The Scar Academy: Best Scar Stories & Why We Love ’em

Image by Lars Nissen from Pixabay

There’s a famous pissing match in Jaws—a drunken scars vs. scars show-off contest between Quint the shark hunter and the oceanographer Hooper. Quint eventually wins for getting the ultimate scar—chewed up by the shark!

Actor Michael Williams lands sinister roles in crime movies, because of his scarred face. He was razored by a stranger. Tina Fey’s facial scar also came from a slashing stranger. She says, in her roles, it evokes kindness and pity. 

Science says men with minor facial scars are attractive. A study at The School of Biological Sciences, University of Liverpool, and the Department of Psychology at the University of Stirling, surveyed 147 women and 76 men about the attractiveness of scars. Women rated men with scars highly for short-term relationships. Men’s attractiveness ratings of women with scars were no different than women without. 

Jamie Fraser, the male protagonist of Outlander, battle-scarred from an evil torturer, scar-romances his way into Claire’s affections. Christian Grey, the main male character of Fifty Shades, stripteases his scars, remnants of child abuse, to wend his way into Anastasia’s heart. The women leads have NO scars, as if nothing happened to them before meeting these guys. 

Mine is a Scar, Yours is a Stereotype.

In the Liverpool study, Men assumed women were scarred by accidents. Women presumed men were scarred in fights. Scarred men rated attractive in the short term, but unscarred men were regarded as better partners for raising kids.

In those movies—Fifty Shades and Outlander—and others like Tarzan and Daredevil, the scar is a glimpse of a man’s past and who he is now after surviving those injuries. Women are usually mute in that way—their stories hidden beneath pristine flesh, their scars are invisible. A great exception is The Long Kiss Goodnight. The sexy, tough as f*ck character, Charlie Baltimore, has scars she doesn’t remember getting, and that’s the clue to who and what she is.

In “What Scars Say About Sex and Stereotypes,” Robert Myers, who is a Cultural anthropologist, says scarring rituals date back thousands of years in Africa and Australia, where scarification looked like modern tattoos but also telegraphed clan and tribal alliances and other social indicia like age group, status, and rites of passage. Some tribes branded their captors with their clan symbol as spoils of war. Between lovers, raised scars provided sensual arousal to touch. These traditions were later lost in shame when the scarified encountered people from other parts of the world where scars were read as confessions of poor character, and mistaken life choices.

One Guy Beats Another Over the Head.

Rob Myers traces the scar (as a symbol) to the DUELING CULTURES of the world. He describes Amazonian tribal duels of honor as clubbing matches in which one dueler clubbed the other over the head until he fell over. Both men then wore their shredded scalp and permanent protrusions as a testament to their ferocity. 

19th century English duelers sported their gunshot wounds from dueling pistols as badges of honor. Prussian fraternity initiation involved face-slashing duels (you heard that right) that proved a willingness to enter the fray. It was wearing the mark of the man who laughs in the face of mortal combat. 

Alexander the Great deflected an attempted mutiny by baring his scar-covered body to prove he was valiant and sacrificing enough to lead. Romans who weren’t of noble origin earned statesmen standing and a shot at the political office through front-of-body scars received in hand-to-hand combat. The opposite—unscarred skin or back scars—showed cowardice too severe to lead.

Pain Heals. Glory is Forever.

Keanu Reeves in The Replacements, gives the famous pep talk to his nearly slaughtered team, “Pain heals. Chicks dig scars. Glory is forever.” 

Scarification is out of vogue (aside from kids carving into their arms when their lives feel like sh*t). Fight clubs are underground, instead of gladiatorial matches in the arena. Warriors are a specialized force, no longer involving most men of the tribe. And membership in the local militia risks being a wannabe’s game—just with AR-15s (.223 Rem or 5.56x45) instead of paintballs.

Some guys broadcast their glory with tattoos. But scars tell the story of actual events, while tattoos mostly confess the fantasies and fascinations of the wearer. How many men have encountered the dragons on their biceps? Tattoos are the wearer’s story, purchased not earned. 

The nuance of scars can’t be replaced by an artist’s rendering. They aren’t pretty reminders of Mom or the girl we no longer talk about and would like to forget but can’t (now), They often come from an ugly story. Scars from the whippings of the enslaved were reminders of emasculation. Scars from criminality, like The Joker’s, carry a special stigma.

Scars earned hunting, on a battlefield or adventure, are sported with pride and perceived as honorable. Jack Ryan (Tom Clancy’s character), carries deep scars from a crash while serving in the military. Hemingway earned his scars in childhood, the army, and adventures bold and brave; from boxing matches to bullfights, his body mapped a lifetime of machismo and bravado that he imbued in his characters, like the old fisher Santiago in The Old Man and the Sea and Jake Barnes in The Sun Also Rises, whose crippling wounds and scars underscore post World War II concerns about soldiers’ mental health. 

Scars are stories of our fight to defend a stranger from getting robbed or a woman getting raped. They quietly brand the hero. Or a drunk who participated in a bottle-smashing bar brawl of which we’re ashamed. They’re stories of being human. If we were the bar fight guy, we might admit we were a fool a long time ago. The scar is a reminder of atonement, redemption, and maturity—a human life evolved.

Chicks Dig Scars In More Ways than One.

Scars are proof of suffered pain. All beings are scarred over time. Buddhists claim all life is suffering. It’s pissy, though, that scars on women get less regard. They’re earned too. Almost automatically, they’re a marring of beauty, a sign of damage or of shadiness. Some women are ashamed of their birth scars, even if those brought heroic men into the world. A woman beats cancer, and she has to hide it. New York Times Magazine took a lot of crap after a cover featured a mastectomy-scarred reconstructed breast.

Some are embracing their scars as badass and crowing about them for the same reason we all do—even decorating the SCARS with tattoos! A woman shows off the cesarean scar inflamed across her abdomen or the “x” across her chest where her breast was. It’s not imperfection; it’s glory, courage, strength. It’s badass. Scars might be the marks of the wounded but, in the stories we like, they’re the badge of those who overcame their wounds or stood their ground anyway.

We got scars—visible or not. Most of us haven’t been soaking all our lives in Ivory Liquid. In the end, we want to be people who leave our mark on the world. It’ll be a mark of the same fortitude or foolishness. Anyone can contrive a scar, but we can’t contrive that. That, we have to earn.


Add your scar story, below.

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Pam Gerber

The author was born at the epicenter—Brooklyn. She once drove a rebuilt 74 VW Bug cross country (and made it to D.C.). She insists on brutal honesty, isn't above engaging in a minor scuffle if it comes to that, and lives by Whitman’s, 'Being with people I like is enough.'

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