Abi Conners: Behind the Scar ft. Sophie Mayanne

 Photo: Sophie Mayanne 

Photo: Sophie Mayanne 

In the early stages of recovering from an accident, my doctors were adamant that I look at my skin and muscle grafting so that I could begin to “accept” how the scars on my leg would look. Even before I went into surgery, they showed me pictures of patients with scars similar to mine to help mentally prepare me. Their belief seemed to be that the earlier I became acquainted with my new scars, the easier time I would have lived with them.

I stubbornly refused this advice, partly because I was scared of what I would see, and partly because I felt that this whole “self-acceptance” thing needed to happen on my own terms. There was no way that I would let someone else tell me how and when I would be ready to take this on. So my Dad made a pact with me, and we decided on the month of September-—four months after my accident—as the month that we would look at my scars together. (My Mom, being a nurse and my caretaker, had already seen it many times).  Much to the dismay of my doctors, that’s exactly what we did.

When I think back to the first time I saw my leg, I surprisingly have a very limited recollection. I have only vague memories of where I was, my reaction, and the thoughts that were going through my head.

What I do remember is showing my leg to my best friend for the first time, quietly, in the bathroom at our elementary school. It was October, and I had just started eighth grade. I was still on crutches, and she asked if she could see my leg. I thought, what the hell.  I couldn’t hide forever. We headed for the bathroom. Heart racing, I slowly pulled down my bandage, carefully watching the door and hoping that no one else would come in. Her reaction was soft, despite the harshness of my injury. She actually offered to touch it. And that was it. She was okay with me.

In the years following there would be many moments of insecurity. There were short semi-formal dresses that I didn’t want to wear, almost-boyfriends who I wouldn’t let take my pants off, and pictures that I wouldn’t post on social media (I still struggle with this one). I knew that I could eventually accept my imperfections, but I constantly worried about how others would react to me and how I might be perceived. I worried that I would be called ugly or weird for the rest of my life. I worried that I would actually care about what other people thought of me. But for every moment of insecurity, there was an amazing person in my life to help remind me that it just didn’t matter. And so it didn’t.

There was no reckoning or aha moment of acceptance for me. Eventually, there was just peace. A big, long, sigh of relief. From the very beginning, my path to acceptance was on my own terms and my own time. But it wasn’t just my path. Much of it came from learning to ignore my fear of strange looks and judgment from other people, but it was also marked by the kindness and positivity of the people in my support system.

I realize now how critical my friend’s first reaction was, and I wonder if things might have been more difficult for me had she stared a little longer, made a different face, or made me feel any less loved or embraced. She, along with my incredible friends and family, are the people who loved me through my trauma and taught me how to love myself. They gave me the strength to choose acceptance and forgiveness, and the confidence to tell myself “I don’t give a damn what you think!” every time I was stared at while walking down the street in shorts.

There are still days when I catch myself trying to cover up, subconsciously crossing my left leg over my scarred leg, or choosing jeans over a skirt. There is a line that distinguishes “accepting” from “embracing,” and sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever cross it for good.

A few years ago it was suggested that I look into reconstructive surgery to improve the skin grafting on my knee. There’s a part of skin above my knee that I never “grew into.” My surgeons guessed that I would grow taller than I actually did, so the skin sags a little bit over my kneecap. I briefly debated the prospect of a less imperfect leg. But it had been nearly a decade since my accident, and I’d been through a lot with the damn thing. My body had truly amazed me in its ability to heal and rehabilitate, and I’d come so far mentally that it didn’t feel right. I couldn’t betray it, especially not after all this time.  So I decided not to change a thing.

Behind The Scars is an on-going photography campaign by Sophie Mayanne that celebrates scars of all shapes and sizes, and the stories behind them. The series exists as thought-provoking and empowering visual imagery, encouraging people to embrace the skin they are in. To find out more about being involved in the project you can visit @behindthescars_