Her Royal Highness and Her Scars

by danielle guida

Royal weddings—you either love them or you hate them. While frustrated Brits may grumble about the waste of taxpayer money, plenty of Americans (myself included) can’t help but gush over the grandeur of this tradition, a tradition from a time never experienced by our culture.

Princess Eugenie’s wedding in October particularly moved me for a reason I was not expecting. Taking place in the shadow of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s recent nuptials, the marriage of the Queen’s granddaughter did not generate nearly the same amount of worldwide interest. And yet, the second royal wedding of the year meant much more to me than the first. But this by no means indicates that I didn’t completely lose my shit at the first. I’m somewhat of a Meghan Markle superfan and I think she’s doing an incredible job showing the world that being a princess and a feminist are not mutually exclusive. Also, I may or may not buy into the conspiracy theory that she’s orchestrating a plot to get an American on the throne.

But there’s one specific reason I was more excited watching Eugenie walk down the aisle: her dress.

The gown featured a wide, off-the-shoulder neckline that curved into a low back and flowed into a lengthy train. Eugenie had specifically requested the low back, which, coupled with the untraditional choice of no veil, prominently revealed a large scar from the back surgery she underwent at twelve to correct her scoliosis. Before the ceremony, the princess had told the BBC that she made sure her dress left her scar visible. It was her way of honoring the people who helped her during the major operation, inspiring people with the same condition, and challenging the idea that scars aren’t beautiful.

I suffered from an Atrial Septal Defect (ASD), meaning the wall between my upper and lower heart chambers leaked deoxygenated blood. My cardiologists closed this “hole” with a successful open-heart surgery. It was the hardest, most impressive challenge I ever overcame. The catch? I was two years old and don’t remember any of it.

The ASD did, however, result in another challenge for me: the scar. Seventeen years have passed and the thin line of scar tissue that runs eight inches down my chest has healed “beautifully,” as my doctors say.

Growing up, I thought it made me a freak. I constantly hid it with high-cut shirts to evade confused stares and those painful extra few seconds people take when they notice something slightly off. As if I weren’t already self-conscious enough about the area between my breasts, I had this abnormality to make that zone even more anxiety-inducing.

In elementary school, pool parties were my worst nightmare. I refused to wear bathing suit tops that were bikini style, no matter how many of my peers wore them. In middle school, V-necks and lower-cut tops became increasingly trendy, yet my necklines just got higher and higher. Clothes shopping was a nightmare and it always ended in me being unfairly mean to my mother when she failed to help me find tops that I felt comfortable in.

I spent countless hours in front of my bedroom mirror crying, “Why me?” But I knew why. I knew that years ago, I had been on an operating table with my ribs cracked and chest cut open. That’s what I was told, anyway. This was the worst part: having recovered from something so serious, but having no recollection of it. Other people with scars at least have a memory, a story. I didn’t fight off a shark, Jaws-style. I didn’t donate an organ to save someone’s life. I didn’t even get a mole removed.

My mom, when she wasn’t busy dealing with my many other overblown adolescent insecurities, continually told me to embrace the scar. Though always sure to validate my concerns, she gently tried to teach me that anything that makes you different can be a positive thing if you have the right attitude. It looks cool, she would say. Cool? I never felt cool in those high-cut, off-brand swimsuit tops. But why shouldn’t it be cool?

Eventually, I took ownership of that little patch of skin and just decided, at some inexact point I can’t remember, that it was cool. I looked cool.

I grew out of my hypersensitive phase and confidently wore any tops and bathing suits I wanted during high school. It wasn’t until college when I was, for the very first time, surrounded by new people who hadn’t known me for years and who hadn’t yet grown used to my scar. It had been so long since I had to explain to someone what it was. Do I wait for them to ask me? Do I explain it right away so they stop looking? There’s no right way to maneuver it, but I’m becoming much better at accepting that.  

My mom doesn’t have a scar down her chest like me, but she does have one across her lower abdomen. She has me and my C-section to thank for that one. She also has marks from several incisions during her successful fight against breast cancer, after which she gave me the following simple advice: not to sweat the small stuff. I try to keep this in mind, always.

So many things can happen that put life into a humbling perspective; watching my mom gracefully handle every challenge the world threw at her made me regret all the hours I had spent feeling bad for myself. I should’ve instead just felt grateful that I had a heart that properly pumped blood. I fully recovered and only need to check in with a cardiologist every few years––I don’t think about how lucky I am for that nearly enough. Who cares what’s on my body? It’s a body that works.

Princess Eugenie knew the world would be watching her. She used her platform to say she’s grateful to the people who supported her. She used her platform to defy beauty standards that tell us to hide our imperfections. I found it extremely liberating watching a member of the royal family––whose identity rests on the strict protection of their public image––use a wedding dress as a vehicle for a tiny, understated, effective rebellion.

If I were to get married on the world-stage, I wonder if I would have the courage to showcase my scar. (I’d also need a damn creative designer to find a way for me to do that without completely flashing everyone.) My relationship with my scar is always changing, but the one thing I know for certain is that I need to remember to be grateful.

Thank you to the surgeons who did a great job operating on two-year-old me. Thank you to the strangers who tried their best to pretend they didn’t notice the scar. Thank you to the new friends who ask if I don’t mind them asking what it’s from. Thank you, Mom, for everything. And Princess Eugenie, thank you for the reminder to say thank you to others—even on days that should be all about you. 

Michele Dale