Monday, 8 August 2011

Inadequacies and embarrassments

Inadequacies and embarrassment are tricky subjects.

When I was a child I was accustomed to going to confession, and to confessing my sins. We had to examine our consciences against a seemingly inexhaustible array of failings and, worse, actual evils.

These days it is easy to realise that many of the things considered to be sinful were nothing of the kind. Failings, perhaps, but generally they fell within the range of normal childhood development and understanding. Children scream and yell when thwarted, feel anger towards others, and are very bad at controlling their urges. They want to be liked, loved and praised. They hate being humiliated. At least, I did. They like to do well, to be good at things. When they do something parents consider to be wrong, children do not want to be found out, let alone punished. To be discovered, or uncovered, is like having scabs ripped off sores. Sometimes, to avoid worse exposure, one rips scabs off oneself.

I don't remember my parents dishing out much praise to me, or indeed to any of us. There is no one alive who can tell us how things were in any objective sense, so all I have to go on is childish memories, highly selective ones at that. We were good if we helped our mother, and the older ones, that is my older sister and myself, were expected to do so, and the younger ones, even when they grew older, were not expected to do nearly as much. If you were helpful, that conferred a sense of virtue, although indeed, being helpful was compulsory rather than optional. One strove to be good. Examination of conscience served to reveal defects of character and actions.

My physical appearance was never anything to write home about. Mousy hair, freckles, fair skin, and frequent sunburn. Round shoulders. Bad eyesight. A plain and ordinary appearance. As for developing to be sexually attractive, that was pretty well off the agenda. Attractive girls had darker colouring. Fair skin was mocked. People remarked how greatly I resembled my father and my paternal aunt. Neither was notable for good looks, and my aunt, a truly kind and lovely person, had an aquiline nose, which my family expected me to develop. (Miraculously, I did not.) 

I was regarded as a clever child, and that was a source of praise, although it could hardly have been considered to be a virtue. So I suppose it is not surprising that I absolutely cringe if I make a mistake and am found to be wrong. If I mispronounce a word, it hurts excruciatingly. This does not stop me, mind, from pointing out to my children, as well as to the ambient air, grammatical mistakes, like - well, I had better not get started....But I was never as clever as I wanted to be, nor did I achieve as much as I thought I should have been able to. Eventually one comes to accept reality rather than unfulfilled desires and expectations. Reluctantly, perhaps.

Perhaps we all try to hide our defects, and to appear to the best advantage possible. It works for a reasonable per cent of the time. At this stage of my life, it is clear that I am never going to have a fake tan, breast implants, plastic surgery, or tattoos. I am as I am. The miracles of modern medicine have left their marks and scars on my body. But perhaps the dental treatment will serve both functional and aesthetic purposes. Hope springs eternal in the human breast.

And my children and grandchildren are all beautiful.


Anna said...

We all have our childhood hang-ups, don't we? It's remarkable how long they can last us.

I tried to comment on your previous post as well, but gave up in frustration. I wanted to say: I think admitting when you're scared can take more courage than pretending to be brave.

persiflage said...

Thanks, Anna. Scared is no fun, but must be borne.
I tried commenting to you but could not get it to work. I flung up all my arms and legs and gave up!

persiflage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Image Is Everything said...

Well, when I was a little girl, you were the most glamourous and gorgeous woman I knew, and all I wanted was to look just like you. It is pure folly for you to think that you were not gorgeous! You were! I remember coming into the family room when you were dressed to out, and you bestowed one of your dazzling smiles on me, and I just thought 'oh, please let me grow up to be as pretty as my mum'.

Stomper Girl said...

What Bron said. Especially when you had your blonde beehive and wore things like the leopard print all-in-one, which I wish I had to this day.

Pam said...

And I think you're lovely, from the photos you've posted.

One needs teeth. One doesn't need a fake tan.

molly said...

I can commiserate, having also been brought up Catholic! I hated going to Confession! I guess it taught us humility, as though everything else and everyone else wasn't intent on also doing so! The nuns discouraged vanity or anything that smelled remotely like it so that we all emerged from their clutches with a poor self image and a terror of being thought "Too big for our britches!" You still have that dazzling smile!