When I was 12, I owned a hot pink bikini bathing suit. We lived in the middle of nowhere, so it isn’t like anyone my own age ever saw me in it. But I happily pranced around the yard playing with my younger siblings and thinking I was just oh-so-hot in my itsy bitsy bikini. Body shame had not yet become an issue for me.
In Junior High School we wore uniforms for gym class. Ugly uniforms. One piece rompers that consisted of a Kelly green short attached to a green and white striped top which zipped up the back. There was no way to get in and out of the uniform except to strip to your undergarments. At a time when it seemed the majority of my classmates were becoming young women, I still had the body of a little girl. Flat as a board. Not something you want to broadcast to your classmates. My Mom made me call Sears Catalog myself to order my first bras. A GUY answered. Imagine being 13 and telling a strange guy that you would like to order size 32 AAA bras. The horror! I wished that I would grow bewbs. But at least I didn’t have to strip naked in front of all my blossoming classmates.
In 11th grade, a boy I was secretly crushing on called me “albino”. I was devastated. I wished my beautiful blonde hair would get darker and that my eyelashes and eyebrows would be dark instead of blonde. My Mom used to tell me “go put on some makeup… you look like death warmed over.” I know she meant well. I know she just wanted to help me fit in to a world where you are judged by your outside appearance. Instead I grew to hate makeup. And the double standard. Because she told my younger sister “go wash some of that crap off your face.” And I’m sure the comment included something about looking like a hooker.
When I graduated high school I had grown to a whopping 5’4” and weighed 121. I still hadn’t grown bewbs. I also had no defined waist or hips. In fact, I wore boys Lee jeans from the Army/Navy store because that is what fit best. I thought I was fat. My first year at college, the “freshman 10” actually turned out to be the “freshman 20”. I spent the rest of the time I was in college and law school hovering in the 140’s. I was sure I was fat. Right before my wedding, I spent two weeks eating appetite suppressants and starving myself. I walked down the aisle at a petite 132, still believing I was fat. Those handsome men are both my stepdads walking me down the aisle.
I’ve always loved to dance. I’ve secretly wished I could be like Baby in Dirty Dancing or Coco in Fame. I don’t have that kind of talent, but I did take jazz dance classes during high school, college, and law school. At dance studios, I was always the oldest student in the class, even though I never looked it. I even danced in a few recitals. And I thought I was fat.
Then I had children. I gained 28 pounds with each pregnancy. And over time, some of that weight stayed with me. My body is now a road map of my life. There are the stretch marks – deep and wide as small rivers – from being pregnant with twins. And the very large scar from my C-section which has become the spot that my belly fat squishes over. Would I trade in my girls for a flat belly without stretch marks? No, I wouldn’t. I wear those stretch marks like a soldier wears tattoos – a badge of courage and endurance, a symbol of motherhood. I earned those stretch marks. There are smaller scars from when I had my gallbladder removed 6 weeks after the twins were born. There is the black mark on my left knee from when I fell off my bike into the gravel at age 13. You would think that 35 years of skin regeneration would have erased that one, but I guess the gravel got imbedded much too deeply. It is firmly a part of me.
I have deep “frown” lines between my eyebrows – not from frowning, from squinting in the sun (another side effect of being so fair). And did you know that squinting looks just like frowning in photos? (see picture 1 above). I also have small crows feet from smiling and deep parentheses on the sides of my mouth. My skin is becoming mottled with age marks.
My hair is darker but still natural blonde – a color many women pay good money to copy. And I’ve learned to love it. My eyebrows and eyelashes are still blonde too. I would change that if I could as having blonde eyelashes means you look like you don’t have eyelashes at all – unless you wear mascara. So I do. When I have to.
I still haven’t grown sizeable bewbs. At forty, I started going for my annual bewb-squishing appointment and wondered if it would hurt less if I had more to offer up on the sacrificial plates of torture. The technicians assure me that size doesn’t matter. Hmmm? Seriously, that procedure can’t be good for what little mammary tissue I do possess!
I still lack a well defined waist/hip female curviness to my figure, largely because I carry too much of my weight around my middle. I can now look back at the photos of my younger self and realize I wasn’t fat then but I am decidedly overweight now. I know this about myself and I am struggling to correct it.
Another thing I finally know about myself – I am NOT my appearance. And I cannot be defined by the outer package that carries me through this life on earth. I have spent far too many years allowing the media and the fashion industry to dictate what I should look like and who I should be. I will never look like a leggy size 1 model who weighs 90 lbs soaking wet. In fact, at size 14, I am just slightly over the average size of most American women. Did you know that the fashion industry considers a size 10 a “plus” size model? OMG! How unrealistic is that?
So yes, I am finally learning to love myself, as I am. In this package that is imperfectly perfect and uniquely me.