Scars, Glorious Scars

The resident teenager has a t-shirt that says, ‘you say witch like it’s a bad thing,’ bought on a visit to Salem, Massachusetts a few years ago. No, I am not about to treat you to a blog about witches, but her t-shirt came to mind as I sat down to write about something altogether different: scars.

Not unlike the stigma that befell the so-called Salem witches, scars carry a negative connotation in the public imagination. Whether the legacy of surgical intervention or self-healing wounds, scars are almost always thought of as signifying trauma, pain and suffering, horror; and in the case of Bond movies and Halloween costumes, evil murderers. And don’t forget, in Disney’s Lion King movie, Simba’s uncle not only has a scar, his name is Scar, to avoid any uncertainty as to his evil character.

In the era of Brexit and Covid-19, you’ll also hear politicians and news reporters talk about a ‘scarred economy’ or ‘scarred community’. Here, ‘scarred’ equals ‘damaged’ and similarly, when speaking of a deeply troubled person, he/she is often referred to as ‘emotionally scarred.’

Enough already! Stop saying ‘scarred’ like it’s a bad thing. As someone whose body is decorated with numerous scars, let me tell you a different story.

Rather than viewing my scars as some kind of tragic story of pain and suffering, I regard them as a beautiful testament to healing and health. The scar most readily visible is the fine zig-zag that runs from the top of my lip to my right nostril, and which tells the story of how my cleft lip was repaired by a skilled surgeon when I was but a few months old. It’s a scar I am most fond of and without which I wouldn’t be me.

Then there’s the long, curved scar that runs from underneath my right breast to the top of my shoulder blade, a testament to the enormous skills with which a surgeon successfully repaired a birth defect on my oesophagus hours after I was born. It was 1972 and doctors had only just figured out how to safely administer general anaesthetic to infants born with cleft lip and palate. I am forever grateful to that surgical team which, in effect, saved my life.

Never have I felt self-conscious about that scar, and never have I sought to hide it from view, despite the occasional suggestion from others that I ought to. Again, that scar doesn’t symbolise anything but healing and health, and I am proud to show it off. Mostly, however, I forget it’s even there.

I have plenty of small scars too, the legacy of keyhole operations to remove a grumbling appendix and a dodgy ovary, as well as two tiny scars in the groin from when a superbly skilled cardiologist repaired a hole in my heart.

So, can we please move on from lazy and ill-informed stereotypes about scars representing suffering, evil and horror, and start appreciating them for what they often are: testaments to healing and health.

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