I laid on the examination table at my doctor’s, the cool plastic cushioning warming under my skin, as I waited for my annual physical. My doctor arrived as nonchalantly as ever — a proud Korean woman in her late 50s who had established her practice in the suburbs of Southern California in the late ‘90s. My parents specifically requested a Korean doctor from their insurance company for their kids. My proudly Korean parents believed that Korean doctors did their jobs best. They never conformed to Western etiquette, allowing them to give their unfiltered diagnoses for patients.
Standing at 5-foot-1 and weighing less than most 10-year-old girls, because Asian girls were never fat, my doctor was the biggest bully around. She had an uncanny knack for words, words that could demolish the fragile self esteem of an impressionable teenage girl such as myself.
She eyed my fully dressed body up and down, and I felt naked. A slight frown appeared on her face as she eyed my rounded stomach. She reached for her stethoscope and pressed the harsh metal against my chest. She flipped me over, placing her hands here and there, readjusted me, then lifted my shirt. She gasped when she saw the jagged red lines that covered my lower torso.
A few months before, I had acknowledged my stretch marks as vibrant red paint strokes positioned artistically on a peach canvas. I thought they added flare to my otherwise pale stomach and I enjoyed tracing my fingers over the grooves on my skin, a new and intriguing texture I had never felt. My doctor disagreed. She stared at the uneven, red imprints on the sides of my navel, her eyes burning over every imperfection on my body, as my face flushed with embarrassment. She forced me off the examination table and pushed me in front of the full-body mirror, waking up my mother who had been dozing off in a chair at the corner of the room.
“Her body looks like that of a woman who just delivered a baby.” My mother looked at my reflection, a mixture of shame and disgust evident in her furrowed eyebrows and the sloped edges of her mouth. The mirror seemed to crack with jagged red lines that shattered my once “pristine” body. My mother, on the verge of tears, murmured to herself, questioning how in the world anyone would be able to love her daughter with such an abused and scarred body. She never asked the more important question: How in the world would I be able to love myself with such a damaged perception of beauty and self worth?
After that day, I couldn’t unsee those jagged red lines on the mirrors, so I stopped using mirrors. I undressed in the dark and avoided anything that would expose me and my stretch marks. I hated going to the beach because I didn’t want people to stare at my jagged red lines without my permission, and I prohibited my partners from taking off my clothes when things got intimate. I became increasingly critical of my body and dressed myself in oversized clothing that disguised my figure. By hiding my body, I unknowingly perpetuated the shame my mother and doctor dressed me in after I left my doctor’s office that day. I didn’t realize how damaging this mentality was until I enrolled in FemSex.
I joined FemSex unintentionally and didn’t expect it to have such an impact on my life. The community of strong, considerate and kind women and man (one Asian dude named Oliver who happens to be one of the coolest dudes on campus) provided me with an outlet for the internalized hate I harbored for my body. No one is required to share their thoughts, and the facilitators emphasize that we only speak when we truly wish to. So the conversations we created and engaged in became exponentially more genuine and thought-provoking.
I allowed myself to be vulnerable and started speaking openly about my body both in class and out. To my surprise, both my peers and friends reacted positively. By exchanging our personal struggles with body image, we had removed the taboo associated with our insecurities and taken a step closer in accepting our bodies as they are.
A close friend of mine even sent me a Snapchat of her stretchmarks with hearts written in the caption, various shades of blue outlining the silvery lines, and told me that she had never sent a picture of her stretch marks to anyone. Instinctively, I sent her a picture of my own with shades of red and pink outlining them. It was the first time anyone had seen my stretch marks since the day my doctor and mother had condemned them, and for the first time since then, I wasn’t ashamed to have them scarring my body.
When I was younger, I never noticed that the objectification and degradation of my body by my mother and doctor were only protective. Their words and actions may not have aligned with their intentions, but they only wanted the best future for me, one that consisted of a loving husband who treasured my body, already knowing that the world treated less attractive women as inferior. I still see the jagged red lines in the mirror sometimes, but they’re slowly fading away, like the toxic outlook I had for my body and women’s bodies in general.
Lauren Ahn writes the Friday blog on inedible nourishment. Contact her at [email protected].