Thursday, December 26, 2013

Murica: The Big Fat Ugly Truth

I have a confession. And it's totally secret. Which is why it makes absolutely no sense that I am about to share it with who knows how many people. But I think it needs to be let out. I think it's time for me to stop hiding it and come clean.

If you're looking for a post that will make you laugh or feel good, this isn’t the one. Normally, I try to be light and humorous. But regarding what I am about to lay on all of you, there is no way to make light of it.

You see, about five minutes before writing this, I was sitting on the floor in my walk-in closet, organizing my work out clothes (of all things…oh the irony), crying. Yep. As in bawling my eyes out which are now a lovely shade of puffy. 

And here is what I was crying about.

Me. My naturally curly and frizzy hair. The way my eyes are two different sizes. The moles and freckles that dot my face. My pudgy chin. My short but chubby neck. My thick eyebrows I need to make an appointment to wax. By boobs that are too big. The cellulite I have on my thighs. My skin being brown and not the peachy pale I wish I had. And the size 4 clothes I probably will never fit in again that are piled up on my ever hopeful shelf which serves as an everyday reminder of just how chubby I have become. And the thought that no man will ever, ever, see me on the street and think "My word, she is gorgeous."

Now I know what you are all thinking. "What is she talking about? Every woman feels this way. You should embrace all of those things." I know. I know. I've heard the drill. I know I should look in the mirror and see the beauty in myself. I know I need to shift my thinking. I know it could be worse. And I know that what is inside is more important and blah, blah, blah. And I know it sounds shallow. 

But I'm crying because even though I know all of that, even though I try to change the way I view myself…I can't. Why?

Because for my entire life, I have watched images of beauty on the TV. I've poured over the magazines like Cosmo, People, and 17. And before you ask, yes, I know they are airbrushed. You know what? Doesn't help knowing that. And here's why. 

I am a mutt. I'm part Mexican, Portuguese, and Welsh/Scottish/English with other parts of Europe thrown in for fun. Because of the Latina in me, the dark coloring and eyes, hair, etc is what is dominant in me. The perfect picture of diversity. And even as a little girl, growing up in beach cities in Southern California, this was a problem. Because everywhere I looked, no one looked like me. They were all carbon copies of Barbie, but with less bosom and a a better zip code.

Growing up, I dreamed of being beautiful like the people I saw around me. I made runways in my living room and practiced walking. At thirteen, I walked myself to the local modeling agency and asked to sign up. (They said no, obviously) I rehearsed interviews that I just knew someday I would be giving. And Oscar speeches, because like most models, my career would phase into acting. (Ha.)

I wanted so much just to look like one of them. The beautiful people. They were the ones who had dates. They were the ones who got asked to prom. They were the ones boys pined over and men wrote love songs and poems about.

So I had to learn how to make myself look like I belonged, like I wasn't a complete outsider. And in Southern Cali, that is no easy task. Because I did and still do not fit the typical image.

Me? I was always rounder. Thicker. Shorter. Half curly hair, half wavy, all frizzy. I'm petite in size but not in clothing. I have hips and boobs and a full face. Typical Hispanic features. I didn't have a squeaky cute voice or an amazing talent that would make me stand out. There was nothing remarkable about me. So, I did everything I could to make myself more like them.

I colored my hair. I tried to mold myself into a replica of every beautiful girl on TV and in pictures. I looked to the girls around me. The blondes with cute freckles, the girls with straight bodies and no curves, their hair glistened in the sun, their cheeks bronzed lightly from an unintentional tan, and they all could fit easily into a size 2. They looked just like the models, so this MUST be what beauty is. At least to me, it was.

They wore surfing clothes? So did I. They tanned? So did I. They bleached their hair blond? I tried. Came out orange. Nice. They were thin? I pretty much became anorexic. There was one point, at age 20, when I got onto the scale and saw 95 pounds, and the first thought I had, was "Awesome, now if I could lose another 5." Then I got off the scale, looked into the mirror and saw the fat still on my upper thighs and my pooch stomach. 

Those doubts and insecurities continued as each guy I dated would end up dumping me because he liked someone else better. She was always blond. Or redheaded. And thin. Awesome. 

That pretty much remained into my young adulthood. Then, finally, I met the man of my dreams and got married. Finally, my dream had come true. I'd found someone to love me and see me as beautiful. Except it wasn't like that. You see, he liked thin girls. Blond girls. Girls who looked like they were straight out of a magazine. For a decade, I was in a relationship where I was told I was too chubby, fat, starting to look overweight. I was told to go on diets and exercise and eat healthy. I was told "if you lose weight, we can have another kid." Or "You should get your boobs reduced, they're too big." "You should lighten your hair." I was never told anything remotely positive. So, not only did I not feel beautiful, I felt ugly. And it only reinforced everything I grew up thinking. By the way, throughout my marriage my weight was around 120. Sometimes a bit more, sometimes a bit less.

Yes, I know. He was a jerk. That is why we are now divorced. But I am still that girl, looking in the mirror, seeing how I compare to others. I see how men tweet about these gorgeously beautiful women, celebrities, and models. The pictures they use as "inspiration" for their writing. How is that so different from what my ex did? It really isn’t. It's still saying in no uncertain terms, that those women are the ideal. Because as much as I can look at one of those women and agree they are beautiful, I look back in a mirror and see how I look nothing like them. So what does that make me?

Because the reality is, and we women know it, what America sees as beautiful, becomes beautiful.

"But Carey, America is diverse now! We see tons of images of Latina and dark skinned women these days! There isn't one stock image of beauty! Rejoice! Your time has come!" you say.

Right. Because when we see guys drooling over models and celebrities, they're all ethnically diverse. HA. And realistic in size and proportion to what real women are. HAHA. One look at twitter says we haven't come very far in our unrealistic ideals. I see men and women alike, sharing pictures of these perfectly sculpted, gorgeous women and men, swooning and oo'ing and aww'ing because these people are somehow so much better than anyone else.

"But Carey! Look at Penelope Cruz! Salma Hayek! Jennifer Lopez! Selena Gomez! See? Dark is IN!" Please point me to the one who is over a size 6. Not to mention…these are not the women that show up when guys are tweeting pictures of what they find beautiful while swooning and OMGing.

"But, Carey, it’s all in fun. We are writers, readers, we want the fantasy!"

But isn't that the point? We can't want what is real and in front of us. We want to covet the things that are more beautiful than the reality. Because obviously, if a guy could get Jennifer Lawrence, don't you think he'd want that? Do you think in a heartbeat, if there were two women, equally as beautiful on the inside, and one was average height, weight, size (which by the way is 12 in women's sizes) and one was a replica of Jennifer Lawrence, and both of them wanted him equally, any man would pick the average one? They wouldn't. Then what does that make the rest of us? Second choice. 

And when we escape into a book, we want to picture our fantasy. This only exacerbates the whole problem. Because someday, a teenage girl is going to pick up that book, and the next one, and the next one, and the next…and after a while a clear image is going to emerge. That a heroic, amazing main character worthy of love and affection, is beautiful. And the Bella trope…you know the one…the girl who thinks she isn’t beautiful…but really is...that's so sweet that some authors attempt at making average characters average. Except that the "average" girl in these books is far from it. And we all know it.

And I'm just as guilty. When I write my characters, I don't picture me. I picture thin, bosom, blondes or thin, athletic redheads with cute freckles and blue eyes. Or pale beauties with ebony hair and waif-like features. So I'm just as bad as everyone else. I, of everyone, should be writing ethnic characters who aren't like everyone else. Ones who serve as an accurate portrayal of what girls and women actually look like. So why haven’t I?

Because when I think of beautiful, I think of what America tells me is.  Whether it is adorkable Zooey Deschanel, or quirky Jennifer Lawrence, or beautiful and funny Emma Stone, whether they have glasses or not, wear t-shirts and jeans, or wear Prada, none of them look remotely like me. 

So, I sit in my closet and cry. Because no matter what I do, I will never look like that. And I will always feel second. Because the truth is, some of you reading this, DO look like that. Two of my best friends DO look like that. So it's not that no one looks like that. It's me that doesn’t. And America, no matter how ugly or nasty it sounds, doesn’t like what's real. And we want the dream. We want the pretty. We starve ourselves, spend money we shouldn’t, we go to spas and hair salons, we fret over every flaw, because we want to be closer to beautiful. 

And for those women who can honestly say they don't? Those of you who, every day, look at themselves and think they're beautiful; bless you, because you aren’t the norm. And I'm not talking about telling yourself you're beautiful…I am talking about an honest to God, deep down, no doubt about it, knowledge that you are beautiful. I envy that.

For what it's worth, I never was asked to prom. Or a date until I was 20…ironically when I was anorexic…take that to mean what you want. 

So, I shared a lot. Probably over-shared. I tend to do that. But writing this blog helped. It didn't change how I see myself, and I certainly am not wanting or expecting a host of "You are beautiful" comments. That wasn't what this was about. This was about being honest with myself and how it feels being a square peg in a round-holed world. 

This was a reminder that, not intentionally, as writers, and as people, we often keep this ideal of beauty going in the words we write, the characters we create, and the images we circulate via social media and conversation. Every time we craft a deliciously perfect love interest or a stunningly gorgeous heroine, we are defining what readers young and old see as beautiful. And with that, continuing a judgement that those who don't fit that image, aren't. It's our job as writers to be aware of this. Then maybe, we can change this problem.

And I know I am not alone in feeling this way. And if you have ever felt the same, my closet door is always open. Bring Kleenex. And cookies.