The Right to Bare Arms
Today, I went to Sainsbury’s in a short-sleeved t-shirt.
I took my toddler daughter with me and I did not wear a cardigan. I did not self-consciously look around me to see if anyone was staring. I said hello to random people, smiled as I always do and told off my daughter when she tipped carrots on the floor. I do this routine most days but today was different.
Today I wore a short-sleeved t-shirt.
Why do I keep mentioning something so mundane, so normal that most people do day in day out? It’s because today was a huge leap for me. Today was the first time I went out in public bearing the scars of teenage self-harm on my arms for the world to see in 14 years.
14 years of wearing cardigans in the summer heat. 14 years of finding cardigans in the shops from March onwards. 14 years of hiding and feeling ashamed of myself, sparked by a nasty, judgmental comment from a stranger in a supermarket when I last went out in a t-shirt, carrying my then three month old first born.
I was still young – just 22 – and I had never really bothered hiding my arms from the public before. I had hidden them from my parents, my grandparents, my work colleagues, close friends and medical professionals for fear of getting the ‘mad’ label, but I had always felt okay around strangers.
Until that day, 14 years ago in a Supermarket in Slough. I was in a haze of newborn love, but also in the depths of post-natal depression. I had taken my three month old son out to buy him some new clothes and his newborn sleep suits were now far too small. I was carrying him, holding him up so he could see the flashing lights on the cars in the toy aisle. He’d just leaned to laugh and there he was, gorgeous and new and giggling away at the funny new sights and sounds.
Then I noticed a couple of women watching me. Watching me laugh with my beautiful first-born.
Wearing a short sleeved t-shirt.
My scars, then much redder and raised as it had only been seven years since the last incident, standing proud from my arm, inviting looks and shakes of heads.
And then she spoke.
“I should report you to social services, how can someone as mental as you look after that poor child.”
He friend laughed and pulled her away, still shouting at me that I was mad and about that “poor baby”. More people looked and I fled to my car and broke down.
I never showed my arms again. From that day on I covered up. The eternal hunt for cardigans, long sleeved dresses, pull overs, anything that would hide my arms began.
14 years of sweating through the summers, longing to take off my cardigan and feel the breeze on my arms but being afraid that people would look at me and judge me. Judge my parenting, judge my life, judge my children, and judge my mental health.
Today it stopped. Today I went out with bare arms.
My beautiful daughter carried on being a naughty toddler. My now teenaged first born carried on being moody and hormonal and the world kept turning.
I kept walking, kept smiling as I always do, kept saying good morning to old ladies and chatting about the weather at the check out.
I didn’t look around to see if anyone was staring. I didn’t care. They can stare all they like. They can judge me, think I am mad, think I am a terrible mother, think what they like I don’t care.
And if they ask, I will tell them the truth: I cut my arms when I was a teenager. They can do what they like with that information. I will carry on living my life. The world will keep turning and I will keep smiling.
-This piece was originally written for and published exclusively on MeetOtherMums.com–