My Own Personal Penguin

My Own Personal Penguin

happy-feet-penguin-birdBefore we officially begin, can you take a moment to click the link here and watch Benedict Cumberbatch, the darling British actor best known for his BBC portrayal of Sherlock Holmes?

YouTube Link to Benedict Cumberbatch Blurb!

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.

feet on a bathroom scale - isolatedAs 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.


9 thoughts on “My Own Personal Penguin

  1. Hi Jenn,
    I am so sorry to hear that your mother of all people made you feel so uncomfortable in your own body. I have always been underweight, which, to tell you the truth, is overrated, but my sister is the puffy kind of girl. She has curves, that’s all. But that’s really not what my dad had her see. He always made her exercise, eat less, etc. but I think that she learned not to care about his (well meaning) remarks. When my baby girl grows up, I will make sure she’s most of all healthy. Then she can take care of her own body image and she’ll have all my support.
    Thanks for sharing your story 🙂

  2. Great blog, Jennifer. Many people don’t realize what lifelong affects just one sentence can have on another’s life. Keep on keeping on.

    1. That’s the truth, Larry. As a mom myself, I know I’ve said things to my daughters that they’ll repeat, bad or good, through their heads for the rest of their lives. I try to be mindful of the power of words, but no one’s perfect, especially me. Thanks for reading the post!

      1. I had a grandmother who would take my cousins to the ice cream parlor and only buy the thin one a cone. The chunky one had to sit and watch her sister eat – I actually thought my thin cousin should have said something but she didn’t . I agree with the other comments – you are a beautiful woman inside and out and that’s what really matters!

  3. Oh Jen, this post hits me hard on so many levels. First, I’m so sorry about that comment your mom made about giving you for a dollar for each pound you lost. I know how much that sort of thing can hurt. I’d already begun binging and purging when someone very close to me–someone I love very much and had no idea how painful their comment would prove to be–looked straight at me and said, “Wow, your face looks heavy, Mary.” To this day, I believe that person was only concerned and trying to be helpful, but I didn’t take it constructively. A young woman’s self esteem is such a fragile thing, and I’m so glad you’re not talking about body-centered stuff with your girls.

    In my case–since I have such a long history with eating disorders and we also have a close relative going through hell with anorexia and bulimia right now–I feel compelled to talk about body image and healthy eating with my girl, probably much more than the average person does. It’s extremely stressful, though, especially since I know how much attention kids pay to what their parents say–even though they pretend they don’t.

    Yes, we all have our personal penguins, and mine also has to do with weight and body image. I do think, however, that dealing with this stuff eventually takes us to a place where we can see beyond outer appearances. Of course I believe we need to pay attention to our doctors when they advise us to gain or lose weight for health reasons, but aside from that, I hope someday our society will get past this insanity of obsessing over breast size, butt size, etc. It’s exhausting, and more importantly, it keeps us from doing things we really want to do and could be doing to improve this world.

    Thank you for another lovely and honest post, Jen. You are a beautiful person.

    1. Oh, Mary! Your comment made me cry – with tears of release – not sadness. How many of us have this internal dialogue eating away at our happiness and self-esteem? Too many, in my opinion. Let’s build each other up, compliment openly those women and girls in our lives – and men as well. Maybe by leaving a kinder footprint on the world it will help others AND heal us at the same time. Thank you for sharing your story here and being such a force of change for the women in your own life. 🙂

  4. I was blessed with a slim body and adequate breasts….and took that for granted…didn’t really give it much thought. I am now 65 and am carrying an extra 15 pounds. I don’t like it much, but I keep telling myself that my grandsons, ages 4 and almost 2, feel comfy in my lap! If you are facing health issues, that is one thing. Otherwise, be who you are and feel blessed that you are not a skinny, boney, bag of bones that no one wants to nestle in with. You are beautiful inside and out, Jenn!!!

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