Nearly every woman I know has some physical ‘thing’ that has caused anxiety since her teenage years, however ridiculous or unimportant it might sound to someone else.
I’m not talking total body hatred or self-loathing – we’ll save that for another time – but the small things that bother us, a little voice in our ear telling us this thing makes us less attractive. From the standard boobs too big/small, arse too wide/flat through to long toes, wrinkly knees, always-pointy nipples, or a cat’s bum belly button.
I asked my best girls about their hang ups and they came back with a list that included: small tits, saddle bags, a lopsided bum, thinning hair, and fair eyelashes that make her look like the pig in Babe. As a teenager, some boys called my friend Deborah, ‘Deb no bra’ and it tormented her for years. Teenage boys are pretty good with wordplay and have a lot to answer for. My other friend of the lopsided bum swears one cheek hangs lower than the other, and still regularly studies it in the mirror. I’ve holidayed with her many times and seen her in various states of undress and I can’t see said wonkiness, even when she’s standing in front of me pointing and ranting about how hideous it is. It has bothered her since I’ve known her. That’s 20 years.
One of mine is my feet. Or rather, the size of them. As a kid, growing feet were exciting. It meant a trip to the magical world of Clarks with their foot-clamp measuring machine (eeeek, how does it know when to stop? Will it crush my foot? Not exactly Alton Towers I grant you. Did I mention I have five siblings and we didn’t get out much?). Most trips there also meant – because of my ever-growing feet – shiny new shoes. Then by the time I was 11 I had to go to the grown up shoe section as the kids section didn’t cater for my whopping size seven feet. Couple that with lots of jokes about how I wouldn’t need waterskis and could borrow my older brothers shoes (almost, he’s only an 8. Grrr.) and I became conscious of my feet being larger than ‘normal’.
Shoe shops always put them out in a 4, maybe a 5 at a push, and they look all lovely and dainty, and then the sales assistant comes towards you wielding what looks like a drag queen’s shoe and shouting ‘SEVEN – who wanted the SEVEN?’. I’ve rejected many shoes I’ve lusted over because I’ve thought they look like man shoes. I know in my logical head that a seven isn’t that big. I’m not in specialist shoe shop territory. If someone else is a seven I don’t think their feet look big; I reserve this distaste just for my own feet.
So what causes these hang ups? For myself and the girls that I’ve spoken to, it seems to be an anxiety that something about us isn’t attractive and isn’t normal, and therefore we dislike or are even ashamed of that physical trait.
Someone has pointed it out when we’re young and for whatever reason it sticks and we beat ourselves up about it. We tend to see ourselves in the harshest, most unforgiving light.
At the same time, by now I think we’ve worked out that we’re all built differently. Not one single body part or facial feature has a standard shape or size. Not a single one. Can we learn to love these foibles because unless you’re heading for surgery as a drastic solution, this is how we were born and it is part of who we are? Does anyone around us even notice or give a shit? I definitely don’t think of my beautiful, funny and smart friends and then recoil thinking ‘Ah, but she has got one low hanging bum cheek’ or ‘I’d like her more if it weren’t for the bunion’. If we could see ourselves through our friends’ eyes, we might even realise that the things that we dislike most are actually admired by someone else. My friend that despises her saddle bags has a beautiful juicy bum and in the past when it’s been commented that mine is a little on the flat side, I’ve longed for some of the junk in her trunk. And trust me, bang on some tunes and the girl knows what to do with it. Perhaps this is an occasion where we could do with taking a leaf out of the mens’ books. They must also have hang ups about how they look, but not to the same extent; you’re less likely to hear ‘Oh he won’t wear shorts. Dave just hates his knees’.
When we’re old and grey(er) we’ll probably wish these hang ups were all we had to worry about physically. If I’m the only person bothered by my feet, it’s surely wasted energy to spend time even thinking about them? I’m fairly certain that none of us have got excess energy to be slopping about willy nilly. Ladies, could it be that actually we are in our PRIME? For most of us those nerve-wracking teenage years are a distant memory, and in the years since we’ve slowly found out who we are. We’ve changed many of the views and ideas we had back then now that we’ve actually lived in the grown up world. Maybe we can realise that no one else looks at us and picks out the negatives we see in ourselves – unless they’re teenagers or idiots, and they do not count. It’s time these hang ups that we carry about as little reminders that we’re not perfection do one, perhaps freeing up some space for kinder thoughts.
What do you think – have you got a hang up that bothers you? Have you got over it – or even learned to love it? Would love to know your thoughts.
Images: theguardian.com; Cinderella fashionloving.co.uk