This morning my nearly 17 year old son comes downstairs for breakfast before band camp. He still wants to take a shower before going, so he came down topless, something he rarely does.
My teen is 6'2" tall and still growing. He is very trim at 140-145 pounds and he has growth stretch marks.
Last summer while we were going to the pool, I noticed one dark red mark on his lower back crossing his spine. I thought perhaps he had a scratch, then within days he had two, three. I realized he was getting stretch marks from growing. We didn't make a big deal of it as it's a natural part of growing for many teens, especially for those with such large growth spurts. I had growth stretch marks. His dad had growth stretch marks. It happens to many, many of us. In fact 80% of all women get stretch marks (especially during pregnancy), but many boys do too for a variety of reasons.
Well, a year later those stretch marks are beginning to fade as stretch marks do. Soon they won't be noticeable at all except by some lover some day and only if she is looking closely.
About two weeks ago, higher up on his back he had a new stretch mark crossing the spine. Recently I noticed another one (and a couple lower ones seem redder again). He is going through another (last?) growth spurt. I just comment on it as a statement of fact, "Oh, you have more stretch marks along your back. I guess you aren't done growing!"
But then there is my mother-in-law. I try to keep an open mind and to be non-judgmental when it comes to her comments and behavior, but she makes it hard, really hard. My husband and I agree that she probably has either a narcissistic disorder or an antisocial disorder (paired with some autism traits). She pretty much is a classic case of this definition. Right down to 3 failed marriages.
Anyway, this is the conversation this morning while my son is getting his breakfast ready.
MIL: What are those red marks on your back?
Me: (answering for my son) Oh those are stretch marks. I guess he's not done growing.
MIL: Stretch marks? How can he have stretch marks?
Me: Lots of teens get stretch marks when growing. I got them. His dad got them.
MIL: No, S. never got stretch marks. I would have seen them.
Me: Yes he does.
MIL: How would you know? You weren't there when he was a teen.
Me: (chuckling a bit) Well, stretch marks don't go away. They fade, but I can see them and I've asked about them and he told me he got them when he was a teen and growing.
MIL: No. He doesn't have stretch marks. I would have seen them and how could he have stretch marks? No one in my family has stretch marks. Not me, not my sister, not my mother, not my grandmother. Even my great-grandmother who had 10 children didn't have any stretch marks!
Me: Well, that's one line of his family. What about his dad? Your dad? Grandfathers?
MIL: No. No one ever in my family had stretch marks.
Me: How do you know that? They fade so that you can barely see them. You have to look for them when there are places like the spine.
MIL: No, S.'s father was perfect. He looked wonderful. He didn't have any stretch marks.
Me: Well S. has them. You can ask him to show you later if you like. Plus, stretch marks aren't ugly. They are red when they are new, but they basically fade away and nearly disappear.
MIL: No, stretch marks are ugly. No one in my family has them.
Me: Now that is obnoxious to say. Sometimes you say the most obnoxious things.
MIL: OK, I'm obnoxious, but stretch marks are ugly.
End of conversation.
Now first, my teenage son is listening to this entire conversation while eating breakfast. All I need is for him to feel self-conscious about a few innocent stretch marks along his spine. He has no control over his fast growth. There is nothing he can do to prevent them. He eats well, etc. He just has the type of skin that gets stretch marks.
This is not his back, but the marks are similar to his. He is just skinnier. But these marks will fade. And as I said, only a lover who is observant would see them and she wouldn't care a bit.
But my MIL was saying something else too. She was saying anyone who has stretch marks is flawed - not perfect. Not as perfect as her and her family. She is truly bugged that her son and grandson has stretch marks. Can't be her fault! She didn't pass on "faulty" genes UGH!
It also means she thinks my body is ugly. I'm riddled with stretch marks. I got them when my breasts grew. Oh my goodness how I feared my breasts would stay like that with those red angry stretch marks. Those marks are completely invisible except just near my armpit where the skin puckers a bit. I remember crying about it when I was a teen.
I also got stretch marks on my outer thighs while I was growing. I grew very quickly between 14-15 (very late for a girl). Then, I gained weight. I got them on my inner thighs, underarms, back of knees. Then I got pregnant and got them all over my tummy. I was getting stretch marks while I was still dropping weight in the first trimester! I only gained 11 pounds with both of my pregnancies and both times I gained 7 pounds in the last week. (When you start out pregnancy overweight, you don't need to gain weight). I got tons and tons of stretch marks.
If I were to be thin and fit and not have gaining weight stretch marks from getting fat, my body would probably look something like this model as our stretch marks patterns are really similar:
Does that mean this women's body in the picture above is ugly? I think she has a great body. Does that mean she should feel flawed because of the life marks?
What message are we sending by not telling the truth to our teens/young adults? Life happens folks! 80% of girls and women will get stretch marks, so embrace them, don't feel they make you ugly. They are part of you just as your dimples are... you do know dimples are flaws, right?
What are we teaching our boys? That women's bodies can and should always look like this: