All images by Alejandra Hernandez
CN: Self-harm, scars
In the fours years I’ve been self-harming, the inevitability of summertime has always filled me with dread. This is all the more relevant with the recent heatwave, when high temperatures have forced me out of the safety blanket of long sleeves, and into the vest-topped discomfort of exposed, scarred skin.
The problem with exposing self-harm scars is not confined to concerns about appearance. True, this weighs heavily on my mind; the marks on my arms are angry and discolored, demanding attention from my wandering eyes. But the heatwave has also forced me, and other former or current cutters, to confront our scars in other, psychological ways. They are no longer out of sight, out of mind. And every time I catch a glimpse of my arm I relive my worst memories.
But covering scars is difficult. Foundation inevitably smudges, accessories can only cover so much skin, and loose linen clothing is often too hot to bear. These methods are helpful, but I want to pay homage to the different ways in which you can begin to feel more relaxed when showing your skin in the sun, if you want to.
1) Take care of your skin
Only recently have I learnt to accept my scars as a permanent part of my body. This was an important step in my ability to feel okay about wearing short sleeves, as I was able to tolerate the cuts instead of viewing them as alien to my body.
Incorporating self-harm scars into your skincare regime can help in your early acceptance of your scars whilst the self-care is important in recovery.
Different skin care regimes work for different people, but I have found that bio-oil has helped me feel better about the appearance of my scars; they appear softer and suppler, and you don’t need to buy the most expensive oils either. Other over-the-counter gels and creams may help, and gentle scrubs can help remove dead skin, although you may prefer DIY scar-lightening remedies such as applying lemon juice to the old scars (which will need rinsing).
Remember to look after your scars in the sun, too, and regularly apply sun-cream to your scars to prevent them from burning and potentially miscolouring further.
2) Be inspired by body positivity and self-care
I’m inspired by the confidence of others who are at ease with showing their scarred skin without glamorising self-harm scars.
There are a number of body positive Instagram accounts which serve as a reminder that there is nothing wrong with being confident in your own skin. My favourites include @_chl.o and @selfcarequeen_ but there are so many other accounts that document their recovery unapologetically.
If you use social media, these accounts might help you realise that you are not alone in having scarred skin and that there is no shame in embracing summery clothing, although please be aware that some content might be triggering.
3) Don’t abandon cover-ups
Feeling okay showing your skin does not happen instantly. Keeping cover-ups at hand, to use as a backup option, might make you feel more secure in case you decide you want to whip out a light cardigan, concealer or bracelet, for a while.
Confidence grows over time, and it is normal to feel overwhelmed at times. It is important to remember that using cover-ups is not necessarily a retreat into fully hiding your scars – they allow you to ease yourself gradually into showing your skin.
4) Rehearse responses to uncomfortable questions
People shouldn’t ask about your scars, but the fear that someone will point them out can be a big barrier to wearing shorts and short-sleeved tops. Having a response ready for uncomfortable questions might make you feel more prepared.
It is entirely up to you how you would explain your scars. Some people feel more comfortable making up excuses, such as falls and scrapes, but some scars are easier to lie about than others.
It is also fine to tell people that your skin is none of their business, or simply tell the truth.
In my experience, these four methods have helped make summertime much more bearable for me. Feeling okay showing your scars is very personal, and may take months or years, but remember that your confidence will grow over time and that you’re not alone in your insecurity.