Sometimes the things we initially find ugly aren’t really ugly at all. It’s only that they defy our obtuse, traditional methods of categorizing and quantifying the elements that comprise the imaginary world we perceive around us.

I know a guy who has some vicious scars—a series of small white blotches where he was stabbed, and a twenty-inch-long zipper running down his sternum. That one is from the doctors opening him up to stop the internal bleeding, and save his life.

Myself? I don’t have many scars, and the ones I do have are not the result of anything life-threatening. I used to have a nice crease across my left cheek, from a rose thorn slicing my skin when I was very young. It would disappear and reappear from time to time (basically depending on the weather) up through my early twenties, but I haven’t seen it for years. Aside from that, there are two minor scars acquired in surfing accidents—one on the small of my back where a fin sliced me, and the other on the bridge of my nose. A Kevlar board I was riding for the first time gave me that one, and it took a couple of stitches to sew it shut. My most distinctive scar, for many years, was an upside-down smiley face on the meat of my right thigh. That came from a piece of jagged, broken glass that was protruding from a compacted bag of trash I was taking out to the garbage bin.

Generally, we men are open about our scars. No matter how stupid the events were that led to their formation, we wear them like badges; we celebrate our scars. We show them off as if they serve to make us better people. Put a few beers in us, and we’re shedding our shirts to show one another the pocks and scratches that sprang from our wild adventures, bad luck, and poor decision-making.

This is not the way it plays out for most of the women I know. I think the culture demands that a woman is protected, and that her body remains smooth, unblemished and intact.

There is a photo that has been making the rounds on the internet of a woman who has completely masked her mastectomy scars with a sort of halter-top tattoo. The picture has caused some outrage. As the accompanying story goes, the mysterious “powers that be” have been censoring the image, and taking it out of the public arena. I’m not sure how credible those rumors really are.

I don’t know this woman personally, and my intention certainly is not to disparage her at all, but I’m not enamored of the ink job. To me, it says that those scars are something to be hidden, or made to appear more conventionally pretty. To me, it says those scars are something to be ashamed of. To me, it masks an important story that should be told openly.

I’ve seen a mastectomy scar. At first, one’s instinct when looking at the spot where that perfect breast used to be, is to think “that’s not a pretty thing.” Over time though, that stupid, reactionary first-impression fades. Eventually, I’ve come to see that scar as a thing of beauty—as direct evidence of a story that ends on an incredibly positive note.

Bob Howard has been living, working, and writing in Northern Califonria since he moved to Chico in early 2000. In January 2011, he and his wife Trish relocated to Los Molinos, 30 minutes north of Chico, where they are the proud proprietors of the Double Happiness Farm. There they grow organic food, ornamental plants and trees, and generally work to enjoy the beauty of this great region.