The Flinch - My Personal Body Image Struggle

Anita Helm

The Flinch- My Personal Body Image Struggle

by Anita Helm in Honor of Breast Cancer Awareness

 After showering at the gym, I had an opportunity to walk into the dressing room. 

I opened the privacy curtain for my locker section. As I walked in with a towel wrapped around my own body, I interrupted a young girl dressing.  As I touched to open the curtain, the young girl in an instant flinched with such embarrassment.  In that one moment, I saw her cover her breasts in such a manner, that she reminded me of my entire childhood, adolescence, and decades of feeling inadequate because of my own large breasts.

Breasts that those viewers on the outside would for a lifetime defined me. Anita with the large breast, yeah that’s her, that’s the one.  Being perpetually identified in my personhood by two body parts that I had nothing more to do with than inherited DNA.

In this generation, we all talk about healthy body image, but back in the sixties, in the seventies, eighties, nineties, there was little mention of healthy anything.  Those of us taunted as Dolly Parton Jr.  we just suffered in silence with how we felt about our body. We feared what grown men would try to touch us, as they leered at us in innocence of our childhood. Men looking at our breasts as they imagined women in lude magazines and parlors.

When I walked through the curtain quietly, as I normally did for the last year to the same locker.  I’m normally alone, but this child’s flinch grabbed me.  It grabbed me in such a way I knew I could not ignore. 

As I disrobed, I was determined not to have the same level of modesty or tinge of embarrassment to hide my own body, my own large breasts.  I wanted to show her confidence.  To be honest, I myself didn’t really have such a tendency for body confidence, but I wanted to help this young girl.  In helping her, I could help my grown-up self, wake up to self-love.

I knew what that flinch meant.  Even being so young – a mere teen, I knew the way she cowered and covered up with such an urgency.  It was not about me being a stranger, but how she didn’t feel she could expose what I could see of her in a second.  I did see and I knew. 

This baby in her teens, didn’t go to cover her body, she was purposefully and calculating to cover up “them,” her DD tormenters, her mountains that would plunge her esteem to the floor if not helped.  Strange how the middle tier of 2 mounds that every man, woman, and child would feel entitled all of her life to comment, stare, ridicule, and identify her by.

What the outsiders would say and observe, would mark her and her image in a way that stings, precision cuts and razors would do to taint, harm, and warp her mind.   From the flinch, the work had already begun.

In 1 flinch, I felt her shame, I was her; I had been her, and in some respect I was still her.  I was just full grown and could better disguise my flinch.  The grown up me, always suffers the remnants of the life people see me as my breasts, my thick hair, my beaming smile and all the opinions of my outward with no regard for the inward adoration. These people who freely give unrequested proclamations, declarations, and discoveries of who they think I am. I am more than my breasts.

But I had realized that in the moment of seeing that flinch, I had to find words, I had to think what can I say to her?  What can I give her of my five decades of life that would help her?  What can I say that will give some understanding that she doesn't have to live in this barrier of body shame? How can I elevate her feelings, mitigate the searing of the warped and tainted images of herself that are already brewing? GOD please give me the words.

I don’t want this baby to spend time in her school hallways, her walks, her shopping, her showering, her existence weeping on the inside; clutching, grabbing, crossing her breasts, wearing large clothes, hiding, binding, and trying to disappear in the world.  GOD made her to shine, and the devil found a dart to make her want to disappear. Not this time Satan.

I wanted her never to be bullied being taunted down school hallways as Stuff and Puff.  Too much devastation of the little young heart. 

Little girls to women don’t fantasize to have people, strangers, women, and men sexualize them or assume that because of enlarged mountains on our chest that we have an overly sexual or inflated ego of something that we had nothing to do with!

These outside entities don’t know the hidden moments that we spend from childhood to womanhood grabbing our breast holding them and wondering what life we could only have been  if they were half or a fourth of the size.  We hold them in a way, that make them appear what we feel could be normal; help us to be anonymous; regular; and invisible in a crowd.  

As girls2women we wish we could find a way to stay hidden from the spotlight to avoid:  women, girls, strangers, friends, family old and young for a lifetime throwing compliments with a sting of envious venom saying, “I wish I had what you got!”;  Gimmee some of them big breast you got!;  “Girl, look at those mountains of yours”; “Oooh child look at those monster titties”;  Dang girl you got some Tatas on you”; and on and on. 

What do I say to her? This girl – this baby Nita.   How do I give her something to help her, to encourage her?  I have to give her something, but GOD what?

As a grown woman, I am still self-conscious about my breasts, the showing of my cleavage, my physical make up.  I see the singers, entertainers, girls on the streets, pools, stores flaunting, exposing, cleavage lines 10 inches deep, but I have no such boldness or self-conscious freedom.  My body modesty is too embedded over decades and to show an inch. An inch, has me pulling up my shirt up 10x an hour.

Don’t get me wrong, I am thankful for each mammogram of healthiness of my breasts.  I have dense tissue, so I have to be even more diligent especially with a cancer history of my family lineage. I am grateful of the mammary glands that fed two children.  

I’ve stalled enough in my mind.  I’m fully dressed, and my swim clothes are put up.  The time has come, and I have to give her something of my life that will help her not live in this bondage.

My mind is full of so many things. Do I help her know how my breasts affected my weight, exercise, self-esteem, my wardrobe choices, my flex arm hang, or unwanted attention? No, that’s too much. Be quick and to the point and get the heck out of here!

As I stood in front of my locker, I didn't know what to say  and how to  sum up a legacy in 2 minutes or less.  There I go, putting a time limit on a testimony.  I was dressed and it was time to go.  It was put up or shut up!

So as I turned fully dressed, still not knowing what words to say, still not knowing if I would say anything.  I sensed there was a slight cultural barrier and possibly she may not even speak the same language that I speak.  What I say she may not even understand why I am being so bold to speak to something that may not even be her issue.  Maybe I’m projecting my issue onto her.  But I saw her flinch.  I saw the torment.  I recognized what I saw and felt, and I couldn’t leave her living a life I lived.

I had to share a lifeline to this baby, this girl, this future woman. No excuses. Nobody gave me the dose of early affirmation and encouragement.  By GOD’s grace I would.  He showed me that 1 flinch for a reason. The 1 flinch that would signify the thousands to come.

So it’s now or never and I say to her in my quiet, slow, and purposeful tone:

 “I've spent all my life having a large chest like you. I want you to know that you're beautiful. I want you to know that no matter how many times people tell you all your life that they wish they had what you have, understand that what God gave you is your gift.  GOD made you and you don't have to be embarrassed or ashamed or wonder why.   Just know that you are beautiful. Know that GOD loves you. He gave you what He wanted you to have.  You're beautiful I want you to know that no matter how many times people tell you all your life that they wish they had what you have.  Tell them God gave you what you have and they’re a gift.

 {For such a woman of words – I kept repeating GOD gave you  them as a gift and you are beautiful like a broken record}

Finally after the record player let me say, another statement I said you don't have to be embarrassed or ashamed and I stopped talking.

I stopped talking, because I didn’t know if she understood, or did she think this strange woman with much larger breasts than hers was a bumbling idiot.

After a pause that felt like millennia – this small, quiet, tremoring voice says, “I’m shy. I wear big shirts, so they won’t see them.” She looked at me timidly and I knew she heard me.

I felt our connection.  I knew she heard me.  She heard my heart. She heard my understanding.  She heard my wanting to build her up and not tear her down.  She sensed that my eyes saw all of her. I said, “remember you are BEAUTIFUL” and I walked out.

I didn’t hug her, but I loved her in the way that I could.

I gave my heart that has grown over 1,000 faith moments in this area.  I pray that I helped this frail lioness be able to reach her full potential without the harness of this pain over self-esteem.

As I walked out pulling open the privacy curtain, I took a few steps to see a woman. She was a few feet away.  I don't know if this woman is her mother, or some stranger who overheard my words, but she has a look of joy, relief, understanding and happiness on her face as she smiled at me.  We didn’t speak.  I smiled back at her with a glance of affirming the future of the young sisterhood and walked out.

I pray during my Breast Cancer Awareness post, that I can bring to the attention, the realities of words of insensitivities; of carelessness of what some may say to young impressionable, growing, self-esteem developing girls2women.  I hope my openness and vulnerability can help other girls2women not spend 50 years avoiding the love for what GOD endowed them in their bodies.  Breasts or No Breast – we are more than breasts!

As I close, I caution you people with the impulse to judge others for how they look on the outside. The top of one’s chest whether nonexistent, small, medium, large, extra-large, and upward is not a license for anyone to voice comparison, comment, or judgement. GOD says man looks at the outward appearance and stature, but He looks at the heart.  Thank you GOD for looking at the heart.

 I speak my truth in love and honesty to share GOD’s message to affirm you the reader and hearer to give you the permission to love yourself. We women are more than our breasts.  We are much more than our body.

Let’s say it again - We are more than our breasts.  We are much more than our bodies. GOD, we your girls, your women are more than our breasts and we are much more than our bodies. Thank you GOD for seeing our hearts!

 Amen for the last FLINCH.


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