Like most women, I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with my body, heavy on the hate. Of course I didn’t hate my body when I was young and the world hadn’t yet taught me how I was supposed to look, but when it became all the rage to wear a bra in fifth grade, well, I just had to have one. It was mortifying not to have those telltale white straps showing through my cotton dresses. And yes, I wore dresses to school. All the girls did. It was a RULE!
When I brought up the topic to my mother, she pointed out, correctly, that I had absolutely no need for a bra. But a determined, fifth-grade girl is a powerful force. I reminded her that I’d started my period and was therefore officially a woman. After several months, she finally gave in and bought me a teeny tiny Maidenform with a touch of itchy lace. I wore the smallest cup size made—AA—and didn’t fill it out, but I could hold my head up high because I WAS WEARING A BRA!!!
Every night when I took a bath, I examined my body for several minutes. Okay, maybe half an hour. Night after night I saw no signs of progress, but I didn’t let it get me down. I assumed I’d wake up one morning and see that graceful curves had developed overnight and turned my skinny, boyish body into a thing of beauty. People would glance sideways at me and think, “Martha Kay is budding into a beautiful young woman. And just look at that figure!” (Of course that would have been creepy, but I didn’t realize it at the time.)
On the first day of seventh grade when I changed clothes for P.E., I had to face the cold, hard fact that I was surely the most flat-chested girl at William B. Travis Junior High School. Showers became pure torture. To make matters worse, there was a girl in my class whose bra size was the subject of wide speculation and admiration. I was too shy to even talk to such a goddess. In my naiveté, I thought she must be the happiest girl in the entire school, but of course she couldn’t have been. Standing an even five feet, she probably hated her double EEs more than I hated my AAs.
When I complained to my mother about my predicament, she looked down at her own chest and told me not to get my hopes up about anything changing in the near future. However, she took pity on me and bought me a lightly padded bra and sewed tiny cups into my swimsuit. Of course no girl wants to be caught putting on a padded bra in a locker room. Imagine the talk! And one of my sewn-in cups floated out at the public pool. Mortification!
To make matters worse, I really liked boys, but boys suddenly looked past me to ogle girls who had ample chests. I’m ashamed to admit this, but I actually began to pray every night for a B cup. Just a B cup! Nothing ostentatious. But God was apparently busy with more important matters, because that B cup didn’t materialize for years. Years, and years, and years.
As if obsessing over my bra size wasn’t enough, I became convinced that I had thunder thighs. Legs the size of redwood trunks. (As a visual aid, see thunder thighs in above photo.) I tell myself that if I had that slender body now, I’d be over the moon with delight. But of course I wouldn’t be. The world has taught me what the perfect American woman is supposed to look like, and in my mind I’ve always fallen far short of that ideal.
I wonder if it’s possible for a girl or woman to ever be happy with her appearance. For example, I frequently get compliments on my skin. I want to shout, “Put on your glasses! I have acne and wrinkles! I have the worst skin ever!” But when I look into a mirror from a distance, I occasionally realize that my skin looks pretty good. For my age. But now that I think about it, it doesn’t look pretty good at all. It looks pretty awful.
I no longer have the skinny body that embarrassed me. I have curves. Curves in abundance. Hip curves. Tummy curves. Thigh curves. Love handle curves. Upper arm curves. Saddlebag curves. Back curves. And let’s not even talk about cellulite, which I prefer to think of as body dimples.
In spite of my many flaws, I’ve been blessed with excellent health all my life. I’ve never taken my good fortune for granted. I carried two healthy babies to term. My legs are still strong enough to take me wherever I want to go. I’m rarely sick. I’ve never had a chronic illness. My body continues to do most of the things I ask of it. For these things, I’m down-on-my-knees grateful.
Now if I could only lose twenty pounds I’d be happy.