The Politics of Scars

Words: Raf Galdeano

(This article is a personal essay submitted by Raf Galdeano; the subject and contents of this article may be triggering.)

All humans carry scars on their bodies. I myself have a scar on my finger from when recycling a tin can went wrong, another few on my legs from shaving accidents and a discoloured patch on my forearm from a kettle burn when I was younger. There are also certain scars which transform my body from my own into a point of discussion and debate. All humans carry scars, but some scar tissue politicises, demonises and isolates the beholder.

For me, this comes in the form of the scar on the underneath of my breast from when I tried to cut it off, hoping I could appear less female if this feat was achieved. Two thin lines on the inside of each of my thighs, now faded, showing where I would have made myself a thigh gap. A small scar on my stomach from my last attempt to take the fat from it. Scars from the hundreds of times it was easier to express myself through self-injury than words. Scars from the moments I promised myself this would make me feel better. More scars from the stitches I have had to sew my body back together. Self-harm is an addiction, your most loyal, never failing coping mechanism. It is an addiction in the sense that it will simultaneously ruin your life and become the only constant thing you feel you can control. The sense of heaviness the remnants of self-harm leave you with are heightened inside a world which forces images of perfection down your throat and casts movie villains as those with the disfiguring scarring.  

The moment I realised this addiction had cost me the right to my body as mine was when I was on a tram, and someone leant over to tell me I should cover up because showing the scarring on my arms on a hot day amounted to attention-seeking. Worse still, my body was not appropriate for children. I am told I am beautiful apart from my scars. They are classed as a barrier between me and a ‘good body’, cementing the discourse that to exist as a scarred person is an affront to the eyes of others. I have been told by friends I should have surgery to remove them- out of sight out of mind. With all due respect, I was a person deserving of safety before you realised I had scars and I am a person still deserving of that safety now you know. If you read this as someone who has not struggled with self-harm please know my body is ultimately none of your business. While we are constantly reminded our bodies are public property and that self-injury shut us off from the right to dignity and privacy, please know the only ones allowed to have opinions on our scars are us. Please know having scars on my arms does not mean you can start a conversation with me on the street about your friend who has scars. Read a book.

This world damages young people. It damages all people, especially for those of us living with multiple and marginalised identities. I am told I am worthy of love if my queer body can be shaved in a certain way, thighs never touching, imperfections commodified as an aesthetic. The worst thing about it is that in many ways, we are encouraged to feed into it. Fed a promise of a better, healthy and happier life if we just follow simple steps and buy product after product; our bodies being reproduced as the source of disgust; never reaching those lofty heights of supreme privilege because- wait- we have not yet learnt to be entirely submissive to our abusers and oppressors. I am promised safety from my gender non-conforming identity as long as I ensure my body reads as female and if I remember to buy a book on dieting and starve myself for long enough maybe it won’t matter that the scars on my thighs make me look fatter and covered in cellulite.

For people with scars, self-love is an act of revolution. Existing in marginalised bodies will often create scars and then a society ruled by perfection expects you to loathe them, take any measure you can to remove or diminish them. Today, I would like to raise a middle finger to that notion. My scars do not make me ugly. However, they do not make me beautiful either. I will live happily alongside my scars knowing they represent the best way I knew how to cope at that time. I am neither diminished nor built up by my scars. They simply exist. I strive for love of the parts of myself that I cannot change, and I hope today that you do too.