I will not hide my scar from the world.

Standing in front of the mirror, I see a long, thin, bright pink scar down the centre of my chest, a reminder of my fourth open heart surgery, on December 17, 2019.

Looking back at me is an individual who has overcome great physical and emotional obstacles. When I look at my scar, I feel honoured to carry a physical symbol of what my body and mind have endured over the last four months. 

My scar acts as a distinct reminder of a time in my life when I was physically vulnerable and had to rely on others for emotional support. There are three other scars on my back.

It is true that physical scars often reflect emotional ones. Not only have I had to withstand a great deal of physical pain, but I have had to confront emotions, such as anger and shame, towards my own body.

I have a congenital heart disease called pulmonary atresia – a defect caused when the pulmonary valve, responsible for regulating blood flow from the heart to the lungs, has not developed properly before birth.

In December and January, I spent 27 days in the intensive care unit which not only gave me a lot of time to reflect on my physical well-being, but also how to overcome situations of indignity. 

I am grateful that my family never makes a fuss over covering my scar, nor brushes away strangers who ask why they let me show it so freely. They never wag a finger at my low-cut t-shirts or suggest I put a little makeup on my scar to conceal it. They have taught me to never feel embarrassed or intimidated about showing my scar. They have empowered me with confidence. 

There have been times when I have felt self-conscious about my scar, on the beach in a swimsuit or when a stranger makes an obnoxious comment about it. I have had strangers tell me that my scar is ugly, that I should cover it up and that it is unfortunate that my skin has been tainted by its presence.

A feeling of humiliation would overcome me, yet the feeling would be short-lived as I consciously remind myself that my scar gives me character. I have trained my brain to automatically block out the negative thoughts I have about my scar.  

I often think about a specific quote from one of my favourite novels, The Prophet, written by Lebanese author, Kahlil Gibran in 1923. He writes that, “Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.”

In a society obsessed with perfect skin, we are conditioned to feel self-conscious about our imperfections and we have become hyper-aware of the judgement we may face from others. 

I cannot recall the number of times strangers have blatantly stared at my scar and sheepishly looked away when I caught their eye. 

Perhaps simply covering my scar would eliminate ever having to be in this situation again, but I would rather have them ask me how I got my scar and then I have an opportunity to tell them my story. 

I would encourage everybody to wear their scars with great esteem.

FEATURED IMAGE: Laura Hunter, student journalist at Wits Vuvuzela. Photo: File.