This Ain’t a Fairy Tale III: Goodbye, Norma Jean

593156_69069051I remember a moment when I was a little girl, probably in second or third grade. I asked my mother – not in so few words – when I was going to get an hourglass figure. I was looking forward to the point at which I could wear shell bikini and have it fit right. I think I had in my mind a picture of Princess Jasmine and Ariel; I thought about my Barbies. I wasn’t exactly expecting a waist I could fit my hands around or boobs the size of cantaloupes or anything, just the general curve of an hourglass figure. I didn’t think that was something I needed to ask for, much less that it was too much to ask.

When I hit puberty, I was pretty quickly disabused of the notion that was going to happen. It doesn’t matter how much weight I lose or gain, this figure will never be hourglass without surgery, and I’m personally (meaning, for me) opposed to unnecessary cosmetic surgery.

Over the years, I’ve tried to make peace with my decidedly unhourglassy shape. I waited to get pretty (according to my definition, which is incredibly broad, by the way), and it never really happened.

I’m not unfortunate-looking or anything, and I think I have a pleasant enough face that occasionally slips into pretty under the right circumstances, but “Not That Girl” sometimes feels like my appearance anthem.

Like many women without looks to depend on, I’ve tried developing other aspects of myself. I’ve tried to be intelligent. I’ve embraced the challenge of looking interesting, if I can’t be pretty. I’ve tried to develop my various creative talents, to varying degrees of success. I’ve tried to develop my sense of empathy. I’ve tried to fix myself as a person. But it’s harder when you know that all of these will never amount to quite as much as beauty in many people’s opinions. Many people’s very loud opinions.

Of course, being pretty isn’t a picnic either. In the end, as a woman you’re sometimes stuck in the “can’t win” aisle: People dismiss your opinions because you’re ugly, and they can’t really hear your opinions (or sometimes don’t care to hear them) because they’re too distracted by your beauty.

Two years ago, I reached the heaviest I ever was, just over the line from overweight to obese in terms of body fat content (not the problematic BMI). There were things that were unpleasant about it, such as my tiny feet hurting a lot, general strain on my body, and some unpleasant GI symptoms now and then. And I didn’t like the way the fat looked, of course.

I lost thirty pounds, although not due to a radical diet or exercise regimen (because my feet still hurt when I run). Truth to tell, I just lost my appetite for six months, and that changed the way I ate and how much I could manage to eat. I was never much for eating a ton, but I’m short, so it takes less to make a big difference. So I lost the thirty pounds, and I’ve kept it off. Imagine my frustration when most of the fat that I most hated decided to stick around. I know you can’t target fat loss, but come on.

The only conclusion I reach is that there isn’t a hidden princess in this body. It will always be this general shape, even if I lose another twenty pounds, even if I add another twenty pounds on. It will keep its proportions no matter what I do. It’s frustrating to have to accept this and move on, to relinquish that dream and accept I’ll never get to experience what it’s like to have that body, that I’ll never know what it’s like for a girl to be beautiful.

The heartbreaking thing, I think, is that 98% of women probably feel this way. Many of us are beautiful and will never know it. Many of us are beautiful to the right people, but never believe it. And many of us will be humiliated and ridiculed and beaten down for not meeting an arbitrary and mostly impossible standard of beauty, as though that’s the thing that should matter. Whether or not it should matter, that doesn’t make things any easier.

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