The list of natural bodily features and functions that both women and men have been made to feel ashamed about are endless, as is the list of terms used to describe them. We speak of the blemishes, the flaws, and the imperfections as if they were somehow separate from people. Stretch marks are of no exemption when it comes to those features. Gone are the days when people would not even want an ounce of their marks exposed. But now all of that has changed stretch marks are now being made visible.
Stretch marks are medically known as stria distensae; and they are stripes or streaks that appear on the skin, which are usually red, pink, grey or white in colour. This colouring occurs because of the broken fibers and blood vessels in the skin’s deeper layers. Stretch marks are actually scars that occur when the skin is stretched beyond its elastic limit. When this happens, it means the skin cannot bounce back and it remains permanently scarred. They are particularly common during teenage years as the skin is generally firmer and has a lower elastic limit. The most common areas they appear are the lower abdomen, lower back, thighs, knees and breasts.
The most important thing to note is that stretch marks form in the deeper layers of the skin due to the overstretching of the connective tissues, such as collagen and elastin. So essentially, stretch marks mean that the skin is scarring from the inside out, which is a little different to the typical scar that usually occurs as a result of an external wound.
What causes stretch marks?
Literally anyone can get stretch marks. Some get them when they lose or gain weight, during puberty and during pregnancy, at any size and age. The skin has three layers which are the hypodermis (deepest layer), the dermis (the middle layer) and the epidermis (outer layer). Stretch marks are formed in the middle layer, the dermis. As the body grows naturally, the connective fibers in the dermis slowly stretch. However, when there is rapid growth, these fibers can be stretched beyond their elastic limit and may become damaged or even break.
According to doctor David Emvula, medical doctor, stretch marks are common in women mostly associated with pregnancy although they also occur in men with central obesity. “In pregnant women, it occurs because their bellies grow quite quickly to allow for the growth of their baby. Pregnancy causes a lot of hormonal changes, some of which may increase the likelihood of stretch marks appearing. The appearance of stretch marks can also be hereditary, so that may be why certain women get them during pregnancy and others don’t.”
Another major cause of stretch marks for both men and women is rapid weight gain. If one gains a large amount of weight in a short period of time, the skin may develop stretch marks. While weight gain can be reversible, it does not mean that stretch marks will also disappear. However, it may be possible for them to look smaller as the weight decreases.
The treatments for stretch marks
Doctor Emvula expressed that stretch marks are not an illness and therefore have no prescribed treatment. “There really aren’t that many effective treatments for stretch marks that can completely remove them. As they are formed in the middle layer of the skin, they aren’t a simple skin surface issue that can be easily treated. Yes, there are a few products that may help the appearance of stretch marks, but I am not aware of any that have removed stretch marks yet.”
He further emphasized that there are a lot of self-medication in the market but are not prescribed medically. “I cannot guarantee their complete removal of stretch marks.”
“Whilst stretch marks can’t always be prevented, there are a few steps that one can do to prevent those that might appear as a result of poor lifestyle choices. Some of these include maintaining a healthy weight, eating a balanced diet rich in vitamins and minerals and drinking plenty of water.”
“Just because I have them, does not make me any less beautiful than the next person. I think it is so easy to compare ourselves to other people, especially ones we see on social media. Most people don’t show you their flaws, they only show their best parts,” said Aletha Kasaona.
On the other hand, Atuhe Namupala said that her stretch marks are completely normal and she uses her stretch marks as a reminder of where she came from. “Just how a tiger earns their stripes we as women should be proud of where we have come from, whether that be a pregnancy, a weight loss journey or even puberty. They all have a story to tell. Don’t be ashamed of them and don’t allow them to define who you are as a person,” she added.
As for Rebecca Malakia, she has had stretch marks since she was ten years. “As puberty kicked in and my thighs and hips widened, I was still a kid so I didn’t mind them until I was between the ages of thirteen and fifteen, getting exposed to all the controversy surrounding them. I was a little insecure then but with time I have learnt to embrace them as they are now a part of me and wouldn’t trade them for anything,” she concludes.
By Selma Shiwaya