Sometime in the 1980’s or early 1990’s I decided to stop wearing jeans because I looked horrible in them. I held my thighs responsible for what I saw in the mirror. Many years later, I rediscovered jeans and now wear them all the time. What changed? (Hint: There is no way I actually got thinner over the decades.)
What completely escaped me all those decades ago was that fashion itself doomed me to failure. The jean style back then was high-waisted (well above the belly-button) with tapered legs. I put them on and instantly looked like a pear on stilts. What’s more, they flattened out my derriere, making it look wider than it actually was. Today that same jean style is affectionately known as the Mom Jean. If you are wearing them right now, I apologize if I offend, but believe me when I say that you can do so much better.
Is it any wonder I felt ugly when I wore those jeans? Of course not. What is a wonder is how easily I took the blame for what I saw in the mirror. Rather than recognize that the jean itself was wrong for my body, I labeled my body as wrong. What I saw in the mirror mirrored my self-confidence.
I completely believe that true beauty lies within. But, if we look in the mirror and see something horrifying, it’s hard to get past it sometimes. That’s why I had such a hard time with the scars from my mastectomy and reconstructive surgery that first summer. When I looked in the mirror, my body image and cancer collided and the butchery my body underwent to treat a disease became a part of my self image. Just like those jeans, the ugliness of my surgeries projected ugliness onto me.
As time went on, I realized I did not have to label myself as damaged and ugly. I participated in the American Cancer Society’s “Look Good…Feel Better” program and had a wonderful experience. I joined a rehabilitative exercise class, signed up at the local YMCA and began doing yoga. Taking back control over my body gave me self-confidence which exceeded the level I had pre-cancer.
Self-confidence has many sources, but I think one of the most important is the support we give ourselves. Most of us do feel better when we look good. Take a class, expand your horizons, make your nest comfortable and nurturing. When you give yourself the support you need to feel better, you give yourself the gift of self-confidence. From there, who knows what you can do to build a better world?
Did your level of self-confidence take a hit because of cancer? What are you doing to build it back up?
Survival > Existence,
Mom Jeans and Self-Confidence
Oh man, can I relate to this post. I also believe beauty lies within, but it’s impossible to ignore the “butchery,” as you put it, of surgical wounds. I still wish I felt better about my body.
Being One With Your Body Helps You Be Kinder to It
I think it’s so hard because most of us go into this process with body image issues already. We’re women, right? I’m doing so much better than I was that first summer, but sometimes all it takes is one look in the mirror to bring me back there. That’s why I find exercise so important – it really gave me back a feeling of control over my body. When I go to yoga and move and stretch it gives me a feeling of oneness with my body. And when you’re one with your body, it’s a lot harder to criticize it.
Survival > Existence,
When I was being wheeled out
When I was being wheeled out of the hospital after one of my visits with infections and 103 fevers, I was wearing a black turban and had no eyebrows and eyelasses and feeling very ugly and depressed. I was carrying a gorgeous bouquet of flowers, and a woman in he lobby came over and said to me, “Those are beautiful flowers . . .just like you.” My mood totally changed. Ever since, I have been making an effort to compliment people and perform loving acts of kindness. I am always rewarded by their responses which give me a feeling of self-confidence.
One Small But Amazing Act of Kindness
Once again, you’ve written such a beautifully moving comment! That woman’s loving act of kindness toward you had a magnificient ripple effect. Not only are those you are kind to touched, but it all comes back again to you in increased self-confidence. It’s amazing how one small comment can have such a significant impact.
Survival > Existence,
Debbie, your posts are always so relatable. This is another one that resonates with me!
There is one line in your reply to Beth says it all: “Most of us go into this process with body image issues already.” No truer words were spoken! So it makes complete sense that scars and missing body parts are going to add up to a big pot of lowered self-esteem.
You closed out Beth’s reply with another golden nugget: “When you’re one with your body, it’s a lot harder to criticize it.” Ain’t it the truth. Here’s to more oneness for all!
Up With Oneness!
Thank you and I’m so glad you liked the post! Body image is an age old issue for most of us (from the age of 12 or 13 probably??) I’ve learned a lot from having cancer and “oneness” is way up there!
Survival > Existence,
Sometimes you really are damaged..
I always knew I would never be a fashion model, but was always OK with that. I had red hair, freckles and glasses and was mercilessly teased about all of these. Yet I was secretly proud of my unique red hair, the freckles which my mom called angel kisses, and my glasses which helped me see and I thought added to my intelligence. I was awkward looking and perfectly OK with it.
When I had my double mastectomy, not only was I left with caves where my perfectly good (at least to me) breasts were, but the surgery left me with a damaged nerve that has me with a constant fire in my armpit. Clothing hurts.
I had a hard time with this constant pain and ended up in the psychiatrist’s office. He had the nerve to suggest I take yoga or tai-chi and said that if I was nice to my body it would be nice to me.
All the classes, yoga, PT, whatever will not fix the damage done in my surgery. Sometimes you’re just damaged.
Yes, I’d like my old body back, more than anything in the world. But, I have to learn to live with this one. Sometimes you get what you get. Cancer has changed everything for me. I don’t know if I’ll ever get back to where I was.
New normal?? No thanks…
I’m So Sorry to Hear That You’re in So Much Pain
I’m so sorry to hear that you are still struggling with constant pain as a result of your surgery. I too struggle with pain. Mine is in my abdomen and is caused by the scar tissue left behind by my TRAM flap reconstruction. I suffered in silence for a year before I called my doctor’s office looking for relief. His nurse said there was basically nothing that could be done about it, because another surgery would just cause more damage and thus more scar tissue.
I remember wanting to slam down the phone and crawl into a hole when I asked her if that meant I would have to suffer with it the rest of my life and she said “Yes, I guess so.” She then added that maybe I could try therapeutic massage. I scheduled it immediately at my cancer center and, after about seven sessions, I felt much better.
Although the massage broke up a lot of scar tissue, I still have pain every day. Sometimes it’s worse than others, but it’s always there. It’s especially bad when I wear waistbands or a bra all day. I’ve learned to live in yoga pants whenever possible and I often have to lie down early at night because sitting is too painful by the end of the day.
I’ve also learned that yoga, due to the stretching, helps a lot to manage the pain. One particular stretch, cat-cow, offers me immense relief. Again, it never goes away completely, but I’ve found ways to manage it the best that I can.
We’ve all been damaged by cancer and its treatment. I hope you keep looking for ways to manage your pain. What works for one person won’t necessarily work for another, but don’t give up looking for what works for you.
Just a little tidbit that I learned in an all day seminar given by a group of oncology docotrs, nurses, plastic surgeons and patients. The issue was being so concerned about the scars we were left with after surgery, for me it was the scar from the port, not even the scars form the mastectomy. Why, because the world could see that scar (or so I thought) and it made me self conscious and uncomfortable. I was damaged goods. A patient spoke about this topic. She said ” if you come home with a battle wound, it is a good thing, it means you survived the war. I will always remember that comment, and now when I am feeling down and self concious with that scar, I just try to remind myself that I survived the war and here is my proof!!!!
So Glad Your Perspective Was Changed By Another Survivor
That’s a great story! It’s so important to share with other survivors, because we understand and support each other like no one else can. I’m so glad that you heard something from another survivor that changed your perspective. That’s healing and it’s priceless!
Survival > Existence,