I’d try to cover up my legs, and hesitate to wear shorts in summer. One time we were playing basketball on the driveway, and our dad stopped the game with a swipe of his hand. He pointed. What’s that on your leg? A rash?
They were scars. Clumpy constellations and colonies, that wrapped around my legs. My right leg was worse at the time, with more pronounced dark patches right by the bone. I mumbled something about a bug bite and the game continued.
I am a tryhard, and tend to go 0 or 100. As long as I can remember, I would sit and stare at my legs, and see little black dots. They looked like bits of dirt, something I could fix, that I had to make right.
So the blackheads on my legs led to heavy scarring. And not little scratches, either. Huge, deep, ugly scars. I couldn’t help it. There was something wrong with my legs, and I had to do something about it. But I only made it worse, with a fingernail and a pair of glasses, gouging out pockets of skin to get at one impurity. The closer I looked, the more terrible and urgent the blackheads were, and the more I dug in. They dotted the curves and ridges of my legs, from my ankles to my knees. Then I was ashamed of the picking, ashamed of the scars, the tough jerky scabs where my skin tried to erase my actions. Shame began to sour everything.
Before I went running, I would tell myself my legs would be blurred, or my impressive sock tan would even out the scars. My mom warned me people would say things. Only one person did. In my self-defense class, after we had totally run out of conversational formalities, a girl asked what happened to my leg. Somehow, I kept it cool. Ehhhhh, well, ya know…
I don’t remember a specific turning point, only I stopped thinking about it so much. A new confidence was growing untouchable inside me. Born of other matters in my life, it centered me here too. I was kinder to my body. I treated it better. When I didn’t care for my legs, knowing I would mess them up later anyway, my legs were dusty, rusty and cracked. I began to slather on coconut oil, the rich pure stuff, and came out of the bathroom smelling like an Almond Joy. There were other things ballooning, taking up space in my head, and my legs spent most of the time under my desk as I hammered out homework.
And even though I’m a big advocate for head and heart, I think looks are important, because they affect how we feel. I have begun the daunting task of accepting myself. I’m not quite proud of the scars on my legs. But now I take them for what they are. The dark spots are traces of cellular healing, as new skin miraculously replaces the old. Some of my biggest, most infamous scars, turning two or three this year, are already sinking from view. I love the phrase loving unconditionally, because I don’t think you can love anything halfway.
It also helped me realize I shouldn’t bring myself down in front of others. I was too apologetic in language anyways, shy and excusing, and even though it was fun to be self-deprecating, sometimes I wasn’t. I was leaving myself wide open, and when I consciously stopped, the way conversations went began to change. I do believe words have power, and looking back, the thing that scared me the most was someone saying something. I would bring myself down before anyone else could say it. I didn’t want to get to the part where my face would flush and my heart would lurch, and I’d have nothing to say.
There are still times I mess with my legs. Under bright lights, I’ll look closely, scanning for nonconformities. But there is no longer a badge of shame pinned burning to my skin. I’m okay with how my legs look--I like it, even. And as we head into the summer and days in the sun, I’m sourcing sunscreen, beachwear. I’m ready for it to be leg day, every day.