The Things You Don’t See

See that smiling woman cuddling her kids, you don’t see her anxiety and her battle every day with post-partum depression.

You don’t imagine the insecurity that business woman faces as she addresses a meeting.

You can’t fathom the self-loathing of that young woman who’s fighting bulimia and can’t wait to stick her fingers down her throat.

That homeless man was once a father with a regular job.

You don’t realize that you’re talking with a confident Asian woman who actually wishes she were white.

The car that’s driving slowly or erratically in front of you, annoying you – you’re unaware that a Mom is dealing with a screaming kid.

Your friend who’s always smiling and composed, maybe she’s hiding verbal abuse or an addiction to pain meds?

That kid you think is a bully, you don’t see how shy he really is. Or maybe he’s just hungry?

Maybe that rude individual talking loudly on the phone is dealing with a family emergency?

A distracted, grumpy colleague? She just broke up with her boyfriend.

That person who’s in such a rush to end a conversation with you probably needs to pee really badly.

Your girlfriend who doesn’t want to split the restaurant bill four ways might be worrying about how to make her next credit card payment.

What about the call service rep who sounds disinterested? This could be the only job he could find and he hates it. But it’s a job. A paying job.

 

The fact is, there’s an awful lot we don’t, won’t or can’t see. But we are oh-so-quick to assume and judge. Myself included.

What you don’t see about me is the constant burning and itching on my forehead, the invisible remnants of shingles from a little over a year ago. I’m not complaining. In fact, I even appreciate it. This burning-you-can’t-see is my daily reminder not to assume things about the people I know and the strangers I don’t.

And it’s also a persistent reminder of my duty to teach my kids to also be thoughtful and respectful of all the people they encounter and all the stuff they are dealing with that we can’t see.

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My Zumba Journey

This morning I dragged my lazy derriere out of bed and to my 10am Saturday morning Zumba class. Every week, it’s the same. I really don’t want to go. It takes having a serious conversation with myself to talk (aka guilt) myself into it. Off I go, begrudgingly.

Fast forward 60-minutes or so and I emerge – sweaty, my muscles aching beautifully, invigorated and high on the having shaken my booty to great tunes! After all, I’m my happiest when dancing and that’s what Zumba essentially is.

It’s a mixed blessing that, as part of this, I spend an hour in front of a mirror forced to examine my pudgy, jiggly fleshy bits squeezed into my exercise gear. This mostly unpleasant vision reminds me why this weekly “torture” is required. However, what mitigates my negativity, is that fact that I am surrounded at Zumba my similarly bouncy, middle-aged woman. Ninety-nine percent of the class attendees are, like me, in their 40s, working Moms, trying to squeeze in an hour to themselves, trying to squeeze in some exercise, trying to squeeze into their Lycra. Some of them come to class fully made up, wearing dangly earrings. This confuses me. However,  together, we jiggle, strut, samba, cha-cha, groove and sweat, in a merry, flabby fashion. Sure there’s always at least one super skinny gal there, sporting a dancer’s body and a six-pack. I try not to look.

What I love most about the studio I go to – VavaVoom Fitness –  is it is focused on celebrating women, curves and all. Large posters on the wall display a fleshy Marilyn lifting weights, a seductive Beyonce, gorgeous J Lo performing and Shakira’s incredible body. Not a skinny waif in sight. No ripped muscles. Just images of sexy, confident, resplendent curvy woman. The goal is to motivate us to reclaim our bodaciousness, to celebrate our confidence and womanliness through dance. And given dance is something that inspires and motivates me, this is why I come here. However, putting aside inevitable self-consciousness and allowing yourself to circle your hips, grind a little, wiggle your butt, shimmy your shoulders and dance sexy is not always an easy journey. In fact, one of the male Zumba teachers often complains that his hips move better than ours!  The fact is that, in our day-to-day lives, especially as working Moms, there’s no time or, quite frankly reason, to act and feel sexy. Even long before becoming I mother, drawing attention to body through clothes or shoes was an anathema.

But every Saturday morning, for one hour, I revel in shedding this insecurity and I gloriously strut my stuff, buoyed by the music, the dance and the fact that I’m not alone in this journey.

On Shoe Envy and Insecurity

If you know me, then insecure is not the first adjective that comes to mind.

But like almost every human being, I naturally have some insecurities. I have a horror of being over-dressed. Strange though it may sound, nothing makes me want to shrink up and die more than being out of place because I am too dressed-up or decked out.

And like many people, to counter my insecurity, I take it too far in the opposite direction and prefer the security of being casually dressed. Unlike my mother who is always impeccably put together.

Consequently, I rarely wear skirts or dresses because, to me, they give the impression that you are trying to make an impression even if it’s just to go the store, or out for a meal, or to the office. (And I wonder why my daughter has an aversion to skirts and dresses … hmmm … Go figure.)

So what does his have to do with shoes, you say?

I love shoes. I obsess about shoes. I have a Pinterest board littered with exquisite examples of them. I used to spend hours as a teenager designing imaginary shoes, my school books filled with doodles.

I also detest breaking in new shoes. Blisters are one of shoes’ many way of punishing us. When I do wear any shoe with a heel more than one inch, I quickly me realize I‘m not as young as I used to be, as I always wake up the next day with my hips feeling like they are back to front, my knees tender and my back shrieking.

And yet I look around me, especially at the feet of my colleagues at work who effortlessly and beautifully sport gorgeous, stylish and dramatic heels, day in day out, with grace and style and confidence. Without grimace or clumsiness – or appearing overdressed. Or complaining of achey backs and joints.

I want to be able to do that. But I’m scared of looking like I’m trying too hard, looking like a phony or a mutton in sheep’s clothing. At the core, I’m scared of drawing unwanted attention to myself. Heaven forbid I should look womanly, a by-product of arching your feet, extending your calf muscles and having to walk with an exaggerated sway, like Joan from Mad Men.

I know this is ridiculous. So I am taking baby steps to remedy my insecurity. A large part of this is my road back to finding the woman that’s been buried under the messy morass of motherhood. She’s in their somewhere but most of the time does not have the time or energy to make an effort. Looking presentable is accommodated through safe, colorful, always comfortable clothes, plus lots of lovely jewelry and a smile. But this Mom has started taking measures to reclaim herself, including reinstating the pre-party before an evening out, ensuring she is not harried and can linger over her choice of clothes and preparations.

Last week, I took my therapy one step further. Having waiting several months, scoured though many web pages, catalogs and pins, I finally splurged on new shoes. I didn’t go all-out Jimmy Choo (the dollars don’t stretch that far!) and I didn’t select anything ridiculous or, heaven forbid, impractical. I played it safe and, don’t laugh at me, shopped at Clark’s, seeking assurance that my feet and posture were in the trusted hand of a sensible brand.

I love the shoes I bought, Even the sales assistant remarked they were the only ones that didn’t look like Clark’s. I wore them out to dinner that evening, with jeans, of course (just in case anyone was looking.)

On Monday, it came time to get dressed for a day-long business trip. Here goes, thought I. I selected a dress – a safe, black, comfortable one, already tested once for its non-attention drawing values. I strapped on the heels, walked gingerly like a new-born deer to the mirror. A leggy trollope looked back at me. You fake, she sneered. Do you think you are still 20? What are you trying to prove? My stomach lurched. Off came the heels, replaced swiftly with some safe shoes.

I kicked myself all day for not having the balls to do it.

The following two days, I made up my mind to give it another shot. Day 2, I wore the heels but under the cover of pants, a safer combination. Day 3, I took a deep breath and wore a skirt and heels.

I felt very self-conscious. And tall. I also felt powerful, confident, and dare I say, womanly.

But the funny thing was, I don’t think anyone even noticed. So maybe, just maybe, I actually fitted in more and it’s my casual wardrobe that’s doing me a disservice?

I’m not going to be found sashaying in my new heels every day, that’s for sure. You’ll still find me in my comfy, safe flats/clogs/boots. But I’m determined to strap on my heels and even a dress from time to time, and wear them with my head held high, my tummy sucked in and a subtle sway of my hips.

Maybe someone will notice? Maybe I won’t be terrified of that? After all. What’s wrong with a little attention?

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