In college, my body started to feel like my home. Not in a confident way or just for my green eyes, an exact mix of my father’s blue and mother’s brown, but for the marks on my skin that form a map of my hometown. I look in the mirror and remember my childhood. Maybe that is enough: not to feel perfectly comfortable in my skin, but to feel at home when I look at myself.
My legs are covered in scars like a map of the streets I ran freely for 14 years.
On my left shin is a lightning rod-shaped scar. I was 10, running up and down the bleachers at the rival high school downtown during my sister’s varsity lacrosse game. I went faster and faster, mimicking the girls on the field. It was an agility and athleticism test and a race in which I competed against only myself. I ached with growing pains but looked at my quickly lengthening legs with excitement, hoping I would one day be as athletic as the girls on the field. I would climb those bleachers until I was fast, smart and grown-up like my sister. After a few minutes of seamless agility, my shin slammed into the shiny steel edge of the tallest bleacher. I screamed in pain. Blood poured out of my growing and aching legs for hours and I almost needed stitches. Still, I loved my long legs and wanted to grow to be just like my sister. Today, she is my role model for much more than a regional lacrosse championship. Scars like the bright white one in the center of my shin remind me that I am not my sister no matter how many steps I climb, but also serve as a reminder of just how far my body can take me.
On my left knee is a splotchy bruise. I was 10, playing with all my neighbors and friends the week before elementary graduation. We scootered the hills next to the middle school with furious anticipation. The Razor scooter picked up speed until I could no longer hear the yells of my friends, the barking dogs or the symphony of suburbia. It was an adolescent dream until I hit a tiny rock — a hiccup in my seamless experience of early adolescence thus far. I wiped out and rolled down the hill, my legs turning purple and cracking with blood. I cried my way home to my mother. I was going to need to wear a bandaid with my graduation dress. At least the dress had flowers along the hem. I love that dress. I loved my graduation week, bruises and all.
My face is filled with blemishes and tiny imperfections that remind me of home.
In the center of my forehead is a dot-shaped acne scar. My first bout of acne started when I was 12. It was the first time I felt insecure about my skin. My mother took me to the family dermatologist right away. She told me I could fix it on the surface, but the battle with my skin would continue through my adolescence. At the dermatologist, I learned that to be a hormonal teenager is to be at war with your body and its imperfections. But my mother did her best to teach me to love myself and fix the tiny lumps popping up front and center on my face. She got me a prescription acne cream and reminded me not to pop my pimples. Of course, I didn’t listen. I compulsively picked at my face almost every day until my skin bled, leaving unsightly scars in the pimples’ aftermath. I still have the scars today. But now, as I look in the mirror at tiny pimples, I remind myself not to pop them. I also remind myself that my mom is almost always right.
On my central chin are darker acne scars. My acne hit its peak at the end of my senior year. Nearly every study says that a diet high in dairy and sugar is bad for the skin, but a diet high in dairy and sugar is the best one to have when bonding with your hometown best friends in the last months of childhood. At least three days a week, we carpooled to the same frozen yogurt shop we have all loved since we were toddlers. We drove past our high school, through our neighborhoods and into town. We grabbed the same orders of overflowing tart frozen yogurt we always have and took our cars down the humid George Washington Parkway, watching our beloved/resented suburban hometown fade into the background. I couldn’t change my diet because that would be changing our perfect routine. I don’t regret my frozen yogurt obsession at all.
My feet are marked with hundreds of shoes and miles walked.
On my right big toe is a massive purple bruise. (Please don’t read this if you’re going to be weird about feet). Throughout high school, I formed what my father and sister lovingly named “trench foot”: my misshapen purpled big toe. It started with a rainy day in sneakers and worsened from there. I spent days sprinting, my sneakers squeezing my feet and furthering my battered “trench foot.” I biked flip-flopped to and from the beach, the library and the gallery in town with its scratchy carpeting. I walked my dogs on the sandy, rocky trail behind my house in battered Birkenstocks. I bared my feet in the wet grass in early summer, far too sweaty to wear shoes, as my friends looked away with mock horror. I got a seafoam green pedicure for prom, telling the lovely nail technician (who had seen me before every rite of passage), “Sorry,” as I placed my aching, ugly feet in the bath. My feet carried me everywhere in my hometown. All my life experiences build up, cramping my feet and making them more ugly by the day. I look down at them and laugh.
When we look in the mirror, we don’t just see our features: our hair color, eye color or body shape. We see the imperfections our bodies formed through years of small struggles, and we can come to love them. Through everything, your body is your home.
Daily Arts Writer Kaya Ginsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.