The picture above this paragraph has popped up in my Facebook feed more than once. Whenever I see it, I get a sudden urge to pick up my laptop and throw it through the nearest window. A tanned, Caucasian stomach with unrealistic stretch marks shopped on by the right hip. “Your body is not ruined,” it says. “You’re a goddamn tiger who earned her stripes”. I look at my own stretch marks in the disabled toilets at work (there’s more room and a full-length mirror). “Tiger stripes? Who the fuck are you trying to kid? These babies came about via the midnight pizza and pint of Haribo Tangfastics-strewn Ben & Jerry’s that I ate in one sad gulp back in 2006 after Chris L slept with me and never called again”. If that was how Tony the Tiger got his stripes, no wonder his species is endangered.
Like many women in their late 20s, I have a strange yet wonderful relationship with my body. It’s not exactly perfect, but whose body is? I have pretty decent (if debilitatingly huge) breasts; good firm legs that allow me to run five miles without requiring an oxygen tent; and a pleasingly wobbly stomach that my boyfriend likes to wrap his arms around at night, using my midriff as a fleshy security blanket. This year, I’ve managed to lose a significant amount of weight. Admittedly this was prompted by a memorable if sobering visit to the doctor. The nurse took one look at my family’s medical history – an epic saga featuring deep vein thrombosis, type-2 diabetes, adult leukaemia and high blood pressure in the falsetto range – then told me off for an hour about all the peanut butter, pork belly and Negronis in my diet. But every yin has its yang and, as the weight slipped away, the stretch marks arrived. Oh the stretch marks.
I feel ambivalent about my stretch marks. I’m not particularly wild about them, but I see them as being as much as part of me as any other part of my body. To deny their existence would be like pretending I don’t have a belly button. They’re just….there. And while I suppose it’s nice that someone is trying to make me feel better, even if it’s about something I don’t really give a tuppenny fuck about, why stop at stretch marks? Why don’t they create one for unsightly hairy moles people occasionally get on their backs, or the smattering of freckles some of us have at the tops of our arms? I can just see it now: “Hey girl! I love your freckles! Your body sure showed the sun who’s boss!”
And what’s with that mixed metaphor? I’m a tiger? A tiger in the sack or a tiger mom? Anyway, ‘earning stripes’ is a military idiom – the frosted-cereal-loving big cats are born with theirs. This meaningless, greeting-card guff serves no real purpose other than making the creator feel better about themselves and how they perceive women’s bodies. It’s the Tumblr equivalent of a pat on the back.
As a plus sized woman, I’m used to being patronised left, right and centre by modern society. Those Dove adverts with their “real” women are major offenders here. “Don’t be ashamed of your curves! They make you a real woman!” Oh really? And what does that make my size 8 friends then – fold-up sofas? Bitch please. But it annoys me that whenever some no mark fires up Photoshop and assembles one of these homespun homilies, I’m supposed to be teary-eyed with gratitude. I don’t need an inane image macro to tell me something that’s self-evident to those of us with working brains.