I've read more than my share of articles about how women's self-esteem and internal body image are molded by advertising or 'the media.' Don't have Beyonce's legs? Awww, too bad. And, if beauty and fashion ads didn't warp you, the blame for our insecurities falls on Mom or especially Dad since he was the first male to approve... or not.
I was one of the lucky ones.
If you check out this picture of me from third grade, you'll see I could be called scrawny, at best. I was small for my age and kind of bony. Maybe it was worse than that, because in the mall, shoppers used to approach my Mom with me in tow, to ask, "Do you feed her?" Mom was proudly protective and gritted her teeth, probably muttering that at least I didn't seem to be inhaling potato chips like the offending lady's kid. But she worried. She used to make these concoctions of ginger ale, raw egg, milk and bananas and get me to chug them down to chub up.
But once I hit freshman year of high school, I added a shiny signpost to the top of my beanpole -- braces, the steely kind that glinted in the sun and caught stray hair. In my photo ID taken the first day of school, with my long and unfashionably wavy hair crowding out my neck and splayed across my flat, pale chest, I honestly looked like a voodoo head on a stick.
But it was Dad who changed what I saw in the mirror. I remember one Saturday night when I was dressed to go out to a dance in a mini dress with chunky shoes, frizzy hair and an aluminum smile, feeling extremely uncool compared to my classmates who were curvy girls with stick-straight, steam-ironed locks. And Dad stared, paused, then said, "When you get a little older, do you know what you will be?" Sullen and downcast, I answered, "What?" "Willowy. You will be willowy."
Willowy. I was never going to be voluptuous like Mom or like one of the racehorse, athletic types of the drill team. But I could be willowy... like a tree, like a dancer, like a woman who's content to be graceful rather than gorgeous. What a gift to give to girl when she was most vulnerable and hopeful.
I lost my father two years ago. I don't have him here anymore to say, "Baby, you look lovely," as he did, for as long as I can remember. But even as I look in the mirror now, settled into the body I was born with, I thank my Dad for making me feel beautiful. No, better than that. Unique. Willowy.