If You Can’t Look Inside You, Find Out Who Am I To Be in the Position to Make Me Feel So Damn Unpretty

I was a very late bloomer. I started wearing a training bra not because I needed one, but because I started junior high and we started changing for gym class and showering afterward. I didn’t want to be the only girl in the whole school not wearing a bra. It was bad enough that we had to wear gym uniforms and they didn’t come in my size so I was swamped by the hideous thing, bad enough to be naked and flat-chested–it was all just bad.

Tonia, two years younger, was already taller and heavier than me. Not a lot–as adults, she was 2 inches taller and about 5 lbs heavier, and those 5 pounds could all be found in her chest. She started developing in 5th grade and began menstruating about a month after I did–so when she was 12. Joyce got no end of amusement out of the fact that I was late to develop and Tonia was early. She was very proud of the fact that like her, Tonia was big-busted. She loved to tell people that Tonia would toss her old bras she’d outgrown at me. Can I say? Ugh. One, Tonia NEVER ever did such a thing. She hated her large chest and how expensive and ugly large cup bras are. She wore them until they were unwearable. Two, Tonia never ever acted superior to me for our respective bra sizes; she’d never throw a bra in my face literally or figuratively. And three, what kind of person discusses her daughters’ breast sizes with other people, in front of said daughters? Seriously.

Definitely not me, but I do empathize–except Nancy is treated as desirable.

Sometime near the beginning of my seventh grade year, Joyce and Larry were upstairs in their room, watching TV after supper. Tonia, Sean and I were cleaning the kitchen so we could go outside and play with the AMA before the sun went down and the streetlights came on. Joyce called me up to their room. They were both laying on the bed, side by side, propped on pillows against the headboard, both of their legs crossed at the ankles. They were giggling as I came up the stairs and entered their room to stand at the foot of their bed. Larry said, “We need you to do something for your mama. Put your hands in front of your chest, palms together like you’re praying”. 

Puzzled, I complied, and he nudged her and told her to go ahead. Still smiling, Joyce told me to push my hands together real hard and then relax. I did so. She said, “Ok, now do it again, and while you’re doing it, say this: “We must! We must! We must increase our bust!” And they collapsed in gales of laughter. Dismayed, embarrassed, I dropped my hands to my sides and stood at the foot of their bed, waiting to be dismissed, willing myself not to cry. Larry rolled his eyes and said, “Oh, come on! It’s a joke!”

Joyce told me not to be so sensitive. She told me my emotions were too easy to read  on my face. She told me I should learn to control my face. She said, “You better learn to hide your emotions or you’ll never get married–men don’t want to know what you’re thinking.” No longer waiting to be dismissed, I walked downstairs while their laughter echoed behind me. I got the last laugh though–I got married three times. Guess I showed them.

No-color eyes

Every time I taught my stage makeup class–1-2 times a year for 20 years–I recounted all the things Joyce had told me were wrong with my face and ‘corrected’ them.

Santa Claus nose

Joyce always told everyone that when I was born I was all eyes and butt. She said I had the biggest eyes she’d ever seen on a baby–and the biggest butt. Larry could hold me in one hand, not because I was so small (I weighed 6 lbs, 5 oz) but because my butt was so big–as big as my head, and it made balancing me very easy.  She said she cried when I was born because I had Larry’s nose and she hated his nose. She knew it was going to grow to be a giant round nose, like my eyes, which were too big for my face, and my butt.  She was blond and Larry’s hair was black, but I was born bald and when my hair finally came in, it was no-color hair. If pressed to name the color of my hair, Joyce called it dishwater blonde. 

Dishwater blond hair

My no-color hair was wavy and always looked uncombed. It wasn’t curly, but it wasn’t straight either. It was just wavy and unruly. Before I started kindergarten, Joyce had my hair cut into a pixie cut. She instantly regretted it; I looked like a boy. My eyebrows were dark like a boy’s and my jaw was square and boyish. My baby teeth came in with a condition that caused the enamel to be too soft and rot away: enamel hypoplasia. My teeth were breaking and exposing the soft insides. I had to have caps put on them–the four front teeth on top and bottom. At that time, the caps were made of a silver amalgam. When I smiled, it was all silver. Joyce said she could find me in the dark from the shine of my teeth. When the James Bond film “The Spy Who Loved Me” debuted the silver-toothed character ‘Jaws’, Joyce said he was my father–look at the resemblance! My silver teeth were long gone by that time, but why waste an opportunity to chip away at my self esteem?  Of course when my permanent teeth came in, they were too big for my mouth and 8 of them had to be pulled to make room. I guess I was meant to have eight fewer teeth than everyone else.

Silver stainless-steel caps

Joyce informed me my lips were too thin. No man would ever want to kiss me. And I look at pictures of her and just take one guess as to whose lips I have. She said I needed to grow my fingernails long and keep them that way to make my short, fat fingers look thin and graceful and long. It was a good thing I was so smart since I wasn’t much to look at.


Except for the giant butt, I basically had no shape: flat-chested with too-skinny legs and no hips. Giant butt but no hips. I looked like a boy. A very emotional boy. With long fingernails. My eyes are no-color, too. You can call them hazel, but that’s just a name for eyes that aren’t a certain color–maybe they’re just gray? (My son-in-law says they’re green.) Plus I was clumsy. At least I could dance and keep a beat, but I should not try to sing.

Now Tonia? Tonia could sing. She had no rhythm, but her voice was beautiful. Her hair was beautiful, gold as the sun, and not too thick or too thin, or too curly or too straight.  Sure her hair fell in her eyes sometimes, but unlike mine–which was ALWAYS covering my (no-color) eyes–Tonia looked mysterious and flirtatious with her hair in her eyes, not sloppy and sullen. Tonia had perfect cupid’s bow lips, the perfect shade of pink, and her eyes were blue, framed with long thick lashes. My own lashes brushed against the lenses in my spectacles when I blinked, but that was TOO long and such long lashes hid my too-big eyes.

Too long

Tonia’s eyes were blue and wide, but just the right size for her face and her skin was smooth and clear–not oily and broken out like mine–I can thank Larry for that skin when I thank him for my nose.

Tonia had a larger than average chest, just like Joyce, and her hips and butt were just the right size and roundness. Joyce thought she could’ve probably stood to lose a few pounds–breasts that big can make a woman look fat, and men don’t like fat women.  But not too much weight: Tonia’s legs were great-looking, not skinny like mine.

Tonia was so graceful, too-she could even run in high heels! She’d never be able to dance like me, but she could tap dance like she was born doing it. And sure, she could never hope to be even half as smart and capable as me, but that’s ok. Men don’t like smart women.

Tonia–who truly was beautiful

Sean? Well when he was born with severe in-toeing and had to wear a brace on his legs for 3 years, Joyce and Larry weren’t sure he was actually going to be able to walk. And even after the braces came off, he was still pigeon-toed, but Larry worked like hell to make him into a football player. And if Sean continued to be short as an adult, maybe instead of football, he could play professional soccer. Sean wanted to learn to play the drums and write songs, but athletes make more money, so music lessons were not forthcoming.

Anyway, with Sean’s ash-blond hair, blue eyes, and full pouty lips, he looked like that rock-star…Bon Jovi? He didn’t need to BE a singer if he looked like one. He’d grow up and be the next Larry Csonka, or at least play for the Dolphins. He just needed to practice and learn to run faster.

Jon Bon Jovi

Her second child was in kindergarten before Tonia realized she was more than just a pretty face and a large set of boobs. She had a brain, she was smart, she was capable. I don’t know if Sean ever understood he wasn’t meant to be an athlete. He should’ve been a musician. He seemed to believe he was a failure who hadn’t tried hard enough instead of understanding he was a short, slight, pigeon-toed man with little innate athletic ability. He was a pretty good amateur musician for a while though.

Know how I can tell Joyce took this picture of me? The look in my eyes, saying, “Please stop.”

My second child was nearly 2 when I looked in the mirror to brush my hair and realized I was not ugly. I may never be a supermodel, but children don’t hide in terror when they see me. I hate pictures of myself; I can’t bear to look at how unpretty I am. I hate the mirror too; I can only see the undesirable parts and rarely the whole. I don’t know how I ever managed to get married–and more than once! My therapist tells me my math is bad: If Tonia was beautiful and sometimes people mistook me for her, then that doesn’t add up to me being ugly. I get what she’s saying, but… I look in the mirror and all I can see is aging not-Tonia. The no-color hair is going gray, the no color eyes hide behind tired eyelids, sadness lines instead of laugh lines bracket my mouth. 

My children are beautiful and always have been since the day they were born. The first time Joyce tried to comment on my daughter’s adolescent body, I told her if she ever, EVER commented on Monica’s body again, it would be the last time she ever saw her. So instead Joyce would comment about my body to my daughter. Sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying.

Me: 9th grade. Tonia: 7th grade.


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