Curse of the Pretty Face

When I was a pre-teen in the late 80s, I wanted nothing more than an outfit from a strange, only could come up in the 1980s, establishment named UNITS.  This establishment boasted one-size-fits-all clothing in various styles, but their claim to fame was that their clothing was interchangeable.  There were shirts that could become skirts, skirts that could be belts, leggings to go under it all.  Like I said: only in the 80s.  But I had a dream outfit there, one composed of a black shirt and skirt, a white undershirt, a red belt, and white leggings.  I remember this outfit vividly, even now, some 25 years later, because I could never have it.

You see, one size does most certainly not fit all.

In this fantasy of owning the UNITS outfit, I was thin.  And since I was thin, I was happy.  I was about 12 or 13 when I had this fantasy, so I imagined myself older, at the ripe old age of 16 (O, to be 16 was all I ever wanted when I was a pre-teen!), riding with people I didn’t know but, you know, were cool, in a convertible, while wearing my very stylish, very flattering UNITS outfit.

I want to revisit something I said in the previous paragraph.  “And since I was thin, I was happy.”  See, I believed this, with all my heart and soul.  If only I could be thin, then I could be happy.  And what did happiness entail?  I wasn’t entirely sure, but I knew that I could never achieve it while overweight.

In my last blog entry, I stated that I love clothes the way, perhaps, a woman overweight her whole life and told she shouldn’t love clothes would love them.  I give you this UNITS fantasy to emphasize that even as a child, I loved clothes.  I remember my earliest fascination with clothing, actually, when I was 2 or 3, in what I called my “Snow White dress.”  If I find a picture, I will post it.  I loved that dress because it laced in the front, like a corset.  Like a fantasy of a fairy tale princess’s dress.  But it was hard, you see, to find clothes that fit and flattered on my frame.  My mother, who weighed 98 pounds when she got married, had no experience dressing an overweight child, and at the time, the only stores available to me were Lane Bryant and department stores.  For those stores in the 80s, overweight meant older.  So at 13, I dressed like a woman in her mid-30s.  Decidedly unflattering, to say the least.

I was told growing up to wear my clothes baggy, because that would make me look thinner.  I was told to lose weight, that I was overweight.  At 9, I went on my first diet.  At 11, my pediatrician told me that I had “great childbearing hips.”  At 13, I went shopping at the mall at Lane Bryant and spent the rest of the trip, trying to hide the name of the store on the bag so that people wouldn’t know I had to shop at the Fat Girls’ Store.  I wouldn’t have cared, not really, nor would have anyone else, except for three important points:

  • I loved clothes, even then, despite the lack of cute clothes available to me.
  • Society was telling girls that Thin was In.
  • I had, according to everyone I met, “such a pretty face.”

It’s the last point I’d like to focus on right now, because it’s such an unintentional insult.  “Such a pretty face.”  I heard this from teachers and family, from friends and, worst of all, from boys.  It meant nothing less than the fact that I wasn’t good enough—whatever for, I didn’t know, but I sure wasn’t good enough for it.  It meant that I was doing something wrong because clearly, my body wasn’t meant to be fat.  It was too pretty—pardon, my face was too pretty for such an unruly body.

Throughout my life, I have lived with The Curse of the Pretty Face.  Dramatic, yes, but not untrue.  It was a curse.  If I were unattractive, people would have left me alone, I think.  I wouldn’t have developed the complex I did about my weight and size.  If I were less smart than I was, that would have been better, too, since people told me I would be “the whole package” if I just lost weight.

Again, not cruel.  Certainly not like the boy at the Back to School Dance when I was 13 who was dared by his friends to dance with the fat girl and pretend he liked her.  Certainly not like the boy in college who told me he couldn’t date me, not publicly, because his friends would make fun of him, but if I wanted to fool around and not tell anyone, he’d be up for that.  Certainly not like the girl in the locker room who took my gym shorts, put them on, said “Oops!” and let them fall off her body without ever touching her skin.  Certainly not cruel like them.

That was the worst of it, I think.  The good intentions.  The woman following me through the grocery store, telling me not to buy pancake batter because she just lost 80 pounds on Atkins by giving up carbs.  I finally told her, “So because I’m fat, you think I want to lose weight?”  Her response?  She was flabbergasted.  Of course I wanted to lose weight.  I must.  I was fat.  And I had, and I quote, “Such a pretty face.”

I spent years, and years, and years, battling my weight.  I was thinner, I was heavier, I was curvier and then a bit more slender, but through it all, I had weight on me.  My body will never be thin, not without extreme starvation.  I’m Greek, big-boned, broad-shouldered, wide-hipped, meaty.  I’m a solid girl, regardless of my weight.  And through it all, I hated, truly hated my body.

What does it mean to hate the body one lives in?  It means many things: hiding behind baggy clothes, wearing dark colors, foundational garments.  It means going on crash or gimmicky diets—the Cabbage Soup diet, Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, Atkins, Slim Fast.  It means distrusting any person who claims to be attracted to you because they couldn’t be, could they?  A pretty face could in no way make up for the horror show that is one’s body, could it?  It means asking your spouse, “Am I a pretty ‘fat girl,’ or a fat ‘pretty girl’?” to which he smartly responds, “You’re beautiful.”

I put the last one in there because I want to demonstrate how this is an ongoing battle, even at 37 years old, even as a card-carrying, degreed feminist.  My body is a war zone.  It has seen ups and downs, and it has been the field on which many battles have been fought.  It doesn’t matter that I know better, that I know beauty is a construct, and that size doesn’t matter, and that I’m healthy and happy.  None of it matters because still, in the back of my mind, I hear a multitude of voices whispering,

“But you have such a pretty face.”

4 thoughts on “Curse of the Pretty Face”

  1. Wonderful post, Amy.

    And as an aside: my middle-school dream outfit was a dark purple, pleated Jordache denim skirt. I never owned it. If through some miracle, I saw it today, I would definitely buy it.

  2. I know exactly what you mean regarding your body being a war zone, but I sure wish women didn’t have to feel this way. (Of course it’s not women exclusively who feel this way, but for our purposes here, I’m going with it.) I hated everything in the world in high school, and my distress manifested itself in my body. I still feel like I have to tenderly hug myself and say “I’m sorry I put you through that.”

    And to echo Victoria’s aside, my 80s/early 90s dream outfit was flowered leggings with a skirted tunic. I’m pretty sure I wear some version of that regularly now.

  3. Amy,
    While I was always slender (slender sounds better than skinny which comes along with no boobs or butt), like most people, I was way more obsessed with my own physical failings than anyone else’s. When I think back to what you looked like in high school (mostly I link you with literature or being a “master debater” or making marks on a hemisphere to track the sun) I recall envying your hair. Thick and wavy. Mine was ….just not. One reason I like highlighting my hair these days is that it slightly damages the hair which adds volume. Problem solved. Recently I have over-fixed the skinny problem. ;).

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