Stretch marks. Those scars of growth and change that mark our bodies. Sometimes no amount of oils or creams can completing erase the scarring, and it causes us to feel like covering up permanently. Whether you have stretch marks from having a baby or from weight loss or even from your body growing into womanhood, most of us can relate.
Meet Ryan Roschke. Since he was 16, he has hated being shirtless. His body confidence was rattled when he developed an autoimmune disease which shut down his kidneys. A medication prescribed to him caused his stomach to expand and within a month, his out abdomen was ravaged with stretch marks.
"I suffered through a misdiagnosis, more prescription medications than I could count, peritoneal dialysis (a process which replaces kidney function), a proper diagnosis, a new treatment, remission, and finally, a kidney transplant. My quiet but brave brother, Jason, donated his kidney to me, and just after I turned 18, my nightmare was over." Ryan explains.
But the stretch marks remained. They faded from a deep purple to a pink shade and became translucent. Ryan was in shambles over them.
"For women, stretch marks are open territory. They complain about them, they buy fancy creams to treat them, and together, they try to embrace them. But as a man, I didn't have access to the same open dialogue. I felt isolated by my own body issues."
Ryan began to feel damaged and worthless. He started letting his stretch marks define him. He went through a barrage of commentary by roommates, friends and strangers alike, curious about him stomach. Ryan was afraid of the awkwardness of intimate encounters, what would women think? He became so desperate he consulted a plastic surgeon about eliminating them for good, but didn't have enough skin to undergo an operation. Even then surgery could only diminish them slightly, not get rid of them all together.
Today, Ryan's marks have faded from what they once were. He still struggles with accepting them from time to time, but he has learned a way to love them .
"I do not think they are beautiful. But I've come to realize that I don’t have to think they’re beautiful — ever. It is not about looking pretty, it’s what they stand for. These “wounds” are the product of overcoming a traumatic medical experience. I'm a warrior. That these are marks of bravery, strength, and resilience. That I've literally earned my stripes. That once upon a time, a frightened little boy faced a terrible ordeal, and instead of giving up, he fought back and won. And that’s how I learned to love my lines."
"I tell myself not to worry when I take off my shirt. Others can stare if they want. I tell myself I deserve whole, unbridled love, and I don't need the validation of others to earn it. I tell myself I'm not damaged merchandise after all, but instead someone with good character and a meaningful history."
What do you think of Ryan's journey to accepting his body? Do you have an inspiring story of body confidence to share with us?