This post talks about scars, invasive medical procedures and needles, so please don’t read on if you think this might upset you.
The Scarred FOR Life photos were recently exhibited at the 7th Appearance Matters Conference held in London. I thought about gate-crashing the conference to go and see them (apparently this would have been OK), but I didn’t have the nerve in the end.
I haven’t felt particularly self-conscious about the appearance of my scars since I left school (20 years ago, yes I am now ancient in the eyes of anyone under 25), apart from when, as occasionally happens randomly in shops and such like, someone I don’t even know says ‘what happened there?’ (or something), pointing to my heart surgery scar. This scar is actually not the ‘worst’ one I have (in the sense of being the most obvious), but it is the only bit of my scars I normally have on show, as it were. The chest drain one is quite good, as is the one from the bypass machine from my last open heart surgery in 2008 – this one gives me the most trouble as it can ache when it’s cold and/or I’ve been climbing hills/stairs, even though, bizarrely, I can’t actually feel anything on the skin where it is. I think it must be quite deep into the muscle – hence the aching. I have deeper ones (the temporary pacemaker lead – I can still (mentally) feel how painful it was when the nurse tried to pull them out ((unsuccessfully), fortunately the doctor had more luck). Or is that a different scar? I actually don’t know. The deep one might be something else. I have a few scars that I’ve never identified with any particular procedure, they’ve just always been part my physical make-up. There are lots of small ones, from cannulas and other needles. Blood tests, lots of blood tests.
[Aside: I just read this on the Great Ormond Street Hospital page about cannulas and it’s amazing:
If you are scared of needles, let your nurse or doctor know so that they arrange to have a play specialist to support you. It should take only a few minutes to put an IV cannula in.
A play specialist to help with fear of needles. I wish they’d existed when I was a child/teenager…maybe I could ask for one now? Probably not, sadly. I think Great Ormond Street’s information about cannulas should be given to anyone, young or old, who has to have one. If you’re an adult, they don’t explain to you, then just put one in you as a matter of course and you have to get on with it. I always tell them not to put one in my hand (that’s the most painful place for me) but sometimes they have to. I hate having one in because (a) I’m really paranoid about knocking it because it hurts if I do and you can’t wash properly and things and (b) for me, the cannula is major psychological symbol of being [ill and]in hospital. Once it’s in, you can’t go home until someone else takes it out so you’re basically trapped. I guess I could take it out myself if I was desperate, but, ugh, no. The first thing I do when they say I can go home is ask someone to take out the cannula(s) (yes, sometimes you get two as a special treat). /Aside]
In terms of appearance, though, I’ve always been more self-conscious about the effects of my scoliosis – I suppose because I can’t hide it. I used to wear baggy clothes and have my hair long(er), which I hoped might help, but I don’t think it did really. It looks horrible and I’m still really self-conscious about it – ageing and entering adult society doesn’t seem to have helped with this. I look at other people with envy all the time, wishing my back and shoulders were straight and I could wear the clothes I want to wear (it’s hard to find things (particularly dresses) that fit well over weird, very round shoulders (which are also at different heights) and a half-hunchback (caused by the curve in the spine making one shoulder-blade stick out more than the other). I was never offered treatment, apart from exercises (which of course I didn’t do properly – I was a teenager!), because my scoliosis wasn’t considered severe enough to warrant it. And would I have wanted to go through wearing a back brace and/or having surgery? Probably not.
People at school used to say I was ugly (I also have wonky teeth, to add to the effect) and I remember someone throwing stones at me as I walked home from school one day (why? I can only put it down to the way I looked). Humans don’t like ugliness because it reminds them of death and decay – that’s a biological fact (that I just made up) – but in a so-called civilised society we’re supposed to keep our thoughts about it to ourselves…except that we don’t. Whether it comes from bullies at school or the media’s ‘ideals’ of what people (particularly women) are supposed to look like, ‘ugly’ people (people who are far from what society considers normal in appearance) are made to feel bad about themselves on a fairly regular basis, or just don’t appear in mainstream media at all. Unattractive=bad. Villains are scarred (or hunchbacked, see Richard III for a classic case in point), ugly frogs turn into beautiful princes or princesses – remaining plain and being yourself is not allowed (except in Shrek).
Everyone needs to know or at least feel that they are a good, worthwhile, capable person. If someone is not conventionally attractive on the outside they particularly need to know this – they need to be told this by the people who love them, especially when they’re young, because other people and the media will tell them the opposite for the rest of their lives. Appearance matters – often in a bad way.
On a more positive note, my daughter is very beautiful. She takes after her father 🙂