, when I recently went for my driving theory test I was asked to remove my jacket. I requested that I keep it on because today wasn’t a day I was feeling too great about my scars and I didn’t want to have strangers I didn’t know staring at me. I took my jacket off and the man, slightly shocked, stuttered that I could put my jacket back on and that he was sorry and he didn’t realise. When I left he gave me a sympathetic nod and said sorry again, as if he had done something unconscionable, which again makes me feel as if there is something terribly wrong with my body despite knowing that he was just trying to be kind to me. These two recent interactions are commonplace for people with scars
Top tip number 4:
If you have self-harm scars you are far more aware of them than other people, so embrace every inch of your body.
Whether your scars are moderate or severe, everyone I know with scars is very conscious of their own, while others may never notice them. This is something I try to tell myself every day, the way I feel about my scars is not the way other people do. I often read into situations and apply meaning that isn’t there and I am very conscious of this but that doesn’t stop me from feeling as if people’s eyes are glued to my scars whenever I am out in short sleeves. Last summer was the first time in 6 years that I went out without the safety blanket of retreating into a jacket and it was so liberating. For the most part, people are too involved in their own lives to pay any attention to the lines on my body.
There are always going to be situations in which I feel more or less comfortable bearing that part of myself, and that’s okay. Bearing your scars in public is a learning process, and recognising the situations when you may be massively uncomfortable is important. But don’t let your fear of other peoples judgement stop you from feeling liberated in your own body. And if you see anyone with scars remember to be respectful of them, their body owes you no explanation.
Words by Charlotte Morris-Davis
Images by Charlotte Morris-Davis and Logo TV