The Story Behind The Scar: 28 Women Tell The Truth (NSFW)

Photographed by Sam Nixon.
Scars are accumulated over a lifetime. From the faded, skinned knees of childhood to precise surgical scars from later in life, they make up both small and important stories from our lives. Sure, they represent healing and the challenges we've overcome, but they can also be a source of embarrassment, shame, or pain. And, in a world where photo retouching rules, the pores, blemishes, and scars that adorn so many women are often forgotten.

Not every scar represents trauma or disease, but some do. Others are just the normal result of living a life where shit happens. We slip on ice, we get bitten by spiders, we burn ourselves, or we accidentally bite ourselves in our sleep. Ahead are all of these stories, from 28 women — and images of the scars they got along the way.

*This photo series depicts scars from healed self-harm injuries.


1 of 29
Photographed by Sam Nixon.
Cristina
"I was born with congenital heart disease... I came out blue. They had to do an emergency surgery because they didn’t think I was going to make it. Since then, I’ve had about six more surgeries. A few years ago, I had a pacemaker put in; then, I finally had my adult open-heart surgery.

"I hated my scar... But the thing is, my girlfriends are so supportive. Within in a few months, my worries went away because they were like, 'Dude, that’s awesome.' My friend used to say that it gave me cleavage.

"I feel like scars are symbols of being a warrior — of being on a journey. I did try to hide the scar in the back when I was younger, at sweet-sixteen parties and stuff...my mom would always take really gorgeous, couture dresses and add a random strap or something to cover it. It was quite hilarious."
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2 of 29
Photographed by Sam Nixon.
Katherine
"I was in upstate NY when I was bitten by a spider. I didn’t go to the hospital until 48 hours later, [when] I couldn’t see straight or stand up, and I had a high fever... They did blood work and put me on antibiotics. They didn’t drain it at the hospital, which I thought was crazy, because it was this huge lump on my leg!

"They must have misdiagnosed it, because when I went into a walk-in clinic in Jersey [later], they drained it immediately. I couldn’t believe all the scary stuff that was coming out. They told me it was cellulitis and that they couldn’t stitch it up because it was an infection from the inside out — that’s why I have the scar."
3 of 29
Photographed by Sam Nixon.
Lyne
"When I was 4 years old, I grabbed two chairs and jumped up between them to balance my body [and] swing back and forth. But, the chairs were unstable, and I fell face-first onto the ground. The fall caused me to bite my tongue off. My mother recalls that it was holding on by a string. She didn't want to touch it because it would come off completely. She said that there was so much blood... I was rushed to a surgeon, and my tongue was sewn back on. I was only allowed to eat soup for two months."
4 of 29
Photographed by Sam Nixon.
Marisa
"I had half of my thyroid removed after finding out I had a cancerous tumor. Sometimes, I think I’m in denial about the scar; sometimes I look in the mirror and just cry. My neck is one of my favorite parts of my body, and I always thought it’s where a lot of my beauty came from. Now, there is a big thing right there, and I can’t even hide it. I’m doing this to come out. I want to love it, and I want it to be part of who I am."
5 of 29
Photographed by Sam Nixon.
Morgan
"This is my scoliosis surgery scar. I got it when I had surgery to correct the curvature of my spine. I was only 11...they said it would take at least three months to recover.

"In the first year, you’re not allowed to expose it to intense sunlight, so I had to wear a special speedo that zipped all the way to the top. Since I’m half-black — and we are more prone to keloid scars — the scarring process is a lot different. You really have to keep it covered up.

"In terms of limitations...I can’t ever go on a trampoline; I can’t do bungee jumping. I can absolutely do yoga, and I’m relatively flexible — I just can’t arch my back up that much.

"I’ve had this scar for 15 years, and at this point, I feel very differently about it... Growing up, I wanted to be perfect...and it can be really difficult to have [a scar] that, let’s be honest, takes up my whole back. It’s something that people are going to look at. That unwanted attention can be really hard to deal with. But, as you grow, you are comfortable in your skin, and you can feel okay. Once I got to that point, I didn’t care as much about the scar anymore."
6 of 29
Photographed by Sam Nixon.
Emily
"Almost two years ago, I was a passenger in a drunk driving accident. The car I was in flipped three times. These scars are from the glass shattering and two of the surgeries I had to get.

"When I first started going out again, I would try to hide them, but it was hard since they are all over. I wasn't a fan of them. Now, I love my scars; they remind me that I am a fighter and a survivor. Originally, I was told I would never walk again, so the fact that I am living the life I am is truly a blessing."
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7 of 29
Photographed by Sam Nixon.
Anonymous
"I was flat-chested for a long time...then, one day in the middle of high school, I was a 36F. [My large breasts] were making it really hard to exercise. I would get neck aches and migraines. It was really impeding my everyday process. On top of all of that, [my clothes] fit really funny.

"I was like, This is awful... So, for three years, my mom and I battled our health insurance company to get the [reduction] surgery covered — because it was considered cosmetic. One day, [the insurance company] said I could do it.

"Everything has changed since then. I went from a 36F to a 36C. They’re still pretty big, but they're not a detriment. My quality of life is so much better. I’ve never met a single person — in my years of going on forums or talking to women — who has ever regretted getting the procedure done. Ever.

"For me, yeah it would be nice to have perfect boobs. But, my overall quality of life is so improved that this was a small price to pay."
8 of 29
Photographed by Sam Nixon.
Anonymous
"I had self-injury scars from when I was 14, when I was going through difficult times. After the scars started to heal, and I wore short sleeves, people would start to ask me about them in public. On one hand, it’s kind of rude...trying to pry and get the juicy story, someone’s Lifetime original movie. I also found it very limiting... That’s someone’s first impression of you — that you’re the crazy girl. Then, they don’t really see anything else.

"I got the tattoo as a way of not being defined by what happened. It worked. Now, people come up to me and say 'That’s an amazing tattoo.'... Octopuses are great at escaping and can break off a limb and grow it back later, so given the trauma behind the scars...I’m glad I picked an image I could grow on.

"My scars are always a part of my past that I wanted to get away from... I don’t really see myself making peace with the history behind it. The resilient thing for me is to cover it up with an image that I like — something positive."
9 of 29
Photographed by Sam Nixon.
Sara
"I got [this scar] seven and a half months ago, from an emergency C-section. I went in for a scan because my baby had been in breech position. I didn’t realize I was already contracting [at the time]. I was four centimeters dilated and within minutes I was rushed down and had to get a C-section.

"It was scary when they told me I needed a C-section, but it was exciting because I knew I was going to meet my baby that day. I had no choice about it. I had planned on a natural birth. I just went with it...it was actually fine. It was quick. The recovery was painful.

"I honestly forget [the scar] is there, I guess because you don’t see it. When I do see it, it’s a happy feeling — because that’s where my baby came from."
10 of 29
Photographed by Sam Nixon.
Victoria
"I managed to fall a story and a half over a spiral staircase...[I] landed on my head, my knee 'breaking' the fall. I was subsequently rushed to the hospital, blood escaping through my ears and nose. I was in a coma for a few hours... Speaking was difficult at first. My grammar was completely intact, but my searching for words felt never-ending.

"The scar on my knee was gnarly, to say the least... Scars remind us of where we've been and all we've overcome. Mine is a good story. The life that has come from it is an even better one."
11 of 29
Photographed by Sam Nixon.
Natasha
"When I was serving hot cups of tea at a British restaurant, my fingers pretty much became immune to burns. That wasn't a lot of help to me, however, when I accidentally flung a jug of boiling-hot gravy over my arm. That freckle-less patch you see was actually a blister the size of my fist, and my whole arm was covered with an interesting pattern of flecked burns.

"This was pre-Obamacare and post-me-qualifying-for-my-family's-health-insurance, so the only medical advice I got was from my local pharmacist, who told me (amidst my violent and heaving sobs) that the burn cream was in aisle five."
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12 of 29
Photographed by Sam Nixon.
Tara
"When I was fourteen, I was putting up Valentine’s Day decorations at school. I actually have this condition where I faint when I feel pain. I accidentally hit myself while putting up these decorations. I fainted — and bit clear through my lip. When I came to, I thought I was totally fine, but instead I had to go to the hospital and get 60 stitches in my lip."
13 of 29
Photographed by Sam Nixon.
Lisa
"I have achondroplasia, so I have very short limbs. Two of these scars were from corrective surgeries when I was four. The other, smaller, ones that look like stab wounds were from limb-lengthening surgeries I had in middle school and high school. Those are spots were I had pins in my legs and the scars stretched as I grew taller. The really large one on my thigh is from a bone graft surgery [I had because of] complications from the previous surgery.

"If you've ever seen the movie Gattaca, you might remember the scene where Ethan Hawke needs to become taller to impersonate Jude Law, and he has fixators on his legs. I had that.

"I was more conscious of them when I was younger. Now, I wear dresses and skirts (when it's not freezing) so they're usually visible. I don't mind them. They're reminders of something really difficult and painful I went through. Are they pretty to look at? Probably not."
14 of 29
Photographed by Sam Nixon.
Hannah
"I have a small scar on my elbow. When I was about 5 years old, I was a real tomboy and loved to help my dad with fixing things. One day, he was working on a car in the garage, and I decided to pass him a sharp tool — and it didn't end very well! I’ve never tried to hide it... I like it; it reminds me of my dad."
15 of 29
Photographed by Sam Nixon.
Anonymous
"I had a breast cancer scare in college. I was showering one night and felt a lump on my right breast. I was 20 years old at the time, and I was like, Oh my god, I’m going to die. It was really scary. I went to the doctor’s, and we didn’t even do a biopsy. We just removed it...and it was benign, which was a huge relief. I had a great support system — my friends came over and made me a boob-shaped card."
16 of 29
Photographed by Sam Nixon.
Anonymous
"When I was 16 years old, I was diagnosed with a very rare form of cancer that infected the lining of my knee joint. I was told that if I didn't amputate my leg, the cancer would spread to my lungs, and I would likely die. After careful consideration...my family decided that living with one leg is far better than not living at all.

"I walk with a prosthetic that hides my scar. People often don't know I'm an amputee until I tell them. I have a love/hate relationship with my scars. I hate the fact that I was maimed at such a young age. Logistically speaking, living with one leg is a constant struggle. [But,] I love my scars because they have taught me a lot about the human condition and how truly fragile we all are.

"When I first got to college...people usually asked 'what happened?' after seeing me walk upstairs or limp after a long work day or night out. If it was a random stranger, I'd say it was a train accident, or a shark attack, and they usually believed me. After a while, I realized telling dramatic lies is counter-productive and weird. So, to make life less complicated, my go-to answer is: 'It's a long story.' Most people don't have the time to pry."
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17 of 29
Photographed by Sam Nixon.
Laura

"I have scars on both of my wrists. For a long time, I didn't know what to do with the constant anxiety and self-loathing I felt, so I found a tangible way to isolate and focus the overwhelming feelings.

"I got a tattoo on my left wrist to cover the worst one, since you could see where the ER doctor stitched it back together. I don't really
think of it as hiding it, though. I got it to take back an area of my body that I put through a lot and that had become a constant source of shame.

"It's not something I'm ashamed of anymore, so I'm happy to talk to people about it if they ask. The more we talk about this stuff, the easier it is for people to get help."
18 of 29
Photographed by Sam Nixon.
Monica
"I’ve had seven C-sections. This will be my eighth. The scars are where my babies came from; they were delivered through these scars. They’re special even though they’re not pretty."
19 of 29
Photographed by Sam Nixon.
Bethie
"My scar is in the crease of my left arm. I attempted to bake a pound cake when I was 9 or 10 years old and burned myself on the oven (the pound cake ended up being inedible because I really overdid it on the baking soda)."
20 of 29
Photographed by Sam Nixon.
Rachel
"This scar on my left hand is my favorite scar to date. I was (give or take) 8 years old and in the movie theater with the Flintstone family — yep, Barney, Fred, and even their dinosaur, Dino. We were all watching the premier of their new movie. Dino and I were sharing a big bag of delicious popcorn, it was way past my bedtime, and the movie was good as hell.

"It was the time of my life, and then all of a sudden I woke up to blood everywhere. Blood on the pillow, blood in my mouth, blood all over my face, and of course blood on my hand. To quote the late Notorious B.I.G.: It was all a dream... and I was aggressively chewing on my 'popcorn' hand in my sleep."
21 of 29
Photographed by Sam Nixon.
Anna
"I have a thoracotomy scar across my chest... I had surgery to fix a congenital [lung] defect. Before this surgery, my lungs would just spontaneously collapse. It started when I was 10 or 11, and we’d go to the doctor and see that I had a collapsed lung. It happened about two or three times a year."
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22 of 29
Photographed by Sam Nixon.
Annie
"I really like food...that is, except for camp food. So, you can imagine my dismay as a kid when I spent six weeks at sleep-away camp... I had my parents sneakily send me food packages. One of these contained granola bars. I was hiding said granola bars in the rafters of the bathrooms (because that's chic and practical). I jumped down and didn't notice the nail sticking out of the wall of the plywood bathroom stall.

"It ripped up my leg, from my ankle to my knee. I didn't really feel the pain. Someone had to point out that I was bleeding. Looking back, I probably should have gone to the hospital, but the camp wouldn't take me because they didn't want a lawsuit. I don't really remember what happened to those granola bars after that."
23 of 29
Photographed by Sam Nixon.
Ashleigh
"I had a suspicious-looking mole on my back checked out by a dermatologist. Upon initial inspection, my derm 'scooped' out the mole to test it for melanoma. A week later, the tests came back positive for malignancy. The cancer was shallow enough that I didn't need to go to a specialist, and we immediately scheduled a surgery for the next week. While under local anesthesia (yikes!) my doctor took a large chunk out of my back; to ensure everything is removed, the removal has to include a full centimeter in every direction. He sewed me up with an unknown amount of internal stitches and 16 external stitches."
24 of 29
Photographed by Sam Nixon.
Lilac
"My scars are on the backs of my ankles — they're from many years of wearing heels that did not fit."
25 of 29
Photographed by Sam Nixon.
Jenn
"This is my abdominal exploratory surgery scar. They went to explore, but they ended up taking out my appendix. I had chronic appendicitis — my body was attacking the organ, and it was killing me."
26 of 29
Photographed by Sam Nixon.
Karen
"I have a scar on the outer side of my right ankle. Freshman year of college, I was leaving my school's basketball arena and slipped on a random patch of ice...in the worst way possible. My foot was perpendicular to my shin, and my ankle felt like Rice Krispies. I had to get total reconstructive surgery, including seven screws on the outer side (this is the scar photographed) and three pins and a plate on the inner ankle. It was a good five-month healing process, and another two-plus years to regain the majority of mobility (I still struggle balancing on my right foot).

"I love my scar. First of all, it makes me feel like a badass; I show it off whenever possible. My injury completely changed my perspective on exercising — from something I loathed and forced myself to do, to something I feel lucky to be able to do."
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27 of 29
Photographed by Sam Nixon.
Julia
"I have two vaccine scars. All non-U.S.-born children have to get a tuberculosis vaccination when moving into the U.S. from abroad. I moved to the U.S. from Mexico when I was a child — all my foreign-born friends and I call this our 'FOB' mark (for 'Fresh Off the Boat'). I barely notice it, and it's actually a bit of a bonding between myself and other foreign-born folks."
28 of 29
Photographed by Sam Nixon.
Sarah
"I have a scar from my gallbladder-removal surgery. I used to get horrible, stabbing pains, but they only lasted about 15 minutes. But, one day, the pain wouldn't go away — so I obviously went to the doctor. Turns out I had gallstones, and one of them was now blocking a bile duct. Super glamorous. I got the stone removed, and in a separate surgery they took out my gallbladder to keep it from ever happening again."
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Watch the video for another intimate story about scars.
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