Really? Talk about our bodies? In a public space where other people might be listening?
It’s one of those topics that so many women find difficult. My earliest memories of talking about my body feel embarrassing and uncomfortable. Hushed tones, fast spoken questions like “is it meant to hurt when I touch my boobs?” and “can you use a tampon if you’re still a virgin?” usually accompanied by giggles and exaggerated suggestions of expertise from equally bewildered friends. We certainly never spoke to a grown-up about the changes we were experiencing in our bodies and the way we perceived them.
I remember the one attempt I made to ask my grandmother about periods; the result was a trip to a book shop where she purchased “what’s happening to me?” and handed it to me, under the table, in a brown paper bag. I kid you not! The very idea of speaking to my mother was, in my mind, ridiculous. It took me four months to tell her I’d started my periods (aged just nine) and almost as long to agree with her that I had to start wearing a bra to my junior school.
Yet as we age, as we learn how often the questions and fears we had about our bodies growing up, are shared by other women, do we actively do something to change this for future generations? I’m confident I had more conversations with my daughter than I experienced; I’m also sure there were plenty of things I didn’t tell her that could have helped her to leave those concerns to one side.
How do we start to have these difficult conversations? We can choose to be the ones to tackle them with our daughters and our friends. I recently suggested to a life-long friend that we go and treat ourselves to some gorgeous new undies. I was met with a less than enthusiastic “Okay.” When I asked if I’d made a bad suggestion, she admitted that she’d always hated buying underwear. “What, even the gorgeous girlie variety that lifts them to where they used to be?” I asked. That’s when she told me that she felt awful buying bras because her left breast was larger than her right one and she felt like “some kind of freak” (her words). When I told her that it was my right one that was larger she replied “Seriously? You’ve got one bigger than the other too? But you’ve got fabulous boobs!”
It’s extremely common. Most women have one breast larger than the other; I’m told it’s often on the side of your writing arm. Makes sense. My friend said it made sense too. She also told me she’d felt like this since we were 17. That’s almost 30 years. 30 years of feeling negative about her body because nobody had told her it was normal.
Seems to me, it’s time to start those difficult conversations and talk about our bodies. How will you start yours?