I Spent Years Trying to Hide My Stretch Marks and Missed Out On Life

"I thought I didn't deserve to experience all of life's joys in a bigger body."

Approximately 68% of women in America are considered plus-size, but there’s a clear lack of industry representation and shopping options for this majority. In Plus-Size Diaries, columnist Olivia Muenter dives into all things plus-size, from sharing her personal experiences to speaking out about plus-size culture at large.

For years, my most dreaded moment of vacation was the walk from my beach chair to the ocean. Even on the hottest days of summer, I spent hours drumming up the courage to finally drop the towel and make my way into the water. I dreaded what people would think of my body in a bathing suit—rather, what I had convinced myself people would think.

Would they see my cellulite? Would they notice how *not* flat my stomach was? How I didn’t fill out the top of that bikini just right?

These questions would go through my mind until I couldn’t stand the heat anymore and finally made my way to the ocean as quickly as possible. As refreshing as that first dip in the water would feel, there was still one insecurity that trumped all the others: My stretch marks.

I’ve had stretch marks on the inside of my thighs and across my hips for as long as I can remember. As I got older, I developed them on my arms, my breasts, and my stomach—and I hated them. As someone with a history of disordered eating and weight obsession, I viewed each new mark as a sign of failure, a reminder that I wasn’t getting smaller.

In those days, I believed that if I was getting smaller, I didn’t have any worth at all. I felt complete rage while looking at the marks, blaming myself for creating them, feeling utter frustration that they would never disappear entirely, no matter what I did. Still, I researched laser treatments and lotions that claimed to fade them. With each new stretch mark came something else, too: The mission to find a bathing suit that hid them. 

stretch marks

For many years, the popularity of high-waisted bikinis felt like a gift from the universe to me. Finally, there was a swimsuit style that hid my hip and stomach stretch marks, I thought. It didn’t matter to me that I would rather be wearing a string bikini like all my other friends; I told myself this was just my reality, what I had to wear.

As I got older and the stretch marks on my hips and stomach crept upward, I decided t I had to find swimsuits to hide my body. I started wearing more one-pieces and looking for cover-ups that concealed any stretch marks that couldn’t be hidden by the suit itself. I would enter a swimsuit section of a store like I was on a mission, trying to dismiss the sadness I felt when my eyes would land on the type of bathing suit I really wanted, but told myself I didn’t deserve.

I truly believed with every fiber of my being that because of my stretch marks, I wasn’t “allowed” to wear the cute, barely-there swimsuits that other women could sport. I told myself that if I had eaten less or exercised more, then I might be able to wear something else, something sexier, something bolder—but even then, I knew my stretch marks wouldn’t disappear. Without even realizing it, I was punishing myself for simply having a body that changed, grew, and shifted. I was depriving myself of cute clothing, sure, but also of experiencing life itself.

And then one summer, I found myself in a familiar beach chair, staring at a familiar ocean and feeling a familiar sense of dread. However, before I went through the mental gymnastics it usually took to get myself in the water, I looked around me at the other women on the beach. These women were all ages, all shapes and sizes, all wearing everything from tiny bikinis and plunging one pieces to modest tankinis—and they all looked happy. The more I looked at them, the more I realized that I wasn’t cataloging their stretch marks or cellulite at all. So why would anyone be looking at mine?

Of course, it occurred to me that these women probably had insecurities, too, and that these insecurities probably sounded a lot like mine even—but I realized they were living their lives anyway. Immediately, I reflected on what a victory that felt like. I wasn’t jealous of their bodies, but of their ability to simply live life.

I had spent years dressing my body in a way I didn’t want to because I thought I didn’t deserve to experience all of life’s joys in a bigger body with stretch marks. I had punished myself by wearing bathing suits that I didn’t love and by spending hours sweating in stifling heat instead of relaxing in a cool, sparkling ocean. I had held myself back from fully experiencing the world around me. I realized that what was important going forward wasn’t so much that I loved how my body looked at every moment or that I embraced my stretch marks, but that I lived my life, anyway—not an edited, pared-down version. 

These days, when I find myself having anxiety about someone noticing my stretch marks at the beach or pool, this is what I tell myself. “Do I want to wear this bathing suit? Do I want to be in the ocean? Do I want to be happy?” The answer to all three is always yes, so I let that be the thing that guides me—not my insecurities. This doesn’t make my self-consciousness about my stretch marks disappear, but that doesn’t really matter, because it always feels like a victory.