As I continue my mission of sharing myself with you, today I am divulging something I have kept from even my closest friends. I have held onto it for decades…almost 28 years, to be exact.
I am terrified to share it. Thinking about it still makes me sweat; still gets me so uncomfortable that I have to shake away the memory of it and remind myself that it was a long time ago…and I am no longer that girl.
But deep inside all of us lie secrets and painful or embarrassing stories that we tuck away or push down. Memories that have us hating ourselves. Cringe-worthy moments we would do anything to erase. Memories we try to forget.
In my never-ending search for meaning and healing in my life, and as a firm believer that our secrets keep us sick, I am going to share with you the absolute most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to me.
Yes, I have lots of embarrassing moments that I will surely share with you as we go along, but nothing, absolutely nothing, compares to this.
And as I unpack my feelings around it and grow from the experience, I have learned several lessons that I want to share with you. I am reminded that every action has an equal and opposite reaction; that each decision we make in our lives has a consequence, and hence we have to make choices wisely. I am reminded that our words have power, and we must be careful with the ones we choose and how we use them. I am reminded that we only have perspective after the fact, and that we can use hindsight to make better decisions that lead us closer to where we want to go in our lives. I am reminded about what it means to accept people for who they are; including ourselves. And I am reminded that we are all made exactly as we are meant to be made, and we don’t ever have to become someone we are not or change ourselves to gain others’ approval.
So instead of sharing my most embarrassing moment as a way to simply “get it off my chest”, I share it so that others might learn from it.
That is my intention.
So here goes…another admission…another layer stripped away…revealing more of myself…sweaty hands and all.
I am almost 15 years old and have just moved from Ottawa to my dad’s hometown of Kitchener-Waterloo, in southwestern Ontario. He has been transferred here with the insurance company he is working for, and although the move was unexpected and undesirable for my brother and me and also my parents, it is the 80’s, and we are smack dab in the middle of a recession, and my dad had to make a tough decision for the family.
So at the end of the summer between grades 9 and 10, we move from our beloved city, away from our friends, our schools, our sports, our house with a pool; our lives.
As I stand in the main hall of my new high school, waiting for some kind of instruction on where to go, I see a girl, seemingly my age, leaning against a pillar, alone.
I walk over and introduce myself. She smiles a warm and friendly smile. She is in my grade and she has also just moved into town with her mom. She is wearing cut-off jean shorts and a T-shirt and she has the most amazing hair I have ever seen. Brownish-blonde with spectacular soft curls. She has an easy-going nature that I am drawn to. She just seems really sure of herself and comfortable in her skin. I like her immediately.
We walk to our homeroom and sit next to one another. For our entire Grade 10 year, we are inseparable. We have most of our classes together, we hang out at lunch, she comes over after school. She never wants me to come to her place, though, and she never wants me to walk her home.
For months, she won’t invite me over. There is just this unsaid knowing that she feels ashamed of where she lives. It takes months before she will let me see her place and even longer before I will meet her mother, who is a lovely woman with the same warm and friendly smile as her daughter.
While I live in a large house that is undergoing a massive renovation, she lives in a two-bedroom apartment with her single mom who is studying theology at our local university.
I reassure her that I don’t care where she lives; I think she is awesome and her mom is awesome and it doesn’t make me think any less of her; in fact it makes me love her even more, knowing that nothing comes easily for her.
She has substance…grit. And I admire it.
On some deep, human level, I recognize that I accept this girl, just as she is, no matter where she lives. Deep down, I feel a sense that I would give up all of the fancy stuff in my life to be able to talk to my mother the way she talks to hers; to be as comfortable in my skin as she is. She is just so interesting and she has so many interests…I am slightly envious of her, but mainly I am awed by her. I try to be like her and I copy many of her habits…I use green pens and doodle on my binders; I listen to the music she likes and decide that her favourite bands are my favourites, too. I speak the way she speaks. I dress the way she dresses…
For many months, our house is being renovated. We are building a large extension on the back of it, and the great room will have a cathedral ceiling. My brother and I get a kick out of using a ladder to climb down from the second floor into the new family room.
The contractors have become like family, and my mother often insists that one of them, who is single at the time, joins us for dinner. He is warm and friendly and is always cracking jokes. We all like him a lot.
One day as I am climbing down the ladder, he makes a comment about my breasts…or, more specifically, the lack thereof. It was a silly comment, something I’m sure he simply thought would get a laugh…but that comment hit me; and it stuck with me.
I had always been extremely active and I was a very lean child. By age 15, I still hadn’t “developed” much yet and I still hadn’t gotten my period (even though in grade 8, I lied to my friend about getting it—but that’s another story).
As this grown man commented on my body, I became aware that there was something “wrong” with me. Even though I was embarrassed, I just giggled instead. But his words stung. I started feeling much more self-conscious and began wearing baggy sweatshirts to hide my “imperfection”.
It wasn’t the first time a male had commented on my breast size. In grade 6, a boy I liked wrote me a note asking if I was “developing” and I was humiliated to know that he wouldn’t date me because of my flat chest.
All throughout grade 10, I had a crush on a boy. He was the cutest, smartest, funniest and most popular boy in our class. I believed he barely knew I existed, but he was friendly and nice whenever we bumped into each other in the hallway or saw each other in class. I dreamt about being his girlfriend, and I prayed he might one day ask me out.
As I started grade 11, I decided I would make that boy like me. I began stuffing my bra as a way to improve my appearance, as I assumed bigger breasts would increase my attractiveness to him.
It started with Kleenex. Just a few, softly arranged in my bra. Under my sweatshirts, it just looked like I had a little something going on. But as it is with most things, it progressed. More Kleenex. Then cotton pads mixed with Kleenex. I went from essentially needing a training bra to having a C cup. I was caught in an ongoing system of hiding my secret from my family while showing off my new curves to my classmates.
One day in the cafeteria, a boy called me out asking, "are those even REAL?"
I was mortified.
I just sat there kind of dying until a friend told him to shut up and leave me alone. I was grateful for her kindness. Even though, deep down, I knew she probably wondered the same.
If you think this is the most embarrassing part of the story, just wait.
Upping The Ante
I decided I needed to make them more life-like; to make them appear more natural. They needed movement. I researched mastectomy clinics thinking they must have some kind of prosthetic that I could buy to insert into my bra. I remember the lady on the phone asking a million questions and me not having a clue how to respond.
I had to take matters into my own hands. There's no easy way to say this. So, here goes.
I decided to stuff my bra with water balloons.
Ugh. I can't believe I am even telling you this. I really don't know how I will ever post this, but that is what I did.
I stuffed my bra with water balloons.
And just like the Kleenex, I filled those balloons with a little more water each time until I swear, I was sporting a D cup.
After school, I would place my "boobs" in one of my bathroom drawers until the next morning. I remember how good it felt to take them out of my bra and just be me again.
But I also knew there was no going back. I was always aware of them, always concerned about them, always hiding my secret, living with this strange mix of wanting to be desirable while knowing that I had a secret that could never be discovered. How could it ever end? I dreamt of moving away and starting all over again, where no one knew my breast size. I was so preoccupied with my secret that it is a wonder I even passed any of my classes.
Not far into the school year, my dream came true and that boy asked me out. He became my boyfriend and was my first "true love". I loved him desperately. Whenever he would come over for dinner, I would stretch out my shirts so my parents couldn't see my boobs; at school, I wouldn't run anymore (I had won awards for track and field in the past), for fear of them bouncing too much and breaking or for fear people would hear them sloshing around and I'd be found out (seriously, I can't believe I am telling you this). But every time we'd be kissing and he'd try to go up my shirt, I would stop him.
At some point, I know he knew the truth, but I kept pretending that I just wasn't comfortable with his hands up my shirt...until one night at his house. I got drunk for one of the first times and I wanted his hands up my shirt. And so he felt my balloons...and he saw them...and it didn't take long before he dumped me. (Still not the most embarrassing part of this story).
And, I knew he didn't dump me for having small boobs; he dumped me because I was being inauthentic and because my fake boobs were getting in the way of our relationship. That, and probably a million other teenage issues. But even at the time, in my grief and despair, I knew this truth.
I knew my mom was aware of my secret, but she never once talked to me about it. I know she simply didn't have a clue what to say and she probably saw it as an invasion of privacy and something I would eventually grow out of, but if she could have only known the inner turmoil that all this secrecy caused me, she would have known that I needed her to tell me that I was perfectly normal and that my breast size had nothing to do with my worth. That my body is mine, and no one has the right to make me feel bad about it through their comments. That my body is perfectly made and that it is nothing to be ashamed of and that, at 16 years old, my body was still changing...
Instead, I kept hiding my secret.
That Fateful Day
Back when I lived in Ottawa from the ages of 9-14, I was placed in French immersion. That meant all of my classes were taken in French and while most of my classmates were bilingual, I struggled, and I failed to grasp several key concepts. This lack of foundation meant I wasn't prepared for grade 10, and I failed math.
My second go around, I was doing much better, understanding the concepts and getting Bs on most tests. I asked the teacher for help regularly, which is what I was doing when the unthinkable happened.
As my teacher stood over me helping with a particularly challenging math problem, there was a sound. Then water. My teacher jumped back and shrieked, her eyes wide with complete and utter astonishment. I scrambled out of my seat and ran to the washroom, locking myself in a stall.
"Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God!!!!"
Several minutes later, one of my friends came in and asked if I was ok. I was mortified. I so badly wanted her to go away and I so badly wanted to tell her my secret. I stayed in the stall and made up some stupid lie about someone putting a water balloon in my pocket. She pretended to believe me. I knew there was no way she did.
I knew there was water all over the floor beneath my desk and all over my notebook that was still at my desk and I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that I could never return to math class again. Ever.
So I didn't.
And I failed grade 10 math for a second time.
I skipped school for two days after the incident. I was absolutely horrified and terrified about what I would be facing upon my return. I feared public ridicule, name-calling, behind-my-back snickering.
And to an extent, all that certainly happened. I mean, my ex-boyfriend couldn't have kept my secret to himself all that time, either. But somehow I was spared some of it...somehow, my friends remained my friends, and life went on as normal after a while.
Water balloon boobs and all.
Because, you see, I still believed I had no way out. If I was to maintain the lie that a water balloon simply broke in my pocket, then I still needed to stuff my bra or else completely come clean. Coming clean didn't seem like an option and it was all just such an icky, sticky, confusing time in my life.
Every day, I continued to be terrified about another accident.
Every day, I worried about what might happen and where I would be when it did, and how I would somehow deal with it; the lie I would have to tell.
Upping The Ante...Again
I needed to come up with a more permanent solution.
I had heard that girls who went on the birth control pill grew bigger breasts. I knew what I needed to do and so I sat my parents down and told them that I was going on the pill.
They were visibly disheartened when I explained that I was just trying to be a "responsible teenager"...I know they thought I was basically divulging that I was sexually active, which I wasn't...yet...but I couldn't tell them my real motivation for my decision.
If only I could have told them the truth. How would my life have been different?
If only I had accepted myself the way I accepted my friend. If I didn't care where she grew up, or the income bracket she belonged to, or the place she lived in, or her lack of a father, or anything else that certainly wasn't important to me or our friendship, then why couldn't I accept myself for the way my body looked?
Instead, I listened to a few off-handed words and decided that there was something wrong with me.
So I went on the birth control pill. Within a few weeks, my breasts (and everything else) grew, and I remember pulling my "boobs" out of the bathroom drawer and deciding that I was no longer going to use them. I grabbed my mom's tweezers and popped them in the sink and threw them in the trash along with the package of unused balloons. Although my natural breasts were much smaller than my D cups, I didn't care. I was free.
The charade was over.
Of course, more lessons would come as this chapter ended and a new one began, but I was able to close the door on an extremely difficult time in my young life.
Now, as I look back, I believe the entire experience made me a more compassionate person.
And as I recount this incredibly personal story, I am reminded that "it takes 100 ''atta girls' to make up for one 'you're not good enough'."
If you have a young girl in your life, please remember this: they are listening. They are practically waiting for you to tell them they are not good enough, because the world can do such a good job of placing doubt inside of them. With the advent of social media and the many images young girls are bombarded with today, we must be the voice they hear the loudest; the voice that tells them they look exactly as they do because that is exactly how they are supposed to look.
That they are beautiful not because of anything society dictates as beautiful but because they do the things that make them joyful; because they have compassion for others and accept others as they are; because they love with open hearts.
If you are a mother, a grandmother, an aunt, a friend, listen to your girls. Watch them. Know what they are doing and ask them questions. Let them know you are there for them, not as someone who will judge, but as someone who will support them vehemently and love them fiercely.
Even when you may not have all the right words...
If you have boys or men in your life, remind them to speak kindly to girls and to never criticize a girl for her appearance. While we must certainly offer the same consideration towards boys, girls are a special case--somehow it has become a social norm to discuss, compare, criticize and rate girls' bodies...and it doesn't end after high school, for sure. This is an issue that carries into a woman's every day life, and it is something that we need to change.
This is me...being the change. By sharing my experience with you.
There have been many times where I've gone back to that day in grade 11 and thought, "I would give anything to change what happened", but I also know it is a piece of my story and a part of my path that has led me here, to you. And so I continue to be grateful for the lessons I have learned along the way...the lessons I get to share with you.
And I am reminded that time heals nothing.
That memory, that embarrassment, that shame and humiliation; it was still so real and raw for me that I went through half a box of Kleenex writing this. My body went into convulsions and I did the "ugly cry" on more than one occasion.
I told Roger there was no way I could share this. "How the hell can I post this??!"
But he held me. And he told me that it was a long time ago. And that I need to share it in order to let it go...and maybe to free others who are holding on to something, as well.
So thank you from the bottom of my heart for being here and allowing me to share this story with you. I can't tell you how freeing it has been to rid myself of this secret and shake off the embarrassment and shame. As I wrote this story, I went back in time and I felt every single twist and turn like it was yesterday. And after all of it, instead of feeling embarrassment, I felt compassion for that young girl. I felt so much love for her knowing that she was just trying to figure things out and make sense of her feelings; making decisions that she felt needed to be made in the absence of guidance.
I hope that sharing this has helped free you from anything that you are holding on to.
Because time heals nothing.
Because I want you to love your life one bite at a time.
P.S. I would love to hear from you if this story resonated. Please let me know in the comments below. If you have an embarrassing story and you don't feel comfortable sharing below, feel free to email me at Sarah@SarahTalksFood.com. Remember, our secrets keep us sick.
P.P.S. To learn more about my story while also kicking a sugar habit, check out my new book, The 28 Day Kick The Sugar Challenge, where I share more of myself and how I used health and fitness to overcome my addictions to alcohol and sugar, while also developing a greater sense of self-trust, self-respect and self-love. I would be honoured to help you do the same.
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