Should I Dress to Hide My Scars or Show Them Off?

I am healthy and active, but my legs have lots of scars, including a seven-inch incision from a recent surgery. I am attending an event that asks people to wear cocktail attire. My nice dresses are all just below the knee or knee length. Do I wear pantyhose or show off all my scars, blemishes and other things that come related with life and age? — Susan, Del Mar, Calif.

In a world of Instagram filters, Photoshop, fillers, Botox, lasers and every other body treatment under the sun, it can be shocking to look at your actual untouched self. Marks that once signaled a life well lived — or adventurously lived, or dangerously lived, or joyfully lived; of pain experienced and conquered — can now seem a somewhat embarrassing sign of wear and tear, or human frailty. And no one wants to be giving worn-down vibes.

Yet there is also power in a refusal to hide. Jane Goodall, the primatologist, just turned 90, and I loved seeing the celebrations of her life and how she got to here, a journey writ on her skin. Recently, Phoebe Philo featured a photo in the ad campaign for her new line that showed a close-up image of a stomach complete with stretch marks. And I’ve always admired Padma Lakshmi’s willingness to show her scars, including the seven-inch one on her upper arm from a car accident when she was a teenager.

That scar was front and center last year during her Sports Illustrated swimsuit shoot. Afterward, she got a lot of questions about why she hadn’t covered it up with makeup or airbrushed it away. “It’s what sets me apart and makes me me, and even if someone could wave a magic wand I really don’t think I would choose to eliminate my scar,” she said.

Which pretty much says it all.

It also suggests to me that the pendulum may be swinging away from plastic-y perfection. After all, when we erase our experiences from our bodies, we lose more than just a mark.

And the more we see of such “flawed” images presented not, in fact, as flawed but as unremarkable, the more our understanding of beauty will adjust and expand. I always think of the sculptor Marc Quinn’s series of heroic marble sculptures of the thalidomide generation, the British children born with malformed or missing limbs as a result of an anti-nausea drug taken during pregnancy in the late 1950s and early ’60s.

By treating their adult selves with the same appreciation Michelangelo reserved for his David, Mr. Quinn effectively changed the definition of who gets to be put on a pedestal.

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