In 1992, I had a breast reduction. At the time, it was deemed a prevention of future back pain and the recognition that bra straps digging into shoulders were both painful and unsightly. I was 19 and in a stage of life when I questioned everything, including the genetics that were handed down to me by my biological parents and resenting them for this aggravation in my life (I had never met them, so I couldn’t truly lament to them about it, but that’s another story.)
Just three months prior, I returned from Army ROTC boot camp in Ft. Knox, KY, where one day, I was asked to put my ACU jacket on over a t-shirt to cover my chest after doing a river-training exercise where we invariably got wet. I was wearing two sports bras at the time, which, back then, were probably less functional than just wearing a regular bra. (There were only 2 or 3 out of 20 females who were called out to add their jackets in this situation.) While I remember feeling rather humiliated by the request since there were about 80 cadets training that day, I did as I was told, donned my ACU jacket, and carried on. Now that I think about it, that was just another moment that made me hate a part of my body.
At the time I decided to do the reduction, I was tired of wearing thick sweatshirts, oversized clothing, and doing everything I could to hide the part of my body that I was constantly struggling with. It wasn’t an easy decision to make because reductions leave major, long-lasting scars, and there is a chance one may not be able to breastfeed nor feel anything in the future. At 19, I still had many years before I was in that stage of my life, but the pros outweighed the cons, and I made the decision to move forward to help prevent or alleviate back, shoulder, and neck issues. While I do not necessarily regret making that choice, if I had to do it over again, I wonder if I truly would.
Our perception of our bodies often defines how we think or act. Society constantly perpetuates standards that indicate that we should do more—be more—change more—in order to fulfill an ideal that for so many is absolutely skewed and entirely subjective. What is more? What is less? Why can’t we exist in the day-to-day reality where many days we are not our best selves and other days, we are shining stars of extraordinary magnitude? (And I’m not just talking physical beauty.) I have the privilege of being, as some would say, “pretty”, which affords me a lot of freedom in a society built upon “likes” for being so. But that’s not to say that I ever felt that way nor would I recognize that about myself. I wasn’t asked out in high school, which I was told was because being pretty and smart is intimidating. This knowledge did nothing for my 16-year-old self esteem. I always thought I was the wrong color, the wrong race, the wrong body-type, the wrong everything. Society taught me that.
As a coach and high school teacher, I spent years with teenagers and constantly worked on having conversations that led them away from that inextricable societal norm of upholding limited conceptions of beauty that dictate human behavior and thought. I tried to build up teenagers who would constantly break themselves down, some who ended up with debilitating eating disorders, suicidal thoughts, and the inability to find their worth in a society that deems them worthless because they are imperfect. I know what that feels like, and I did everything I could to help balance the heavy weight of that perceived imperfection.
We are all imperfect. Any extra weight we may carry is as metaphorical as it is physical, and it pulls us down—our backs bending, our spines curving, our necks dropping. We often find so much fault in our physical appearance that we forget that who we are is so much more than that. Marketing in media does little to help reduce this issue as we are constantly bombarded with figures and forms that illustrate an ideal that continues to tell me: I’m not that. Yes, I’m not. I’m 45, and I have a weak knee. I can’t wear heels for very long since giving birth to three children. I have unruly, curly hair that I straightened for most of my post-secondary life. I just recently had to get reading glasses. I still get up in the morning and lament who I was at 19, physically; however, I do not lament who I am now, mentally. After so many years of being broken down by society or by myself, I am working on a new strategy: Just be myself. Just be this flawed, crazy-hair, achy-knee, glasses-wearing instructor that can promote a body-positive, mind-positive, spirit-positive space of building up others. Continue to work in spaces that communicate: I’m okay, and you’re okay and together, we’re going to be okay. We will still be our flawed selves, but we will never not be a shining star of extraordinary magnitude. Shine on, people. Shine on. We got you.