When you think of scars, you often think of pain.
I certainly felt this when I first looked at mine after a spinal fusion operation at the age of 15.
Pain was the initial thought, but soon I began to think of them as disgusting and what made me different. The physical morphed into an emotional pain.
Ever since this operation for scoliosis, I’ve had a complicated relationship with the permanent marks from my surgery – but thankfully, I’m learning to embrace them now.
My journey with the condition came about suddenly when I was with my friend, Charlotte, at her house after school.
As I cut into a maple-soaked pancake for dinner, I randomly felt a sharp pain shoot up my spine.
Being a dancer at the time, I initially thought it could have been a pulled muscle. Panicked, we called her mum – who used to be a nurse – and she told my mum to take me to get checked out.
I was worried – but hungry too, after missing out on my tea.
The next day, my mum took me to the GP. She had her folder of Google research with her, with every ‘potential’ cause on the internet printed off. The GP told me to touch my toes and a hump appeared on my back.
Immediately, he suggested it was scoliosis – which was a new word to my mum and I, so we were confused and worried what it meant.
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I’d soon learn the hard way that scoliosis is a condition where a person’s spine twists or curves abnormally, resulting in uneven hips and shoulders. This can cause a lot of discomfort and – in some cases – may require treatment with a brace or a spinal fusion operation.
I was referred to the nearest hospital for an MRI scan and was diagnosed with idiopathic scoliosis – a form of scoliosis that teenagers often develop.
That’s where I learnt that my spine had curved in an ‘S’ shape with a curvature of over 70 degrees. Some people do not have the condition as badly as this but, in most cases, the condition gets worse over time if left untreated.
Within a few weeks, I was seeing surgeons to discuss my options. Before I knew it, I was in a hospital bed, gown on, hair plaited, a cold slither of anaesthetic running through my veins, and getting ready for my spinal fusion operation. It aimed to straighten my spine as best as possible.
I woke from my operation six hours later to the sound of machines beeping, EastEnders blaring on the TV across the room, and a foreign feeling inside my back – like a puppeteer’s hand propping up his toy.
Although recovery was tough – relearning to sit-up, walk and dealing with the pain of effectively a new spine – the real challenges arrived when I stepped out of the hospital door, two weeks later.
It didn’t help for reclaiming any sense of normality that I had a brace after the surgery to protect the wound and encourage my spine to return where it was meant to be.
It’s safe to say that getting back to normal life was emotionally traumatic. Staying in and resting was all I knew. I hated going outside in case somebody knocked my brace or stared as I walked past with a solid, plastic casing around me.
Some friends visited me at my house, but I learned to spend a lot of time alone, studying for my GCSEs that I still had to pass. It was hard, especially for a teenager who couldn’t take part in the usual activities like parties and sport for months.
The first photo I saw of my scar was with bandages and tape covering it that my mum took for me at the hospital. It had sat in my phone and I couldn’t bare to look at it properly for a few weeks.
It hadn’t hit me that the stitched, red cut was mine forever at this point. Until the plasters came off.
For a few years, I’d spend hours looking in the mirror at the scar, not sure if I was fascinated or disgusted. I would also wear baggy jumpers to hide it, and any sign of wonkiness in my shoulders or hips that still remained.
When it was sometimes on show, I used to prepare for the dreaded questions, like: ‘Oh my god how did you get that? Were you in an accident?’ or fear that people were talking about me behind my back (excuse the pun).
With most cases diagnosed in teenage girls, body confidence is a huge factor in the care of patients. A sense of self is still to be discovered in these years and it’s a time when your body changes and grows the most, so these questions made me feel different – something any introverted teenage girl didn’t want.
It was only through eventually seeing others embracing their own scoliosis post-surgery bodies on Instagram and in magazines that I learnt to break down my own insecurities.
One was influencer Emily Hale, who runs her own pilates business, as well as classes for women with scoliosis and spinal fusions. She is a role model to women like me and represents a light at the end of a long tunnel of recovery – not just through her physical abilities, but her confidence too.
There was also Princess Eugenie, whose magnificent wedding dress featured a drop back showing her scar. Or model Martha Hunt, who did a photoshoot a few years ago among 15 other young girls and women with scoliosis showing off their braces and spinal fusion surgery marks.
Seeing women like these embracing their imperfections was so empowering for me because they’re seen to be ‘perfect’ and to have the ‘ideal’ bodies for many people.
They made me feel like I could be perfect too, and this has encouraged me to embrace mine. I now share my scar on my Instagram to help others embrace theirs, and now my go-to night out outfits often feature low back tops.
Scoliosis can feel degrading, but it can also empower you – you just need to be comfortable to speak about it openly to remove the stigma attached to the condition.
Now, I am proud to tell my story, and proud to have my own warrior marks on me forever.
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