the secret fear and loathing of women


This morning I am going to touch a dark and serious topic. Something a lot of women, breast cancer or not, struggle with at some point in their lives or several points in their lives ….if they are honest.

Self-body image.

Ah huh yes, that topic. But I need to talk about it for me. If you don’t want to hear about it, turn away now.

Societally, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves as women to look good. Look at our secret television show habits like the Real Housewives franchises on Bravo, for example . Those women are all pinched, prodded, propped up. With some of them the plastic surgery is very clever, some of them look quite augmented pronounced. But not much is real.

As a breast cancer survivor there are moments more so than others at times that I am conscious of self-body image. After all, I look in the mirror at anything fitted and well….I am lopsided because part of the rack is gone. Cancer ate it.

Then I am upset with myself for having that thought because I am alive. But it happens.

Like many other women approaching 50 who are aging as nature intended I look in the mirror and wonder where I have gone. Yet, I am there, I am just older.

Most of the time I am o.k. with being me. But I woke up today just on the verge of tears. So I decided to deal with it and here we are.

I saw my mother yesterday. I had not seen her since either her surgery or mine. I took care dressing because she’s my mother and she can be critical. She is a woman who has always placed importance on how women look and how they dress.

I was so glad to see her. She is finally doing better and well, I love her. She is my mother. But I wasn’t even there twenty minutes and she zeroed in on how I looked. With special emphasis on my weight. I have to be honest she is obsessed with weight and appearance of women. A woman can be the biggest duplicitous bitch who ever walked the earth, but if she looks good? She’s in.

I grew up with cautionary tales of women who “let themselves go.” I think the first time I went to Weight Watchers I was maybe 14 or 15. She was trying to help, I am not angry for her doing that, but it never addressed the issue. I grew up with a younger sister who has always had a drop dead gorgeous figure. I have spent a lot of my life trying to measure up and feeling the ugly duckling. And I know I am not unattractive. But the little self image poisoning voices get kind of loud at times.

If I am honest I think when I first started to really worry about this was about 7th grade. I was at least a year younger than any of my classmates because I had been put ahead. The drawback of being the smart and young in the class other than being a smart and younger girl is everyone is developing ahead of you. It’s hard.

Growing up on the Main Line of Philadelphia was pressure for a girl. The emphasis always on the right clothes, the right look, the right body type. I went to high school with a lot of awesome girls who also happened to be drop dead beautiful. Tall, blonde, leggy, WASPY, and small waisted. I have a vowel on the end of my name, so when I started to develop I was well…curvy. And dark haired.

As I reached my twenties I caved to the whole “certain” image of it all. I lost so much weight it is hard to recognize myself when I look back at photos. But for a while I was cadaver-thin in a bikini. Those were my sort of “it girl” years. But the irony is the scale said low and the dress sizes were low and I still obsessed with how I looked.

As I hit my thirties and forties I began to really struggle with my weight. A lot of that struggle when I hit thirty five and I was put on progestin to control the bleeding of extremely heavy periods and cysts and fibroids. Every month I was on progestin I gained weight. Every month I was on progestin I had pitty edema in my ankles and feet. I had to worry about blood pressure for the first time in my life.

Me on progestin was not pretty and not emotionally fun. It was hard, no matter what I gave off outwardly.

Of course when I came off the progestin is when I was diagnosed with a hormone positive breast cancer, invasive lobular breast cancer.

Breast cancer has really made me face body issues. At times I am actually better with the feeling attractive of it all, but now almost three years into Tamoxifen post-breast cancer I still fight this. I mean let us get real, the hormones are getting sucked out of my body. My skin is more dry, so is my hair. But on the positive side my blood pressure has gone down and I have not experienced any edema at all since I stopped taking progestin.

And one of the things they don’t talk about with Tamoxifen enough is the fact you get food cravings. I was warned about this from my endocrinologist before I started taking the drug, but never having ever had a child I never experienced food cravings that some women experience during pregnancy.

Do not misunderstand me, I am not going to be one of those women who is going to take themselves off of their breast cancer meds, I will see the five years through. But I have to be honest about where I struggle. And where I struggle in addition to hot flashes and not being able to sleep as well is with the emotional side of this drug and the damn food cravings.

So I feel some days like I have this double whammy of Tamoxifen and just being a woman turning fifty. I am not struggling like it is so awful I can’t get out of bed but I have my moments of fear and loathing for lack of a better description.

But come on, if you are a woman, let’s get real: even without extraneous things there are just days you feel well, not pretty and well forget about sexy. You just feel dull.

Men really don’t understand how big a deal it is and how nice it feels when they tell women they look nice. And the thing I think with that is it is easier to remember who you are when you see yourself reflected in love in the eyes of another.

Circling back to yesterday, what bummed me out is I went out feeling better than I had in over a month. Then all of a sudden I was that young girl again. The one that was always secretly bummed she was never thin enough or fashionable enough in her mother’s eyes (or maybe just her own?). And that hurts and I recognize it.

I am not angry at my mother, I don’t love her any less. It just is, and part of it is a reflection of her generation of women. Hers was the true era of a lot of women were just pretty baubles on their husbands arms no matter what they care to admit (which is often not much). But I need to finally start to reject all of that. I am not talking about burning my bra and giving up fabulous shoes, I am just talking about being finally able to accept myself on my terms.

It is up to us to love ourselves as women as we age. I am turning fifty in a couple of weeks. I am not turning twenty. And the truth is I don’t want to be twenty again. So I have some work to do. But what are we if not an evolution in progress?

So ends my thoughts for the day. This was hard to write about. But you fear the shadows less when you face them, don’t you?

About carla

Writer, blogger, photographer, breast cancer survivor. I write about whatever strikes my fancy as I meander through life.
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11 Responses to the secret fear and loathing of women

  1. Congratulations on recognizing the importance of loving yourself before you turned 50. Now, 71years of age, I didn’t start the process of loving ME until four years ago after surviving a life-threatening illness. The Loving ME years have been my happiest. I no longer stress about the 2008 lumpectomy which left me with a left-sided breast half the size of the right; recurrence of breast cancer; being old; the extra pounds, or “this that and the other.” Facing my own mortality in 2010, heightened my desire to appreciate ME and to embark on a journey in search of happiness, peace, and joy.

  2. This is such an honest post, and one that was probably very hard to publish. Good for you! Body image is a bitch after cancer. I get it. I really get it. Starving my body of estrogen at age 41 has been rough, and some days I feel like I’m 30 years older than I am. My peers are celebrating their bodies, while I’m struggling with mine. I’m so sorry your mom judges you and makes you feel like less of the stellar woman you are. Kudos to you for facing those shadows.

    • the writer says:

      Don’t judge my mother too harshly. It’s a generational thing. I know she loves me. Unfortunately I just feel that the women who were young brides in the late 1950s and early 1960s have a completely different mindset then we do today. And yes it was a hard post. But I think it was good for me to do it. And I know what you mean about sometimes just feeling much older than you are. Having the estrogen sucked out of my body means I reduce my chances for recurrence of cancer. But there are days I feel old and very tired

  3. Thank you for sharing this with your readers. I am in my mid forties and have been having major issues with self-image. I felt like I was all alone. My friends are so beautiful now (even more beautiful than high school) and are posting pics on Facebook with their kids. I cannot post any of myself and hate when someone takes my picture at events and posts them on Facebook. I cringe inside every time I look at a picture of myself. I am working on the weight loss too. I am thankful to be alive, yet dealing with self image is a bear. Your post is about a very important issue that is rarely addressed in breast cancer survivors. Thanks again and God bless.

  4. Pingback: Weekly Round Up | Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer

  5. CSTryon says:

    Thank you for sharing! I am also a breast cancer ‘thriver’ of two and half years. I decided to NOT have reconstructive surgery. I LOVE my new body. I would rather be alive without breasts than dead with them. I prefer to focus on what I have gained and not what I have lost.

    I wrote a blog post a couple of days ago titled: You might be suffering from an Ident-titty crises if… Check it out!

  6. Today, I nominated I Have A Breast Cancer Blog for the Liebster Award. For further information on this award, please connect to:

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