Leaving a woman's body alone is so difficult. If it isn't about dictating how much skin she shows or commenting on its darkness, it is about the marks on it. You know, scars, spots, scabs, specks and all those tiny-to-big announcements that a woman's body is imperfect in some way. Defective is another word that comes to mind, especially if I recall people's expressions on beholding my keloid.
Keloid. Sounds deadly, doesn't it? It isn't, but if the common man's gaze at my upper chest is to be believed the butterfly-shaped growth there is but the very disease that will bring mankind to its end. Mid-handshake, some withdraw their hands as soon as they see it, whispering, "What is that?" as if they see an alien perched there. Some others, because they like to be right even if rude, pronounce a kind "Ugh!" before they ask me to "just get the ugliness removed, will you?" Very few have directly asked me (though everyone must have thought of this), with bated breath, "Are they contagious?" The list of those asking me to "keep it covered, why show it?" is the longest, but going by the unpleasant gaze my butterfly invites I guess they must mean well.
"[I]f my keloid had eyes it would either be squirming with all the unwanted attention or have been a properly spoilt brat by now."
Only one asked me to get a funky tattoo around it and flaunt its exclusivity. Him I married, even though the idea was preposterous according to a medical doctor (the tattoo, not the marriage).
In short, if my keloid had eyes it would either be squirming with all the unwanted attention or have been a properly spoilt brat by now. Except, it isn't anything more than collagen cells out camping under a shiny, red "tent". In summers the cells hold a BBQ party (and gosh it itches) whereas most other times they hate to be disturbed and prick at the slightest rub of a necklace or seatbelt. Funny ones, these guys, who have successfully baffled doctors I consulted as to their mysterious appearance. No injury, no surgery, and I'm not even from the highly pigmented ethnic groups which are 15 times more likely to get them. Anyway, some suspense in life is good!
What isn't good? This obsession with perfection we seek in others.
Remember when the gorgeous Aishwarya Rai put on baby weight and we went ballistic creating humour around her more rounded personality? We had so much time on our hands. With puckered noses we pronounce "Madhuri looks so old now!" and leave not one actress alone in her aging grace. Why go Stardust? Look around in your park! Someone's baby has unfortunately got his mother's wheatish complexion, someone's daughter-in-law has hair like a broom, someone's daughter needs to mind her weight and yet another's needs to put some on around her thighs or else "they will say your parents don't feed you". One was pushed for Lasik to get her spectacles removed, the other is struggling to hide her acne under a ton of concealer. And in the process, the little girl who got a burn mark on her arm because she was keeping her kid brother from getting hurt by the hot iron is gradually feeling ashamed of it!
"Is there reason to feel ashamed? Even more, is there reason to make others feel ashamed, enough to scar their minds?"
Some scars can have stories. No, actually all scars do!
I remember reading at a popular handloom store how every missed knot in the knit, an extra print or a change in the thread's sequence is not imperfection but simply a part of a pattern which need not fit convention. Like a break, a breather and a point to celebrate. Much like marks and scars on our bodies. Some African American writers have celebrated those on their characters as symbols of not just struggle but also survival. A fading whiplash on the back, slashes near the lip where the bit was used or wounds on shoulders carrying the white man's harvest.
Remove the layers of your own clothing and make-up. Bare your tanned backs and look closer at your stretch-marked legs. You will feel so free you will wonder if we really need to cover the countless signs our lives and roles have left on our very human bodies. Is there reason to feel ashamed? Even more, is there reason to make others feel ashamed, enough to scar their minds?
I had no idea when I first spotted a tiny red mound near my neck that it wasn't a spider lick or a mosquito bite gone wrong. I had no idea it would grow and eventually "grow wings" to become what they call a butterfly keloid. But most importantly, I had no idea how an inch of collagen on the neck could become my personal touchstone to know real concern from the opposite of it. Perhaps that is why it is called a butterfly keloid. It helped fly my mind away from the limiting gaze that women's bodies live surrounded with and find reason to be proud of my own skin.