It is late, and I am in my writing studio at the Vermont Studio Center. I haven’t checked on my hair, or makeup, or appearance since I left my house this morning. During the time since I’ve left my room, I’ve walked probably six miles and also cried a little bit.
I just went to the bathroom, looked in the mirror, and realized that my hair is a mess and my face is bare. Still, I felt comfortable. I actually thought that I looked pretty good.
And the truth is that no one here cares what I look like.
Don’t get me wrong. Everyone here is attractive in that particular way that artists are attractive, but no one here seems to care about their attractiveness, and there is something beautiful about that.
At the beginning of this summer, I was spending most of my time with a person who fixates a lot on her own appearance. She is a good person with a good heart, but the end result of our friendship was that I was fixating on my own appearance. I was getting my eyebrows waxed. My bikini waxed. Buying brow pencils. Looking at the folds on my stomach.
She said she was a pig.
I was the same size.
Was I a pig?
Am I a pig?
I grew to hate myself in a way that I hadn’t hated myself in a long time. I put Retin-A on my skin. I subscribed to “boxes” that would send me the latest beauty products. I had my hair highlighted.
In the same time period, my hips gave out on me, and I was no longer able to exercise like I had been.
The friendship ended, as friendships sometimes do.
It all felt very hopeless.
I was a pig.
I would never be anything but a pig.
I worked to find other friends. It is summer, and many of my academic friends are gone, I made two really good friends at the gym.
The other day, I was talking to one of them, and I needed to change into my gym clothes. “I am modest,” I said. She said, “Would you like me to turn around?”
“No,” I said, but as I changed shirts, I felt self-conscious because my body has been a war zone, and though that is not visible when I am wearing clothes, it is visible when I’m naked.
I hate my body because it has been a war zone.
How can I ever expect someone else to love my body when it has not been their war zone?
Once, when Caleb was in Greece, and my mother had come to help me with Reed, she brought up my weight gain.
“Caleb doesn’t care,” I said.
She looked at me with pity, “Oh, honey,” she said, “He cares.”
She was wrong though.
Caleb wanted me to be overweight, and I believe this.
He had always felt inadequate, had felt that I was more attractive than him. If I was overweight then he didn’t have to worry about me leaving him for someone else.
So he fed me–plumped me. He fed me everything I desired, but he also held me by the throat.
Once, Caleb looked at me and said, “You are the ugliest woman I have ever dated.”
I have done so much to change my life, but my body still has the scars of my life with Caleb.
My friend who was absorbed with her own appearance told me, “Use your student loans to get a tummy tuck! You can get a breast lift at the same time!” She said, “I will drive you!”
I seriously thought about it.
Then, I said, “I’d rather just find a partner who is okay with me the way that I am.”
She looked at me as though she didn’t understand.
It has been four years, and I haven’t found that person. Maybe that’s why she doesn’t understand.
Who am I to think that I might find someone who loves my broken body?
But the difference between my friend and me is that, though she will, I’ll never meet the criteria of a standard American beauty.
And maybe that’s freeing for me.
I am already flawed in too many ways for the shallow guys. If someone is going to love me, they’re going to love me for who I am, so I won’t have to get face lifts, or tummy tucks, or breast lifts.
I don’t know if that person exists, and it’s a bummer if they don’t, but I have created a life for myself where I’ll be happy either way. And that is all that I can do, right?
A man hurt me, and he hurt me badly, but, though he might try, I am doing my best to keep him from owning me forever.
When I saw my messy hair and clean face in the mirror this evening, I didn’t hear his voice. Instead, I heard my own voice piping in.
My voice said, “You look pretty.”