When portrayed on the big screen, the body of the warrior is strong, lean, rough, and attractive. Hooded eyes top a rugged face covered in manly stubble, and the body is covered in neat, linear, specially-placed scars. Even if the warrior survived multiple gun battles, his healed wounds always give him the appearance of having been through multiple sword and knife fights. A scar across the eye and down into the cheek and jaw is the ultimate “Hero Scar,” and he might have a few across the throat and arms for good measure.
Real scars from modern battles are terrible and ugly things. They don’t add to a badass appearance. Rarely do they elicit an admiring “wow” from the casual viewer. Real battle scars are from gunshots, bomb blasts, mass trauma, and most terrible of all, burns.
They are puckered seams of gristle that have been slapped onto otherwise healthy flesh, marring beauty or handsomeness in a visible testament of strife and violence. Modern combat scars are not from a single blade, neatly parting flesh in a dramatic sword fight with background music. They are the leftovers from when skin, muscle, bone, and organs have been blasted off, as if they were knocked from the body with a supersonic baseball bat. Torn and ragged, with no dramatic song playing in the background. Only silence and pain.
If a soldier has burns, he rarely looks like “The Hound” from Game of Thrones, with one side of his face kinda wrinkly and bald, but still the recognizable image of his former self. A soldier torched and living has had the entire shape of his or her face changed. Lips tend to draw back, and the eyes seem to be in various places. A deformed limb will have the goose flesh appearance common to most skin grafts.
In many cases, entire chunks of the body have been removed by shrapnel, bullets, or even by the condensed energy of a blast wave. Nothing about an amputated foot or hand is attractive, and a missing portion of muscle tissue can be hard to explain to a casual bystander. Then there’s the guy whose shrapnel scars look like a pattern of pink freckles, even as the leftover metal in his body works its way back out of the skin. Or the guy who has one calf muscle smaller than the other because it’s simply not there anymore. Supple flesh and fragile scar tissue twist and meld around limbs, in and out of joints, and creep up into necks and faces.
Yet there is beauty. There is a visible badassery inherent in a human who, with no feet, can stand. There is strength in a woman with no arms who sees the continuation of her life as a challenge to be conquered. There is wonder in a man with a face marred and changed by burns, who stands in front of a camera to tell his story.
Consider the man who rises each morning and spends time at the gym only after strapping on a prosthetic limb. Look at the guy who, while missing physical parts, is able to be a whole man. Think of the woman with no arms, able to love and inspire her family. We all know one of them, and we’ve seen them use tragedy as a strength, a motivation to break through the weaknesses our world tells them they should suffer. Their scars, rather than detract from their humanity, have become a megaphone for it.
Does Hollywood get its scars wrong in movies? Yes, but inaccuracy is not the point. Hollywood uses scars to imply that a character has seen war, but is still beautiful. Real scars, with their asymmetrical and ragged nature, blast that same point in the face of anyone brave enough to look past them, into the one who carries them.