Well, here I am again. I’m always partially saddened and partially thrilled when my doctor tells me no core work for a few days. Without core work and yoga, there’s usually a big, gaping hole in my schedule and I’m scrambling with how to fill it (usually a book wins).
This photo was taken immediately after a very minor, yet very annoying, surgery to remove one of many cancerous and/or pre-cancerous moles from my body. I’m used to it by now. These surgeries have been happening for the past nine years. How many removals in total? I couldn’t tell you—I stopped counting after the tenth.
My body is covered in scars. One “keloid-ed” but most have faded to a silvery white. Honestly, I don’t care about them. Anymore. They’re a roadmap and a reminder. Today, the surgeon asked/recommended that I try a new kind of laser therapy to treat the scars. “It can help with your stretch marks, too!” he said. (Gee, thanks).
I’ve done that before. For one year straight, in fact, to the point where massive blisters peppered along one scar because the doctor, a different one, asked if I “could take more” and I said yes. I have a very high pain tolerance, usually to my own demise.
But now? I’m over it. If the scars were on my face and very prominent, I may reconsider. Hey, I still have an ego and vanity. But most of my scars are in places that are normally covered. Still, what if they weren’t? Why should anyone, including myself, care? Especially to the tune of several thousand dollars, a lot of pain and time, and no guarantees?
I do have to wonder if this doctor would have pushed so forcefully if I were a man. Are concerns about appearances, even on a stomach which will likely only be seen in a bathing suit, largely earmarked for women? Probably (we all know that). But I like other aspects of this surgeon too much to ask.
Why So Many?
I’d also like to use this blog and photo as a reminder of self-care. And of how our quest for a specific society’s idea of “beauty” can have dangerous, harmful, expensive and deadly results.
I’ve had so many of these surgeries because I began using tanning beds at eleven years old. It was encouraged. I grew up in a small, very white town where tan skin was just part of being beautiful. It was exotic. It was fetishized. It made you look thinner.
Plus, I don’t recall ever once being told to wear sunscreen. It just wasn’t done back then. To this day, with my very fair skin (even being half Native), I’m sometimes told, “You’re pretty, but you would look so much better with a tan!”, “Have you ever tried tanning?”, or, worst of all, “But you don’t look Native American.” Sometimes these remarks come from total strangers.
My mother bought one of those at-home tanning beds when I was in sixth grade and let me bake in it for an hour every day. No exaggeration. A couple of years later, she supplemented with a tanning membership and added me to it. Every day after school, I would walk the few blocks to soak up the heat and the cancer.
Every single day—for ten years.
I was frequently complimented on my bronzed skin as a child/teen/20-something. It also kept that adolescent acne at bay. I distinctly remember being seventeen years old, working at a store in the mall, and a middle-aged woman gasped and began gushing about my gorgeous complexion.
But it wasn’t even close to being worth all of this. Your skin color does not make you beautiful, just as it does not make you ugly. You are born with the perfect skin tone to complement the rest of your features, from the color of your eyes to the hues in your hair and the pigment in your lips.
Strange, how things change. My husband is from India, a country where the fairer you are (they don’t say “whiter”), the more beautiful you are. It’s so severe that it can seem like it doesn’t really matter what you look like … besides your skin tone! There are even very succinct descriptions for bio-data (your profile when in the arranged marriage process) related to your skin tone including fair, wheatish, dusky, etc. It’s a very important parameter.
As long as you’re fair, you’ve got a leg up on everybody else. Or at least everybody darker than you. There are very popular and well-known whitening products like Fair and Lovely and (more recently) Fair and Handsome (for the men). To many Indians, the idea that you would choose to darken your skin is incomprehensible. You’d be an idiot to tan. Some parents don’t let their children swim outside or even be outside during the peak of day. It’s not because of potentially hazardous UV rays, but because “they’ll get darker.” Some parents believe that once you get a tan, it “sticks” so that darkening is for life.
Cut it Out (The “Bad Mole” and the Negativity)
So, this time around, I’m dedicated to spending my doctor-ordered days off from yoga and core work reflecting on holistic wellness. Does it really matter that I’m going to miss a few days of planks and back bends? Of course not. I shouldn’t feel guilt for that (especially with a huge pressure bandage on me!), but I often do. I probably still will, from time to time, over the next few days but I’m committed to making a conscious effort to dismiss negative thoughts and guilt about taking it easy.
I took my last yoga class just four hours before surgery, and the savasana was perfect. The teacher reminded us that how we talk to ourselves about ourselves is like asking a genie for a wish. Your brain goes above and beyond to make what you tell yourself come true. That’s its job. If you tell yourself, constantly, that you’re overweight, uncoordinated, will never get that job or will never write that book, your brain will do everything in its power to prove you right. And your brain has a lot of power.
The same goes for the positives you tell yourself. If you regularly tell yourself that you have talents, you matter, you are working towards being more flexible or you’re on your way to finishing that manuscript, your brain will go the extra mile to prove you right. It’s the most dutiful assistant you’ll ever have, so be careful and mindful of what you tell it to do. After all, it’s you.
So talk kindly to yourself. Practice positive self-talk. Listen to your doctor (well, a lot of the time). Take rest days, enjoy them, indulge in them and flick away any guilt when it creeps up. Make an annual appointment with a dermatologist for a full-body mole check no matter who you are, your skin tone, whether you have moles or not, and don’t miss those appointments. It’s one of the best, easiest things you can do for your health and to prevent a very preventable early death. Skin cancer is both the deadliest form of cancer and the easiest to cure when caught early. Nobody is immune.
And—please—wear your sunscreen.
(All photos are personal)