Scars are strange things. Not necessarily in how they biologically exist, but more so in how they’re treated.
I, for instance, have a few different kinds of scars. Dermatillomania scars, of course, but I also have a dog bite scar on my face that is less than visible and a 20-year-old operation scar from when I broke my elbow that is more than visible. My derm scars vary in visibility, depending on how old they are, or how deep the wound was, or whatever other factors go into make a scar and scar.
I used to be a severe face picker in my teens, but no one would really know it these days with how much they’ve faded. Even I only know they exist because I know where to look and how to look. I have pale white scars that cover most of my arms; they’re visible if you pause long enough to take a look. And I have scars on my legs that are dark and prominent.
Despite the fact that both my leg scars and elbow scar are pretty much equal in visibility, I rarely, if ever, get asked about my elbow scar. From what I can tell, no one seems to notice it.
I’ve been wondering lately, what’s the difference? Is it because my leg scars are a cluster of dots as opposed to a long incision scar? That doesn’t make sense to me though because people love asking about scars. There’s a romantic air that we’ve given to scars that look like they would come straight out of a fantasy battle. And even if someone doesn’t think we’ve faced any evil overlord lately, there’s a cringe of sympathy and a wonder in the question, “how did you get that scar?”
I’m sure all dermafolk know that the romance is completely lost when it comes to derm scars. People don’t cringe with sympathy, but with horror or disgust more often than not. It’s like they wait on baited breath to hear about some disease that’s made our skin look this way. Some contagious disease that they’ll make a silent note-to-self to avoid for future reference.
When it comes to derm scars, a lot of the time the question transforms to, “what’s wrong with your skin?”
Maybe that’s what the difference is, in the end. The stigma that comes with the sight of our skin—the stigma-induced fear that people might have about some contagion they’ll have to avoid or else end up with skin like ours.
This is all just speculation, to be honest. I have no idea what goes through people’s heads when they think it’s okay to question certain scars one way as opposed to another, or when they decide to question scars at all.
What’s important to know as dermafolk though, or as anyone with scars, is that we have a choice in our disclosure of how those scars came into existence and how we deal with being approached.
Wearing shorts over the summer, I only got asked twice why my legs are the way they are, but both times there was that twinge of disgust or fear. Even as the one person told me her sister’s legs look the same way.
One thing I always used to worry about when I thought of bearing my scars was that I would have to share the full truth 100% of the time. The advocate in me said that I should. The reality is that I don’t have to do that.
I didn’t tell either one of those people about my skin picking because it didn’t feel right. The way they asked their questions was off-putting and I decided not to share with them. Some people might think this was counterproductive for an advocate or a cop-out on my part, but honestly there is nowhere that says we need to be completely open all the time.
Advocacy is important, yes, but so are we. If we don’t like the way we’re approached, we don’t have to respond to it. Creating awareness is important, but we don’t want to do it at the expense of ourselves.
I don’t know why people make heroes out of some scars and demons out of others. I would stay away from romanticizing in general because of how inauthentic it is.
What I do know is people respond differently to different kinds of scars, and we in turn are allowed to respond however we feel comfortable at that time.