pudeur n. a sense of shame or embarrassment, especially with regard to matters of a sexual or personal nature
The Oxford also mentions the synonym of modesty for this word, but I am have never thought as modesty as being shameful or embarrassed. However, now that I think about it, I suppose it does.
Modesty or pudeur is a rare commodity these days. Growing up in Catholic school, modesty was something that was imposed. Having to wear a uniform everyday and not being allowed to differentiate yourself imposed a certain need to find other ways of standing out, such as being smart or artistic. Girls were still nasty and formed cliques, but at least in the classroom, a smart or creative girl could feel good about herself. When my beloved little private school closed, I was forced to go to public school…and such modesty as I had learned did not go over well.
I was a victim of some very harsh bullying. I was a chubby 12 year old girl who didn’t wear makeup and wore unfashionable clothes that my parents bought me from Bradlees. One particular girl – who wasn’t even popular or pretty (I was so low on the totem that the popular girls didn’t even acknowledge me) dubbed me “meatballs” and I had the extreme pleasure of being called that everyday of my life at school…until I smashed her in the face with my school books. My parents told me that if I was going to survive, I needed to toughen up and give up my shy, modest and good girl ways. At that point I pushed aside my love of drawing, reading and writing so I could fully focus on improving myself in ways that the world wouldn’t cast off.
The summer after my first year in public school, I exercised everyday and nearly starved myself. I walked up and down the stairs in my house listening to Paula Abdul sing “Forever Your Girl” over and over again. By the time it was Fall and the beginning of the school year, I was thin. I forced my parents to take me to get clothes that weren’t embarrassing and when I started school on the first day the sounds of praise and compliments gave me a sense of satisfaction that I still rarely achieve to this day. I wasn’t popular, but I fit in. And it felt damn good. So good that I had a pretty great 4 years of high school.
After my high school graduation, my father was diagnosed with a rare brain tumor that would eventually take his life in 2 short years. I had hinged everything in my little world on college so when he was diagnosed on the day I was supposed to leave for my freshman year, it all fell apart for me. I worked in a factory for 6 months and ate my way through the pain until I was once again a chubby, badly dressed introvert. When I finally got to college I found myself in the same place I had been on my first year in public school…so the process began again (without the Paula Abdul music).
Over the course of my life this scenario has played itself out time and time again. I am 33 now and I find myself back in the throws of trying to lose the weight so I can fit into the right clothes so I can find the right job…all to get back to that blissful feeling of acceptance. I continually push down my modesty, my creativity and my overall awkwardness in order to attain what I have come to recognize as happiness, when that is not what it is at all.
Happiness is something that comes from within. When I listen to my son laugh, I feel it for a moment and it’s blissful. Perhaps happiness is something that I have no right to feel everyday, every minute, every hour. For me, I think it is something rare and treasured, similar to love but more fragile…in my opinion.
I want contentment. A steady lack of worrisome thoughts and faith in who I am as a person. I want the courage to face the world as I am without sacrificing anything. I want to know the strength to be called “meatballs”, to smash that girl in the face once again – but this time, to go right on living without changing a damn thing.