Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Why I didn't want my thyroidectomy scar photoshopped out of my wedding photos



My thyroidectomy scar was something I struggled with in the beginning. Even before I went under the knife, it was that somewhat superficial element of the surgery that I chose to focus my fears on the most; endlessly Googling photos of post-op scars and becoming preoccupied with how it would change my appearance, particularly in the eyes of others. Deep down I knew that it didn't really matter, but perhaps it was easier to channel my worries into something 'skin-deep' rather than to fully face the magnitude of my sudden diagnosis and the real risks of surgery.

Outwardly, I started off by making a joke out of my scar immediately after the surgery. As my operation happened around the time of Eid al Adha - the Muslim celebration otherwise known as 'the feast of sacrifice' - it set me up well to humorously dismiss it as "an Eid sacrifice gone wrong - they mistook me for a goat!"

My first outing after surgery - bandages and all

Once the laughs had worn off, and the bandages came off, I was pleased to see just how neat my surgeon had managed to make the incision - as he had promised me. The placement was perfectly on the collarbone, so that over time it would fade and just appear as a normal shadow at the base of my neck. Like clockwork, I applied BioOil thrice daily to the area, with the promise that it would aid the healing and fading process. (To this day, I still apply BioOil to my scar once a day).

When the bandages came off...

I had thought of wearing scarves to cover up the unsightly area as it began to heal - still bloodied and a bit swollen - but the friction of any fabric rubbing against it was painful so I had to leave it uncovered. As I already established in a previous post, I was back to work and back to normal life immediately after having the dressing removed, and thus this left my wound open to the attention of everyone I came across as I went about my days.

I'm not sure if it's cultural, as I feel this probably wouldn't have happened (or at least not nearly as much) had I been in the UK, but I started to get a procession of random strangers coming up to me in the mall, the supermarket, in the queue at Starbucks, to pass comment on my scar.

"Excuse me, there's something on your neck," one guy said to me in Arabic, waving his hand in a neck-slitting motion. As if I didn't know!
"Oh my gosh ma'am, what happened to you?!?!?!" was the usual response from most shop assistants.
"When will it go away? Why aren't you covering it?"
"You know you can do laser to remove that thing right?!"

It quickly became tiresome having complete strangers trying to pry into what I believed was my very personal business. As soon as it became comfortable to do so, I started wearing light, silk scarves - and then, as the UAE winter set in, polo neck sweaters - merely to avoid the constant questioning.

The scrutiny actually made me very defensive of my scar. How dare they suggest that I should do laser to get rid of it?! This is my battle scar. It's a constant physical reminder of what I went through and what I overcame. It's a sign of my strength. It was at this point that I realised I had become really attached to it, and proud of it. I liked my scar.

6 months after surgery

Of course, there were days when my scarf slipped and the prying eyes pounced once again. I was out at a sporting event for work in December - three months after the surgery - and one man who worked vaguely in the same field as me launched into a lecture about it, in front of other colleagues.

"You will never get married now that you are damaged, especially not to a man from this society. You should have got married before you did the surgery. Now you have no hope - this thing on your neck, it removed your beauty. The people who get sick, it's their own fault. It's because they didn't pray enough. No man wants a woman who got sick because she didn't pray enough."

I was dumbstruck. I didn't even want to dignify him with a response. I just went to my car and cried.

But oh how wrong he was.

Soon I was to meet a man who would change my life forever. A man who helped me to heal from within, without even realising it. A man who, from the very first day we met, appreciated my scar.

He approached it in a curious, yet sensitive way. "Can I ask you something," he said, with a quizzical look on his face. I could see where his eyeline was; I knew what was coming. "What happened?"

I told him the story, and he recalled seeing me from a distance for months before, always wearing scarves. "Don't hide it anymore," he said. "Don't cover it up. I like it. It's nice. It's unique."

A few months into our relationship, he returned from a work trip and was eager to meet to give me something. It was a beautiful necklace he had brought back from his travels; small, simple, delicate, and falling just below the line of my scar. "I want you to have this and wear it every day. It should remind you of your beauty, and take the negative attention away from the evil eyes looking down upon your scar."

The day my (now-) husband gave me the necklace

As the scar got lighter and the attention got less, with the pretty necklace of protection around my neck, the love got deeper. He asked me to marry him. I said yes.

Your wedding is naturally one of the most special and memorable days in your lifetime, and a wonderful way to preserve and share these memories for years to come is through the wedding photography. I wore a white dress and the beautiful white gold and diamond set given to me for the occasion by my new in-laws, as is tradition, and it was the first time I had removed the little necklace since my husband gave it to me, to make way for a much bigger one (still sitting below my scar, though). The makeup artist had instinctively started to slap industrial-strength foundation onto my neck to try and cover up the scar, but I told her not to. She removed it and left it natural.

With the wedding album and photos promised to be delivered by the studio a month after our ceremony, we waited in eager anticipation of receiving the captured mementos of the event. But imagine my dismay when I opened the photos to see that an important element of my being was missing: my scar had been photoshopped out!

What? No scar?!

Now, I know these Arabic-style wedding albums always go heavy on the airbrushing (they also practically changed the race of my husband...), but there was absolutely no hint, no trace of my scar in any of the photos whatsoever. The pictures were not an accurate representation of myself. And, more importantly, my scar is not considered a 'blemish' I would want to eradicate via airbrush. We sent our feedback to the photo studio and instructed them to revise their overzealous editing.

So, as you can see, although it took some time (and some thick skin) to accept and appreciate my thyroidectomy scar, it is now something I am truly proud to wear round my neck as a medal of honour. Ladies, wear your scars with pride, and never let anyone suggest you would be better off without it.

My scar now, 18 months old

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