The Swimsuit Issue! Subscribe now!

August 19, 2010

It’s the body image blog, inspired in part by the fact that it’s bathing-suit season, inspired in part by the fact that the other major suggestion my editor-friend made re: my manuscript My Brief History of Sex Education had to do with the fact that I rarely describe my body in the book, an omission she apparently thinks leaves the book wanting.

Me in my favorite sweatshirt in the offseason.

It made me realize that perhaps I write like I used to dress in high school only I hide behind words now rather than clothes. In high school I used to go to the beach and disappear beneath a giant orange Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup sweatshirt, size XL, that my grandmother had gotten free through the mail after sending in about 100 Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup wrappers, 89 of which I had eaten myself, which may have been why I felt compelled to wear the sweatshirt in the first place.

Heart attack in a jar.

At school I wore a wide variety of oversized clothing, especially toward the later years—the years after I quit playing basketball and field hockey and before I realized that when you’re no longer playing basketball and field hockey you really shouldn’t be eating a half dozen cheese, pickle and Miracle Whip sandwiches every day for an after school snack.

So my daily wardrobe consisted mainly of clothes I raided my from my grandmother’s closet—think comfy wool cardigans and big shirts in silky fabrics or blue chambray, a curious mix of Bea Arthur in her Golden Girls era and pretty much anything Katharine Hepburn wore after she turned 60 or so. I enjoyed spending my day wearing something big and soft that smelled like a comforting mixture of baked goods, talcum powder, and Jean Naté perfume, but I’m not sure I made much of a fashion statement.


When I wasn’t wearing my grandmother’s clothes, I tended to look like Boy George only not as cute if only because he did a much better job than I on hair and makeup. For this look I alternated between black leggings and a collection of elastic-waist skirts my grandmother sewed from a stack of Polynesian-themed fabric she had piled in the recesses of her closet, over which I wore tablecloth-sized scarves and tuxedo-shirts I’d bought at the Arrow outlet store on Weirs Boulevard in Laconia, New Hampshire or my favorite accessory, my London Fog black raincoat which covered me almost head to toe.

And no, I can tell you that smoking does not help you lose weight, unless you consider the fact that you lose pretty much all your weight after you die of lung cancer.

Really could have used this back then. . .

What was the point of these fashion choices? In part they were due to the cheese, pickle and Miracle Whip sandwiches and in part they were due to adolescent insecurity; I liked to believe that the larger my outfits were, the smaller I would appear. I’m pretty sure, however, the only thing that looked smaller was my head, a la David Byrne in his Stop Making Sense phase. But boy would I have loved a suit like David Byrne’s—with a suit that big I could probably have disappeared entirely. And isn’t that what we all want when we’re teenagers?

David Byrne is probably thinking about high school. . .

So is my manuscript is lacking because I don’t share these body image anecdotes? I have to admit perhaps. In my discussions with various agents and editors this year (and no, no one has yet swept me up and whisked me off to publishing heaven yet, but I remain hopeful and hardworking), many have said my book would do well as a memoir for young adults, and girls in particular would better connect if I were more open about these body issues—issues that affect all women, however perfect or lovely we truly are, however beautiful we appear, from the inside or out.

And as I think back to my own absurd ways of dealing with the insecurity I felt about my body back then, it wasn’t hard to immediately recall all the silly things my girlfriends did in high school as well. Below is the briefest list of girls I’ve known and the insecurities they suffered through in high school:

A girl who wore long johns beneath her jeans because she thought her legs were too skinny. She also wore a huge sweatshirt at the beach like me, but in her case she wore it because she also thought she was too flat-chested and was always afraid her lack of body fat would make her lips turn a noticeable blue.

A girl who also thought she was too flat-chested and would stand in the mirror and jump up and down every day, hoping against hope that one day she would be able to see her chest “jiggle.” Although I was unable to witness the breakthrough myself, I can happily report that she said she was eventually successful.

A girl who, convinced the light golden fuzz on her arms turned her into a girl-illa, shaved her arms as well as the rest of her body. All I can say is that I think women already have to shave enough parts of our bodies and that arm stubble is weird and I really hope she doesn’t do it anymore.

A friend who used to borrow her mother’s girdle because she thought she was fat until one night her boyfriend put his arm around her and squeezed, then squeezed again, then asked, “What the hell is that?” and she lied and said it was a back brace and then never wore it again.

These are just the silliest examples, the light-hearted examples—discussing how easy it may have been to develop a full-fledged eating disorder (in the ‘80s the simplest way would be to catch a few choice episodes of Oprah, many of which could basically serve as how-to manuals) I won’t even begin to touch on. But I think, again, my editor-friend is right. More work, but it’s worth it. No more hiding behind my muumuu of words . . . time to strip down and reveal all.

And as I finish this final blog of the summer—yes, September is upon us even now—I want to encourage any of you who are enjoying these infrequent posts to subscribe to my blog. As you can tell I do not overwhelm you with the banal minutiae of my day—I promise no blogs about what kind of breakfast cereal I prefer or which shampoo best cures my nagging dandruff issues—but if you like what you’ve read so far, click on the button way down at the bottom of the blog and add your email to my list. It will keep you posted (better than Facebook even), on when I post something new. Plus it’s free—and what is there left in the world that’s free, other than love and the common cold?

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3 Responses to “The Swimsuit Issue! Subscribe now!”

  1. Fuse said

    Huh.

    I don’t know whether this “hurts” or “helps,” but your descriptions of yourself- physically and sartorially- are not at all in line with how I remember you…

    …which kind of makes me wonder just how different my recollections of myself at that time are from reality!

  2. Yeah, I think that’s part of the point–that we all have totally skewed perceptions of ourselves at that age (and perhaps now as well!). At the risk of sounding like a therapist, it’s part of being human. . .

  3. Katrina said

    I don’t remember you in huge clothes either. I remember that your outfits fit the cool music that you introduced me to. I thought you had guts to have your own style with your scarves and tuxedo shirts, whereas I was a preppy follow-the-trends girl.

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