When I turned 30, I was suddenly hot.
Before then I was OK. Cute at best. I had my awkward years, of course. As a baby, I had gravity-defying hair and bulldog cheeks. At 13, I wore glasses and braces, and was one of just a few Asian kids in a Jewish-Italian neighborhood, where big Bambi eyes, pert noses, and long legs were all the rage. In college I gained the freshman 15, lost it, gained it, lost it, and gained it again.
At least I’m skinny.By my mid-20s, I’d come to terms with my average looks. I knew my coarse and kinky hair would never miraculously transform into smooth and silky locks. I’d never have bone structure like Lauren Bacall’s or peepers like Winona Ryder’s. And I had to accept that my brother was the one to inherit our dad’s tall and skinny physique while I got our mom’s round petiteness (a better match anyway).
I had other attributes. Brains, a wicked sense of humor, writing prowess. Guys still liked me. I dated, fell in love, and got married.
Then at 30, things changed. I lost some baby fat and bam! out came my cheekbones. Years of running had whittled my waist down to nothing and gave me an ass Madonna would have been proud of. I started wearing fitted tops, tighter pants, and strappy heels, tossing aside the baggy outfits and clunky shoes I’d been wearing since college.
Finally, I was beautiful.
But my husband didn’t even notice. He’d always appreciated my “demure beauty,” but now he seemed troubled. “You wear thongs now?” he asked, perplexed. I didn’t understand. Didn’t guys like that? Why was he so withdrawn and angry? I was trying my best, I thought. With his sick mom, to make our home nice, to make more money, to make him happy. But none of it seemed to be working.
I bought more clothes. I clocked more miles on the treadmill. I lost more weight. But I didn’t feel better.
Then my husband cheated on me.
After a year of indecision, I was able to leave him. The relief and freedom gave me new energy, and I dated up a storm. These guys actually wanted me! They appreciated my attributes. I had to beat them off with a stick.
But soon I went from unfulfilled wife to f**k buddy and booty call. What the hell? Couldn’t I have commitment and steamy sex? Were the two mutually exclusive?
At least I’m skinny.
Then I met Alex. With his shaved head and goatee, he kind of looked like an ex-con, but he had a sweet smile. He was an awesome kisser. Funny and smart. Nice but no wimp. And he had a butt you could bounce quarters off of.
Wait a month before sleeping him, I told myself. Get to know him better.
I waited one week. Then I waited for him to drop me, for the calls to peter out and disappear. They didn’t. Suddenly I was his girlfriend; we were moving in together. We were naming our future kids.
I started spending less time at the gym and more with Alex. I ate more — sumptuous brunches on the weekends, crepes after midnight, gelato on long walks. I relaxed and didn’t think about my appearance. Then, when I wasn’t looking, I gained 10 pounds. Not only that, I had new wrinkles and freckles. Extra grays in my hair. Remember the lost baby fat from my cheekbones? It’s settled firmly on either side of my mouth.
I wasn’t hot anymore.
At first I bemoaned my lost hotness. I didn’t want to be that chubby, plain girl again who the boys ignored. I wanted skinny me back. I upped my workouts, tried to eat less, and bought overpriced serums and elixirs that promised “radiance,” “brightness,” and “perfection.” Has any of it worked? Dunno. If it has, it’s been slow going.
Of course none of this makes any difference to Alex. I’m still his “pretty girl.” He still likes to sling me over his shoulder like I’m a sack of flour. “I’m too heavy now!” I tell him, and he looks at me like I’m nuts.
“You feel the same,” he says. “And even if you’re not, I think you’re the only one who cares.”
He’s right. I’m the only who stares at the reflection of my increasingly saggy butt, the cellulite on my hips and thighs. It’s just me who peers in the mirror at each sunspot and fine line.
Maybe I should take a cue from Xtina and tell myself I’m beautiful, no matter what. Remind myself that beauty is arbitrary. One moment heroin chic is in, the next it’s Scarlett Johansson-voluptuousness. A celebrity thinks her frozen forehead, stretched-out face, and giant duck lips look great while the rest of us see a freak show.
Or maybe I should just accept that I’m not beautiful, not as defeat but a fact of life. I’m also not a musical prodigy, a math genius, or an Olympic athlete, and I’m not crying about that.
Or maybe I should take beauty out of the equation completely. Maybe it shouldn’t even be part of what adds up to who I am.
Maybe I should stop leaning on skinny me for security and try to find real security that remains unchanging, no matter what I look like. Let skinny me go. Maybe she’ll be back, and I’ll welcome her with open arms, but I won’t wait around for her. I have better things to do.