October 7, 2022

In 2018, the Ghanaian Immigration Service banned recruits who had stretch marks from participating in the recruitment exercise. Its reason was that anyone who has stretch marks got them from the bleaching of their skin. Many fought against the decision, but the service refused…

By John Augustina

What a horrible nightmare it must have been for the first woman to suddenly discover some streaky lines sprouting uncontrollably on her skin. At first, it may not have been so bothersome, until it began to spread to other places such as her breasts, back, arms, belly, thighs, legs, hips and knees. Having to suddenly feel ashamed of the body she once saw as perfect must have indeed been a nightmare.

Having stretch marks has affected many women in different ways. Many have been roped into an unimaginable degree of self-consciousness and embarrassment each time they see other women in dresses they feel they can’t put on because the stretch marks would not allow them.

It is nearly impossible for a woman not to feel safe or horrified at the discovery that her skin has been invaded by stretch marks. While some women become overly perplexed, others are mildly bothered. Despite the fact that women react to these changes differently, it doesn’t make it any less true that stretch marks make a lot of women miserable.

PS: Stretch marks are more common on women with darker pigmentation than light skinned women because of the relative toughness and elasticity of the skin layer.

This feeling of miserableness is traceable to the perception of perfection the media throws at many people in more recent times. Technology, pop culture, and social media in today’s society has made it impossible for women to see themselves as good enough because of the “perfect, flawless skin” images the media has painted in film, music videos, beauty care adverts, etc. It is difficult to see a model displaying her stretch marks in advertisements because in most cases these perceived flaws are readily edited away. These perfection tags send a rather problematic message that stretch marks are unappealing. Also, many men have come to find stretch marks attractive, disgusting and unappealing. While many men are not the least bothered about stretch marks on women, others think women that have them are ugly, and often refer to stretch marks as “tiger stripes.”

 

Stretch marks occur when the skin stretches. It could be due to intense weight gain, protrusion of the muscles through work outs, pregnancy, hereditary or puberty. Anyone can develop stretch marks, including men, although there is a higher rate of women who have it as compared to men. A study shows that 50-90 percent of women have stretch marks on some part of their bodies, and 90 percent of women are susceptible to having stretch marks during pregnancy.

“I first saw the stretch marks in my tummy when I was seven months pregnant for my first child,” says Mrs. Victory Samuel (real name). “It started with an uncontrollable itch. The more I scratched my belly, the more they appeared. I thought they would fade away with pregnancy but they stayed. My husband no longer sees me the way he did before they appeared on my body. The pain cannot be explained.”

Studies show that stretch marks contribute heavily to post-partum depression in many women, as many men tend to see their wives as unattractive after childbirth due to the presence of the marks. While the stretch marks on some women fade after pregnancy, some became more pronounced after because their bellies become heavily sagged.

“No one sits down to see or monitor when stretch marks will crawl onto their skin. It is not even possible to see them coming out.  You only wake up to meet them looking right at you. I woke up to meet mine,” says Miss Grace (real name). “I was anxious at the time I noticed them. They were not itchy at first but later became itchy and reddish, too. Most time I was uncomfortable because they were on my arms and legs. I cannot wear sleeveless dresses like other women do, neither can I wear short dresses too. Really, having stretch marks feels like a prison.”

Similar to the feelings of Miss Grace, many women feel like they have been pushed into a dark hole at the discovery of their stretch marks. They feel they can no longer compete with the “beauty standards” that the modern society seems to have validated.

“I’ve always had stretch marks. I first noticed them when I was 12 years. They felt normal at the time. I didn’t feel any different at all because it didn’t mean anything. But fast forward to now, I feel uncomfortable now. I don’t feel good about my skin, especially when I see other women’s skin. They may have stretch marks but mine are so pronounced. Sometimes I wonder if they are truly stretch marks or I was pierced with a hot knife,” says Racheal (real name).

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Stretch Marks on skin

The severity of stretch marks vary from one woman to another women. While some cases are mild and not so visible, others are conspicuous and highly discomforting.

Over the past few decades, women in and out of Africa have fought to liberate themselves from the hold of stretch marks. Many have consulted beauty shops for creams and skin care routine that would make their stretch marks. Dermatologists have studied the type of  creams, lotions, gels and skin care routines for treating stretch marks. These products have proven to be more or less ineffective in getting rid of those marks.

There has been a recent emergence of stretch marks tattoo artists who have provided designs that can cover up stretch marks for women of all colours. Many women have resorted to these tattoos to cover up their stretch marks.

Having stretch marks in an African society comes with a lot of bad feelings due to the stigma attached to it. Women have faced rejections in work places because they had stretch marks. In 2018, the Ghanaian Immigration Service banned recruits who had stretch marks from participating in the recruitment exercise. Its reason was that anyone who has stretch marks got them from the bleaching of their skin. Many fought against the decision, but the service refused. This mindset has kept many women in perpetual insecurities as regards their bodies. In 2020, blogger, Christina Temitope, released a photo of her bare pregnant stomach coiled with prominent stretch marks after so much dissatisfaction with the heavily edited version of the photo. She also referred to the stretch marks as beauty marks  As an African woman and a public figure, it must have taken a lot of guts to publicly showcase her stomach and let the world know that she has come to terms with the changes that have occurred in the period of pregnancy.

Research has shown that stretch marks are permanent scars that have no cure. No treatment has been discovered to wipe them out. However, some treatments have been recommended to reduce their intensity.

Anyone with enough understanding of the circumstances surrounding stretch marks would immediately see the unfairness in faulting a woman for a condition that is completely out of her control. A stretch mark is not a medical condition that needs medical attention unless becomes severe. Stretch marks are only the skin reacting to growth and expansion. This should not in any way define the beauty of a woman.

It is time women learned to embrace their bodies, its stretch marks and everything in between. It doesn’t change who they have been, nor does it invalidate their beauty. Rather than hide in shame and drown in embarrassment, African women with stretch marks need to crawl out of their dark holes and embrace their bodies. There is also the need for men to appreciate women for who they are, stretch marks or not.

 

John Augustina is a writer, a journalist, a singer who loves people and currently writes for Afrocritik.

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