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Carmen Rasmusen Herbert: How we silence our skin from telling our story

Carmen Herbert's youngest son touches her skin.
Carmen Herbert's youngest son touches her skin.
Jen Anderson, Jen Anderson Photography

I wonder why we’re so obsessed with skin.

We obsess over the shade. We tint it to our liking, letting the sun and chemicals work their magic to produce what we think is an acceptable tone. Some want it lighter, some want it darker, some wrongly discriminate over DNA, over what God gave us, how he made us. Why?

We obsess over the texture. It can’t be too wrinkled or too creased. It can’t be too coarse or too rough. If it’s dimpled or rippled, if it’s pimpled or pockmarked, if it’s spotted or stretched, it’s not right. Why?

Injections are commonplace — they erase the signs of happiness and laughter, filling in the cracks of worry and wonder, making our faces appear eternally young and unfazed, deleting the lines we wrote of our lives.

We are silencing our skin from telling our story.

We obsess over how much we have. We want as little skin as possible to cover us. We cut it and sew it, we pull it taut and take it off and we mold it as if it were clay.

Our skin is our home, under constant renovation, as if it’s not enough on its own.

I’d like to change that.

I received a hurtful letter in the mail this past week. It mentioned some disturbing things, one of which was the way my clothes fit against my skin, and the anonymous sender’s opinion of how that should or shouldn’t look. And my skin, the skin I’ve tried so hard to thicken, to strengthen over the course of the last 15 years, was attacked. That single-sentenced letter cut right through my protective armor. It pierced me. I felt ashamed.

I started thinking about all the ways I have let others define me. About all the ways I try to change my appearance to fit in with what someone else thinks is OK. I have spent years speaking with beautiful youth groups all over the country about this very subject: loving yourself, in your skin, the way you are. I have pleaded with them to take care of their bodies and sync them to their spirits, strengthening both to withstand the negative comments that will surely be fired their way at some point in their lives, threatening to stay under their precious, unique skin. Why is it so hard to take my own advice?

I look down at the silvery marks that form a starburst across my navel. This piece of skin once held four lives inside. I remember those months of looking down and running my hands along my shiny stomach, feeling anticipation. Pure love. Protection. I didn’t look down on my skin with shame then. I felt pride.

“Mommy,” my 4-year-old runs up and lifts my shirt, gazing intently at his first earthly home. “Did we wreck your belly button?”

I laugh. His question is innocent and honest.

“Yes,” I said. “But it was worth it.” You were worth it.

My skin has literally been stretched to its limits. Motherhood has remodeled me. I don’t always love everything about my new look. But my skin is mine to love, something I can take care of begrudgingly or with gratitude. And while it is important to me to take care of this skin, it is not who I am. My skin is not my soul.

To whoever wrote me that note, criticizing both: I sincerely hope you find peace in your own skin.

I have with mine.