Body Confidence – Circle of Shame Not Allowed

Coming from a European family, where sweet butter and whipped cream éclairs were always available on our kitchen counters and the highlight of our week was an enormous, multi-course family dinner, food was one of

Coming from a European family, where sweet butter and whipped cream éclairs were always available on our kitchen counters and the highlight of our week was an enormous, multi-course family dinner, food was one of the only constants in my life. It was the ever-present comfort, the familiar feeling you could count on, no matter what other chaos was swirling around me. Thus, I gravitated towards comfort eating and you could say I was a chunky one growing up.

 

Not only did popular clothes not fit, but I also had no waistline. In those days, self-esteem was not a thing, and to find proper attire, I had to shop at “Joanne’s Chubby Shop.” Being tall and big-boned was bad enough, plus people did not shy away from using paltry euphemisms for our awkward bodies in those days, and we were taught to manipulate ourselves at all costs into an acceptable size and shape. I wore an oversized jacket even in summer; I was like a huge turtle attached to my shell, always feeling heavy, unpopular and miserable.

 

A half-century later, I still cringe when I remember this one cruel boy, who sat at a massive piano inside the hallway entrance to my junior high school. Each and every morning, he was there, spitefully grinning, as he hammered away at the keys with a ferocious “DA DUM,” the moment I walked in the building. Who positions a piano in a middle school hallway? And where was the hall monitor or better yet, school police officer, shoo-ing him along to his assigned homeroom?! Should I ever see him again, I would definitely remind him of the damage he caused me and possibly sprinkle glass chards in his Andouille Gumbo! (Don’t fret yerself, I’m not gonna do it. Imagining revenge is a form of therapy, right?) This school child torture resulted in me becoming my own worst enemy and I’ve been hard on myself since childhood.  It only takes one chip at a time to shatter confidence.

 

In some ways the media is partly to blame for our collective body shaming; for decades they rarely portrayed large or big-boned women in a positive role. Commercials still remain mostly unchanged and feature women with impeccable figures and faces, even though the product has nothing to do with a person’s looks. But, we are programmed to look at the woman’s figure rather than the Tide Pod in her washing machine. She loves laundry because she’s beautiful, skinny, happy. The subconscious message seeps deeper into our psyches, knowing full well we’re usually doing laundry in a raggedy t-shirt and scrubby sweatpants.

 

Body shaming is not only about being “too fat” or “too skinny.” Nowadays, you need to have the precise type of curves that you can’t acquire at a gym! Full lips, high brows, and round booties necessitate a visit to a plastic surgeon! Natural is never enough! Any type of imperfection must be contoured away with more makeup and magic than all the collective wisdom of all of New Orleans’ drag queen revue. Since when did we need 3 colors of foundation and five blending sponges? I can’t even pick one correct match, let alone paint a Monet on my mug every morning!

 

Thank goodness society is slowly evolving to be a bit more accepting in this day and age, as we force the “kindness” message; however, our only ammunition is to practice self-love. That is a big bite to swallow.  The only way to make this morsel digestible is practice self-love consistently with a little dose each day. It may sound simple, but it is actually terrifying to practice this form of radical self-acceptance. I know; remember, this advice comes from a person who used to hate looking into the mirror but finally realized there is more to one than meets the eye. What you see in the mirror is not just a body, but rather the characteristics of the soul. The reflection is a juxtaposition of personality, character, humor, heart, intellect, and the whole history of what makes a human. If you don’t accept yourself, it becomes easy to embrace criticism and that, right there, is a straight-line path to the danger zone.

 

Socializing with positive and supportive people is the entrée of self-acceptance. I spent many years with others who bullied me and laughed with them while they made mincemeat out of me. The resentment I felt turned into a very bitter pill that never found its way down my gullet, but rather sat right there, like a lump in my throat, preventing me from speaking freely, laughing, and genuinely having a good time.

 

Don’t spend time in unhealthy social situations; it is far better to be alone. Becoming your own best friend is always the preferred option. Knowing and loving yourself reduces your bullshit tolerance, because you always have a friend to rely on – YOU! I finally became my authentic self when I acknowledged my flaws, realized they didn’t define me, and then weeded out the critical people in my life. If we feel accepted it is very contagious to others. They see that we like ourselves, and that becomes so visible, our confidence literally becomes what we project first. Other people then have time to see our creativity and knowledge, and they don’t care what size dress we wear.

 

When you truly love yourself, you can laugh at yourself, but you also celebrate your own unique brilliance. You can brag and self-deprecate in a humorous way. I love making fun of myself (Gawd knows I’m an eccentric one) but I need to be careful not to belittle or critical of who I am.  It is the only way to survive. You know it is the right kind of humor when you love how the jokes make you feel—unique and special and a treasured part of the group; not outside and alone.

 

I also embrace imperfection by creating folk art. Creating is the dessert of the self-acceptance diet. The faces and bodies I sculpt and paint aren’t pretty on purpose and I love magnifying “normal” features. So, lips become overly large, noses can take a right or left turn, eyeglasses must be askew, and everything is exaggerated. My pieces are not decorative but rather carry a message of “I’m different, be kind to me, and it all feels good.”

 

I dated a boy in high school who was born with one arm and hypnotized me with his laughter and colorful personality. My best friend, Gladys, was 4’3” with severe facial and dental differences and I absolutely loved her. My senior prom date was so overweight he could not find a tuxedo to fit. All of these people had the best insight and offered the richest commentary on life, because they often were relegated to be observers, not participants, in society’s games. They were so sharp, smart, and interested in me, as a whole person. Our conversations were warm, deep, and hilarious – so much more engaging than the popular girls’ lists of calories consumed and outfits to rotate.

 

The message here is it just doesn’t matter what the shell looks like in people. Those that judge the shell are selling themselves short of beautiful and deep relationships with wonderful people. Inner peace and self-acceptance give you the ability to connect emotionally with people you love. Carrying that turtle shell around is not worth it! So, stick your neck out there and love yourself a little more each day.

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Cindy Small
Cindy Small arrived in N. Alabama following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. A native of New Orleans, she graduated from Tulane University with an undergraduate degree in Journalism and a Masters in Historic Preservation Studies. Since retirement a few years ago, Cindy emerges herself in art and writes regularly for various creative non-fiction publications. Many of her short stories are published and they all deal with the eccentricities of a NOLA native. Cindy's art is sold at two shops in North Alabama. She also volunteers for The Cancer Center in Huntsville as a patient care rep in the chemo room.