When I was a teenager, I was (and there’s no false modesty here) a bit of a sight!
My mother came from that post war “waste not want not” generation. She insisted on making me the most hideous clothes. She cut my hair (appallingly). But I never had spots… you don’t when you have chronic eczema…! Oh, nearly forgot, I also had glasses!
My teenage years were excruciating. The boys recoiled at the sight of me!
And then one day, just to make matters worse, I had a conversation with my mother about a girl we knew, who had blossomed into really stunning young woman.
“Do you think I’ll ever be pretty, like Jane?” I asked?
I saw an evil glint in my mothers’ eyes as she replied: “Well, it’s a shame you’ve got a big nose and a fat bottom.”
In my adult mind, I know it was said to be hurtful. And it was! I was cut to the quick. I only had to look in the mirror to know I was no oil painting, but now I had to add a fat bottom to the equation!
How I didn’t end up with anorexia, I will never know. But I did ‘dabble’ with my food. I couldn’t control anything else, but I could sure as hell control my weight. So I did. And I lost a massive amount of it.
It was only recently that an old school friend told me that, having not seen me for a while after we left school, she and a couple of friends had been shocked and alarmed by my newly diminutive frame.
That conversation with my mother happened over 25 years ago. But it still affects me today.
Since that time, I no longer have eczema; I wear contact lenses; I have my hair cut by a fabulous hairdresser; and I have just recently managed to shoe-horn my ‘fat bottom’ into a pair of UK size 8 jeans (that’s US size 6, for those of you over the pond).
In my intellectual mind, I know that I’m not the hideous creature of my teenage years. I may not be beautiful to everyone (it’s subjective, right?), but I am attractive to some. And I know that no one cranes a fat bottom into size 8 jeans. But in my emotions, I am still the girl with the big nose and the fat bottom.
On the flip side, I knew a girl when I was 16 who was stunning (and she knew it!). I met her again five years later. I have a good memory for faces, but I honestly didn’t recognize her. She had gained a great deal of weight, and without wishing to sound cruel, had really lost her looks. Unfortunately for her, she had the slightly superior and patronizing manner of a girl who ‘knows’ she’s more beautiful than the rest of us! I actually felt embarrassed and sorry for her.
I strongly believe that our image of ourselves during those crucial teenage years sets the pattern for life. And there’s a lesson in this for anyone bringing up girls.
Encourage the girls who may be going through a less fabulous stage, and ensure that those who blossom early learn a bit of humility…
As for me… during those awkward teenage years I had to find other ways to get by. I love to make people laugh. When I meet someone who is very serious and dry, it becomes personal challenge to make them crack a smile before the conversation is over!
And I learnt that when people are drawn to you because of who you are, not because of how you look, you end up with some fantastic friends.