NEW YORK — Karly Vedan was 9 when she first noticed stretch marks popping on her legs.
“I grew pretty tall really fast,” she said. “They looked really creepy, like something scratched my knees.”
Fast forward more than a decade, and her lines have lots of company. Before giving birth a year ago to an adorable son, at 35 weeks into her pregnancy, lines had taken over her tummy.
“At first I was just kind of scared,” said the 21-year-old Canadian student in Edmonton, Alberta. “It looked so weird, like I had a bunch of spider veins all over my stomach … . I asked my doctor about it, and they said those are just stretch marks, don’t worry about it.”
She heeded that advice and was overjoyed a few months back when she stumbled on an Instagram campaign urging other women to do the same.
The effort that has resonated with Vedan and hundreds of other women was started about seven months ago by moms Alex Elle, a writer, and Erika Layne Salazar, a photographer. Aptly dubbed Love Your Lines, they put up an Instagram account of that name and spread the word for one and all to email them photos of their stretch marks and how they feel about them, especially in relation to today’s idealized standards of skinny, unmarred perfection.
Swamped with images, they’re still going strong, giving birth to the popular hashtag LoveYourLines used by posters showing off their own marks on Instagram, Tumblr and elsewhere across social media. Setting the effort apart from other woman power and esteem-boosting campaigns is the fact that Elle and Salazar transform each image into high-art black and white as a way to avoid distraction from the marks themselves and the stories behind them.
“For me, Love Your Lines was a way to make women feel safe about their bodies,” said Elle, in Rockville, Maryland. “We wanted a platform where women could be themselves. Initially it was just going to be a fine art photography collection where I would be interviewing the women and Erika would be taking the photos. Then it just kind of went crazy.”
With the promise of anonymity to all who want it, women from around the world are pouring out their seemingly sincerest joys, anxieties and despair over their marks, loose postpartum bellies and battle wounds from valiant fights against cancer.
Some, such as Vedan, have allowed themselves to be identified by the posting of their traceable Instagram handles. Others, such as a recent nameless submission, have spoken of suicide.
“No man will love me or choose me when there are so many beautiful & lovely women out there,” wrote one who submitted a close-up of her belly and identified herself as a childless 24-year-old. “I will never be at peace with my lines. My body issues consume me at every waking moment.”
Nearly 300 people, at the urging of Elle and Salazar in an accompanying comment, have offered her comments of love and encouragement.
“Women are absolutely beautiful the way that they are and they don’t have to be airbrushed to be beautiful,” Elle said in a recent phone interview with Salazar. “I feel like we’re coming into a time where women are starting to accept that they’re beautiful, flaws and all. We’re so much more alike than we think.”
Salazar, who lives near Elle in Silver Spring, Maryland, considers support an important part of the project.
“We’re all opening the door for each other,” she said.
But it’s also more personal for her. Salazar’s 4-year-old daughter required open-heart surgery at birth. “She has a huge scar down her chest. I never want her to think twice about whether she’s beautiful or not.”