I always thought that weight is an ultimate measurement of beauty. This is why many young girls are obsessed with being pencil-thin and I myself was no exception. It even came to a point when I became conscious about losing weight that I missed out on realizing that there is more than meets the eye.
Perhaps, in your younger years, you have also eaten anything and did not really care about gaining weight. All thanks to our fast metabolism. However, things have changed over the years. This is when losing weight becomes a be-all -and-end-all of beauty. Trying to fit into a size 4 was the goal I wanted to achieve. It was as though I would be much happier if I would be skinnier.
My mother, with her Italian looks associated beauty with tall, thin, and blond girls. She has brown eyes, dark hair and a large nose. She romanticized about the idea of being a cheerleader whom football players are always drooling over. She wanted to be a homecoming queen donning a pale dress.
It might be a struggle for me to look in the mirror when my own standards of beauty get in the way. However, there are more important things in life that showed me to look past the physical attributes of an individual. It is only then that I realized that skinny is definitely not beautiful. Regardless of my weight or the skin I am in, it is essential to embrace uniqueness. The numbers on a scale do not define me as a person.
I have learned to love myself. I do not need to seek approval and acceptance from others. Just because I don’t fit their own standards of beauty does not mean I should abandon myself. Even if I am skinny, some people will still take notice of my flaws more than my uniqueness, but who cares?
My doctor’s assistant motioned me toward the scale, clipboard in hand. This was my third visit in less than a month — first for the swine flu, then for a mole that appeared suddenly beside my belly button and changed shape just as suddenly, and now for an earache that had kept me up all night. Each time, she had weighed me. But standing there now, I wondered what my weight had to do with my sore ear. Or my mole. Or the flu, for that matter. Standing there now, the last thing I wanted was to take off my winter boots and big puffy coat and watch as she slid that bar up and up, past the 129-pound mark, where for years it had settled, perfectly balanced.
“I don’t want you to weigh me,” I said.
The truth was, I didn’t want to be weighed ever again if that bar was going to keep creeping upward, past 130, past 140, into territory I never imagined my weight would reach. Goddamn it! I was a thin person! The woman who people asked how I could eat so much and still be so skinny. The woman who fit into her size 4 jeans, even after two babies.
The doctor’s assistant frowned at me.
“I mean, I have an earache,” I explained.
She began to write on my chart. In red.
“And I was just here last week,” I reminded her. “Remember? The mole?”
She blinked at me. “The doctor will be in shortly,” she said, and left.
I immediately picked up my chart to see what she’d written. “Refuses weigh-in.” At first, I felt embarrassed. I hadn’t exactly “refused,” had I? It just seemed silly to get weighed again so soon. So frequently. But as I climbed up on the examining table, the strangest thing happened: After years — a lifetime, really — of worrying about and taking pride in my thinness, I suddenly didn’t care that I was no longer a skinny size 4. And the reason I didn’t care was that I was happy. Happier than I’d been since I was a teenager. I don’t mean happy in that my life was perfectly in place; in fact, in many ways it was the opposite — messy and sad, confusing and frantic. Rather, I mean happy with me, with who I was and how I felt about my place in the world.
I’d been that way years ago, a girl who knew her mind and her heart. And now here I was, squarely in middle age, finally certain again of those very same things. Finally happy with myself, despite all the mistakes I’d made, all the bad decisions and wrong turns and enormous losses that marked my life. Despite, I realized with something — I swear — akin to wonder, the added twenty-plus pounds I carried.
Some girls are raised to be the first female president or an astronaut. Some girls are raised to find a cure for cancer or to battle social injustice. Or to be a perfect wife or mother or hostess or chef. I was raised to be beautiful.
To my mother, beautiful meant tall and blond and — perhaps most important — thin. She spent most of her life embarrassed by her Italian looks. Unmanageable dark hair, brown eyes behind thick glasses, a large nose with a bump at the bridge like all the Masciarotte clan had. She dreamed of being a cheerleader, a girl who could easily be lifted onto the shoulders of football players. She dreamed of being homecoming queen, lovely in a pale dress with a sweetheart neckline that cinched a tiny waist. But she’d inherited the peasant-farmer genes of her ancestors: broad hips, large breasts, short stature. And so she was doomed to playing the sidekick to pretty girls, like Eve Arden in the old movies, all sass and sarcasm as she planned school dances but didn’t get a date. Or, at least, not one with the boys she wished for. Her dates were neighborhood kids, also Italian immigrants, also short and squat and tough.
For me, her only daughter, she dreamed of a different life, a charmed life that she believed beautiful girls led. As a baby, I had the big blue eyes and a winning toothless grin that made strangers stop and compliment my mother, who dressed me in elaborate matching outfits and used egg on my few strands of pale blond hair to make them stand up enough to hold a bow. One afternoon, a man with a camera passing by our front yard doubled back, pointing to me in my stroller. “Your baby could win the Beautiful Baby of the State of Maryland contest,” he said. “She could?” my mother asked hopefully. The man nodded and offered to take my picture for free if my mother split the cash prize with him, should I win. She agreed. I won. And my mother got her wish: She had a beautiful daughter, and a certificate from the state of Maryland to prove it.
The problem was, I didn’t care about being beautiful. I cared about the March family in Little Women and poetry and why the leaves changed color every autumn. As I sat squirming in pain while my mother wrapped my now-long blond hair into rags to make perfect banana curls, I yammered on and on about the things that mattered to me, that kept me up at night. “How do you pronounce the name of the country spelled I-r-a-q? Why isn’t there a u after the q? Why is y sometimes a vowel? Can I carry a baked potato to school to keep my hands warm like Laura does in Little House on the Prairie?” My mother twisted another thick hank of hair into a scrap of cotton and sighed. “No, you cannot carry a baked potato. You’ll wear your new mittens that match your hat and scarf. Why do you have to be so weird? You’re beautiful. That’s all that matters.” This last was always said with a sigh — resigned or grateful or both, I’m not sure.
Although I’d inherited the traits my mother valued from my midwestern father, I often felt that my mother believed I looked this way because of some kind of divine intervention. She had prayed for a beautiful daughter, a blond daughter, a thin daughter — and now she had one. Her prayers had been answered. I would fulfill all the dreams she’d had dashed because she was overweight. The fact that I didn’t like being onstage or primping or shopping didn’t matter. “If I’d looked like you when I was young …;,” she’d say, as she exhaled a lungful of cigarette smoke. There was no ending to that sentence; it was implied. If she’d looked like me, she would have been happy.
I wasn’t happy, however. I was a frightened, anxious kid who overthought everything. As soon as I learned the Earth was rotating, I worried that it would spin off its axis. After seeing a child die from a botched tonsillectomy on Ben Casey, I worried that I would die if and when I ever had my tonsils removed. When my brother showed me a flake of my skin under his microscope, I convinced myself that we were all actually microscopic and that a larger species was looking at us under its microscope. I wouldn’t stop reading a book on a page that ended with a 3 because I’d heard that bad things come in threes. I was blond. I was tall. I was skinny. And I was miserable.
As I smiled my way through beauty pageants, collecting trophies and getting to ride in convertibles in parades and having my picture splashed across the local newspaper, inside I was all nerves and queasy stomach. For my talent in pageants, I recited a poem: “I have ten little fingers and ten little toes, long blond hair and a turned-up nose, big blue eyes and a cute little figure. Stay away, boys, until I get bigger!” This was recited wearing a leopard-print bikini that my auntie Julia had sewn for me, with matching leopard-print sandals. By the time I was ten, I asked if I could recite a real poem: Joyce Kilmer’s “Trees.” “That poem is so depressing!” my mother told me. “Why are you so weird? If I’d looked like you when I was young …;”
Like all things associated with beauty, thin is relative, a subjective idea, a subjective ideal. In countries like Tonga and Tahiti, fat women are considered beautiful and desirable. Here in the United States, however, thin is usually equated with beauty. And, just as my mother believed, beauty is often equated with happiness. How interesting to me, that a 1993 study conducted in rural Jamaica associated thinness with sadness and heaviness with happiness. Of course, it took me decades to believe that such a notion could even be possible.
As a teenager, I stayed on the track that pretty girls move along. Although too uncoordinated to make the cheerleading squad (the one thing I failed at, in my mother’s eyes), at the age of fourteen, I became a model for Jordan Marsh, the local chain of department stores here in New England. Throughout high school, I did fashion shows from Boston to Maine, as well as special spreads in Mademoiselle and Brides. I modeled at the mall, standing perfectly still for hours in the store window, dressed in the hottest teen trends. My modeling got me noticed by Bonne Bell Cosmetics, and I modeled for them as well, my face washed in their Ten O Six lotion, my lips and cheeks glossy with their makeup. Then, for two years, I won a coveted spot as a special teen “correspondent” for Seventeen magazine, which primarily meant appearing in both print and photo spreads.
Read the full story at: Skinny Isn’t Beautiful