On Self-Image and Modesty: The day I rebelled against my bra

I told my shopping accomplice this will not end up on my blog. Because it’s too personal. Because it involves me and my insecurities, my body and my bra. Then I thought I wanted to write something for my sister, who has just turned seventeen and hits the gym because she thinks she’s fat. Then I thought I would lie and say that my friend did it. And then I decided that the world will not collapse if I am not so uptight for half an hour and afterwards I can safely revert to my old self.

I am completely out of my comfort zone writing this, but some kind of realisation hit me today and the bra was really, simply, the statement I probably made against myself.

I went shopping today with a friend of mine. There is a custom that one should buy a new piece of clothing before Pesach. So I did. I didn’t need more excuses. It feels amazing to be able to justify spending a few more quid. Following successful shopping we sat in Coffix and enjoyed coffees, pastries and carrot juices (you can really indulge in a guiltless pleasure when each item only costs 5 shekels).

If you are a woman, then you probably know what I am talking about that you need to treat yourself after shopping, especially shopping for clothes. I usually shop very quickly, like an assassin, because I have little patience to browse through hundreds of items; but even I can’t escape the moment when I am alone in the fitting room and I check how the piece of clothing fits. The top I eventually bought is great, but I do not feel at best with myself these days. Again, if you are a woman you will understand what I am writing about. If you are a man and you’re married, and somehow you still don’t know, then ask your wife. If you are a man and you are single, then you probably don’t need to know it at this point, just one word of advice – stay away. That’s two words. Needless to say I needed a pick-me-up. The pick-me-up treat of course included an ice cream. Sitting down with my stomach pulled in, mentally digesting every calorie I took in, I noticed one Russian girl in the queue waiting to be served. She carried more kilograms than I did, that’s for sure, but I don’t think I have seen someone so confident and pretty as she was in a long time. She wore very short denim shorts, a plain black top and a lacy cream cardigan. She accessorised the shorts with black tights and had a cascade of brown hair, with each lock living its own life. I was fascinated. She was beautiful and she knew it.

– I don’t think people actually notice when we carry extra kilograms. – I said without thinking much about what kind of a message I wanted to pass on.

– No, they don’t. As long as you are confident about how you look, people really don’t care. – Replied my shopping co-assassin.

– Yet, we go absolutely crazy about how we look. We make ourselves feel bad about extra weight. For what?

– I like the way women feel comfortable about their bodies in this country.

I agreed with her. I couldn’t disagree. You can see every shape and form rocking every type of clothing on the street here and you honestly feel the confidence beaming from women. I come from a completely different culture. We count every kilogram and become depressed over what the scale, that we torture ourselves with daily, shows. Few years ago I threw away mine. No, I did not become morbidly obese. Rather I took on training Krav Maga and I put on muscle. Since muscle weighs more than fat I put on weight considerably, but I didn’t feel anything, because I can still, to this day, wear the clothes I bought when I was in my late teens. Then suddenly one day, smartly and confidently, I stood on the scale and I decided I would never eat anything ever again for the rest of my life.

I also have my mum. She’s a lovely person. A perfectionist though, as we all are. The thing about perfectionism is: it is good if you mould things and situations outside your own body. Sadly, we start with ourselves and judge our coping skills by how we look and how we feel.

I can’t physically brake my ribs to achieve a more feminine figure. I am probably as feminine as I can be. I actually quietly wish I was less in certain places. To achieve a figure which I think would be perfect would require a severe plastic surgery including the widening of the hips, so I don’t look like a boy, reducing my rib cage so I have a waist, which would mean that I would probably have to remove some of my internal organs and undergo a breast reduction, why, because I never liked them.

So in order to be perfect I would actually have to cripple myself. I decided to write this piece for my sister. She goes to the gym and runs, runs, runs trying to lose extra weight. Don’t get me wrong – it’s great she runs. I’m very happy for her, but wouldn’t it be better if the motivation behind it was to feel better, increase fitness and stamina? Not to lose weight and frantically check the scale for the 5 kg that she needs to lose and getting upset when she gains one? What’s with that 5 kg anyway? If she needed to lose 50 kg for health reasons I would understand that this could have been her motivation, but 5 kg? This is how much we almost lose and put on each day depending on the weather, sleep or lack thereof, food, water intake, stress and hundreds of other factors that do not actually represent our weight per se and do not affect how we look. Writing this I am a horrible hypocrite, because the words that I heard from her, I tell myself too. I also keep telling myself that I hate my body, that I feel disgusting, that I need to lose weight and I can’t show myself to people. It hurts me when I hear them from her, but somehow I don’t consider that it must hurt me to hear these words directed at myself. And so I continue, and she hears me, and she, following my every step, think that this is how women should be – disappointed with their bodies, constantly watching what they eat and killing themselves at the gym chasing the unattainable: the photoshopped figure, skin, hair etc of a model, who doesn’t look that way in the reality and is probably telling herself all those terrible and hurtful things that we keep repeating.

I want to make one thing clear here without false modesty. I don’t have issues thinking that I am ugly. Far from that. My parents also never made any of us think anything less about ourselves. Somehow, thank Hashem, we have been blessed with the best from each parent. However, not in a bad way, we have been also brought up with this insane sense and chase for perfection; we are simply never happy with ourselves. We push ourselves, beyond any reasonable limit, mentally, intellectually and, unsurprisingly, physically. We over–achieve, why, because, honestly, truly and without exaggeration, if we achieve what is generally perceived as achievement, we think that we under-achieved. If we are the same as other people around us, we think we failed.

We are over-critical with ourselves and so we are very critical with others. We expect not just to push ourselves, but be challenged by others. If it doesn’t happen, we change friends, because we are afraid that we will ‘miss our train’ if we linger in one place too long.

And so I kept looking at this woman in the shopping centre today and thought to myself in my heart of hearts that, wow, she was just stunning. The way she was. I thought of every woman that I know forcing myself, for a second, to think something negative about their appearance. I couldn’t find one thing. Why then, I could find so much wrong with myself?

As we sat outside enjoying the sun, with my friend finishing her ice coffee, I suddenly remembered the article I read about how tight clothes affect our bodies by cutting the blood supply and leaving marks. Generally, apparently, the worst items that women wear are skinny jeans, stomach-holding pants (I refuse to admit to anything here), knickers and bras. Out of four I reasonably wore two and as I sat up straight increasingly aware of the tight ring around my chest, the chest that doesn’t want to conform to my standard of perfection, I decided to give it a try and do something that I have never done since I wore the bra for the first time at the age of 15 – I unpinned it. I don’t know why, but I really expected to be showered by rain, storm, frogs or anything for that matter as a sign of the universe’s complaint against my action. Really, nothing happened, apart from my friend giving me a bewildered look and a nervous laugh.

Looking around, making sure that no one looked our direction, I tried squeezing out of it without attracting too much attention. I succeeded, which, spearing you the details, wasn’t easy and the ring of my oppression landed in my newly purchased bag. By the way, I do not know who David Jones is, but I like the bag. I really wanted to sing Queen’s “I want to break free” song as it happened. If you are a woman and, honestly, if you haven’t tried it before, do it. I walked home suddenly being able to use the whole capacity of my lungs, very proud of my new bag and even prouder of my free… action. No one paid even a second of attention to me and I had a quiet laugh mostly directed at myself that such a small thing can give a person so much happiness.

It does not mean that I will stop exercising, as a matter of fact, I am sporting my jogging outfit as I am finishing writing this piece, with a regulatory jogging skirt, which I finally acquired today so I can go jogging earlier than at night and I don’t have to tie cardigans around my waist anymore. It also does not mean that I will start indulging myself with Haagen Daazs ice cream at 11 o’clock at night in bed and scavenge through the fridge for food in my ongoing attempt to prove that it doesn’t matter how I look. It does. Very much. I also will not burn my bras or my stomach holding under-skirts (not the Bridget Jones’ type of holding undies, rather Triumph/Ann Summers type of ‘holdies’), which are especially useful when I want to wear a dress and I know that the evening will involve food. I will also not start wearing a bikini while shopping for groceries only to prove to myself that I am attractive. Modesty is very important to me.

I will however attempt to stop being critical of myself whenever I don’t feel so fly and I will never, ever, say anything negative about my body again when I am speaking with my sister. She was born when I was twelve and had a row of skin rolls. Dozens of them. She was the fattest baby girl that I have ever seen and turned everyone’s heads in disbelief that a baby can be this pretty. She grew up to be a stunning young lady and to think that that baby, who knew that was exceptional, beautiful and worth every second of our attention, is now gone and has been replaced by a young woman, who thinks that she needs to improve herself. She’s the most beautiful creature that ever walked this earth and I mean it; and I feel absolutely beaten that she got caught up in this downhill spiral that makes her think that she is any less than perfect.

You. Are. Beautiful.

sister

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3 thoughts on “On Self-Image and Modesty: The day I rebelled against my bra

  1. Wow. That hit me; it made me think of how I talk to myself sometimes and I have gotten better with the negativity, but I still have those days. That was so powerful and moving, I was crying at the end. I think we all get “caught up in the downhill spiral” at some point and when there are girls or people like you changing that, I thank you and look up to. But, that is what I’m trying to accomplish with my blog too, so thank you; we need more people like you.

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    1. You have no idea how your comment makes me feel. Perhaps it is just today that I saw it clearly because of my sister, but you, replying here, makes me realise that no, it is not just today, it is every day. It is also not just her, me, you, but everyone. Does it mean that we, individually, create that world of dissatisfaction for ourselves? Have we actually became our worst enemies?
      Thank you for taking your time to read it and thank you for replying. It means a lot.

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      1. Well that makes me happy, but yes, I do believe that we have somewhat become our worst enemies because of this idea that we think everyone else is judging and criticizing us, when in reality they’re not. Thank you for writing and sharing with the world.

        Liked by 1 person

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