Published on August 24th, 2013 | by Jen Sparks
I can’t remember the last time I looked a man who wasn’t my husband or son full in the face.
Seven years ago, I was accused by close friends of “dressing provocatively” and “coming onto” the husband of the pair.
The accusation was so incredible that my husband, Adam’s, first reaction was to bust out laughing. Which he did.
His second reaction, he told me, was the overwhelming desire to punch out my accuser. Which he did not do.
It was so unexpected that our pastor (who was there with his wife as mediators to the meeting) stared bug-eyed and gape-mouthed. I would have found it hysterical had I not been turning puce from humiliation, rage, and shame.
I could feel my skin burning. My ears pounded. I wanted to throw up. I had horror and indignation and tears and snot I could not control running down my face.
I had never been in this man’s presence alone the entire time I had known him, and not being a complete wanton hussy, I had managed to restrain myself from flirting with him in front of my husband (/sarcasm).
This couple came over frequently to our home, and most of the time I hadn’t brushed my hair or freshened up for my own husband, let alone tarted it up for someone else’s.
The fallout from the bomb they dropped was devastating. Even though I was innocent on all counts, I felt dirty, and I wouldn’t (couldn’t) let Adam touch me. I spent three days unable to change out of the clothes I was wearing that night because it would have meant being naked, and therefore exposed.
Adam rang our pastor, worried. To this day, I cannot remember how they managed to convince me to shower, change, and leave the house.
My body image was never great to begin with; this completely obliterated it. I was deeply wounded, and it took me years to recover.
Sometimes I think I am still in the process of recovering. Forced shame is an insidious thing, with tendrils and tentacles, and I’m forever pulling them out.
I deliberately gained and kept myself 20 kilos (44 lbs) overweight, thinking that would protect me from further accusations. I figured, in a twisted way I’m embarrassed to admit to now, that if I were fat, no one would believe it even if someone did accuse me of impropriety.
But in a further devastating blow, recently a friend who knew the whole story accused me of wearing inappropriate clothes at church. This woman was someone I trusted. She had even prayed with me to help my feelings of self-loathing. She had stood with me in front of a mirror while I ugly cried until I could say “I am beautiful” with conviction.
Even knowing my struggles with my body, this woman chose to shame me further, and I still don’t understand why.
She used her knowledge of my intimate confessions, struggles, and pain in a way that left me cowering in humiliation. The betrayal just about broke me.
I am a large-breasted woman. A K cup on a 30 inch back. A shirt that completely covers many women would not cover me. My cleavage starts not far below my neck.
I triple check every outfit I put on. I shop at an online store based in England that specialises in clothing for large-breasted women. I don’t wear statement necklaces. I opt instead for big earrings to draw the eyes up or fabulous shoes to pull them down. Often both.
I have been horribly self conscious and aware of my boobs since I was 16 years old.
These two attacks emphasized to me again that my body is shameful. The underriding emotion to everything I have experienced with my breasts is shame.
Deep, crushing, devastating shame.
Shame is defined in Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary as a “painful emotion caused by consciousness of guilt, shortcoming, or impropriety.” It also mentions that shame can be “something that brings censure or reproach.”
I felt guilty that I had large boobs. I felt guilty that I apparently hadn’t done enough to make them less noticeable. I felt guilty for being a pretty, curvy female.
I was ashamed I was apparently a stumbling block. I was ashamed that my openness and friendliness was not seen as platonic.
Being me was shameful.
One of the many ramification of all this has been the deterioration of my once easy ability to have a friendship with a man, or even just a conversation, without my husband present in the room.
Now I worry, “What would this look like to others?”
I worry that a man (or his wife) might think I’m flirting if I maintain eye contact for too long. I am terrified that he will think I’m pretty or sexy. I know that sounds vain, but it really isn’t. It’s a horrifying thought, and it makes me feel sick to my stomach with anxiety.
Shame is a boulder that is so heavy it keeps you “in your place.” It can be used as an agent of demoralization.
Because of shame, I began to censor my interactions with people, to keep everyone at arms’ length.
I became reclusive. I stopped searching for close, intimate friends.
In the last 18 months, I have begun to build a healthy body image by working out, eating cleaner, and feeling better within myself. I’ve been able to distance who I am from the realities of my boobs. I don’t own other people’s interpretations of my intentions in the way that I dress and carry myself. I still don’t stand up straight because I feel like I’m putting them all out there, nor am I completely enamoured with my body, but I have made considerable progress.
I have scheduled breast reduction surgery. I know I need it for medical reasons, yet I was very careful to make sure I wasn’t doing it as a knee jerk reaction to my emotions. I realize it won’t fix everything. People will still have their issues, but hey…I’ll have full range of motion.
I still don’t like to call men on the phone (ok…I don’t like to call anyone on the phone, but men even less so). I dislike going around to men’s houses on an errand unless I know their wife is at home. Adam finds this frustrating, but at present I am not sure how to go about fixing this within myself.
There is a healthy sense of shame we feel when we realise we have done something wrong or hurtful. Being ashamed or embarrassed of a wrong behaviour is a right and healthy emotion. It is conviction. It leads to repentance, and, hopefully, to apologies and righted relationships.
But it is not fair to myself to hold on to the shame that other people imposed on me.
I have felt that shame, and I have rejected the cause of it. I know my heart. I know the effort I put into dressing appropriately and into having good relationships. I cannot control the way people respond.
I am still fairly self-conscious, but I am letting go of shame.
To respond to this article and read more about shame and embarrassment—and one of my most humiliating moments—see the associated blog post Our Most Embarrassing Moments.
Image from a photo by Julia Freeman-Woolpert via Stock.Xchng