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Woman embraces her 'tiger stripes' in striking swimsuit photo

TODAY logo TODAY 3/20/2017 Courtney Cox

Instagram star Lexi Mendiola embraces her tiger stripes in viral photo © leximendi/Instagram Instagram star Lexi Mendiola embraces her tiger stripes in viral photo When Instagram star Lexi Mendiola looked at a striking photo of herself on the beach, she didn't initially love what she saw.

"Right off the bat, my instinct was to junk the photo because for some reason, the first thing my eyes gravitated towards were my 'tiger stripes,'" Mendiola told TODAY via email.

The 23-year-old thought about the photo for a long time, and even contemplated retouching it to remove those "stripes" — stretch marks along the tops of her thighs. But then she realized how crazy it was to let something so small dictate how she viewed the image. Mendiola, who lives in the Philippines, decided to share the photo as a reminder to herself, and her followers, to not be insecure about something as natural and insignificant as stretch marks.

In the photo caption, she wrote: "It's really nothing to get all worked up or feel weird about. Here's to learning to love the lines."

<p>We don't know exactly when it happened, but at some point in our history of systematically condemning <a href="http://www.refinery29.com/2016/01/101527/ashley-armitage-body-positive-photography#slide">women's natural features</a>, stretch marks were deemed flaws. But the thing is, everyone gets stretch marks — yes, even <a href="http://www.refinery29.com/2015/04/85593/chrissy-teigen-stretch-mark-instagram">Chrissy Teigen</a> — and whether they're the result of a growth spurt or <a href="http://www.refinery29.com/2015/11/97909/stretch-marks-pregnancy-facts">pregnancy</a>, stretch marks can tell stories that should be told. Thankfully, photographer <a href="http://chloe-newman.com/">Chloe Newman</a> came up with a fabulous way for women to flaunt their stretch marks: Just add glitter — and lots of it.</p><p>Newman's recent work highlights the beauty of women's stretch marks by featuring them covered in glitter alongside glamorous lighting and bright pops of neon. According to Newman, the photos, which were part of a project with <a href="http://www.polyesterzine.com/">Polyester Zine</a> in collaboration with Editor in Chief Ione Gamble, "show what could be considered a bodily 'imperfection' as something that is sexy and liberating and should be embraced more." Gamble suggested that Newman photograph stretch marks the way she'd shoot a fashion editorial, as if they were high-end, glamorous accessories. And the resulting images show how stretch marks can be a source of pride and beauty, rather than shame.</p><p>"I left the stretch marks exactly as they were in these [photos], [I] didn’t soften them or anything," Newman said. She wanted their appearance to be stark, obvious, and "uncompromising." Luckily, women's reactions to the photos on Polyester's <a href="https://www.instagram.com/p/6Szb4-zBK9/?taken-by=polyesterzine">Instagram</a> reflect Newman's intended effect.</p><p>"So many girls [were] tagging their friends and saying things like 'Yes, I have these too!'" Newman said. "It's refreshing and reassuring when you see something a bit more real."</p><p>The images are empowering not only for their beauty, but also because so many women see themselves reflected in them. Of course, we love to see body positivity wherever we can find it, and Newman's bold, playful approach drives that message home in a wonderfully unique way. Not to mention, we also happen to support <a href="http://www.refinery29.com/female-body-hair-art#slide">using a little sparkle</a> if that helps you love your body as it is. So we say: Why not throw some body glitter on your stretch marks? </p><p>Click through to view a selection of Newman's work. You can see the entire shoot <a href="http://chloe-newman.com/tagged/polyester">here</a>.<br><br>It's your body. It's your summer. Enjoy them both. <a href="http://www.refinery29.com/take-back-the-beach">Check out more #TakeBackTheBeach here</a>.</p> 5 Images That Will Make You Embrace Your Stretch Marks

Mendiola, who has shared beautiful lifestyle images on Instagram for about four years, said she was nervous about posting the photo. "It may seem like a little thing, but I was posting a photo of stretch marks amid my feed of perfectly tanned, toned and virtually spotless women," she said.

It turns out her followers enjoyed the refreshing honesty. Her photo has been liked more than 20,000 times, and hundreds of commenters said they felt inspired and empowered by her post.

"I cried reading some of the comments," Mendiola told TODAY. "Especially the ones where people share their experience, or how much confidence it gave them."

The post has continued to spread a powerful message and reinforced Mendiola's quest for self-love. "Everyone has their 'flaws,' but it's only really a flaw if you let it be."

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