If you can’t figure it out, it’s a photo of the scar on my left leg. I have spent much of my life hiding my scars, particularly this train track on my shin. This mark is visible whenever I wear a skirt so I have worn pants for decades. My scars used to tell me that I wasn’t like everyone else. They made me feel unattractive, an oddity, a bit of a freak.
There are two kinds of scars, visible and invisible. Like many of us, I bear both. Each has been difficult. Each has elements of shame. Each carries its own pain. This post is about my visible scars; the next is about my invisible ones.
Some people are proud of their scars: they speak of courage. They show others what they’ve endured. But for me, with scars covering both my legs, they were not medals to wear, proclaiming my bravery. They were rather deficiencies to hide, reminding me daily of my flaws. Reminding me I was damaged.
As a teenager, I desperately wanted a perfect body, hoping that would have made me feel accepted. But instead I saw in the mirror a body deformed by polio and further marked by the 21 ensuing operations. In a world filled with images of flawlessly airbrushed models, it was a challenge to believe that my physical imperfections were beautiful.
So hiding my scars was natural. That way, no one could see how imperfect I was. That way, I could look more normal. That way, I wouldn’t be humiliated.
My scars were simply jagged reminders of my pain.
I hated going to the pool, or the beach, or anywhere that my legs could be seen. Even if no one openly stared, I imagined that everyone was repelled by my scars. That if they saw the real me, I wouldn’t be accepted. That my scars made me ugly.
For a short while my high school friend Maggie convinced me to show my legs at the beach. She said my scars might be ugly to me, but to everyone else they represented strength and courage. To everyone else, they revealed what I had endured just to walk. To everyone else, they were just part of what I’d been through. And for a while, I did show my bare legs, but I slowly reverted back to covering them up. It was easier that way.
I went back to believing the lies I had told myself: that I was more valuable if no one could see my scars.
I hid my wound marks and was comfortable doing so for decades. But one day, I was reading the Gospel of John and saw that Jesus, after He had risen, was recognized by His scars. That is how the disciples knew it was Him.
Michael Card’s song Known By the Scars echoed through my head immediately. Why had I not connected with this sooner?
Jesus didn’t need to have scars on His resurrected body. His body could have been perfect, unblemished, unscarred. But He chose to keep His scars so His disciples could validate His identity. And even more importantly, so that they could prove He conquered death.
As I considered this truth, something stirred in me. My scars are significant and precious. I shouldn’t keep hiding them. I am recognizable by them; they make me unique. They are an integral part of who I am. But more importantly, they show that I am a conqueror. That I have suffered. That I have overcome.
Scars represent more than I ever realized. They can be beautiful. The dictionary says that a scar is "a mark left by a healed wound.”
A healed wound. My scars signify healing.
And even though my initial flesh wounds have healed, there is yet a deeper healing in acceptance.
I started to notice scars more as I looked around. There was something captivating about people who were unafraid to be themselves: authentic, unmasked, and unashamed of the wounds that shaped them.
Their vulnerability was magnetic. I was drawn to them. To learn from their self- acceptance. To hear their stories. To see their courage.
I learned it was often a good thing to ask people about their scars. As long as I did it respectfully. And lovingly. Asking demystified their scars. And allowed people to share what had shaped them. Because all scars have a story.
I saw that when we display our scars, we inspire others to do the same.
Those of us with scars should wear them like jewels, treasured reminders of what we’ve endured. It’s okay to show our imperfections. They are evidence of our healing. And perhaps we’ll discover the beauty in our scars.