There but for the Grace of God...

March 19, 2010


You're so beautiful, you don't have to worry about your figure.

When she said these words to me, what I heard was:

You're fat.

This hit a little hard, because I have been working hard to lose weight and get in shape.  Going to the gym 4-5 days a week.  Working out at home on the off days.  Watching my fat intake.  Counting my calories.  I'm making progress, slowly but surely.  Those ten pound weights are feeling a little lighter.  I'm overcoming my hatred of the elliptical machine.  I'm down two pant sizes.  I'm getting there.  But still, what I heard was:

You're not good enough.

Now, the thing is, she really does think I'm beautiful.  She comes from the Philippines.  A culture that admires fair skin and European features.  She hates that her skin is brown.  That her hair is black.  That she's short.  She referred to her pregnancy as her "ugly time", as her mother before her did, because her skin darkened and her belly enlarged.  The first time we met, she showered me with compliments extolling my light skin, my blue eyes, my red hair.  She has considered cosmetic surgery, skin whitening treatments and hair dye to look more like me.  Not me specifically, but the standard I represent.

In her culture, the women greatly out number the men.  The men are not faithful.  Women there are obsessed with staying thin and looking young, because they fear that any imperfection will send their men scurrying to someone else's bed.  It's not uncommon for men to divorce their wives because they gain too much weight, and once divorced, their chances of finding another partner are slim, because men there won't consider marrying a woman who has children.

She's married to an American man now.  A military man.  He adores her.  He loves her for her differences.  Her dark almond eyes.  Her gentle nature.  But still, she clings to the fears of her culture.  She wears a size 3, but longs for the days she wore a 0.  She has lustrous long black hair, but believes that blonde hair would be beautiful, once she gets her skin light enough, that is.

Her notion of beauty is so far removed from the reality of herself that she'll never attain it.  My heart breaks for her a little, because she is truly beautiful and can't see it.  But I wonder at times:

Am I any different? 

To her my red hair and fair skin define my beauty.  My weight has no meaning in the beauty equation.  Fat or thin or somewhere in between, I will always be beautiful.  To me, weight is the deciding factor in the equation.  I berate myself because I'm not a size 3, let alone a 0.  I see women in advertisements and magazines who are thin and sexy and think:

I'll never be beautiful like that. 

We make quite the pair, she and I.  Neither of us able to fully recognize the beauty in ourselves, but instead spending too much time thinking of ways to change ourselves to match our idea of beauty.

Here's the part that I keep getting hung up on, though.  I know, as in believe with my whole heart, that she sees me and sees beauty, even if I can't see it.  I know that when I look at her, I see beauty, even though she doesn't recognize it in herself.  So here's my new plan.  I'm going to trust my friend.  I'm going to believe her when she tells me I'm beautiful.  I'm going to embrace the things that make me beautiful in her eyes, and it's going to be good enough.  Because the next time she says:

You're so beautiful, you don't have to worry about your figure.

I only want to hear:

You're beautiful. 

March 15, 2010

The Works

When I was in the 6th grade or so there were two boys I spent part of a summer playing with.  We were friends when they weren't accusing me of stuffing my bra or snapping said bra strap.  Their names were John and Eric.  John was just a little guy.  Small and wiry.  In fact, in later years we called him Little John, in direct comparison to Jon, who was not little.  Eric was an average kid.  A bit on the thin side, also wiry.

The thing about John and Eric was that they were just fun to hang out with.  A more mischievous combination I've rarely encountered.  We did boy things, like throw a football around and tell fart jokes.  Now don't take this to mean I was a tomboy, because I just wasn't.  What I was was aware of the fact that girlie girls were not respected by the boys.  So, in an effort to avoid that disrespect, I set aside my inherent dislike for dirt and grime.  I stepped out of my comfort zone because playing with the boys was more intriguing than sitting around talking about the boys with my girl friends.  Plus, it was like a reconnaissance mission, which appealed greatly to my curious nature.

On occasion, either John or Eric and I would pretend to be boyfriend and girlfriend.  Now by pretend, I mean practice going the motions of forming that kind of attachment.

John:  You wanna go out?

Me:  Uhm, I don't know.

John:  Why not?

Me:  Well, what would we do?

John:  Uhm, hang out and stuff.  Go to the movies.  Maybe I'd get you flowers on Valentine's Day.

Me:  Okay.

These relationships rarely lasted past the end of the week, if that long, but it seemed to work for us, and didn't disrupt our friendships much.  I realize that would come as a surprise to some kids today who take themselves way too seriously at way too young of an age.  Sixth graders today are having sex, but in my day, we weren't interested in those kinds of things.  We were more likely to spend our time thinking up ways to make homemade incendiary devices.  In fact, one of my funnest childhood memories is an afternoon spent making Works bombs in the empty lot next to Eric's house.  I'm not going to describe how to make them, but suffice it to say it was so easy a grade schooler could do it.  Successfully.  While avoiding injury.  We must have blown up a dozen of those things.  And it was awesome!  Until one went a little awry and broke a window in an old garage.

Some neighbor must have heard the crash and come to investigate, unbeknown to us.  Shortly there after a police cruiser came tooling down the street, which sent us running for home.  Now Eric didn't have far to go, but John and I lived on the other side of town, he further than me, so we booked it through back yards all the way to my house, where we crashed under the willow tree in my back yard.  Then we laughed like there was no tomorrow.

John:  You should have seen your face!!

Me:  You should have seen yours!

John:  Do you think Eric made it home before they saw him?

Me:  I hope so.

As it turns out, Eric did make it home.  Unfortunately for him, the neighborhood nark knew who he was and the police made it to his home as well.  Eric was so grounded.  So was John for that matter, once Eric's mom called John's.  I was never found out, though.  My folks were beyond strict and both boys knew that if my mom and dad found out, their month long groundings would likely seem like a slap on the wrist.  The boys shielded me from that.

It wasn't long after that event the Eric's mom transferred him to a private Christian school.  We rarely saw him for the remainder of our school days.  John and I stayed in each others' lives to an extent, as we went to the same church and were involved in youth group and band together, but we weren't close like we had been that summer.  Such is the way of children, who drift in and out of each others' lives.

I'll always remember both of them with a great deal of fondness, though.  Their mischief and fun gave me the opportunity to shake off my naturally reserved nature for a while.  I took life too seriously as a child, always watchful, always preoccupied with looking silly.  I failed to join in the play too many times to count.  But those boys were exhilarating with their sense of freedom and adventure.  They were unfettered in a way I hadn't encountered before, and it made me realize that I wanted to be more like that.  I wanted to let go of my control for a while and see where impulse would lead me.

It's been a lifelong effort to emulate the spirit of those boys.  To learn to live fully in the moment.  I can't say I've always been successful in that effort, but I am getting closer.  Every day a little closer.