Gossip magazines, the cosmetic industry and Agony Aunts have long fuelled the idea that stretch marks are embarrassing. Creams and lotions insist that stretch marks should be hidden and erased. It's one more front in the fight with impossible beauty standards, but luckily one project is encouraging people to embrace their stretch-marked bodies just as they are.
Two East Coast moms are sharing their experiences as mothers, talking about the way childbirth changes a woman's body and calling on other women to do the same. Their Instagram account, Love Your Lines, has attracted more than 24,000 followers since its first post on Aug. 12, and has received an onslaught of positive comments for its photos of "real women."
By encouraging people to capture and flaunt their stretch marks, the project hopes to give men and women the confidence to embrace their so-called "imperfections" and draw inspiration from the community they have created.
"We created the account to inspire women of all ages, sizes and cultural backgrounds," the anonymous Instagram administrators told Mic by email. "We started the campaign on a whim, after a few discussions about our bodies after motherhood. The response has been phenomenal and we are so honored that [Love Your Lines] is being received so well. We knew other women would be able to relate, but we were not expecting such an overwhelming response."
Each caption on their black-and-white images shares the story of the woman who submitted the photo. "I've had my lines since middle school," one woman writes. "I used to be embarrassed and hide them, tried cocoa butter and fade creams. I've learned to fully embrace it. Now I can walk down the beach, no cover-up ... they're forever a part of me and my lines are beautiful."
The campaign gives women the choice of revealing their identity, though the project's creators told Mic that they themselves have chosen to remain nameless: "We do not want the attention on us directly, but on the women submitting and stories shared."
And they seem to be having an impact. So far, Love Your Lines has united women from a variety of experiences — not just women who experienced stretch marks before and after pregnancy but also those who played sports, fought off diseases or simply went through puberty.
"If you could name any place on my body, I have stretch marks there. I'm only 22, no kids, no nothing," @alyciaa_khalifa wrote. "I've had my stretch marks since I was 12, and I used to get teased throughout middle and high school. I used to be so self-conscious. I wouldn't buy shirts unless they had sleeves and covered my entire body. I even battled with bulimia for a few years because I wanted to be skinny and beautiful. As I've gotten older, I've accepted that my stretch marks aren't going anywhere, so there's no point in trying to hide them."
Love Your Lines joins a larger backlash against the body-shaming and fat-shaming that have long been prevalent in a Western, image-conscious culture that holds particular standards of beauty — generally thin, unblemished and light-skinned — above all others.
Earlier this month, mother-of-five Tanis Jex-Blake posted her bikini photo on Facebook and wrote an open letter about her experience being mocked by strangers. Her post received more than a million Facebook "likes" and hundreds of messages of support. Jex-Blake, the viral #Fatkini movement and many others are all showing the world that beautiful doesn't have to mean Barbie.
And the Love Your Lines project's creators have big plans for where they want to bring their message next.
"Women seem to be gathering inspiration and encouragement through the photos shared and responses," the creators told Mic, noting that they hope to soon expand the project to "showcase women from around the world in a diverse and artistic manner."
So far, close to 100 images have been posted by the moms, all because of this simple call to action: "We would love a photo showcasing a part of your body that you think will inspire others to feel good about themselves (a part that you may have struggled with in the past or currently.)"
Because of these two women, lots of people are feeling good already.
Image Credit (all): Love Your Lines