Fairest shmairest! Let’s get real about beauty and body image. Mirror, Mirror is a column running every other Thursday on The Frisky. It is written by Brooklyn-based columnist, freelance writer, and bagel enthusiast, Kate Fridkis who also writes the blog Eat the Damn Cake. You can follow her on Twitter at @eatthedamncake.
I started writing about beauty when I wasn’t skinny enough anymore.
For a long time, most of my life, I was skinny. And everyone always commented on it.
“You’re SO thin!” they’d say in this jealous, admiring way. As though I was doing something better than them. As though I’d earned it somehow, rather than that I just had high metabolism and a health-obsessed mother who raised me to believe that soy milk counted as a “treat.”
My boyfriends were always like, “You need to eat more!”
And then they smiled and kept dating me anyway.
At 17, I had gorgeous friends, but I was the skinny one, so it was OK. That sounds petty and stupid, but since when is the world not petty and stupid?
And then, when I was 22, I moved to New York City, after discovering in college that soft-serve and Lucky Charms cereal and blueberry pie were REAL treats. And it turned out that I was not so skinny anymore. I wasn’t technically overweight, according to that BMI thingy, but I was totally different from before. And when you gain 15 or 20 pounds, it’s not about BMI, it’s about being 15 or 20 pounds of different than before. Different in a direction that the whole world seems to think is bad. Different in a direction that implies losing control, getting sloppy, generally failing, and back fat.
Everywhere I looked, there were skinny women. Skinny, fashionable women. I was wearing old hand-me-down jeans and a shirt that had seemed promising in the store (“It has a picture of a soccer ball on it! Wait, is that not cool?”). And it occurred to me that I would probably never be loved. That even the guy in my grad school theory class who could not be bothered to wear any other pants except for unwashed sweats would probably choose the other girl over me (there was only one other girl in my department, and she was skinny).
I remember being at this party in Manhattan where this very elegant woman who was married to this very wealthy man who she had met at Harvard was telling me that she was making an effort to occasionally eat in front of her daughters. So that they could see that it was alright for women to eat. It was hard, she explained, because they were some of the only girls in their social circle who weren’t already dieting. Her oldest was ten.
Oh. I thought. Shit.
After I stopped being skinny, all of these headlines on the magazines in the grocery store applied to me. “LOSE THAT BELLY FAT!” they kept shouting accusingly. They said other stuff, too, about all the sex positions I didn’t know, that I would never get a chance to try, if I didn’t lose that belly fat.
Suddenly I was one of those women who felt awkward about wearing a bikini. Who felt awkward undressing in front of a guy. Who felt awkward sitting down in jeans. Who was thinking, I’m going to be sitting for over an hour, so maybe I’ll wear these stretchy pants … And then, Oh my god. I’m wearing stretchy pants. Oh my god.
Suddenly, I was thinking about carbs a lot. I was skipping dessert. I was worrying about the bagel I’d somehow, accidentally, happened to eat earlier that day. The lightly toasted one with garlic, whipped cream cheese, capers, heirloom tomato, and lox. That accidental bagel. I was feeling guilty ALL THE TIME.
And I was bitter, too. I was bitter because when I was skinny, before all the soft-serve and the change in metabolism, and the loss of favor with the gods, and whatever else was going on, I hadn’t even noticed what a big deal it was to be so thin. I hadn’t even taken the time to enjoy my skinny power.
After I stopped being skinny, I had to decide who I was. Because I was not just that skinny girl. My beauty didn’t have the skinniness to fall back on. So maybe it wasn’t beauty anymore.
But maybe it was.
The thing is, when I paused to actually think about it, I kinda like not being skinny. I know, it’s weird. But I do. I am the only person in the world who likes having chubby thighs. They’re cute! They’re squishy! Squishy is fun! And also, my boobs are squishy, too. Sometimes, in a certain light, in a certain bra, they look like they’re actually there. It’s very exciting. My belly sticks out. It’s true. But sometimes I really like that, too. There’s something charming and womanly about it. It seems proud of itself.
After I stopped being skinny and started writing about beauty, I started wearing more interesting clothes. My body was bolder, and so was I. I felt like, “Whatever. I’ll wear what I want.” After I stopped being skinny, I got a buzz cut.
I remember once a relative said, “When a girl cuts off all her hair, it means something’s wrong.”
He was wrong. Sometimes it means something’s right.
I started eating dessert again. Dessert is really good. I really wouldn’t want to go through life without it.
Sometimes I think that after I stopped being skinny, I started being more like myself, if that’s possible. I had to make my own beauty. I had to decide how I felt, because no one was there to say, “Well, at least you’re really thin!” Or “You’ve got nothing to worry about honey, you’re so skinny!” No one telling me to eat things—I was eating them on my own, without any help.
And then a funny thing happened. People started saying, “Hey, did you lose weight? You look thinner.”
“You look so fit! Are you exercising?”
“You’re so slim! Are you dieting?”
I haven’t lost weight. I’ve even gained a little more. I think what they’re trying to say is, “You look good.”
Anyway, this isn’t really a piece about why people should or shouldn’t be skinny. It’s a piece about why beauty is never about any one thing. About how sometimes you have a quality that is supposed to be important for attractiveness, and then you lose it, or it changes, and you know what?You’re still attractive.
I really believe that. It’s not just some corny crap. I really believe that beauty is about looking like yourself.
That’s what I’ve learned from writing about beauty. That’s what I’ve learned from four years of being a woman in a city full of models in designer sunglasses. That’s what I’ve learned after getting cosmetic surgery right out of college, after deciding to cut off all my hair, after feeling hideous, after feeling stunning, after trying to hide, after letting myself stand out. That’s what I’ve learned after I stopped being a skinny girl.
One day, I’m gonna die old, chubby, and happy.
But here, in the middle, I want to talk about it. And about how there are some seriously sexy stretchy pants out there.