Not for a single moment did my gaze shift from the Falcon blue linoleum floor. I took care in counting the tiles, creating stories for the scuffs and imagining the black and white specks came from giant salt and pepper shakers.
You look like a gorilla.
This is how a fellow classmate so aptly pointed out the hair that lives on my arms and legs. Clever, I know. Fourth graders have some good zingers.
I laughed. Because what else is a kid with an ungodly amount of body hair supposed to do? Start singing songs from Disney’s Tarzan, that’s what. They chuckled and off we went to play. And yet, my gaze never met theirs.
While the memory is short, I will never forget that being the moment I started a war with my body. I carried a long sleeved garment with me wherever I went. Partially because my Floridian body would get cold in any temperature below 70, but mainly to cover my overachieving hair follicles. Shortly thereafter, I took to shears. Sometimes I would even take the scissors and inconspicuously cut arm hair off in class. Only I noticed. So I graduated to razors and quickly earned my waxing badge.
Letting strangers pull the hair off my body began one summer in Mexico when I was visiting my grandparents. What a high- I was in the seventh grade. Every year that I went to visit my family became an opportunity for me to wax, get tan and be beautiful, if even for a short time. I grew to resent my ancestors and to love beauty rituals. The saying “beauty is pain” was met with excitement and fervor.
Just as I got comfortable with knowing I had the power to change what I didn’t like in the mirror, the stretch marks came. They crept up my skin overnight. Hugging my hips and kissing my thighs. I grew inches horizontally. Suddenly there was nothing I could do- nothing but stop wearing bikinis and tops that might reveal too much. Even then, I had no control.
Honey, put those away. Boys won’t take you seriously.
My vice principal gave me that valuable lesson when I was in the 9th grade. I wore a white and red polka dot dress. I thought myself akin to Minnie Mouse but a friend called me “the Mexican Dorothy.” We thought it was hilarious and appropriate. When I dressed up that formal Wednesday, I put on a sports bra and tight tank top underneath in hopes of suppressing my new figure because I loved the dress so. Aside from an adjustable bow at the waist, the dress was simple and fell just like Judy Garland’s. I put my hair in pigtails and actually felt confident- no cleavage, no body hair, no figure. Still, I was pulled aside and separated from my class to be told that boys will not take me seriously.
I threw that dress in a bag to take to the Goodwill a few weeks later. My aversion to dresses and all things quintessentially “girly” took its place in my closet.
Most girls wouldn’t be brave enough to cut their hair so short.
A sentiment shared by a cute guy I met while getting my undergraduate degree. A party where the theme was ABC- Anything But Clothes. Boys respect me now, right?
The unwanted kisses were only meant to commend my blunt cut bravery.
Te tienes que cuidar.
Translation: you’re getting fat. Though it actually translates to “you need to take care of yourself.” A damaging and thoughtful phrase. When I ran and ate well, the comments did not cease. When I became a vegetarian and ate less often, I still needed to take care. When I snuck snacks and candy bars into my room late at night, guilt ridden, and turned to food for comfort, the saying held firm.
The phrase taught me that being fat is unhealthy, shameful even, but more than that, it ingrained in me the idea that being fat is not beautiful. That I lacked pride and somehow should apologize for the way I looked. That until I stopped hearing those words strung together, I would never be beautiful.
You don’t need all that makeup.
A backhanded compliment insinuating the *only* reason to wear makeup is to mask an insecurity or to please someone else. Growing up with three over-achieving older siblings I never had my own thing. I received hand-me-downs in the form of clothes, music, movies, and taste. I strived so much to be like them in every way that I had trouble finding my own identity along the way. Enter: clothes and makeup.
Everything from graphic tees to purple lipstick became my own special thing. I loved getting weird and funky with my accessories and eyeliner. Neither my sister nor mother cared for makeup or fashion, so I was on my own. And it was amazing. Through these seemingly vain hobbies I found an outward form of expression and solace. I can let the world know who I am and what I’m about without actually starting a verbal conversation!
Though my own source of content came from taking an extra 15 minutes to plan my attire, those around me made sure I knew I didn’t love myself enough. Something so simple and pure like a pink pout became vilified. I would never be as *cool* and *confident* as the girls who wore no makeup and went out the door with the closest item of clothing. Or so I was often led to believe.
But today, I did the unthinkable. I stood in front of a mirror and looked at myself. Really looked at myself for the first time in years. And as I examined my reflection these bold phrases popped into my head- the catalysts of battles in a much bigger war. Instead of looking away, I held my own gaze as I did walking to the playground that day in the fourth grade. While I’m not going to lie to you and say that I love what I see or that I believe I’ll ever be conventionally beautiful, I will say I am grateful. I am so unbelievably grateful.
Grateful for the opportunity to show a little girl- a fifth grader I taught- that the hair on my arm was just like hers. Grateful that she smiled and handed me the blue coated scissors.
Grateful that I am in overall good health and that this body is able to move, work, play and exist in a space I so often take for granted.
Grateful that the scars on my belly are there as a reminder of the pain I no longer need to endure thanks to some wonderful doctors.
Grateful that I have all these pretty clothes and lipsticks to compliment my mood and make a statement all at the same time.
Grateful that my mind is being taken care of just as much, if not more so than my body.
Grateful for the love that encompasses me daily.
I did the unthinkable and thanked my body. Have you?