My birthday is Monday, March 26. I’ll be 52. It’s also Diana Ross’ birthday. When I was a girl, I thought that it imparted a bit of celebrity to me to share a birthday with Diana Ross.
In the summer, my mother would allow us to play outside until it was dark and the fireflies began to tantalize us as we tried to capture them in our hands. On those hot summer evenings, my sister and I would recruit a neighbor to join us and we would become the Supremes, hands on our hips, stepping to the beat, and singing lyrics that we didn’t fully understand—“Stop! In the Name of Love,” “Where Did Our Love Go,” “Baby Love,” “Touch Me in the Morning,” “Love Child.” I loved those summers and I loved those songs. I didn’t really know anything about love but I would tilt my head back and sing with all the enthusiasm that I could muster about love lost or won. My grandest desire by the time that I was 11-years-old was to have a gold lame dress and a bouffant hairdo.
As I moved into adolescence, my perspective began to change. I was awkward, uncomfortable in my own body. I don’t recall wearing training bras. I woke up one morning when I was twelve and I had breasts; my first bra was a C-cup. I was also fat and it was no longer cute. There are photos of me when I was four that show a solemn-faced child leaning against an old Buick and she is thin. My class photo for kindergarten shows a solemn-faced child with chubby cheeks and she is not thin. I have no memory of being thin; my life begins with being fat. When you’re a fat little girl, people still call you cute; old ladies like to pinch your cheeks and refer to you as a “chubby little thing.” Puberty is totally different. I turned twelve, got breasts, and became in need of dieting. My sister still danced around and sang the Supremes’ latest top ten hit, but I stayed quiet. The only thing worse than being fat is being a fat girl who calls attention to herself.
By the time that I was 16, I understood that there was something shameful about being fat and that all that love in all those songs was not meant for fat girls. I discovered Joni Mitchell and purchased one of her albums, “Blue.” I also developed a crush on my best friend. There is no one more woebegone than a 16-year-old who fancies herself in love with a boy who sees her only as a good friend. I was privy to all of his secrets, including knowing who he had a crush on. I listened to Joni’s recording of “A Case of You” until I knew all the words, “You’re in my blood like holy wine, you taste so bitter and so sweet, and I could drink a case of you, darling, and still be on my feet.” When I went away to college, I took care to pack all of my Joni Mitchell albums. They came in handy; on lonely Friday nights, Joni kept me company.
There have been times when I’ve told myself that my feelings of inadequacy have been self-imposed, but when I look at our culture's obsession with appearance, I find that difficult to believe. As I’ve surfed the Internet, I find that insulting people because they are fat is perfectly acceptable in many circles. It goes something like this--fat people are ugly, lazy, and worthless and have no reason to exist. I addressed my feelings to one J-Lander about entries and photos in his journal demeaning people for being fat but I don’t think that he understood at all.
I’m not sure what I expect or want, maybe it’s just to be judged for the person that I am and not the size of my body. As I approach turning another year older, I have made peace with my body for the most part. On occasion a cruel remark made by a stranger will turn me back into that insecure teenager but it passes.
Today, I’m feeling not just okay about my body but downright beautiful, thanks to a J-Lander named Russ. He is a talented cartoonist that I encountered via Gerry’s journal. He had drawn a cartoon that I thought captured her essence so beautifully that I pleaded with him to waive his deadline and do a drawing of me. He kindly agreed to do so and the result is below. Russ is not only talented; he has a kind heart and a generous spirit. He has another journal that is also worth checking out. Thank you Russ; I plan to have a very happy birthday.