Love My Ugly: The Visible Mending Approach to Stretch Marks and my Soul
When my body betrays me, I hide from it. I hide* from its insistence that I see its relationship to gravity, age, and mortality. I look away as if it wants privacy. Sometimes I'm like a kid, sweeping spilled pencil shavings under the tassels of the big living room rug, tucking the paper-thin part of my belly into underwear. "Nothing to see here." Other times I use mind-manipulation to pretend I didn't see what I saw; that broken capillary on my cheek? Maybe it's there, maybe not. "I'm sure that's only visible in, like, superbright sunlight."
Enter visible mending.
My sustainability-minded friend J— is learning visible mending; she described it as we walked our neighborhoods, separately together, over the phone: It's an embroidery technique that strengthens weak points in fabric. "You then add designs with beautiful stitch work."
In other words:
Rather than being ruled by the notion that only "new" clothes are acceptable, you are freed from that social bargain. It's a way of thumbing your nose at the (retail) establishment, of saying, 'I am not embarrassed (or defined) by the fact that my clothes show wear and tear.'⠀
Visible mending comes from the Japanese art of fixing torn and stained clothing with particular embroidery techniques (Sashiko, in particular). If you're a Japanese history geek, we're talking about the Edo period (1600- to mid-1800s). If you're visualizing that painting of the big, blue cresting wave—The Great Wave—you're in the right era. This meant that bed linens and clothing—kimonos—were able to last longer. The stitching added strength; decades later the beautification aspect emerged with colorful embroidery.
Full disclosure: I don't know how to do visible mending of fabric. I'm interested in its applications for mending of the Self.
Visible mending can be a metaphor for examining how we relate to our own wounds.
Do you gasp when you notice that your jawline is falling? When your binge eating habit spills out over your belt? When gray hair lights up at your temples?
We've Bought into Weakness Concealment, Like, Literally
Our culture does not celebrate visible mending of Self.
On a physical level we use makeup, wrinkle cream, sucking-in our breath, Botox, even scented sanitary napkins, as cover-up for the natural processes of our body and its wear. On an emotional level, we use behaviors as concealer: perfectionism, hyper-vigilance, and even isolation as self-protection from revealing a damaged inner landscape.
When I Hide my Ugly, I Feel Bad
You see where I'm going with this, right? This isn't about our clothes. It's about showing up as we as—as I am. It's about telling a date that I'm flawed. It's about showing the ripped parts as well as the signs of mending I've done.
It's sitting with someone in the low-lighting of a restaurant and telling him that my mom walked out of my life before I reached kindergarten and hoping that he doesn't want to change the subject for my benefit.
In a word, visible mending is vulnerability.
Intimacy is A Form of Visible Mending
True intimacy is being me while you're being you as I lower the band of my underwear to reveal the purple, shimmery lightning strikes that are my maternal stretch marks, shrieking, "Look at how ugly I am!" and you shrugging, "You're beautiful." Thing is, the healing isn't in your calling it beautiful, it's the act of my revealing my wear and tear that is the transformation—that's me putting in a Sashiko stitch.
The moment I reveal myself to you, I am mended.
The marks of wear and tear add to an object’s story. —noserialnumber.org
Everything that once hurt—all the abandonments that left a rip or stain or snapped the threads of my fabric—are all part of the story. My story.
For years, I was busily hiding, yet hiding is not a lasting repair.
I see now that the memoir I'm writing is a form of visible mending. As I go back over the threadbare parts of me and strengthen and beautify those wounds with narrative thread, I am sewing a celebratory cresting wave around each wound.
*So this so-called hiding behavior doesn't apply to wetting my pants. Which I do. And I take inspiration from that impossibly preoccupied girl in white jeans with period show-through gossiping with her friends in every high school anybody attended: just be completely engrossed in my phone and not notice. I smile, don my natural invisibility cloak, and slip out the back door. Ciao, bitches. It's one of the rare times I take comfort in the fact that nobody's gaze falls with interest upon a forty-year-old woman.
P.S., More? Read about visible mending as a form of punk rock on The Conversation.
Cover photo: SagebrushArtistry | Etsy