By Cassandra Umbriaco / Photo by @AuroraLady via Instagram
I experienced something recently and knew almost immediately that I would blog about it. Although I relate the story to cancer, I know it’s something that many women will relate to and deal with on a regular basis.
I had a dress taken in and went to pick it up. I was a little bit uncomfortable having to come out to the long mirror to see the dress because there were people around, but I was so excited to see the finished product that I skipped out to have a look. I was in love with the dress and felt beautiful.
Not long after I came out, a woman who works there entered the room. I’ve seen her around, but don’t know her name and assume she doesn’t know mine. She crossed the entire length of the room and came to stand directly in front of me – in my personal space. I mention these details because I think they’re important to keep in mind when I explain what came next.
She proceeded to tell me the dress looked amazing and I thanked her. I don’t like being scrutinized by strangers, even if it’s a compliment. But I thought, Cassandra, she’s being kind just go with it. Then she started staring at my chest. The dress has a strapless, semi-deep V-neckline, which I LOVE. She put her hand out and motioned towards my chest and I knew she was going to make a comment. Sure enough, she started – “You need a bra. If not a bra, those things that you can stick into the sides. You aren’t wearing it like that, are you? More cleavage, that’s what you need. Push your breasts together. Yes, yes they need to be more together.”
As she continued and pointed and offered suggestions on what she believed would improve my appearance, anger quickly sparked and grew inside me. In those brief moments, I debated not saying anything – I don’t need to explain myself to anyone and I hate confrontation. But I couldn’t resist the opportunity to share the truth of my situation, both to end the conversation and put her in her place. Before I knew it, my expression turned ice cold and the words flew out of my mouth.
I looked at her and said – “Actually, I had breast cancer. My breasts aren’t like your breasts. They don’t do that. They don’t move. So no. And I’m very happy with how they look.”
I’m sure the expression on my face drove home the message – you’re way out of line and need to back off. Her face dropped, she went pale and immediately apologized. I didn’t accept the apology and let it hang there in the awkward silence that followed.
Which leads me to…
When did people begin to think that it’s acceptable to offer opinions on the appearance of others? Or has this always been the way (of rude people)?
This person crossed a room to inform a total stranger of what she thought she could do to change (i.e. improve) her appearance in order to look more appealing. ACCORDING TO WHO? Who sets the standards for beauty?! Are you kidding me?! Of course I ask opinions of my friends and family – I love their input. What I don’t welcome is the unsolicited, critical opinion of a stranger.
Relating this to a non-cancer example – even if I didn’t have breast implants, that comment is STILL rude, unwelcome and unnecessary. And I’m sure as you read this, personal examples are popping up in your mind. Someone commenting on your hair colour or style, your clothing, your makeup. Unsolicited. Unasked. Critical. Thankfully, her comment didn’t impact how I felt in the dress – I still felt gorgeous. But I know that sometimes a comment hits the right (or wrong) nerve and sends someone into a negative, introspective spiral.
An acquaintance recently asked me when my boyfriend and I were going to have children. This angered me on several levels – why are you asking about my personal life? Why are you assuming I (we) want children? Why are you assuming I can have children? When I mentioned this conversation to my boyfriend, he made a fantastic point – whether I can have children or not, it was still a rude, intrusive, premature question. And he’s absolutely right! Even if I COULD have kids, why are you asking me something so personal? Why do you think it’s okay?!
I’m a big believer that if you see something beautiful in someone, you should say it. If you feel compelled to do so, leave it at that – a simple, sincere, positive statement. In my case, the woman should have stopped after saying that the dress looked great.
I wrote this blog to share my experience and spread (hopefully not create) awareness on how all of us express our thoughts and opinions – especially when it comes to the appearance or choices of others. We never know how our comments impact someone. We’re all different and we’re all beautiful. Enough of pushing beauty and supposed societal standards onto others. Enough.
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Cassandra Umbriaco is a guest blogger for Rethink Breast Cancer. Since being diagnosed with stage two breast cancer at 28 years old, she combines her love of writing with a passion to help women affected by cancer. Check out her blog at cancerunder30.wordpress.com
Cassandra loves travelling as much as she can, dresses that twirl, anything Disney and her little red Fiat – Luna.