My body developed much earlier than most girls in my class. I had breasts very early on and was the butt of many cruel jokes. As a young girl, it was devastating. I hated what was happening to my body. But what the other kids could see was only part of the problem. It was what was under my clothes that was even more embarrassing.
I remember the first time that I saw a stretch mark on my outer thigh. I thought that it was a bruise. It was long and purple. Within a few weeks, more had popped up. I didn’t have a ton of them, but those that I had were extremely noticeable. No one would see them but me, of course, but that didn’t make them any less humiliating. I hated them and I just wanted them to go away.
This was the early ’90s, long before you could Google “stretch mark remedies”. I was too self-conscious to tell anyone about them, so I just silently hated them. I also had them on my breasts, which made me loathe them even more. I already deeply resented the fact that I was wearing a bra bigger than my mother’s in seventh grade; this was just the icing on the cake.
As much as I hated what was happening to me, it was perfectly normal. And it happens to so many kids when they are going through puberty. Just as hair growing in strange places and pimples showing up on young chins, stretch marks are just something that happens and there is nothing to be ashamed of. Scary Mommy reached out to Dr. Nina Alfieri, a pediatrician at Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago, and she gave us a bit more insight into this very common part of adolescence.
First, we asked what causes stretch marks and if they can be prevented. Alfieri explained that stretch marks, clinically known as striae, occur when the body goes through rapid changes in height or weight, which happens to many adolescents during puberty. She said they often run in families and sometimes cannot be prevented. Nutritious foods and regular exercising can help to reduce the weight fluctuations associated with striae, but sometimes they are just inevitable.
Many teens who have stretch marks just want them to go away. But that’s not really very realistic. “Unfortunately, there isn’t a definite ‘one size fits all’ treatment that works,” Alfieri said. “Many creams and lotions are marketed to help with stretch marks, including coconut oil, shea butter, vitamin E for example. However, the evidence to show that these consistently work isn’t quite there.” There isn’t a magic cure, but she did say that minimizing sun exposure and using a good sunscreen on stretch marks is key to helping them to fade over time.
As parents, it is our job to make our children comfortable with their bodies. We want them to have a healthy relationship with food and a good self-image.There is no reason to be ashamed about something that is completely natural. But if your teen has something to say, listen. Don’t try to solve the problem by offering a miracle cream that isn’t going to work. Be empathetic. Think about being that age and how damn hard it is just to be yourself. Make them feel beautiful and normal and validated. That’s what they need — not a rubdown with coconut oil.
“Puberty and aging into the teen years is a golden opportunity to foster a lifelong armor of body positivity in your child. Along with the social, psychological, and academic changes and challenges teenagers face during puberty, body changes can be concerning and sometimes downright frightening for teens. Reassure your teen that these changes are normal, and they mean that their body is developing in a healthy and strong way,” Alfieri said.
She also mentioned that this is a great time to talk about realistic vs. unrealistic beauty standards. Yep, that’s 100% the way to go. We talk about toxic diet culture a lot, and this starts so very young. Teenagers are inundated with the imagery that is made to bring them down. We don’t look at pictures of beautiful people and think, “My eyes look like theirs,” or “We have the same hair.” No, it’s more like, “God, I wish that I looked like her.” And, “If my legs were just longer and my waist was thinner, I’d be perfect.” We have to squash that narrative at an early age, or it is just going to cause bigger problems as time goes on.
“As a parent, encourage your child to celebrate the parts of their personality, body, abilities, and interests that make them unique and strong. Help them build their confidence and self-esteem. One way to do this is to model body positivity yourself; take a photo when asked, instead of turning away even if you’re not ‘camera ready, use affirming words to celebrate yourself and your body like “my body feels strong today!” ‘I love my hair!’ or ‘I am so proud that I was able to run for 30 minutes today!’ Celebrate the accomplishments and positive aspects of others instead of letting your child hear comments about people’s looks. These small things can help children develop their own sense of body positivity and see that their worth is bigger than just what’s in the mirror,” Alfieri concluded.
Stretch marks are a natural part of life. If your child wants to talk about them, great. If they want to just ignore it and keep it to themselves, that’s fine too. Always let them know that they can come to you if they need you. But if they are OK with their stretch marks and don’t take issue, don’t bring it up.
Puberty and body changes are tough enough without our parents making a big deal out of things. Give your child autonomy over their body. Help them to appreciate it for what it is: strong, growing, and changing. A few stretch marks don’t define you. It’s living comfortably in the skin you’re in that makes you shine.