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My toddler helped me learn to love my stretch marks

Charlotte Hilton Andersen is the author of the book The Great Fitness Experiment: One Year of Trying Everything and runs the popular health and fitness website of the same name, where she tries out a new workout every month, specializing...

Why I won't apologize for my stretch mark "battle scars"

Pop quiz! What's something nearly 100 percent of women have, we have no control over and yet over 90 percent of us feel like we have to hide? If you said "stretch marks" you win our prize. Which is... the privilege of knowing you were right on the internet? (And if you said "cellulite" congratulations, that's a close second.)

In the long list of things we've been told to hate about ourselves, stretch marks often rank up towards the top which is funny considering the majority of us have at least a few stripes to our name. But a new Instagram account called Love Your Lines is encouraging women to be proud of their lines and to stop hiding something that wasn't broken in the first place. It's a message that rings true for a lot of us as the account has garnered over 60,000 followers in just a few weeks.

Every line tells a story of growth spurts, puberty, pregnancy, aging, weight loss and other hallmarks of the female experience.

My stretch mark journey

My own stretch mark journey probably started in puberty although I don't remember being really aware of them until I was nine months pregnant with my first child. I was looking at my huge belly while I was getting dressed and said off-handedly to my husband, "Hey I'm almost ready to pop and I don't have a single stretch mark! How cool is that?" I'll never forget the look on his face. There was a long pause as I watched him struggle to pick his words carefully. Finally he said, "Maybe you have a few?" and pointed underneath my belly — you know, the one spot I really couldn't see.

I didn't have a few. I had hundreds. And after the baby was born and my stomach settled out to its new shape, I found they went up over my belly button, down the insides of my thighs, around my ribs and of course all over my poor nurse-till-they-burst breasts. With a new baby to take care of, I didn't worry about them that much but they did certainly make me frown every time I looked in the mirror.

When that baby got to be a toddler I remember looking at myself critically in the mirror one day when my young son pointed at my doughy stomach and said, "Why you gots tiger stripes?" At first I was horrified he'd noticed but then this was also the son who'd earlier pointed to my unshaven legs and declared, "Polka dots!"

I tried to decide what to tell him and how to say it. Should I just be factual? Make it into a joke? Make sure he never saw me dressing again? He decided for me when he added sadly, "And why me gots no tiger stripes?"

He thought they were the coolest thing ever! He thought I was like Spider Man except bit by a tiger. It's cliche but seeing my stretch marks through my son's eyes made me see myself in a whole different way. Rather than being a flaw, they were a superpower. And if growing and pushing out five babies isn't a super power then I don't know what is. (Dear Marvel: Make a pregnant superhero!) 

Reminders of my story

Now that my "baby" is nearly five, my stretch marks have gone from red, angry gashes to slight, silvery scars. They're so delicate they almost feel ethereal or fairy-like. I won't go so far as to say I love them but I feel very connected to them. They remind me of my story — the story of two miscarriages and a stillborn daughter, of a fraught pregnancy with an emergency appendectomy, of years of watching other women have babies when I couldn't and then finally being blessed with my own.

Looking at me in clothing, my stomach is relatively flat and you'd never guess everything underneath but I love my lines. I'm proud of how I got them. They are my story scars.

These days I refuse to hide my stretch marks when I wear a swimming suit or spray-tan them to make them less noticeable or apologize for them. They're part of who I am. Love your lines.

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