Hold Your Tongue











I’ve always known myself to be a patchwork of spindly arms and legs, a little thicker in the center, a little fuller in the cheeks. My appearance see-sawed from plump to almost sickly throughout high school, scrutinized nonetheless; kids are, were, so uninhibited, so cruel, always heaping together like frightened mice then breaking apart, only then with a few less pieces of themselves. Undaunted bumper cars they are, always coming back together again. Adolescence is frightening that way; either we befriend those who whisper about us in the locker room or we spend lunch with the only other kid who decided to trade loyalty for self-respecting loneliness. No one realizes at the time that he is the only genius in the room – he’s already glimpsed the future, where high school is just another burning bridge.

After mucking through four years of rolling emotions and even a bit of education, I was working my first job behind the cash register of a small store with bad lighting; the green rug was always covered in lint and everything cost a dollar. Each time I walked through the door the slightly stinging scent of powdered dish detergent met my nostrils and it was like plunging straight down to the gates of Hell, only instead of the Devil himself I was always met by half-deflated Mylar balloons and an old gumball machine.

One hot afternoon I was glued to my usual spot, twisting the ribbon attached to a nearby balloon, when a woman with a short haircut and an unlit cigarette hanging from her lips approached the counter. She mumbled something I couldn’t make out, but her voice was deep and grainy. I don’t remember her buying anything, I only remember thinking she was on drugs, and the hazy way she laughed after asking if I was pregnant. After that, I can only assume she stumbled out of the store while I hid my face and tried to swallow the bowling ball that was forming in my throat.

Before that, my broken body image had always floated cautiously at the forefront of my young brain – the usual watering hole for self-consciousness in most girls (and boys) – but after that day I realized it must have been lurking in the shadows, begging for that perfect lapse in my own awareness where it could make its move and upgrade to the penthouse that is my here and now. That shattered reflection is now an invisible yet so perfectly noticeable extension of me, like a missing limb; I’ve learned to function again, but the damage is permanent.

I talk to myself sometimes, forever the struggling mentor. More, similar experiences piled up after that one – each putting another notch in my psyche’s bedpost. At times I shrink so far into my dark wallowing that I need hands that aren’t my own to lift me out, and then the cycle can begin again.

If there’s two things I’ve learned, it’s that every human experience, no matter how miniscule, is shrouded in possibility; and that words aren’t just noise we send out into the world – instead they are the foundation upon which we see ourselves, how we see others.

So please, hold your tongue. Because somewhere, just now, a young girl’s world has gone dark.

* * *

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Filed under Uncategorized, Writing

26 responses to “Hold Your Tongue

  1. Well said!
    (Though I’d add say something not-hurtful or better at the end.)

    • Thanks, Guap!

      Yes, you’re right maybe that would have been nice. But unfortunately when talking about this experience my mind stays in that dark place – it’s hard for me to remember to say “hey, but it’ll be alright!” when for me, I’m still scarred.

  2. We are all sensitive (secretly or not) about different parts of our Selves. Those who don’t share that particular insecurity don’t realize how painful lifting an emotional scab, still raw underneath, can be.

    I’m so sorry it’s still affecting you so deeply. The Golden Rule absolutely applies!

  3. I’ve also been asked if I was pregnant. And then not even asked but assumed and entered into a conversation in which they commiserated with me. I was smaller than I am now. It rocked my self image.

    • Jessica,

      I am so sorry you experienced this too. It really is traumatizing. I work out like crazy, try to watch what I eat, and sometimes I stop and say to myself, “what for?”, then I get equally angry at myself for thinking such things because of the ignorance of others. Either way, I just can’t help myself.

      I’ve also been called “tiny” by others, which just confuses me more. Which is it? Of course, my mind can’t get away from the “you’re fat and disgusting” aspect. Horrid.

      • It’s such a mix of society and other people and then ourselves. Who is the real enemy? Sometimes all three. How do we fight back though? Especially against ourselves.

  4. I had a similar thing happen to me when I was 12. I didn’t even know how you got pregnant at that point in my life. It really put a hurting on my mental health for the course of my adolescence. Great piece!

  5. I understand this completely. No matter how nice things someone says, it is very easy to cling to the hurtful words.
    The way you wrote this was amazing. Beautiful, heart-breaking details.

  6. You’re amazing. I loved this and the way you eloquently wrote it. From the way you described the lunch table choice all the way to the bedpost of our psyches. I’ve been there. I’m still there. Buried deep within self-loathing. And I loved this.

  7. “Every human experience, no matter how minuscule, is shrouded in possibility. . . Words aren’t just noise we send out into the world – instead they are the foundation upon which we see ourselves, how we see others.”

    Powerful stuff. Nicely written. I enjoyed this, and I could relate to it on a deep level. Thanks. Karen

  8. I will never understand why people think it’s okay to ask someone if they’re pregnant. The answer is either going to be “no” in which case you’ve potentially screwed with someone’s body image or “yes” in which case you’ve asked an already cranky pregnant woman if she’s pregnant for the 42890528520 time that day. Just say “nice sweater” or something and be done with it.

  9. Natalie DeYoung

    Lesson number one I learned in life: never, EVER assume a woman is pregnant. Ever.

  10. Lili

    People asked me this when I was overweight. Luckily it didn’t destroy my self-image, because I knew that despite being chubby, I was also beautiful. Sure I wanted to lose weight but I didn’t want it more when people asked me if there was a fetus in my uterus. I mean, I already knew I had some fat I needed to lose so people’s assumptions that I was pregnant really didn’t bring me anything new. And anyway I didn’t (still don’t) live to please their ideas of what’s beautiful but rather my own. Therefore I didn’t body panic when people make rude assumptions, not even when they straight-forwardly insulted me. But for those more sensitive than me a pregnancy question can be a huge trigger for body panic or ongoing eating disorders. So I absolutely think people should watch their tongue.

    And honestly: most of the time, it isn’t even their business. I guess they’re curious and just DYING to know the answer to their question, but they don’t have the right to know every little thing about someone else. And if they’re close to the woman, they’ll probably be informed of any pregnancy whenever the woman sees fit. They WILL have their answer, in time. No need to drag it out of her. And if she’s not pregnant, she’ll probably just feel offended or annoyed. Because not only is this question very snoopy- it’s also the same thing as saying she’s fat, and even if she would agree that she is, there’s really no need to remind her. And if she isn’t aware of her excessive body fat and the person’s seriously worried for her health, there are better ways to make her aware of it than playing the “are you pregnant?” card. But I guess some people just wish to discreetly insult a person they think of as chubby or fat. Most people, though, are just dumb enough to believe that there’s no other way for a woman to be thicker around her middle than her expectance of a baby. Along with the idea that it’s every woman’s deepest and most sincere wish to breed kids asap.

    • Lili,

      All good points. I am envious of your self confidence; while I know (at least NOW) I do not look pregnant, it’s hard for me to forget those words. Some people are so very ignorant.

  11. A courageous and generous offering, thank you.

  12. Well said.

    I’ve never understood people who voice a pregnancy assumption. I mean, even ignoring the feelings of the would-be expectant mother involved, do they not realize that they potentially setting themselves up for a horribly uncomfortable situation if they happen to be wrong?

    Everybody’s got issues. It seems like a good idea not to add to them…

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