Thursday, 2 July 2009

Chubby Chops - a life in pictures. Part 2

Picture № 6: Aged 19, February 1973,
Buenos Aires, at my sister's wedding

Words to a 19 year old

Plans were in progress for me to travel to Britain later that year to work for a year and then go to university. It was an exciting time for me, and full of dreams. As bridesmaid I adored the floaty long dress in shades of turquoise which I was wearing. There were paua shell earrings to match, and in my hair, specially waved for the occasion, an antique brooch turned into a hairclip fashioned from iridescent blue butterfly wings. You can’t see that I also wore a gold chain round my neck with a medal given to me by my godmother – it had my name on one side, and the date of my confirmation on the other. Nor can you see the pink topaz ring on my left hand, a gift from my father on my 17th birthday. I was very proud to be dancing with him at the time when the photographer took the picture. My father died in 2004, and I no longer have the jewellery, as it was stolen from my home in March this year.

I came upon the picture recently while looking through my Mother’s massive collection of photographs, and thirty-six years on I am struck by the confident innocence on the face of a person who seems far removed from myself, another entity. I got to thinking what I would have said to her if I could somehow have spoken to her across the time divide…

Her heart: Naturally what interested her most at the time was romance – not men, not sex – just romance, though she pretended it was her academic future, of course. She knew she would meet a wonderful man – probably English, perhaps in uniform, heart-achingly handsome and a bit like the soldier in the film Ryan’s Daughter – and because in life (as she saw it) one had only one bite at the cherry, it would be a very important decision, and thereafter they would live in happiness and fidelity for the rest of their lives. Now I would want to tell her gently that she had a lot of toughening up to do, because her heart would be broken three times, and each time it would feel that life was not worth living, and that she would never recover. But it was and she would, and in fact she was going to have harder battles to fight. I would have told her that it’s much simpler to understand what makes a man tick than it does a woman, and that it was important that from the beginning she should command respect from them for her feelings, even if it meant they thought she was unfriendly. I would have begged her to be patient, and take her time before choosing, and that despite parental disapproval, living with someone before marriage was the only real way to make the most informed choice.

Her head: She thought a university degree meant an equal opportunity to have a successful career – she had never stopped to think that in her home environment she had been a bigger fish in a smaller pond. In Argentina she was the younger daughter of the headmistress of an English school, where she had been taught to love books and write well in two languages. In England, this merely meant that she was being the same as everybody else she mixed with, and her innocence was even more overwhelming than she could have foreseen. With no one around to offer advice, her confidence suffered. I wish I could have told her not to be timid, that though no better than anyone else, she was no worse either, and could have sought advice so that she didn’t automatically settle for secretarial work after graduation. I would also have told her firmly not to feel or be over-respectful towards working colleagues just because they were senior to her, or male.

Her body: The hardest of all battles – peer pressure. In Buenos Aires the pressure to be very slim, and to be as attractive as possible to catch a partner (by whatever means), was immense. Even here at nineteen she felt overweight. Sadly the combination of the two factors set the pattern for the rest of her life. It was unfortunate that she hadn’t been taught to enjoy exercise, and her journey to obesity was a very predictable one. I would have told her to be kinder to herself, to discover her own self-worth, and know that self-improvement, if it is to work, must be for yourself, not for anybody else. Most important of all I would tell her to fight back, and not to allow herself to be treated as a failure.

Herself: But… though the journey to self-knowledge is never easy, I would want her to know that you get there in the end. Being loved gives you confidence, loving makes you brave, but unhappiness eventually brings both a new kind of strength and gratitude for all that is good in our lives. It helps you get everything into perspective because you become harder to impress, and less prone to embarrassment. You learn how to protect yourself against the hurt.

Decent medical help for the obese was bound to come sooner or later. I’m so very glad for the sake of that nineteen year old that it came within her lifetime.

(to be continued)

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Sara said...

You are so right - we must all be kinder to ourselves. Thank you for the reminder.

Lonicera said...

Thanks for the nice comment Sara - I wish I'd had the self-knowledge to apply it at the time though...

Tina said...

Ah if we all could go back with our new found wisdom and do it all again. I have to say, however that I am glad I can't :) I am happier here.


Reddirt Woman said...

Caroline... you are such an amazing woman. Your introspection tells me that you have really, despite the difficulty, been digging deep to understand yourself and the journey you've been traveling. I don't know many people brave enough to travel this road in the beginning, much less take us along with you.

Thank you for trusting yourself enough to take us with you.


Roo said...

This has got me thinking back on my life and how it has shaped me, and things that I would do if given the opportunity to turn back time....very wise words..

Diz said...

Amazing! First that picture...absolutely stunning! To think that you thought you were overweight. I love that you can look back and think about the things you wish you could've told yourself..and the thing is telling the younger you may not have help. Those very lessons in life have shaped you into the incredible woman that you are. And you are incredible!

DocSly said...

Caroline, your words are so very profound. Although our lives are different, we have so many commonalities and there is a personal bond in your words for my heart and head. Thank you for being you!

Laurie Tossy said...

Lonicera--a beautiful post to a beautiful girl from a beautiful woman. Amazing how many of us who thought we were fat really weren't...but we lived into that role! Let us all heal and move forward. We can't regain the past, but we can have the best remaining years possible.

You asked about enjoying exercise...I vary it up which helps and I do affirmations while I exercise which also helps. I find positive affirmations to be excellent tools every day.

Exercise doesn't have to be all hot and sweaty. Try more meditative approaches.

Play some of your favorite guitar music while you exercise to create some positive associations maybe!

Lonicera said...

Thank you - what very nice comments. I've felt I've been very over-indulgent in my blog of late, yet I've never till now forced myself to look at most of the pictures, or to "write out loud" exactly how I got myself into this mess. I take full responsbility for it and don't blame anybody, but there were people, attitudes and events which altered my perception of myself. I may well use this paragraph at the end (a couple more instalments to go I think), which I hope you will excuse. And thanks again.

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