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Those of us who did not grow up with strong and supportive parents are at an extreme disadvantage.
As children, and often throughout our lives, we look to our parents to define us, to provide clues, and to validate what we are or are not. After all, they claim to know us best and we take their word for it.
They show us the world and ourselves, with words that percolate through their distorted and dark lenses. They see our faults, our challenges, and our struggles as specific to us and tell us we are flawed, problematic, and “less than.”
This post is about another type of validation though, and just the validation that I, as a young woman, needed. Of course I didn’t know it at the time, but have reflected back on it over the years and am so grateful for the experience.
It was back in the early 70s, when I was in junior high school. As it happened, our junior high had an Olympic-sized swimming pool. We also had a no-nonsense, no BS, tough Physical Ed teacher named Mrs. Crawford.
Now Mrs. Crawford was about 60 at that time, and very much her own woman. She played by the book, but also by her own rules, which many women didn’t do back then. So when Mrs. Crawford was out for an extended absence in the spring of my first year, I didn’t think much of it. That said, when she returned in September for the next school year, all hell broke loose.
You see, Mrs. Crawford had a mastectomy due to cancer, and her entire right breast had been surgically removed.
The uproar came when Mrs. Crawford wore her skin-tight Speedo bathing suit anyway, and didn’t think twice that she was clearly missing a breast.
Many parents, including my own mother, were disgusted by this. How dare she take the chance of upsetting students or parents since she wasn’t “perfect”? Shouldn’t she make sure that everyone was comfortable with how she looked?
I remember being confused; and despite what my mother said and how she shamed her at our dinner table, I couldn’t help but wonder why in heaven’s name it was up to Mrs. Crawford to make other people comfortable with how she looked. Wasn’t it most important that she was cancer free and happy and healthy? Who cared if she had one, two, or no breasts? She wore her Speedo with pride and with joy, as the treatment had been a success and she would live to a ripe old age.
For a 12-year-old girl, it was a major help to me to learn that my mother’s perspective wasn’t the only one. That there were other beliefs out there and, as individuals, we get to decide which one we want to adopt.
Realizing that I get to choose how to feel about myself and what I value made a major impact on my sense of self. I could believe what I wanted—not necessarily what I was told.
So although she is long gone and I am her age now, this former young girl wants to say a big thank to Mrs. Crawford from the bottom of my heart. You made a big difference to me and I am forever grateful.