Alright, welcome back. So, Mr. Cumberbatch struggles to pronounce, ‘penguin,’ correctly. And, if you noticed, the harder he fights to get it right, the worse his pronunciation becomes. It’s funny, silly and sweet to see a highly capable person struggle to achieve something others find easy, isn’t it?
But, Mr. Cumberbatch’s interview with Graham Norton got me thinking. Don’t we all have our own personal penguin? It could be a professional skill like public speaking. It might be appearing to have nice table manners in front of others. It could be driving in a careful way when you’ve got your mother-in-law in the car. Whatever your penguin is, you over-think your actions until matters disintegrate into a crumbled pile of disappointment and frustration.
Well, I’m no different. My personal penguin is weight loss. The harder I clamp down on my calories, the more I sabotage myself by eating the wrong foods. My only success at being fit comes when I run. But, for two years, even the act of walking hurt my feet to the point of tears; so, I gained weight. A lot. I can’t tell you the exact number because I refused to get on a scale, but I’d guess it was close to a hundred pounds. And when you’re the height of a garden fairy, like me, it shows.
As an American woman, I’m not alone in this, but I struggle with my body image. I have since I hit puberty, in fact, the exact moment came when my mother offered to pay me a dollar for each pound I lost. We were on the way to the grocery store and her words were not only unexpected, but crushing.
Before her offer, I was under the assumption that I looked fine, actually I didn’t give my body a thought. I was a two-sport athlete and in my offseason, I ran regularly. Yes, I had a buxom chest, but I couldn’t help that. No matter how hard I exercised, I was a 36C. I was healthy. I got my share of attention – wanted or not – from boys. Before that moment, I felt good in my own skin. But, nothing crushes the old psyche like criticism from your mother.
I’d love to report that I’ve evolved into a self-loving woman, but that would be a lie. Even today, I struggle with my body image. I dress to downplay my boobage; opting to wear dark, loose-fitting shirts that become sort of a visual void, a nothing to the keen observer. Yes, I’m trying to achieve a textile black hole where my mass just sort of disappears. It’s a dirty little secret I share with other busty women. But, lately, I find I want to talk about it.
The other day, on a quest for a new bra, I went to Macy’s. The kindest woman helped me navigate the lingerie department. I explained to her that I was meeting Macklemore that night and needed a better bra so my dress fit properly. (actually I told her I wanted my girls to sit up straight) She laughed, saw through my body insecurity immediately, and said, “You know. Women pay thousands of dollars to have breasts like ours.” And we laughed. In that moment, some of my old hurts healed.
I’m raising my daughters to be different. My teen tells me what her off-target subjects are and I respect that. I don’t ask, inquire, hint or nag about those places where she is most sensitive. Because, I realize she nags herself enough about those things – it’s an internal dialogue of self-loathing and she doesn’t need my voice in the conversation. Yes, I compliment her, but only when it’s authentic. Even that, she tends to disregard, but that’s okay.
And because of my experiences, I don’t make body-centered observations about my daughters. No matter how well meaning it might’ve been for a family member to suggest I exercise with them, or choose a more slimming color, it hurt. It did its damage. And I refuse to pass insecurity onto my daughters. They don’t know I struggle to seem confident in my own skin. I don’t want to pass on this trait to them. My wish for them is to have little disregard for what the world thinks about their looks and feel comfortable with all of themselves. And, for myself? I’m making progress. I don’t love or hate myself based on whether or not I exercise or eat properly. I’m trying to love myself consistently. And for now, that’s enough.