This post is part of August McLaughlin’s Beauty of a Woman BlogFest 2014.
I’m excited yet nervous to be taking part in this BlogFest. I confess that I’m stepping out of my comfort zone big time.
As nervous as I am, I think my story is very much any girl’s story. Just change the details, incidents, and issues, but the feelings and raw emotions are similar. Tender and vulnerable. We reach an age when we become aware of our physical flaws, often thanks to someone else pointing them out to us.
I didn’t have to do eeny, meeny, miny, moe to pick which beauty/self-image issue to write about. Never mind the hairy arms and the time a boyfriend told me I had hairy knuckles. And never mind my ugly legs. I learned they were ugly at age four or five when some adults were laughing and making fun of them. There are numerous flaws from head to toe that have challenged me through life, but for this post, I’ll focus on the biggie, the one that has probably shaped me more than the others.
First, meet Lynnie. Pretty much a typical happy-go-lucky little girl with an older brother, a younger brother, and two younger sisters. I played mother hen to my younger siblings, and life was good.
My father used to sing this little chant about me that made me giggle my head off:
“Skinny Lynnie, there she goes,
walkin’ down the street like a bag o’ bones!”
He wasn’t making fun of me. It was sweet and silly, and I still smile when I think about it.
At some point I morphed from happy-go-lucky to severely insecure. It’s vague as to when it happened, but I’d guess somewhere around–somewhere around . . . the “P” word. Deep breath. Just say it! Okay, somewhere around puberty. Ugh, what is it about that word that still makes me uncomfortable? Kind of telling, huh?
Above, I was in sixth grade, I think. Gotta love those bell bottom flood pants and mismatched outfit. Never was much of a fashionista. Ah, to be so carefree.
I was a late bloomer. Skinny and underdeveloped in seventh grade wasn’t a happy scenario. One of my friends wore a size “D” bra. She was proud of her body because her mother made sure she didn’t feel ashamed of it. I had no desire to be that busty and have people stare at my chest, but a little something would have boosted my self-esteem greatly.
I might have escaped mean insults. One time a boy I didn’t know rode past me on his bike and said, “You’re a carpenter’s delight. Flat as a board.” His laughter echoed in my head as he pedaled on his merry way. It took a moment to sink in. Ouch!
Seventh grade was a terrible year. Way before sixth grade ended, my friends and I whispered about how we dreaded going to junior high and would have to take showers after P.E. (physical education). The first shower was worse than I’d imagined. Our teacher sat up on the lockers and watched us to make sure no one skipped out.
She looked at me as I stood buck naked, skinny and flat, trying to become invisible under the stream of water. “Turn around,” she said, making a circle motion with her hand. Cringe, cringe, cringe. So much for going unnoticed.
Somehow I adjusted to the shower routine, just like the other girls did. We had different body builds, but inside most of us were self-conscious and learned to deal with it.
Some of us dealt with body issues better than others. At one point we learned gymnastics in P.E. One of my passions. I had long before taught myself how to do a cartwheel, headstand, handstand, handspring, back bend, and forward flips. I was a shining star. We had to come up with a routine, according to our abilities, to be graded on. No sweat!
Or so I thought. We were required to wear a leotard for our routine. A tight, body hugging black leotard. I put it on but felt naked. I couldn’t bring myself to leave the locker room. While the other girls went outside for the big test, I sat on the bench and cried.
My friend Tricia came back into the locker room to get me. “What’s wrong?”
I didn’t answer, but cried harder.
“Is it because you’re flat?”
Sniffle. Sniffle. “Uh-huh.”
I honestly don’t remember if I wore that stinking, revealing leotard for the test. My mind has blanked it out. Somehow, I see myself performing my routine in my P.E. blouse and shorts, but I’m not sure. I remember I got an A, and the student teacher told me to go for a team. A gymnastics team! That was one of the worst and best days of my life.
Another ugly incident happened in seventh grade. (What a banner year.) My teacher was a man. Mr. X was considered cool by most students. One day he was joking around and announced, “Lynn’s going to become a bubble dancer someday.”
I had no idea what a bubble dancer was, but I knew Mr. X was making fun of me. I held my tears in the rest of the school day, but as soon as I got to home sweet home, I broke down. My mom asked what was wrong, so I told her.
She grabbed her purse, told me to get in the car, and headed straight for the school. Mr. X was still in his classroom. Mom chewed him up one side and down the other for saying something so inappropriate and humiliating to me in front of the class. I later learned a bubble dancer is a stripper. Why would he say something like that?
Mr. X apologized just to appease Mom, but I didn’t care that he was insincere because my mom had my back. She has always been and always will be beautiful to me, but even more so that day. She was my hero and set an example for the mother I would one day become.
By eighth grade, I still failed to blossom. Mom took me to the doctor to find out what was wrong.
“She’s perfectly normal and healthy,” the doctor assured her. Have patience.
At the end of eighth grade, Granddad passed away. My parents sent me to Pittsburgh to live with my grandmother for the summer and help her get ready to move to California.
That summer, Aunt Flo visited me for the first time. (I’m avoiding that other “P” word, period. My generation wasn’t open about periods like younger generations are now.)
Mom was so relieved I returned home with hips. And a tiny bust. Those little bumps were just big enough to boost my self-esteem and get me through high school.
Thankfully, I made it through puberty, got used to Aunt Flo overstaying her visits, and lived by a common saying of the times: “Just keep on keepin’ on.”
George and I married when I was 20. At 23, I embraced another “P” word. Pregnancy. The times they were a changin’, and I discovered the changes a woman’s body goes through are both fascinating and amazing.
In the photo below, I was three months pregnant with my first child. Still Skinny Lynnie, but not for long.
For the first time in my life, I became plump and busty. Being pregnant made me feel beautiful. No, not because I was busty, but because I was going to be a mother, and as my body blossomed, so did the new life within me.
With each pregnancy, I plumped up, then morphed back into Skinny Lynnie a few months after childbirth.
Wow, I got huge with the fourth pregnancy, and that dress isn’t flattering, yet still I felt beautiful!
I remained Skinny Lynnie until age 50. Here, in my 40s, I was stressed, skinny, and sickly. Not beautiful inside or out. Stress can suck the life right out of us.
With menopause comes a whole new crop of body and mind morphing issues. They sneak up on you until one day, BAM, you take notice. I think it took two years to notice the cellulite in my upper arms. I thought cellulite only invaded our buns and legs. Ha! It can strike anywhere. Probably our brains, too, because forgetfulness nails us, beginning with perimenopause.
Another time while looking in the mirror with the light reflecting a certain way, I discovered peach fuzz on my face. Egad! Great. I had a face to match the hairy knuckles, but hairy knuckles and peach fuzz ain’t got nothing on the monstrous varicose veins snaking above the surface of my hands.
At 58, I can laugh at these flaws (usually) because, frankly, I’ve never been more content in my life. Finally, my perspective (love that “P” word) on life and beauty is what it should be. That old saying, “Keep on keepin’ on” doesn’t cut it anymore. No way.
As care giver of two of my four grandchildren, I’m blessed to view life through a child’s eyes again. So many new things to learn, beautiful family and friends to engage with, laugh with, comfort. There’s an entire wonderful, wacky world to explore (even if only in books, movies, or through cyberspace).
I’m not saying everything is hunky dory. Far from it in this imperfect world. I’m surrounded by so many hurting souls and I wish I could help them, but all I can do is pray and try to spread some kindness. I love the ripple effect just a little bit of kindness triggers. Those are the times I feel beautiful.
Don’t get me wrong. I can be as feisty as the next woman, but it makes me feel ugly. Who likes to feel ugly? No one I know.
Sometimes when I look in the mirror, I catch a glimpse of the inner beauty behind my eyes, and I smile because life is good and life is beautiful, even in the midst of this broken world.
How about you? Are beauty and body issues easy for you to talk about? What makes you feel beautiful? Do you know any women you admire for their inner beauty?
Be sure to visit August Mclaughlin’s blog to read the other blog fest posts and for fun, inspiration, laughs, and more. You might also win one of two $50 gift cards!
(Note to parents of young girls: I highly recommend the NY bestselling book Reviving Ophelia. It will help you understand why so many girls lose themselves in adolescence. You’ll be better equipped to help her, guide her, and empower her. Knowledge is power. I wish I’d known about that book when my daughters were young, so I’m giving you a heads up.)