Dear so called "flaws," despite the time we've spent hating you, wishing you away, and taking the cruel (and unprovoked) thoughts others have about you to heart, we love you… most of the time. But we accept you always. We use you to empower the person we've become. Kids are mean, traditional beauty ideals are bullshit, and you've helped us find the strength we never knew possible. So thank you, scars, stretch marks, gap teeth, and arm hair, for giving us the chance to become the best possible versions of ourselves: unique and free from judgment.
Below, four women discuss the flaws they worried about growing up. Keep reading for each of their stories.
"I have grown to love my scars. I have a long one, down the center of my spine from my childhood. When I was eight, after about eight doctor visits where I was told that what I was experiencing was just growing pains, a fractured vertebrae was discovered in my spine. They couldn't determine what the cause of this fracture was, so they had to do surgery to take a piece of bone marrow for testing. Those test results concluded that I had juvenile osteoporosis, and was put in a back brace for a year. A separate vertebrae fractured when I was 10, resulting in another year in the back brace.
"There was quite a bit of teasing, especially throughout childhood. I grew up in a small town in Arkansas, with an extremely religious family. They pulled me out of school during the third grade when I was first diagnosed, so until I began high school, all of my peers were the 15 or so kids in the tiny Baptist church we attended. I had no idea how to interact with people. The kids at the church were cruel. They would call me weird while I had the brace on and after, if my scar would show, they'd say it was gross. I ended up being so self-conscious about my body that I struggled with an eating disorder, up until my 21st birthday. It wasn't until a guy I dated, when seeing it for the first time, said they were beautiful that I started to view them differently. Now I wear backless tops as much as possible because I love empowering other women to love the parts of their body that make them unique. Ultimately, my scars raise lot of questions, but I have found it gives me the ability to relate to anyone else going through a hard time. I wouldn't get rid of them for the world." — Kelsey Marie
"When I was a teenager, I wanted to 'fix' my gap, but dentists said it wasn't necessary, and my parents told me I was free to close it when I was able to pay for the procedure myself. But over the years, you learn to appreciate the things that set you apart—it's those unique quirks that make each of us individuals. Plus, it's hereditary—my grandma and dad both have it (he did have braces but the stubborn thing persisted and re-emerged over the years), so it feels like a family badge in a way. I also realized it was slightly high fashion as I got older, which teen me of course didn't understand. Watch out, Lara Stone!" — Erin
"The first sign of stretch marks on my body sprouted during my freshman year in college. I was recovering from an eating disorder and gaining unfamiliar weight in foreign places. My body no longer felt like my own—like meeting a stranger each time I dared to look in the mirror. I was eating, which was a step in the right direction, but nothing about my insides was healthy. My mind was at odds with every ounce of my flesh, poking and prodding it at times, but mostly trying to ignore it. Avoidance turned into neglect and with that came more marks, as moisturizing is key to treating them. I found myself embarrassed of them constantly, not because others mentioned or even saw them, but rather because as a teenager with lingering body issues, I wouldn't allow my mind an ounce of solace or freedom.
"For me, stretch marks always meant I had an undesirable body—but that's so far from accurate. I remember someone once told me, 'If you think those 6-foot-tall models don't have growth-spurt stretch marks, you're deluded.' It's so true, especially as evidenced by the newest un-retouched images ASOS included on their site (above) and this beautiful poem a British YouTuber uploaded to her channel. We need to give ourselves a break sometimes. Now, I've grown used to them, barely noticing them when I dress or undress, and the shame that came along with them during my teenage years has generally subsided. I like my body, and I'm not worried about the stigma that is still attached to stretch marks. They're a part of me, but they're not all of me." — Hallie
"I was in third grade when someone made fun of the hair on my arms for the first time. I literally still remember where I was sitting in that classroom when that boy teased me—I was that embarrassed. I was relatively pale and have some strong Mediterranean genes, so it was just something that was pretty noticeable on me, and I spent a lot of my formative years looking for ways to conceal or cover it up. I shaved it all off at one point, but then that felt even more noticeable. I couldn't win.
"To be fair, as I got through puberty and grew up, the hair thinned out a bit and has since settled into a much blonder hue. But either way, I totally embrace it now—I know plenty of women who wax or laser their body hair off, but whenever that opportunity has come up, I've always come to the conclusion that I would feel naked without it at this point. It reminds me where I come from (both genetically and in terms of my self-esteem)—in fact, I'm actually grateful for my 'hairy' genes now: They also gave me my amazing brows and a ridiculously thick head of hair, after all." — Ella
Here at Byrdie, we know that beauty is way more than braid tutorials and mascara reviews. Beauty is identity. Our hair, our facial features, our bodies: They can reflect culture, sexuality, race, even politics. We needed somewhere on Byrdie to talk about this stuff, so welcome to The Flipside (as in the flipside of beauty, of course!), a dedicated place for unique, personal, and unexpected stories that challenge our society's definition of "beauty." Here, you'll find cool interviews with LGBTQ+ celebrities, vulnerable essays about beauty standards and cultural identity, feminist meditations on everything from thigh gaps to eyebrows, and more. The ideas our writers are exploring here are new, so we'd love for you, our savvy readers, to participate in the conversation, too. Be sure to comment your thoughts (and share them on social media with the hashtag #TheFlipsideOfBeauty). Because here, on The Flipside, everybody gets to be heard.