Warning: Story contains some graphic images.
When I was 14 years old I told everyone at a sleepover that my lower legs were the only thing I wouldn’t change about my body.
We were playing the kind of cruel game that only teenage girls can get away with – What would you change about your appearance if you could?
The answer, in most cases, was “everything”.
“I’d probably keep my calves,” I said, bravely. Everyone was impressed with my body positivity, it’s not the kind of thing we talked about.
It was true, too. I liked my lower legs. But my stomach, thighs, nose, bum, feet and shoulders? I’d replace all of those those in a flash.
Now that I’m in my 20’s, I thought I’d grown out of that nonsense.
But I was wrong.
Recently, on a holiday to Cambodia, I sliced my left shin open on a wooden step. My boyfriend and I were holidaying on a remote island – accessible-only-by-boat-which-runs-once-a-day kind of remote.
I fell down (or, more accurately, through) the steps outside our cabin on the way to dinner one night. I smacked my shin so hard on the wood, and the pain was so godawful, that I assumed I’d broken a bone. The cut was deep and dirty, and the next boat didn’t leave til morning.
After the administration of some rudimentary first aid, I spent the night worrying. Would I bleed out and die before morning? Was my shinbone broken? And, although I tried to push the thought back again and again – how bad would the scar be?
By the time we reached the hospital in Sihanoukville, I accepted I was probably going to survive. The cut was cleaned, stitched up, and I was being pumped with intravenous antibiotics to combat the risk of infection. My leg was X-rayed, and my shinbone was miraculously unharmed.
The doctor said I wouldn’t be fit to fly home for five days. He told me how lucky I was.
I spoke to the insurer on the phone, who told me how lucky I was.
I called my mum, who told me – tearily – how lucky I was.
I was lucky. Breaking a bone in a foreign country is an extremely traumatic experience, and I could have been stuck in that hospital for weeks, not days. If a bone is reset wrong, it can cause a lifetime of complications. As someone who values my ability to walk, I should have been thrilled.
But I just kept thinking about that scar.
The Cambodian doctors and nurses were fantastic, but the stitches looked like something out of a horror movie. The cut was wide and long, and the end result was something I might have drawn on for Halloween.
I found myself wondering, between watching TLC Asia and playing endless games of cards with my patient boyfriend, whether a nice clean break of a bone wouldn’t have been preferable.
Sure, it would take longer to heal, but in six months nobody would have been able to see a thing.
I’ve grown up a lot since I went to that sleepover. I’ve stopped wearing a necklace with a diamonte pendant in the shape of a “Z” (it was cool at the time).
I no longer dare my friends to call boys we know and ask how hard an erect penis is. (The answer, if you’re wondering, was “it makes concrete look soft,” which is a lie but you have to admire that guy’s confidence.)
I like to think I’m more confident, more secure in myself, and exponentially happier with who I am.
I understand that a woman’s worth isn’t defined by her appearance. That I should never take my ability to run or skip or move or breathe for granted, because I’m young and healthy and incredibly lucky.
I shocked myself with how much I hated my scar.
In the last few weeks, I’ve been making an effort to appreciate my body for what it is: Good at swimming and riding, not so good at running. Relatively forgiving when I eat too much. There for a reason – a good reason, not for other people to ogle at or to look good in Instagram photos.
I’m trying to take the scar for what it is: a mark of healing. A place where my body has been split in two, and has mended itself again.
I’m trying to be proud of my body for what it does, not what it looks like.
It’s not as easy as it sounds.