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.


  1. I love you. <3 I think everyone, EVERYONE has felt this way.

  2. I'm 160 pounds overweight. I feel this same way whenever people on Twitter post pictures of Tom Hiddleston or whatever other "ideal man" that they all drool over. It makes me feel inadequate.

    I might end up unfollowing some of them over it. It makes me feel like crap.

  3. I just tried to post & I think I deleted it... so here goes again:

    1. I still have the "baby weight"... my daughter is 8.
    2. My hair is curly, I blow it straight every day.
    3. I am overdue at the wax salon bc I'm Italian and that s**t hurts, so I avoid it. My cousin used to call me, "wolf girl" bc of it.
    4. I am so pale if I even THINK about taking a walk on the beach, I'll burst into flames.

    Thanks for your honesty girl!!! Hugs and cookies in the closet!!! :)

  4. I live too much inside my own head because I don't actually picture main characters. In fact, I've had to consciously assign physical traits to my characters because I'm just in there, looking out from their eyes. I guess I never realized that even book characters can make people feel bad about themselves. :-(

  5. No matter how many times people tell you that you're beautiful, you're always the one whose features glare out from the mirror, begging to be pointed out and cried over. I'm sorry it happens to you, too. I wish there was something I could say to make it go away for every one of us, but I guess that's what keeps us humble? I guess? Just know I love you and I, personally have looked at your picture several times and wondered why I don't take a picture like that.


  6. Thank you for causing us writers to ponder what we are praising in our writing. This post is brave, straight from your heart and true. Thank you for putting into words what many experience, but not many can express. Well done.

  7. One thing is for sure: you are a damn fine writer. What society think so as attractive may shift, but no one could read these words and not find them beautiful.

  8. *hugs* Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and you have always been beautiful to me, inside and out. We all have those feelings of inadequacy. I wish we could all just be comfortable in our own skins, and happy to be ourselves. Me included.

  9. Thank you all. From the response, so many of us feel like this. I wish images of "perfection" would just go away. I appreciate your words and love you all. <3

  10. You are amazing for writing this and putting it out there since though I am not so diverse and beautiful as you are, I still feel this way all the time, picking out the things that I don't like about myself or other things that others may not like about me. From looks to my personality which is strong in your not so typical way, but also introverted that I am afraid no one will understand. I am strange and different. We all just have to embrace it in some way or another I think. Hopefully one day we all will so that so many people don't have to feel this way and they can just feel...perfect. Since there really is no perfect. There is just us.

  11. This is not an over share, Carey. It's the truth, and you are beautiful and brave enough to put it out there. I too am guilty of creating the fantasy in the characters I write because I've grown up with the same feelings of inadequacy compared to what we are told is beautiful. So I'll stop by the closet with cookies...and my trusty flat iron to tame my frizzy hair...because you are so not alone in this. <3

  12. I don't really have a great comment here or anything, but I just want you to know that this made me ragey and sad, by turns, at society, and I think you're wonderful and I'm proud to know you.

    Also, you're cute as the dickens.

  13. Oh my goodness, great big hugs for you and the courage it took to actually post about this topic. The things you say about our society (and the shallowness of it) are too true. I have blonde, super straight hair, hazel eyes and most of the curves you talk about. But you know what I've heard in my life? 'Couldn't you get a boon job so they'd be bigger?' Dye your hair (any shade but the blonde it is)? Lose weight. Lose more weight. Is that really your size? How much do you weigh? Haven't you lost all the baby weight yet? Unfortunately, some of this has been from my husband. We've worked through it but is was so hurtful at the time.

    I hope you don't mind but I'm going to tell you what finally worked for me. When I FINALLY told everyone (including my inner mean-girl) to SHUT THE EFF UP! And the people who inspired the change most of all are my daughters. I look at them and they are so smart and sweet and beautiful. I don't want them to go through this crap. So I have to teach them by example (by not being so hard on myself) that they are beautiful for who they are and not what anyone else has to say or thinks. Only time will tell if the lessons work but I'll be damned if I stand by and let them feel inferior for being beautiful individuals.

    Sorry for posting a novella but I think you are courageous to face this. And you are beautiful, Carey. We all are and any negativity be damned.

  14. I often dream, in my beat up, gray haired, bushy eyebrowed, pale skinned, heavily scarred, overweight body, that one day, I'll look like the others in my family. I could line up picture, after picture, after picture of beautiful cousins, with ideal bodies. Or my gorgeous sister, at six foot tall, blonde, blue eyed, perfectly curved, with the perfect smile and laugh who has had entire NBA teams fight over who was going to give her money at the craps table ... and when people hear I'm the older sister ... for over 35 years they say the same thing ... "Wow, that's your sister? She got the looks, huh?" Or when they see my daughter - my blonde haired, blue eyes, perfectly proportioned daughter, then look at me and ask if she was adopted. Or when they see my brother (and one modeling little sister), who was born with perfect olive toned skin, straight, thick black hair, milk chocolate brown eyes, they turn to me and ask, "What happened to you?" (He and I have a 1/2 N. AK father ...)

    All of my life. All 41 years of being told by family and strangers, how my legs are too short, or I'm too fat, or I'm ugly, my face is too round, my hair too curly/frizzy/thick, stupid, useless. How I'm lucky I look like Kathy Bates because the two of us at least have some kind of talent, but, as they say, beauty isn't all about talent.

    I get it. I understand. Nobody can do anything for you ... you have to be the one to look at yourself in the mirror, and tell yourself every day, "I may not be society's ideal, but I'm my ideal." It takes years. It takes decades. I know, I'm still doing it. I fail somedays, but others ... I smile at my own image. And I mean it. Once in awhile, Hubby comes up behind me, kisses my neck, and tells me I'm beautiful - and I believe him. Or my Filly throws a fit because I said, "Dang, I'm fat." (Yes, I'm schooled by my 14 yo) And I actually agree with her.

    It's hard. It's mind boggling. But I love you for who you are - a beautiful, talented, intelligent woman/mother/author/teacher/friend.

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  16. I'm a writer as well and ironically, I've actually forced myself to write about men and women who are extremely beautiful in my stories. It actually disturbs me a little bit when I do and is difficult for me. When I write first drafts of my novels, they actually include zero description of physical characteristics because it's super unimportant to me.

    And I have yet to write a story where the characters were anything, but dirt poor.

    And because I wasn't writing about characters who were pretty and rich and my fellow writers who do sell a lot more books, I started to receive all this pressure to write characters who had more money and were prettier. I've given in to some of it. I'll include a description or two of how good looking my characters are, but will gag through the entire thing and not do it again.

    It's why I wrote about Medusa because she's so ugly she turns people into stone. I liked writing about that better than writing about some pretty girl who hangs out on the beach.

    And Perseus in the book, who falls in love with Medusa, I made him extremely handsome. But he has this fault, where he's obsessed with perfection and with what people think of him, to the point where he couldn't care less if he hurts those that he loves the most. This made some people mad at me because they wanted Perseus to be perfect in every way, I guess, but it just doesn't make sense to my brain to write characters who are those things.

    To me good looking people with perfect personalities and who are rich are so unrealistic and boring that I hate them. It is really confusing for me because on one hand, I want to write in a way so that people with unique physical characteristics and unique personalities can feel beautiful and wonderful and see how interesting they are. But on the other hand, I want to sell books, so there's this war inside me constantly, battling to figure out how I should write and my books are a strange mixture of the two feelings. I don't like to write what is most people's fantasies. I want to write something that is raw and real. But honestly, the more I write those things, the more people say that my stories weren't happy and they couldn't finish them. Or that they didn't love the characters because they had these faults they didn't like.

    People who write romance also tell me that I'm not actually a romance writer as well. Because some of the requirements apparently are that the characters must be beautiful and happy in the end and perfect. If they aren't, then you disappoint all romance readers. I had no idea that it was like that until I actually started writing this way and was told that this is the wrong way of doing things.

    It's very frustrating because not only do we all want to write out our fantasies and include perfect people in our stories, but if we don't, you receive a lot of disapproval for not doing so.

  17. I think you make a good point in what people are writing about. There are many more imperfect and, well, normal characters in books these days, and I think people appreciate that.

    Also, prom is overrated.

  18. Woman, I don't think any of us will ever feel up to par with beautiful celebrities, models, etc. It's their job to look fabulous, whether they have to starve themselves, do drugs or get plastic surgery. I'm sorry you were married to a douchebag. Not all men are obsessed with perfect beauty. Have confidence in yourself knowing you're a good person and one day you'll find someone who loves you unconditionally. I truly believe there's someone out there for everyone!! Chin up, no more closet!!

  19. I guess it was about ten years ago that I started to ask myself some questions about what I saw when I looked at a celebrity that I found particularly beautiful. Not all the ones who were touted as being beautiful, mind you. The fame of certain people baffled me -- women who seemed just moderately talented, and sure skinny but not what I would call beautiful. And then others, I could just look at them, you know? Just gaze because they were so pretty, but within about 70 seconds gazing gets boring, so little stories start in my head. And I decided to pay attention to the stories. What do I believe about this person? Well, I believe she has lots of confidence, that's the first thing I associate with beauty. Confidence. Maybe she has lots of friends, but more importantly she has the ability to walk away from relationships that don't feel right. She doesn't let other people tell her what to do, and she doesn't let people outside of her define her. She does what she likes because she likes it. Not hedonistically or destructively, not rebelliously, just confidently, and in ways that are meaningful for her.

    Then I looked at what I actually knew about that person (and yeah I specifically did this with one celebrity). I knew next to nothing about who she actually was as a person, how she lived her life, what the quality of her relationships were, or how she made her decisions. But I respected that part of me that looked at a beautiful woman and defined what made her beautiful. Full lips and wavy black hair are only interesting for so long. "Beautiful" soon has to mean something more than that.

    Freud had a term, "projection," which is still more or less defined in psychological terms as a defense mechanism wherein we displace our unwanted feelings onto another person. And usually these "unwanted feelings" are things like anger, frustration, disappointment. Here's an important secret, though -- we project the things that we want onto others, too. Women, especially, when what we want is something we've been led to believe it is not okay for us to have, but men do it, too. They're also getting messages about what it's not okay to have.

    I still hate my stick-straight hair and thin paper-cut lips. I think my 5'2" body is insufficient. I wonder why my face looks so much like an egg. But I look at myself and those "beautiful people" a little differently now, and I strive to at least be someone I find interesting, and won't mind growing old with.


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