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All hail the quiet defiance of Princess Eugenie’s royal wedding dress

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Rosalind Jana
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Just like Princess Eugenie, Rosalind Jana underwent spinal surgery for scoliosis when she was a teenager. Here, Jana beautifully explains why it meant so much to see the royal use her backless wedding dress to draw attention to her scar.

I’m not really one for royal weddings, normally forgetting they’re even happening until the internet is abuzz with every frill and furbelow and shed tear. But as I idly checked Instagram this morning, a post about Princess Eugenie’s marriage to Jack Brooksbank made me pause and pay attention. Or rather, a post about her dress - designed by Peter Pilotto and Christopher de Vos - did.

It was an impressive dress, from the sweep of the skirt to the folded neckline. But I wasn’t all that interested in those details. It was the deep V at the back that stopped me in my tracks – the cut emphasising Eugenie’s shoulder blades and, more importantly, the delicate line of a scar. She’s had this scar for years, a souvenir of spinal surgery for scoliosis aged 12.

It’s hard to describe the strange sense of elation and recognition I felt on seeing it there, winding its way out from beneath the white fabric.

See, I also had spinal fusion for scoliosis when I was 15. Like Eugenie I was suffering from a curvature of the spine – one that had hugely impacted my quality of life, twisting my shoulder blades and rib-cage completely out of proportion. My torso was visibly contorted, my daily discomfort levels edging towards unmanageable. Talk of surgery had initially terrified me, thanks in large part to my first consultant’s blunt talk of complications and recovery times – not to mention the prospect of a large scar for life. 

Later, when it became clear that I needed the operation imminently to avoid serious health problems and continuing chronic pain I wondered what it would be like to have that scar – forever reminded of what I’d been through as a teenager when I glanced over my shoulder in a mirror.

It turned out I wouldn’t care for a while, too absorbed in the immediate physical shock of a six hour operation during which my eighty degree curvature was reduced to just twenty two degrees – a section of my vertebrae bolted in place with titanium rods, artificial bone graft slowly fusing that section solid over the next six months.

But as I recovered – a slow, often agonizing process of relearning my newly made body – my scar shifted with me. Immediately after surgery it was just a wound that needed tending. We still have a photo of the first time my nurses removed the surgical dressing, my skin pale and waxy against this new red zip running from neck to waist. Over the months as pain receded and I was back on my feet, it settled into a nice silvery purple.

Having thought I’d be self-conscious about this very visible puckered mark, I quickly grew to love it. Occasionally I even dressed it up - wearing a slinky gown in similar colours to the scar, the cut out section between the shoulders perfectly framing it; reveling in swimsuits and bikinis; even turning up to my school prom in a black sequined backless dress. It felt immensely powerful to put it on show.

It’s almost exactly eight years since my operation. Now my scar has faded to something subtle – just a taut, slight sheen of flesh. In certain lights it resembles a slightly uneven seam, every stitched inch a memento of my experience. The top of it remains slightly wider than the rest, like someone left a permanent thumb print there: a reminder of the morning ten days after surgery when I fainted and collapsed backwards against a sharp sideboard, returned to hospital in a blur of blue lights. 

Around it, between my shoulder blades, there are still strange numb patches of skin where the nerves didn’t reconnect properly. The full length still occasions the odd comment or curious question. Usually I welcome them. There’ll always be a strange thrill in having it witnessed, in knowing that my body is so completely and individually mine: carrying easily seen traces of the past.

Princess Eugenie talked openly in the lead-up to her wedding about the importance of both honoring the medical staff who’d helped her (her surgeon was among the invited guests today) and also leading an example – drawing attention to her own physical challenges in order to let others know they weren’t alone. 

It might seem like a small gesture, but I like the quiet defiance of it. In a world where there are myriad pressures placed on how our bodies should look, it’s good to remember the significance of something as simple as a visible scar – all the stories and fears and formative moments etched there. 

Scoliosis, according to the NHS, “is where the spine twists and curves to the side.”

Signs of scoliosis include:

  • a visibly curved spine
  • leaning to one side
  • uneven shoulders
  • one shoulder or hip sticking out
  • the ribs sticking out on one side
  • clothes not fitting well

Some people with scoliosis may also have back pain. This tends to be more common in adults with the condition.

You can find out more on NHS UK. Or, if you prefer, Scoliosis Association UK has more information about the different types of scoliosis.

Images: Getty/Instagram 

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Rosalind Jana

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