So, in a rather me-like burst of navel gazing the past few weeks, I remembered some things.
I was 4 when I realized I was fat. My belly was too big to wear a two-piece bathing suit anymore. I remember my two piece fondly. It was a pretty turquoise blue, with a heart sort of stitched on the top, or bottom, or maybe it spelled out I <3 you... something like that, but I loved that suit. No one used the F word. It was handled just like outgrowing any other piece of clothing, but I knew. I knew that I was chubby. It wasn't really a soul-crushing thing, just a fact of life. I was bigger than all my friends. Not everyone gets to wear all the clothes. Maybe that's the real lesson I learned that day. As a point of interest (to probably no one but my mom & I) I remember many of my favorite outfits from that year. A pink & purple OshKosh B'Gosh corduroy jumper (in the American sense of overall-type dress thing, not sweater) and the grey wool skirt & vest with red rick-rack trim that I wore when I graduated Kindergarten.
What? Even at 4, I was still me.
Anyway, I wouldn't wear another two-piece bathing suit for 23 years, and then it was a tankini with no bare midriff...which up until I spell checked this post thought was a mid-drift. Learn something new every day.
When I was 5 or so, I learned to use chopsticks. I remember this clearly, because my Uncle Mike was visiting, which was a super-rad, way cool thing, because he lives in Germany, and at the time, I had lots of aunts, but uncles were in short supply, so visiting uncles from other countries were even cooler and stuff. Anyway, I was so proud of finally figuring out how to use those silly chopsticks that I would show my uncle every single bite. "See Uncle Mike! I did it!" Poor, patient Uncle Mike. He made it most of the way through dinner before explaining to me that I didn't need to show him every bite, he was proud of me, and I could eat my dinner in peace. I think one of the phrases that I heard over and over as a child was "the world does not revolve around you." But I didn't really understand what that meant. I understood the literal meaning--I was not the sun, and Earth didn't spin on it's axis around me. I sort of understood the figurative meaning that I wasn't the center of the universe... but I didn't get it. My world was all about me, so it should have made sense that other people's worlds were all about them, not me...it should have but didn't.
I was 7 when I realized I was ugly. Tony Rsomething from my 2nd & 3rd grade class would tease me, though that seems too nice a word for it. Whenever I got too close to him, which as far as I recall was never on purpose, he would shout, "Get away from me. I'm allergic to flea powder." What's odd to remember is that while I'm sure it hurt, I don't remember being hurt, not really. I remember being upset at not having anything witty to say back. I never even thought to consider that his implication that I was a dog was wrong. So I guess I thought of myself as ugly before then, but that's when I realized it.
I was 10 the first time I lied about my weight. My brother was telling a fishing story, about the one that got away, and I remember he said something to the effect of, "No wonder the line broke. It was only 6lb test and that fish must have been at least 6 lbs." I didn't yet understand physics, and asked him to explain why 6lb line couldn't hold a 6 lb fish. He did so, using me as an example. He asked my weight. I knew that I was more than 100 lbs and I knew that was bad. I knew that was too fat. So I lied. I said 98 lbs, hoping that was close enough to the truth to be believable, but still "acceptable."
What a horrible word.
I was 12 when I realized I was too tall. My brother is tall. My aunt is easily a whole inch taller than me, and the afore-mentioned Uncle Mike was even taller than that, so growing up being tall was neat. It made me special. When we moved up to the northern suburbs of Chicago shortly before my 12th birthday being tall wasn't fun anymore. They say they grow 'em big in Texas, and oddly enough, that's where I grew the most. I was 5'1" tall when we moved to Texas. I was 9. When I reached Grayslake, IL I was 5'9". It was physically impossible to keep me in pants long enough. Years & years later, too late to save me from middle school torment, capris & 3/4 length sleeves would come into fashion. Tall girls everywhere rejoiced! But at 12, tall & still chubby, highwaters were just another reason I didn't fit in. Oh, but I had this fabulously sarcastic t-shirt that said on the back, "No, do you play miniature golf?" Because, as anyone who knows me can tell you, I possess the athletic ability and coordination of your average giraffapotomous.
I was 16 when I realized that I was smart, but not smart enough. I was always in that awkward spot where I was at the bottom of the honors classes (at least in science & math). I got good grades, but was kind of ashamed of them. I boasted about them, or lied about them to seem like not such a terribly brainy brain. I wasn't comfortable with them, that's for sure. I wasn't cool, but I wasn't unpopular either. I had friends--lots of them. Some of them were even popular. I was good at English, Theatre and Choir, but I wasn't the best. Firmly above average. Always my worst critic and biggest fan, all at the same time.
I was 21 when I realized that I was a great friend, but wasn't cut out to be a girlfriend. I was too goody-goody for the boys in the "real world" but because I liked wine, whiskey and dancing, tattoos, secular music, and boys in eyeliner, I wasn't good enough for the boys from church. And I was still tall and fat. Ok, so maybe only that last part is true, but that's how I felt. Good enough to hang out with, but not good enough to go out with. Getting married became a dream akin to growing up to be a rock star.* It seemed like a nice idea, but not particularly realistic. Angst, I had some.
And I guess the thing that both scares & encourages me is this: I didn't have it bad growing up. Not at all. In fact, I had it good. Great. Wonderful. I had two amazing, supportive, encouraging parents who helped me focus on my strengths and didn't pressure me to be something I wasn't (I mean, unless you count my mother trying desperately to get me to dress like a girl and not the frumpiest frump**). I grew up with a big brother I idolized, who taught me about Transformers and Rush, and yet, in high school, I had the house to myself while he was off at college. I had great friends. I wasn't a total loser or outcast. Heck, I got voted most likely to become a movie star my senior year. But I still had baby fat in my cheeks, and regular fat everywhere else. I didn't know how to stand at my full height. I had no idea I had a waist. I didn't think I was the most hideous thing to walk the earth. I actually thought I was pretty. I just didn't think anyone else except little old ladies and my mother thought so too. Certainly not boys. At least, not the ones I liked.
I'm not blaming anyone or railing against the injustice of the universe or anything. I'm simply putting together some thoughts that have been floating through my head, trying to reconcile the fact that I had all this support and encouragement, and I still listened to all the voices that inspired a sense of defeat. This isn't me fishing for compliments either.
See, when I was 23 when I realized that I was beautiful. I am beautiful. I am tall, and smart, and talented, and fat, and beautiful. My belly is one of the constants in my life. It never leaves me. It's changed shape over the years, and it's now "da huuuuuudge", but it's still my belly. Humor: it's how my girlfriends and I cope with the fact that we don't fit into the mold that media shows us. But eventually we stop looking at the media, and start looking at one another.
So why 23? What magical thing happened that helped shove years of self-deprecation down under a veneer of self confidence that gradually ate away at the bile I'd stored up until eventually the balance was thrown off and it was a thick layer of confidence with a skin of fear underneath?
No really. Nebraska helped me strengthen my faith, but Texas showed me how to start living it like it mattered. Here in Texas, I finally saw myself through the eyes of someone who loves me--lots of someones actually. I met real people who lived out all the things my folks told me. I was constantly surrounded by real life examples of the things I had always taken by faith to be true--that being clothed with strength and dignity , we are worth far more than rubies. I never doubted the existence of inner beauty, or its supremacy over outward beauty, but I hadn't yet truly believed that inner beauty could create outward beauty. I guess I sort of figured that love was blind, and if I was truly lucky, someday, some man would love me enough to think I was beautiful, despite what my outsides looked like.
But my friends saw the beauty in literally all shapes and sizes. I'm not blowing smoke either. From size 4 to 24, age 19 to 62, blonde, brunette, redhead, short hair, long hair, grey hair, dyed hair, clip-on hair, A to I, 5' to 6', celery stalks, apples, pears--heck, guava, mangoes, pineapples, and passion fruit! Those are the women in my life--jewels every one of them. These aren't just women that I know in passing. These are the women I hang out with, invite to dinner, share stories, take shopping, dancing, and to the movies. And they know they're beautiful. They know it and they live it. They dress for their best features, not to hide the worst. They revel in being glorious reflections of beauty, inside and out.
And time marches on (as Truvy said, right across our faces) and we all expand as performers and get smarter, and we're still beautiful. Grey hairs are "precious metals." We laugh and love and cook for our friends & family. We write thank you cards and bring hostess gifts. We don't let anyone cry or dance or laugh alone.
I finally realized that the truth is it really isn't a tiny waist, cellulite free thighs, or a wrinkle-free face that makes my friends beautiful (even the ones who have those things), so why did I demand those things of myself?
I still fight the voice in my head that tells me I'm too much and not enough at the same time. Difference is, now I'm armed better. I have the voices of my friends. I guess I always did, maybe now I'm just listening. Maybe now I believe that it's possible to be fat and beautiful, selfish and loving, vain and kind...forgiven. That's what it boils down to, isn't it? I'm far from perfect, but I'm loved anyway. I forgive imperfection in my friends, and somewhere along the way, learned to forgive myself a little too.
Today, I'm 30 and what I've just realized is this--There will always be someone who is better than me at all the things I'm good at, and that's ok. I don't have to be the world's best to have value, or be good at it. People doing things better than me doesn't mean I'm not doing them well.
I still have trouble loving my neighbor as myself, because in my resting state I'm selfish and lazy, but I also have trouble loving myself as my neighbor. Thankfully, I've got good neighbors who show me how to be kind to me, and keep extending that kindness to others.
So, come back to Texas. The Mexican food sucks north of here anyway.
*Oddly enough, I am now both married, and sort of a rock star. Huh... funny how life works out.
**I blame Parker Lewis Can't Lose. He had this closet that was like 10 pairs of the exact same pants, and then 1,000,000 shirts that were essentially the same button-front dress shirt in different patterns, worn untucked. And there you have my high school wardrobe.