My biggest insecurity and the one thing I am most embarrassed about isn’t my weight or my figure, it is the 45 degree curve in my upper spine. You probably would have never noticed it if I didn’t tell you because to you, I probably look normal. But to me, it is all I see when I look in the mirror or at pictures of myself. I feel deformed.
I was diagnosed with scoliosis when I was 12 years old. I had no idea what it was or how it would affect me. I will never forget the day when the school nurse bent me over, took a protractor to my spine and then made a weird face as she started scribbling down who knows what.
“Here’s the thing Sweetie, your spine has an 8 degree curve in it.”
I didn’t really understand what that meant. My parents took me to get x-rayed and sure enough, there it was. My 7th grade spine had a slight curve to it. I didn’t even know spines could do that. I was set up with a physical therapist immediately and was given a regimen of nightly exercises that I did for about 5 years. My back didn’t hurt and nothing looked strange. I was told that if I kept up with some light stretching, it would not progress and I could live a normal active life.
As I got older, my right scapula began to wing out. In baggy clothing, you couldn’t tell, but in a bathing suit, forget it. I had to avoid wearing certain style suits that would highlight how prominent my right shoulder was becoming. Trying to hide my stupid hunch back was becoming more of a problem, especially since I spent every weekend at the beach.
I would keep my hair down at all times, unless I was playing a game of beach volleyball, then I would be in a t-shirt so no one could see just how ugly I looked from behind. It was the one thing I was so embarrassed about. None of my friends had this problem. No one else had to go home and stretch for fifteen minutes before dinner or modify their workouts.
I hated being different and looking different. Prom dress shopping was a nightmare. Trying on dress after dress and looking at my mom for approval as she shook her head because she could see just how bad my shoulder looked in it. My boobs were different sizes because one half of my body was overdeveloped and compensating for the other just trying to keep me upright. So bra shopping became super fun too.
In high school, my back didn’t cause me any pain, it was just an annoyance, if anything. You might think I am vain and superficial for even mentioning these things, but I was insecure about a flaw, just like every other girl growing up. I was able to manage the progression of the curve… or so I thought. Fast forward to my freshman year of college. That is when it all went to hell.
I played volleyball at UCLA and a month into my first season, my left leg started going numb. One specific play or move didn’t trigger this. The athletic trainer did not know what it was and she just attributed my pain to tight hips. I spent weeks rolling my hips out on a stupid softball and doing breathing exercises that got me absolutely nowhere.
Finally, I got an x-ray. That day it was revealed that I in fact had a 41 degree curve in my upper spine. I missed the rest of that season and had to drastically modify my workouts. I wasn’t allowed to run sprints, run stairs or do any olympic lifting. Basically, I wasn’t cleared to workout with my team. I felt completely isolated. Anyone who has ever had an injury and missed team workouts knows the feeling. But this wasn’t an injury. This was the way I was built.
I was able to continue playing pain free after I stopped lifting. I ended up transferring schools for unrelated reasons. The University of Wisconsin was where my volleyball career officially came to an end the day I decided to run sprints for a team punishment.
I was in a new program, on a new team, trying to prove myself. I knew damn well that I couldn’t run a sprint. We were a few weeks into preseason and my team had lost a game in practice and as a punishment we had to run suicides. Instead of speaking up and telling my coach that I physically couldn’t run, I stuck it out for fear of looking weak to my teammates. That night, my right arm went numb and stayed numb for about two months.
From that day forward, I could barely make it through a practice without a rib popping out or getting numbness in my hands. I spent my time during team lifts doing pool exercises with zero impact and was only allowed to play for about thirty minutes every other practice. Volleyball was my passion and my life. When the curve in my spine ended it for me, I was heartbroken.
I am a year and a half removed from the sport and living a healthy and active life. I go to physical therapy once a week to keep everything in place, practice yoga to keep strong but I am still insecure about the way my back looks.
My dad told me when I was 12 years old that this is what is going to make me, me. I have to continue to remind myself of that. I can thank my twisted spine for giving me a different perspective on life. The things that we are embarrassed of, or make us feel different, are what make us all so uniquely special. I am trying every day to rock what I got and love my flawed and imperfect body for what it is. I am making a conscious effort to be grateful for my body and the amazing things it allows me to do every day. Sometimes we all just need a reminder to find beauty in our imperfections and gratitude for all we have.
(Designer and Founder)