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Charla Huber: Revisiting childhood shame as an adult a reminder of the power of words

Seeing an old photo of me and my siblings brought back memories of an unbearably embarrassing moment caused by an adult family member’s constant comments about my weight
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Charla Huber age 10, right, on summer vacation with her two siblings in 1992. VIA CHARLA HUBER

It’s interesting how our childhood memories can shape the people we become as adults.

Recently, I was sent a box of photos and mementos from my family. As I looked through the photos and ­memorabilia of my life, I was reminded of good times. Some made me happy and others sad.

I left home at an early age and for more than 20 years, I have only had a handful of photos from my childhood.

As I flipped through the photos, there was one that stood out. I was with two of my siblings, one in a stroller.

I look happy in the photo, but I ­remember the day it was taken.

I was 10 years old. At that time in my life, an adult family member was ­constantly commenting on my body and particularly my weight.

I was told regularly that my stomach was so large that I looked like I was ­pregnant.

That comment hit me hard and I started to worry that when people saw me, they would think I was a teen mom. I was only 10.

I am adopted and the result of teen pregnancy. There shouldn’t be any shame in this for any party involved.

The photo was taken in Utah, where I was visiting my dad and his family.

At some point in the day, I was asked to push my little sister in the stroller. I remember how deeply I didn’t want to push the stroller. I was mortified that people would think she was my baby.

I did push the stroller, embarrassed the whole time, and I looked at everyone we passed, worried they were passing judgment on me and my perceived baby.

As an adult, I know that this is so far-fetched that it sounds ridiculous. I didn’t share my worries with my dad or his wife at the time. I just internalized them. It was an unbearably embarrassing moment.

When I look at the photo now, I know that no one would have thought she was my baby, or thought that I might be ­pregnant.

It’s a demonstration of the power of words and the influence that adults can have on children.

I know that in the past 30 years, society has made strides in becoming more ­inclusive and understanding of those who are different from us. If I was a child now, I don’t think the adult would have made those comments to me.

This week, I took my daughter to the Lizzo concert in Vancouver, and it was a great show, sharing the message of body positivity, self-appreciation and confidence.

Lizzo is a singer, dancer, flutist and plus-size woman who is unapologetic about her body. I’ll admit that watching a large woman in small, tight outfits ­dancing to a packed arena of adoring fans made me feel better about myself.

I wish there was someone like Lizzo who could have influenced me when I was young.

I know that often body positivity can be perceived as embracing an unhealthy lifestyle. I think it’s important to be healthy, and I know that I can do better and make better choices.

We can’t shame people into making better choices, though. Body positivity can help people build the confidence to embrace themselves, value themselves and know that they are worth more than they think.

This wasn’t an easy story to share, and even now it feels like an embarrassing past.

As I explore this memory, I can still feel the deep shame and lack of worth that I felt at 10.

We all make mistakes, and I don’t harbour resentment against the adult. I do hope that sharing this can serve as a reminder of how children receive our words, whether we mean them or not.

Charlahuber@outlook.com

>>> To comment on this article, write a letter to the editor: letters@timescolonist.com

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