The first still-available website I found that is dedicated to the sharing and exploration of our scars was Canadian Svea Vikander’s rich Life Lines blogsite and its associated sites.
When I discovered this address I knew I’d found a long-lost friend. Here at last was somebody who (despite her rather different experience) understood and cared about a deeply hidden part of my psyche, someone with whom I could identify and link up in ways that had proved rare and hard to find throughout my 60 or so years. It wasn’t hard to affirm and offer my support for Svea’s threefold aim for the project:
a) to address the oppression felt by people whose physical appearance marks them as ‘other’.
b) to encourage a safe (anonymous) exchange of stories and images about personal struggles to overcome illness, disease, accident, violent attack, surgical procedures, etc.; and finally,
c) to encourage viewers to reconsider their ideas about their own bodies, as well as the bodies of others.
Svea Vikander was excellently qualified to undertake the Life Lines project. She was saved by abdominal surgery very early in her life, is a capable writer with training as a psychotherapist and in the visual arts, and so between 2006 and 2010 she collected the stories and images of more than 50 people who’d paid for their survival with the indelible marks of lifesaving surgery in infancy or later life, or from overcoming serious injury. Svea launched the Life Lines project by show-and-telling her own story; she then interviewed and photographed some of her friends and acquaintances, and via the website she enabled anyone interested to narrate their experience and thoughts. People from around the world responded, and she exhibited her collection in galleries and academic contexts as well as publishing it online.
In Looking at Life Lines Svea has posted some of her academic work in psychotherapy, with perceptive and clarifying exploration of our deepest feelings about ourselves and our imperfections, studied in the personal and societal contexts.
She also reflected on several of her subjects’ narratives: in this essay Svea picked up on something that had also fascinated me: the very different feelings expressed by Tamara and Fred (and that’s me) about quite similar scars from the surgery for their common disease, infant pyloric stenosis.
Svea Vikander’s selection is quite wide, the interviews and writing sensitive and perceptive, and her photography is stark and powerful. The Body in Writing is a small kaleidoscope of what others have written about their own and others’ feelings about their badges of surgery and accidents.
She concludes with this observation:
Contrary to popular belief, there is no clear correlation between the size or appearance of a scar and the psychological distress that it causes; generational divides have also been shown to indicate oppositional perceptions of scars’ appearances, meaning and importance. As with other facets of bodily identity, the scar’s representation is fluid, determined by one’s location in place, time and larger socio-historical narratives. Life Lines participants demonstrate their efforts to navigate the ever-shifting personal and social complexities engendered by bodily experience.
My Dutch roots enabled me to find and participate in a much smaller project managed by another pyloric stenosis survivor, Jennifer Jacobs. Despite her Anglo-sounding name and the same being true of her Scarred not Scary blogsite, all the posts are in the Dutch language.
Jennifer’s comments convey goals that are are similar to those of Svea Vikander, if also more basic:
This site’s aim is to get us thinking more positively about scars. This site shows scars instead of hiding them. By talking about your scar you come to realise it says something about you. Others should accept you, including your scars. The more open you are willing to be about them, the less they will worry you. And the easier others will find it to accept them.
For me, “coming out” among my family and friends, and more publicly still via the web has been the single most important part of my healing after a lifetime of struggle coming to terms with my pyloric stenosis scar and story. I thank God for the internet and for the people who have welcomed me into what is really a world-wide and therapeutic community.