Of love and skin

I was born with a skin sickness called Neurodermatitis. I'm now 14 and so is my boyfriend, but I took a chance and told him why I have so many scars because he asked. Because of the sickness, I have the ugliest legs. I have purple spots, white spots, just scars upon scars upon scars. And there ALL OVER MY BODY. My boyfriend loves me very, very much and I do the same, but I'm worried about what he thinks about my body. I've never shown him what my skin looks like except my lower arms and upper chest (v-neck shirts, not topless). Will my body scare him to stop loving me?
Sarah replies:

When I was very little, I developed really severe atopic eczema. My parents and doctors had the worst time getting it under control, but eventually they managed to find the right set of lifestyle changes and medications to take care of the problem. I didn't really have a lot of issues (as long as I avoided the things that we knew triggered me) until I went through puberty. Right around that time, it came back with a vengeance. I had really awful patches on my legs and arms especially. I did catch some teasing over this from some people who were really insensitive and didn't know me very well. I was splotchy (and often very physically uncomfortable from the itching and pain) and often had scars from areas where the eczema was really serious. Because of careful management, I did eventually get it back under control and most of the scaring has faded by now, although I do sometimes still have outbreaks.

I wanted to tell you that story so that you'd know that I really do get it. Unfortunately, people often judge and comment based on what's going on with our outsides. It's not really fair or kind, but some people do it anyway. There's often nothing you can do about that. However, you also can't let a few negative people, or the fear that others will react badly, to make you afraid to interact with people. It's awfully hard to form meaningful relationships with people if you're afraid of them. Will some people still react badly? Yeah, they will. I'd be lying if I said they wouldn't. But, will the people who truly, genuinely care about you let a few scars get in the way? No.

Here's another secret...most people have scars. The longer we are alive, the more signs of that life we're going to pick up on our bodies. It happens to everybody. Many many people have some form of skin condition or another. Or maybe they picked up some scars during childhood or from an accident. Heck, most folks have some chicken pox scars hanging around too. Growth (and things like pregnancy) often leave scars on our bodies in the form of stretch marks. So everybody's got em' to one extent or another. Our scars are almost like a record of our lives and what's happened to us. You know, in some cultures (and groups), scaring is a deliberate action to decorate the body or to commemorate important events. So your partner likely has scars as well.

The bottom line here is that if your partner is a caring person, he's not going to let a few little scars get in his way. There's much more to you than just what your skin looks like. And even beyond that, I'd encourage you to work on moving beyond being afraid of your own skin. I know that it's hard, I've been there myself. I remember cheering at basketball games and hearing people in the crowd asking "What was wrong with my legs?" I cried a lot about that. I spent a long time being afraid of what people might say or what they might think about my body. But in the end, I had to deal with that. Sure, a few people were going to make nasty comments, but this was the only skin I was going to have and I couldn't let that fear control my life.

So what can you do right now? I'd suggest first that you work on your own body image. Those fears about what others think are not going to go away until you become truly comfortable with YOU and all the parts of you. When you look at it the right way, scars are actually kinda cool! It makes you a little different from anybody else (nobody has exactly the same scars or splotches or whatever...even if they have the same or similar issues), and that's cool in and of itself. It tells a story about something you've been overcoming, and I personally think that's pretty neat. You're beautiful exactly the way you are. Secondly, with regard to your nerves about your partner's reaction, put a little faith in him. If he cares, a few scars aren't going to be an issue. If it really puts him off, then he's clearly got some growing up to do. He's not going to find a person in this world who has absolutely no scars or issues. And if a little thing like this is bothersome, then you don't need someone like that in your life. I'd also encourage you to confide to him about your fear about this. Let him know that you're nervous about his reaction. You may be surprised by what you find. (I remember one long conversation with my partner where we compared spots and scars and bits that just generally weirded us out.)

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