Just like most American girls, I grew up insecure about my body. I worried about what I had and what I didn’t have.
In my case, I had always been bigger than all my friends. Never fat (although I thought I was fat), just big. Compared to other girls, I was a few inches taller, a few pounds heavier, a few sizes bigger.
Of all the parts of my body that were big, there was one that wasn’t. The one part that seemed to define a woman’s sexuality as she enters adulthood.
Through middle school, accepting my flat chest wasn’t that hard. Wearing a AA cup bra just meant that I hadn’t fully hit puberty yet, right?
Once 16 hit I realized, this was it. Boobs just weren’t part of my package.
Consequently, I came up with every strategy to hide my flat chest. Ruffled bikini tops, extra padding safety pinned under my bikini tops, scarves, a-lined tops, tape, whatever style options I could think of.
I only wore push-up bras and even wore them under my sports bras. Why? Because there was literally nothing to push-up. You know how in a push-up bra your boob is supposed to sit on top of the bottom cushion? Mine didn’t do that. It wasn’t possible.
The summer after my freshman year of college,
I achieved a longtime goal. I was to spend my summer traveling the country as a full-time athlete with a drum corps. It was an opportunity I trained for for several years and was overwhelmed to accept. Although very excited, I was nervous for the challenges of being on the road; such as being away from my family, sunburn from being outside all day, limited sleep, sore muscles, missing my friends, living out of a suitcase, and making no income.
After realizing how hard I worked for this opportunity, I realized that these challenges could be easily accepted. After all, I was dreaming of touring the country competing for years.
Yet there was one thing that was still bothering me so much so that it made me question whether this opportunity was right for me.
Every school does PE a little differently, but I had never showered with other people before- at least not naked. I thought gang showers were a thing of the past!
As I asked more and more friends who had toured before, it was true. Because we were in a different location every day, slept at our rehearsal facilities (often high schools, NOT hotels), and had limited time to shower, all of our showers were in open locker rooms.
Although the idea of showering in front of my females teammates was dreadful, there was another hurdle I had to overcome. In drum corps, you perform intense physical activity outside, in the summer, for 8-12 hours a day, in a different city in the U.S. every day.
You get really hot and sweaty, especially in Missouri. (Please, never go there in the summer). We wore as little clothing as possible out of necessity.
So although I had to accept showering in front of my female teammates, I also had to choose between getting heat stroke or being half naked in front of my 100 male teammates.
Knowing this, all I could imagine was running around the field, feeling my fat jiggle in front of cute guys. Not the most uplifting image for any 18 year old girl.
But hiding my insecurities on the field was achievable.
I could easily put padding in my sports bra and wear a shirt as much as possible. But what was I going to do in the locker room? Shower in a sports bra? Nobody did that! And to make matters worse, although my intimacy with guys at this point of my life was limited, they always seemed a little….curious about my differences… down there. There’s no way to discreetly say it- although my lady parts are perfectly normal, young men don’t seem to think so. (Thank you, porn.)
So there I was, trying to figure out how I was going to walk into the locker room everyday to make my boobs look bigger and hide my lady bits.
Would rolling back my shoulders help? Or should I roll them forward? Should I walk with my thighs super close together? Would they judge me on how I shaved my lady bits? What did other girls do? What about when I have my period?
Oh god what about when I have my period?
My locker room thoughts only got worse the second my parents dropped me off for the summer. The worst part: I didn’t know anyone.
I was walking into this long journey without a single friend. There was no one who was in this with me. I had to do it alone.
The first night I made my way into the locker room alone. I didn’t know a single soul, but had followed some girls that seemed friendly.
My clothes and toiletries were towered in my arms as I walked toward the locker room telling myself it would be just fine. The door opened in front of me, I took two steps in and immediately dashed into a bathroom stall.
Girls were everywhere. Naked without a problem. Naked walking around, naked having conversations, naked handing each other shampoo and conditioner. Naked, naked, naked. I was so confused seeing that there were doors on the shower stalls yet nobody used them.
How? I asked myself. How do they do it?
That night, I didn’t shower.
I couldn’t. I even convinced myself that I would try to shower again while everyone was sleeping, but I was too embarrassed to do so But this was only day 1 of 89, I had to shower eventually, right?
For the first week following I actually really lucked out. Trying my best to socialize, I overheard two other rookies whispering about a secret locker room they found the passcode to.
They seemed scared of the showers too, so I instantly befriend them and begged them to share the locker room with me. Deathly afraid to shower in front of one another, we agreed we’d keep our stall doors closed and not tell anyone about our secret locker room.
Someone eventually found out about our secret and got us in trouble for using a locker room we weren’t given access to. We consequently had to face our fears of showering naked.
Although we had to shower with others, at least by this point we knew we were in it together.
The first few weeks of showering were dreadful.
I was not just intimidated by exposing my body but by the confidence of other girls. They walked around carefree yet I couldn’t help but walk around scared what they thought of my body.
Now that I write those words I realize how ridiculous I was. These girls were walking around shameless in their bodies, you think they even noticed mine? NOPE.
Honestly, I can’t really tell you what happened after that.
Eventually, I became more comfortable walking around the showers. There were so many other things to worry about in my day that showering naked was no longer one of them. It became normal, it was just a thing.
Although I become comfortable with it, it wasn’t until the end of the summer that this experience actually affected the way I looked at my body.
Of course, showering with my teammates was not an open invitation to stare at other girls bodies, and I never did. But when you shower with the same people for 89 days it’s not like you see nothing.
I saw stuff. Different stuff. Stuff that didn’t look like my stuff. But guess what?
It didn’t look like anybody else’s stuff either.
Whether it was top stuff of bottom stuff, nobodies stuff looked alike.
If I were to choose only one event in my life to use the term “liberated” this would be it.
Although it took me all summer, I had finally realized that my entire body was totally normal because it was totally mine. It wasn’t something I needed to hide or deny.
I had gone an entire summer exposing my body to my teammates with no reparations.
I had even run around a field in nothing but a sports bra and spandex shorts all summer, cellulite jiggling everywhere with no reparations (and plenty of crushes 😉 ).
What had I been worrying about this whole time?
That’s when I realized that when we have “beauty flaws”, whether it be a wrinkle, tiny ears, or big thighs nobody notices more than ourselves. Heck, most people you encounter won’t notice your ‘flaws’ at all.
It’s not until we point them out as flaws that people actually notice.
Yes, I can’t deny that there are some real jerks out there who say nasty things about other people’s bodies. But those jerks only exist because someone else has said really nasty things about their bodies.
How this experience changed me…
It’s hard to describe how this has made me more comfortable with my body so I’ll try my best with some habits that I developed following this experience:
- I happily only wear bras that are comfortable. Honestly, I’ve basically only worn sports bras for the past year.
- I’ve grown very happy with the look of my “flat chest”
- Not that I do it often, but taking my shirt off is an easy thing. At the gym, in front of friends, whenever it’s appropriate, it’s easy.
- Intimacy with guys is so much easier too. Yeah, I get nervous, but I’m never thinking “they won’t like me once I take off my bra” anymore.
- If any guy does make a comment about my lower lady bits, we can go in a delightful discussion about the female anatomy. (Maybe I call them out for their limited sex life if they’re mean. :] ).
- I comfortably wear spandex shorts at the gym. Not only do I not care who sees my cellulite, but I totally forgot I had any until writing this post.
- I’m not so judgemental about other women’s bodies. When you’re comfortable with what your mama gave you, why would you care about what another mama gave her baby?
- I’m generally content with my body. That simple.
Loving your body isn’t an easy thing.
It’s a long process that takes a very long time. In all honesty, it wasn’t until about year or two after this experience that I truly loved my body.
But this experience was part of that process.
My life radically changed after this event not because I suddenly loved my body, but because I learned to accept it. I realized that despite my insecurities, there was nothing truly bad about my body to begin with.
There was nothing to constantly be worrying about or constantly try to fix.
Although it looked different, it was just as normal as every other girls body.
I started looking in the mirror differently, talking about my body differently.
I started to become more comfortable with the space my body took it.
There was no longer a voice inside my head, telling myself what I had to fix. There was just me, enjoying my life inside my perfectly normal body.