Rockville mom and writer Alex Elle was hanging out with her friend, Silver Spring photographer Erika Layne, when they started messing around with a camera, snapping photos of one another’s stretch marks. Elle, who writes about self-love and self-care, quickly recognized the power of the photographs, especially if used in a body-positive campaign. While many women shy away from showing their stretch marks, Elle has always defiantly flaunted hers.
“My mom used to always say, ‘You’re wearing shorts. We can see your stretch marks. Don’t you care about that?’” says Elle.
In an act of rebellion, she called her stretch marks “love lines” and refused to hide them. Today, Elle and Layne help other women to embrace their stretch marks and share the stories behind their scars through their Instagram account, Love Your Lines. Shortly after launching the account in 2014, they opened a Gmail account for submissions, which was quickly flooded by women’s stories and their photos.
"For some people confidence comes naturally and very easily. For others like myself, I have to force myself out of my comfort zone in order to exercise my confidence. Self-confidence is a product of what we believe in and what we actively set out to achieve. Each day I try to put myself in experiences that will help me grow and stretch my self-confidence and today was definitely one of them. Only two people in my life have photographed me and my #strengthmarks in all its glory. Today marks the third, my friend @mark_j_chua. Until about 2 years ago my stretch marks and loose skin from giving birth to two daughters was always something I was ashamed of. As mothers we forget how strong our bodies are. We carry life, stretch to the extreme, bear through the pain of giving birth, and face the day to day mental challenges of motherhood. Mothers are bonafide BAD ASSES. End of story. No questions asked. Celebrating this moment of bravery, badassery, and self-confidence with a #selfie." // submission: @gofitjo
Layne attributes the account’s success—it currently has 155,000 followers—to two things: one, the sense of community that’s found in discovering that many, many other women have stretch marks and scars, and secondly, because if you Google “stretch marks,” most of what you’ll find will be in regards to prevention or how to make them disappear.
“There was nowhere you could search stretch marks and find anything positive on the web,” says Layne. “They have not been seen as this beautiful thing at all—people have been ashamed of them.”
Instead of body shaming, Love Your Lines’ captions explain what they mean to the person who bears them and the stories of how the stretch marks came to be, whether through losing a ton of weight or giving birth to a child or just growing up into an adult body. While the feed does encourage body positivity, it’s also about connecting with others who have felt the growing pains of life.
“No matter how you got your stretch marks, there is a story behind them, so people are wearing them as a badge,” says Layne.
To keep a fine art aesthetic to the feed, Layne and Elle have kept all the photographs in black and white. Layne and Elle are working on the next steps for the campaign, which will involve getting out into the real world, not just operating through social media. The goal would ultimately be to travel around the globe to interact with women in person: Layne, the photographer, would capture them in photos, while Elle, the writer, would tell their stories.
"I was young when I got my first stretch marks – probably 11 or 12. I developed curves a lot younger than most girls my age and they grew QUICKLY. I remember crying to my mom about these crazy red lines crisscrossing my hips and newly developed breasts, wondering WHY this was happening to me. She assured me that I was still just as beautiful with these marks, but I didn't believe her. I went away to college and started gaining weight quickly. My stretch marks multiplied, and still I hated them. When I was 20, my mom was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. I quit taking care of myself completely. My weight gain spiraled out of control, and with it came more angry red marks. I lost the will to even do anything about it. I only cared about FORGETTING. Since then I've carried two living miracles inside of me for nine long months. I came away from it with saggy, scarred skin on my stomach. And still, I HATED it. When I started my weight loss journey, I tried to cover up the fact that I had stretch marks. I was embarrassed to post my progress photos because of the now-faded lines winding along my stomach, thighs, and almost everywhere else. When I first became a fitness coach, I was convinced everyone would be disgusted by my stretch marks and extra skin on my belly. But you know what? NO ONE SAID A THING. Instead, my friends and family supported me, and told me how proud of me they were. And an amazing thing happened: I LISTENED. Today I'm proud of these lines and that extra skin. To me, they tell a story of triumph, struggle, sorrow, hard work and more joy than I can even explain. Will I ever have a completely flat stomach or really defined abs? No, but I finally LOVE myself, body, mind and soul. And that is what truly matters!"
Elle and Layne say that they’d like to turn their work into a coffee table book, and perhaps an art gallery show, displaying the photographs alongside their corresponding real-life stories. In the meantime, they’re finding fulfillment in the opportunity to connect with women over something that affects just about everyone.
“It’s just really fulfilling and beautiful, and it really shows that we’re not alone in our struggles,” says Elle. “We’re really never alone in what we’re going through, and so many people think we are.”