I was a pudgy child. I wasn’t necessarily obese, but I was gelatinous. When poking my belly, it would ripple for a few seconds before settling down.
Still it wasn’t terrible. I was extremely strong for my age and played soccer throughout the summer.
As a teen, that pudge shifted and filled me out, in very different places.
I quickly gained a woman’s shape, hips that flared and bosoms that grew from a B cup to a DD cup within a year. I started to discover fashion instead of letting my mother pick my clothes. I spent $50 of my own allowance and bought enough makeup to sustain all the painted geishas of Japan.
Don’t get me wrong.
The results were unflattering to the extreme. I never managed to use eyeliner without popping my own eye out and the late 90s colouring were unflattering to my skin tone.
I was essentially a child trying to look pretty like all the other girls. I was playing dress up, trying to figure out who I was.
It was totally innocent, a phase that every young girl goes through. Male attention was the last thing on my mind.
That didn’t matter. Male attention was what I got. I was soon harassed on the street while walking alone. I was whistled and hollered at. Cars would slow down next to me and offer me rides. Sometimes I would get slurs yelled at me or just incoherent shouting through a speeding car’s window.
I didn’t like that at all.
So I ate. I ate and ate until I neared 200 pounds. The layer of fat served as a shield to protect me from this unwanted attention. I would barely brush my hair, wore no makeup at all and proudly grew body hair.
It did work. I was safe.
Strangers mostly left alone.
It wasn’t until I wanted some attention from certain people that I realized that I had developed a complex relationship with beauty.
I scorned women who worked on their looks while secretly envying them. I took pride in being ‘not that girl.’ I had decided that I was unloveable so I was.
My mother grew worried and at her urging, I joined a gym. It hurt every part of my body, but I did manage to lose the weight.
I was strong and fit and I still hated the way I looked.
It took years to finally adapt to myself. To find beauty in the way my body moves, the sensuality of my hair falling over my shoulder. To admire my strong, to accept the curve of my belly.
I still often find myself less than happy about the way I look, especially since my skin has now rebelled into a breakout. Sometimes I need to remind myself that I am beautiful.
I’ve dug up a piece of writing I created after I graduated high school and it illustrates my appreciation for my body and for all the great things it can do.
So I’m looking at myself in the mirror. I’m naked. Because I can. It’s one of those sacred stolen moments where everything is quiet, even the beat of your heart. Outside, there is a storm brewing, the wind picking up speed, clamoring for attention. But the door is closed and locked to the sounds of the world, an unnecessary precaution as I am alone and will be for a long time.
I remember doing this as a young child, standing in front of the mirror examining myself. It turned into a bi-weekly regimen, right before my evening shower.
I would disrobed quickly, shivering as the cool air hit my skin, tiny Goosebumps rising to attention. I would hold my hair back before letting my curls fall down my shoulders, they would curl or frizz depending on the weather and I would pick up a brush.
I would toss my head back, striking amusing poses in front of the mirror, trying to be sexy even if my childhood vocabulary didn’t quite grasp the meaning of the word. My hands were always dirty, stained by paint, clay or dirt. My knees often scratched from my many falls.
I would let my hands trail down my prepubescent body, wondering at all the secrets it contained. The pinky toe that curled under my foot when I walked, the broken fingernail that grew faster then it should, the bump on my nose that I loved yet hated, reminding me of ancient portraits of royalty, the tongue I could curl at will, the scars on my heel when I cut my foot open nicking the bone and that strange, strange birthmark tucked on my tight, curled and elegant like an ancient symbol from a faraway story.
I wondered if I was going to be beautiful.
I stroked my hair quickly, knowing that anymore would just bring me a headache as the brush caught in the many snags.
Then I would jump into the shower, hating the quick momentary jet of cold water that would drench me. I should shout, drawing my arms over my flat chest, shivering while the water warmed.
I would then often test my mother’s different creams and shampoos, ignoring her warnings that it was hers. I would slather the delicious smelling cream, rubbing it over my skin, watching with glee as it bubbled. I watched as the dirt swirled down the drain, cringing yet strangely proud at the amount I made.
Then I would step out, dripping all over the floor, shaking my head like a sodden puppy, droplets of water landing everywhere.
My mother would scold me, but the next time it would be the exact same ritual/
When I was no longer a child, I watched in growing horror as my body changed before my very eyes. What once a long smooth expense of leg covered itself with infernal pale fur, my mound growing wry dark hair.
I sneered in the mirror at each pimple or blemish that dared marred my smooth skin. I felt disgust with my body as it betrayed me with hips and budding breasts. I could not help but watch during my now-daily ritual, as I turned into something irreconcilable.
I woke one morning and looked at my face, as foreign as any different country to me. I looked like my mother. I felt shame at the nature-inflected changes. Now longer willing to play as I once had, hiding my body under a scratchy towel when I brushed my hair.
I pulled and tore at my scalp, no longer taking any care. I hated what I discovered on my person. Breast that grew larger by night, a soft stomach that could never be fashionable, a bushel of knotted hair on my head, refusing to be tamed, the insisting body hair that would just not disappear, and that damned birthmark, paler now but still present, the twist and turns staining me.
I’d quickly plunge into the shower, scratching at my skin until the water stung, ignoring the pain as I worked the shampoo in my hair, quickly washing it out, and ignoring everything but my need to be away from my nakedness.
I knew I was not beautiful.
Now, I stand in front of that same mirror, naked in the cool air. My hair is still as untamable as it was before, my thighs and hips and breast filling out until I have a woman’s body and no longer that of a girl.
I look at my face, familiar to me now and I see my mother, my grandmother and her mother stare back at me. I don’t mind. I am proud of the legacy they have given me, each mole or frizz, or curve or bump, a genetic collage of integrity.
I know the secrets of my body, discovering new ones every day; the heaviness of my breast, the slope of my neck, the softness of my lower back, the scent of my hair like morning flowers and pine, the delicious curve of my waist and that same birthmark on my tight, twin circles joint by a curve almost like a deranged symbol of the crab, flawed yet perfect.
And I know that I am beautiful.