Open thread: Are you hiding or showing your scars on your wedding day?

Guest post by BlueSwirl

Heads up: this post references self-harm and scarring.

Photo by Sara Smile Photography
Photo by Sara Smile Photography

Offbeat Bride has published numerous insightful and encouraging posts about “controversial” body markings such as tattoos, piercings, and out-there hairstyles — but what about scars? Especially those that have a story you DON’T want to tell?

The scars on my wrists caused by self-harming have been hiding underneath long sleeves (no easy feat in the South African heat!), and I haven’t even shared the background story with my friends. I’m not ashamed — in fact, looking at my scars reminds me what I’ve managed to survive. (I’ve got adamantium in my bones!) But I’m an intensely private person. And these scars are an intensely painful part of my story.

The result is a constant struggle between a desire to keep my inner anguish private, versus one to honey badger it (honey badger don't give a shit!), and let the rude people be rude and the judgmental ones be judgey.

Thus far, privacy has won out.

My beloved has been extremely supportive — helping me to find the best treatments, buying and making endless bangles to hide my scars, encouraging me to just pitch up in public with bare arms… whatever I've needed at the moment. So far, so good.

However, our getting weddinged date is now a reality, and of course the affair should be authentic. On the one hand, Authentic Me likes wearing short, sweet, summery dresses. This choice would mean sticking my scarred arms in the faces of my adored ones. They care about me, so they might freak out and then… all the attention! I would have an introvert melt-down, because another Authentic Me fiercely guards my privacy.

Or, hey, my loved ones might tactfully, but awkwardly, ignore the scars. It seems like both reactions = vibe kill.

And this is where I’m stuck. How do I choose between versions of me? Does it boil down to a choice between a dress and my own privacy?

Sure, there are a couple of practical solutions:

  • Combining the short hem with long sleeves
  • Wearing gloves
  • Using temporary tattoos to turn my existing tattoos into temporary sleeves

But this is not about finding a compromise. It is about the compromise itself. A self-induced one at that! As a person who knows their own mind, being so unsure is a very unsettling experience. I’m sure I’ll figure it out eventually, but it would be great to hear how others are approaching similar situations.

How are you dealing with your self-harm scars on your wedding day? Are you hiding your scars, or wearing them with a survivor's pride?

Comments on Open thread: Are you hiding or showing your scars on your wedding day?

  1. I never cut, but a few of my classmates did when I was younger, and I currently have a colleague that has many, many scars. We’ve never spoken about them, and that’s exactly how it should be. I know what they are; she knows that everyone can see them… and we all just treat each other like human beings. I certainly wouldn’t recommend the amount of pain that put them there, but they are oddly beautiful, white scars against dark tanned skin.

    I don’t know how your family and friends treat you, but on our wedding day, I was the ultimate party host, flickering from one group to another, not really staying long for meaningful conversation. I think it would take either a very small wedding or a very invasive person to make a big deal out of your scars on the day of. So if you want to let them breathe, then do it. Rock out. Be confident. Ask your beloved to support you, practice making excuses to exit a conversation early, and most of all, have fun. A wedding is a celebration, not a test of your adulthood. If people start badgering you about scars, you’re not the one that needs to grow up.

  2. My scars are not super noticeable but they are visible, especially to someone standing close. However, I didn’t even think about them on my wedding day. I did wear a dress with removable sleeves, but that was in case it got too hot. That said, maybe think about having the option to cover up if you feel uncomfortable but not one that is difficult to wear/remove. Sometimes, just knowing that the choice is available can give you the freedom to let go. A summery dress with wrist cuffs (like these – ) could be cute.
    If you do choose to let your scars show, think ahead of time how you want to address any questions or handle the awkwardness. Like anything scary, practicing in advance can really help.

  3. Oy that’s a tough one!

    I can certainly see both angles: be loud and proud and show off those arms for all to see and questions be damned, it’s your freaking day! And the, why rub such a personal, private thing in everyone’s face on such a happy and joyous occasion?

    Of course, as you said: it is a call only you and your beloved can make.
    My vote though is to cover unless you want to “come out” shortly before the big day.
    Cover options: lovely little fingerless gloves that go just high enough up the arm to cover what needs cover, or white henna (it’s a thing and it’s beautiful)

    My compromise recommendation though is *if* you choose to cover for the ceremony, put thought into doing an “unveiling” at the reception. Do it around toast time before the party has really amped up. You can choose to tell as much or as little as you like, but explain that your fresh new spouse has loved and supported you through your healing and you’d love everyone present to not offer their pity, disgust or judgment, but rather their acknowledgement and openness.
    It was a part of your life you never want to go back to and the strength and love of the community (as well as that wonderful man sitting next to you) will keep you from going back there.

    Or something like that.
    It’ll be terrifying, yes, but liberating.

  4. I say wear what you want! I don’t know how your arms look, but mine are covered in SI scars too. There was a time I was very shy about showing my wrists and arms, because I would get questions. Now if someone asks I simply say they are an old bad habit or they are just old scars. They need no explanation or more info then you are willing to give. It is your weddinged day, no one will be looking at your arms. Be true to what you want, forget anyone else!

  5. I guess in some ways I got lucky- I’m a heavily scarred person and while a fair amount of that is from my struggle with self-injury an equal amount is from being a kind of klutzy person and from occupational hazards. At this point the most obvious of the scars are burns from working in a bakery and some interesting ones from a medical test. When people ask about the scars I usually just say “oh gosh, I’ve had those so long I don’t even remember.” Full stop. Sometimes it’s true, sometimes it’s a lie. If someone presses I usually list so of the weirder potential causes “I don’t know, it could have been an iguana, could have been a bundt cake, that’s actually from a medical test they promised wouldn’t scar…” I show and I deflect.

  6. I would strongly recommend that you practice being open about them in a neutral public space before you try in front of family/friends (which is sounds like you don’t normally do, in either situation). From my own personal experience, a lot of it is in my head! I have scar radar: I always notice other people’s SI scars or scars in general. But most people really don’t notice them. If they’re very raised/obvious and you think there’s no way no one would NOT notice them, then it’s time to practice being a bit uncomfortable. It *will* get easier 🙂 (That is if you decide not to cover them)

    It took me a few years to bare my arms in public without feeling totally uncomfortable, with scars that are not very apparent but for some reason are becoming more visible year after year. I’ve never seen anyone glancing awkwardly or staring at my arms, even when I’m in close proximity working on a computer where the scars would definitely be noticeable.

    If someone has the lack of tact to actually talk to you about them (seriously there’s basically no situation where it’s appropriate unless you initiate the conversation), you have every right to say “I am fine but I do not want to talk about it”.

    • I had a similar struggle for a while. After most of my family knew I finally started not giving a shit about who saw (except future MIL, admittedly, but they live 1k miles away and are conservative, so I cover up more skin around her anyways).
      Depending on the asker, I either ignore the question, answer honestly, or unfairly lash out in snark…

  7. My scars are from leg surgery and I have already decided to wear them with pride. Like it or not, they’re on me for life and I’ve always wanted a shorter dress, so the options would be boots or socks – not what I’m going for. I totally agree that people aren’t likely to ask questions about scars on your wedding day, but realistically if you aren’t comfortable then it will show. Perhaps a light bolero/shrug is a possibility? Then if you want to remove it you can, or if you start uncovered, you have the option to cover up.

  8. As a private person myself I get where you’re coming from. Weddings seem to be disproportionately about how the bride looks. If you want to hide a little from the limelight (as I did) get the groom and wedding party in some show stopping outfits. Or just include small children or a cute animal in your party.
    As for covering up options maybe look at wedding themes that’ll give you an excuse to cover up and wear a summer dress. I’d say 40s/50s or a flowery hippyesque them could work with you wearing fingerless gloves.
    Don’t feel like you have to hide and don’t feel like you hiding will be too obvious to your loved ones either – you’ll feel even more uncomfortable.

  9. I haven’t even started looking at dresses yet, but if the one I end up with happens to be backless or have low sides I plan on just letting my scars show and not trying to hide or cover them. My scars are all surgical in nature though, so while they are quite dramatic it isn’t quite the same thing.

  10. My wife and I both have self-injury scars. In daily life, I have decided that I am most comfortable in clothing I enjoy, and I don’t worry too much about them. It does get awkward, and I am self-conscious, especially around family. But I find a balance that works for me, and almost nobody asks about them (children do ask, and I make up stories about sword fighting). For my wedding, I found a sleeveless dress I loved. I wore a shawl because it was winter, and carried a giant bouquet. My scars are not visible in any of the photos, and it wasn’t something I was thinking about too much that day. I would recommend choosing whatever you will be comfortable in and feel beautiful in–the rest will fall into place.

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