Tiny Coconut

I have things.

Thursday, April 29, 2004

Body Image

My birthmonth list was recently having a discussion that morphed into a really thought-provoking thread on teasing and the way it affects you and your self image or self confidence. And, as thought-provoking threads are wont to do, it, um, provoked me into thinking.

I've led this pretty charmed life. For whatever reason, I didn't get picked on much as a kid, or if I did, I don't really remember it. I know my sister, who was always drop-dead gorgeous, had several bullying incidents in her childhood, but I was somehow spared, overlooked, whatever. I was the quiet, smart kid with her nose in a book, who didn't raise anyone's hackles by being too anything. Even as a teenager, I remember the most difficult issue I had to deal with was my reputation--it was too good. Too squeaky clean. And I didn't deserve it. At all. I was doing all the bad stuff, but I was stuck with this goody-two-shoes rep that just annoyed the heck out of me. (In fact, it was so annoying that my friend Betsy and I set out on a campaign during my senior year in high school to smear my name. Not possible. I had a whole lot more luck in college, where my name became a little bit too besmirched for my liking. But more on that some other time.)

None of this is to say that nobody ever said anything to me that hurt. Nor does it mean that I was in a better position to deal when it did happen. Case in point: I'm 17. I'd lost my virginity a year-and-a-bit earlier. I'm spending the summer doing research in science at a big university far away from home, and I'm there with about 30 other kids my age. It's a blast. Great time. Sure, we're all geeks spending a summer doing science, but we're ALL geeks, so it's OK. And me, well, I'm transformed from goody-two-shoes into experienced rough-around-the-edges girl who the guys spend a lot of time playing around with. I'm a little drunk on the freedom, not to mention that I'd recently split up with my boyfriend of two years, so I'm having fun. Until I fool around with one guy, and then a week or two later with his best friend, who I actually liked a whole lot better. And the best friend, thinking he's buttering me up, tells me that guy number one had warned him off of me because--and I quote, despite the fact that it's 23 years later--"he said your t*ts hang down to your belly." (I'm pretty sure he hastened to add that he still found me attractive, but I don't remember that part as well.)

Well. Hmm. What was that sound? Oh, yes, that was the crumbling of my self-esteem. I'd spent seventeen years with pretty much an unscathed self-image. I was a pretty strong person. I knew who and what I was, and I knew where I was going. But that one comment. Bam. It wasn't until I had kids, when gravity and breastfeeding are expected to ruin your bust line, that I became comfortable with the way I look again. Up until then, it was steel-reinforced bras, if I could find them...anything that would push me up. I never let a man take off my bra if we were standing up or in a position where gravity might give away the sagging of my bre*sts--which, by the way, did indeed sag, which isn't suprising, considering that they were (pre-children) fairly large and hanging out on a fairly small body. (The same can NOT be said today.) And I long, long insisted on a lights-out policy for sex.

Remembering all of this makes me sad, not so much for me, but for Em. Because what it's saying is that I'm not going to be able to protect her from this. I'm not going to be able to give her the armor to deflect someone's nasty little barb. Because it only takes one comment, one zinger aimed at a weak spot, and it's all undone. She's on her own. She can lead as charmed a life as I have, and someone is going to hurt her, and change her, and I can no more help her than I could have helped myself. But then again, I guess it's not all bad. This is part of what makes me me. I guess Em is going to have to go through whatever she's supposed to go through in order to make her her. I just hope it's not too painful a transformation.

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