The impact of hidden scars has been explored in an extraordinary study by RMIT PhD researcher, Dr Lee Kofman.
Kofman research on the lived experiences of women with non-facial scars used mixed methods of interview, photography and writing.
Marked Body Surface: Lived Experiences of Women With Non-Facial Scars comprises conversations with over 30 Australian women, who offer moving tales of living with their scars.
“Non-facial scars can adversely affect women’s life choices and to some extent even their life chances, resulting in limitations on degrees of bodily exposure, self-presentation, and romantic and sexual choices,” Kofman said.
“Yet I also found that for some women, scars can provide the positive identity of a resilient and interesting person with unusual life experiences.
“Some participants showed resourcefulness and creativity by using their scars to connect with others, receive validation for past suffering and even to seduce.”
The study finds women who hide their scars from public view can experience additional distress borne out of guilt for being supposedly “vain” in failing to accept their scars.
Additionally, poor provision of information about the risks of scarring after medical treatments such as breast augmentations was highlighted as a significant cause of distress.
Kofman said she was drawn to the project for both personal and professional reasons.
“My body is inscribed with extensive scarring. By the time I turned eleven, I had undergone seven operations to repair congenital heart defects and a leg injured in a bus accident,” she said.
“These operations took place in the former Soviet Union in the early 1980s when - devoid of modern technology and sober staff - hospitals barely coped with providing basic care and would not ‘waste’ their time and resources on such trivia as fine-skin suturing.
“As a former social work practitioner, I had worked with female clients who had non-facial scars, and learned that scars had a profound impact on their lives just as they had on mine.
“It was then that I began to ponder the lack of support services and adequate research in this area.”
Kofman said the findings add new information to theories of the body and the impact of disfigurements, offering useful guidance for advancing service provision.
“My study shows that many of these women, who show no signs of psychopathology and who are not seeking help, may still be experiencing significant distress that can be amendable through intervention.”
“One of my major findings was that treatment must take into account issues around sexuality, intimacy and the partnering processes which are often overlooked by contemporary clinicians working with people with disfigurements,” she said.
Kofman now hopes to pursue qualitative research around contemporary appearance challenges for women, such as the increasingly popular labiaplasty.
A Russian-born Israeli-Australian author, writing teacher and mentor based in Melbourne, Kofman has published three fiction books in Hebrew.
Since 2002 she has been writing exclusively in English and publishing short stories, creative nonfiction and poetry widely in Australia, Scotland, UK, USA and Canada.
Kofman’s latest book, The Dangerous Bride, explores her own experience of living with her scars.
The memoir was mentioned as one of the best books of 2014 by The Age and The Australian Book Review.