Chapter 8 | Unwanted Body Parts

Everyone is self-conscious about some part(s) of their body; society makes sure we think we aren’t good enough. For me, it all started when I hit puberty and my body started changing. I was not aware of what puberty meant or what would happen exactly. Thanks to other people, I became increasingly self-conscious about three things: my legs, my breasts and my upper lip.

My legs

Most of the women on my mother’s side of the family have large thighs. Having a “thigh-gap” wasn’t a thing yet, and I had no idea something was “wrong” with my legs. Up until now, my body was just my body. One day, my aunts, grandma and mother started commenting on my thighs. “Look at those nice big legs! It’s way better to have big legs than two sticks. It’ll be good when you have to carry a baby.” They were probably speaking from experience and trying to prepare me for a world full of judgement, but they were the ones who planted the seed. Your legs are different. They are big. My friends never pointed my legs out to me, only my family. Eventually, I started worrying about them. Was something wrong with my thighs? I measured them. I compared them to one of my favourite male wrestler’s thigh size; they were the same size. I had the thighs of a muscular hyper-trained adult male athlete. I analyzed my friend’s legs in gym class and worried mine were different.

Thanks to all my analyzing, I also noticed that my friends had no hair on their legs and mine were covered in long dark hairs. At twelve, I went home and told my mother I wanted to shave my legs. She said: “No, you’re too young.” Again, she was probably trying to protect me, trying to postpone the leg shaving for as long as possible, but I was determined. I took her razor and shaved my legs from my ankles to the top of my thighs. I eventually told her about it and she freaked out. She said I was wrong and should have only shaven the legs below the knee. How was I supposed to know? If only she had taken my request seriously and taught me how. She went further and shamed me. She told me that I had ruined my legs forever, that my thighs would become covered with “thick dark hair” and I would now have “manly hairy legs”. I was confused and distressed. How does shaving once ruin my legs and if it was so dire, why didn’t she warn me? I cried and worried about my legs for years.

One rainy day, I was riding my bike with my friends. My shoe slipped and my left leg went under the pedal. I was in an awkward position and could hardly move. My knee ended up scrapping the asphalt until the bike came to a slow halt and I tipped over. It was a bloody mess and I had got a large scab on my knee. The thing is, when you hurt your knee, it can heal in a weird way because the skin is used to stretching and contracting often. That made the scab crack and heal slowly. When it finally healed, it looked like a burn scar and it was all puckered up. To me, it looked like tree fungi. I was so disgusted by my own scar that I wanted to hide it. I started wearing pants or shorts past the knee all the time, even when it was 40°C. With puberty came weight gain, stretch marks and cellulite. I had no idea what cellulite was, but I knew I wanted to hide it. Why were my legs such a pain in the ass? Why couldn’t I be born with skinny legs, I thought. I don’t want to bear children anyway.

At the age of fourteen or fifteen, I got over my scar and started wearing shorts and short skirts. I stopped shaving my thighs in my twenties and I am happy to report the hair is still soft and fine. Finally, I started doing yoga and that got rid of most of the cellulite problems. I learned to love my “big” legs—they keep me warm in the winter.

My breasts

My breasts appeared without warning. My Dad would call them “tiny fleas” when they started growing. I hated it. Sadly, he has said that to the other young women in my family as well. Dad, if you’re reading this please know that when you’re growing, the last thing you want is for someone to point out the awkward change in your body.

My mother and I eventually went to Wal-Mart to buy a bra. In my small town, there are no specialty bra stores like La Senza or Victoria’s Secret stores. We were also on a pretty tight budget, so buying expensive bras wasn’t an option. I had no idea what to look for and just picked one at random. I was embarrassed to shop for a training bra next to the old men sitting and eating at the McDonalds located inside the Wal-Mart. Great store planning.

The bra ended up being about 3% supportive, 97% placebo. One day, I was wearing a form-fitting shirt and playing ball in an apartment hallway with my best friend and her little brother. Out of nowhere, one of them pointed at my breasts “Eww, your nipples are so weird!” They both laughed. I was mortified. I thought something was wrong with me. What’s wrong with my breasts? Aren’t they supposed to look like this?!

I didn’t know this then, but my areolas were especially puffed up because we were playing sports. The only other breasts I had seen at that point in my life were my mother’s and they didn’t look like mine. I also remember seeing my swimming teacher change and go topless while talking to me and my mother. I remember thinking, wow, how can she do that? I want to be that confident some day. Her areolas were darker and larger, but they also didn’t look like mine.

It was only in my twenties that I finally saw someone with my breast type. I was watching a movie and there was a locker room scene with many topless women. One of the extras had my breast type. Relief flooded my brain. I don’t remember the movie, the actress or anything else. I just remember thinking, I am not alone!

My breasts have gotten bigger, but their shape has never changed. The areolas change depending on the temperature of my body and state of arousal. My normal nipple state is between “puffy” and “protruding” (I got these terms from this article). Most of the time, my nipple will protrude out a little bit, but if my body is warm, my areola gets bigger or “puffy” and the nipple and areola flesh blend together. If my body is cold, the nipples stick out and the areolas get a little bumpy because of skin contractions.

I still don’t like looking at my breasts when they are warm. The shame hasn’t fully left my brain, but I am working on accepting my boobs as they are.

My upper lip

One day, I walked into the living room and my father said: “You have a mustache!”. Again I was mortified. I had no idea I had one. Did I have one? I analyzed my upper lip in the bathroom mirror and started worrying about it. My friend was waxing her “mustache”, so I started doing it too. It was awful and a waste of my teenage money. I also probably damaged the nerves on my upper lip and for what? To remove a few dark soft hairs.

I stopped waxing it when I was twenty-something, but the phantom voice still haunts me sometimes. You have a dark mustache.

Today

Today, I am over thirty years old and I am mostly at peace with my body. Do I still hate my thighs on bad days? Sometimes. Do I over-analyze my boobs? Sadly, yes. When these thoughts pop into my brain, I try to shush them as quickly as possible. They are unhealthy and will only make me sad.

I read somewhere that most people you meet don’t see what you believe is wrong with your body. They are so focused on their own problems, that’s all they can think about. For example, I never noticed what my friends were self-conscious of because I was looking at their legs, wishing mine were thinner.

Get over it

It’s not easy to get over it and move past what you are convinced is wrong with you. I suggest that you find your triggers and remove them from your life. It’s a long process, but over time, you’ll see a change. Here are a few things I stopped doing that have helped me get over my own self-consciousness and self-hatred.

  1. Stop looking at or buying fashion magazines
  2. Stop fretting over numbers, everyone is different
  3. Stop following people that have “perfect” lives on social media
  4. Stop comparing yourself. It’s futile and will always make you feel worse.

Next, find some positive influences. Here’s what I do. Feel free to steal my ideas or suggest new ones.

  1. Subscribe and pay for magazines, books, films and other media that show all types of bodies shapes and colours.
  2. Tell myself I am beautiful. Even if it made me cry at first, repeating a positive mantra helps alter negative thoughts.
  3. Do Yoga with Adriene. Her kind words taught me to love my body.
  4. Listen to the Live Awake podcast. She teaches love, kindness and self-acceptance.
  5. Share my insecurities. Talking to friend usually proves to be the best medicine. It helps me realize everyone is in the same boat. Afterwards, I leave the conversation thinking, why the hell do we waste our time worrying about our appearances?

When the self-hate comes, remind yourself that they are just thoughts. Then imagine, you didn’t have the parts that you hate? I wouldn’t have thighs, areolas or an upper lip. There are over 7.5 billion people on earth and they all live inside a body that is both unique and similar to yours. There are certainly individuals out there that look like you and worry about the same “problems” you do. Accept and take care of your body. It’s a wonderful tool you can use to do what you want to do. Shed the hate and do something you love instead.

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