metamorphosis

during the frigid season,
she stayed warm
inside a cocoon of
sweaters & scarves.
basking in the sun,
she shrugs off
her cumbersome clothes.
transformed
as her dress swings
while she twirls
in the warm breeze.

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(permanently) a work in progress

in two hours, you turn twenty-six
(four years from thirty, not that you’re counting).
when your mother points out the “flaws” in your figure,
(breasts that can’t be contained by button-up shirts
& hips that never widened during puberty)
laugh & remember that
her spitefulness is only rivaled by her jealousy.
when you trip in front of the crowd
on the train platform & feel twelve again
(the era of an almost mullet & headgear)
look in the mirror & remember that
you’re not an awkward tween.
when a former party friend suggests
that falling in love rendered you weak,
(being the instigator of wild times
was the mark of a badass)
roll your eyes & remember that
you found strength in accepting yourself.
you are (permanently) a work in progress.

The reclamation of beauty

When I was four years old,
I drew (fair-skinned) mermaids
with huge breasts & light hair
that flowed down to their tiny waists.
The mermaids’ faces never looked like mine —
their eyes were larger (& not almond-shaped),
their noses were smaller (& pointed),
their mouths were fuller (& bright pink).
Every night, I’d pray that the next morning,
I’d wake up transformed into Ariel,
a beautiful (white) mermaid.

When I was fourteen years old,
I watched Gilmore girls obsessively.
While I could relate to Lane (Rory’s Korean best friend)
she never considered herself pretty,
nor was she sought after by cute boys
(the measure of a teenage girl’s beauty & self-worth).
Her first (unrequited) love was music &
her failed attempts at dating were a repetitive punchline.
The sarcastic brown girl was always the funny foil
to the doe-eyed protagonist with a porcelain complexion.
I wasn’t the heroine in my own life.

When I was twenty-four years old,
I lifted my chin defiantly & looked in the mirror.
My eyes were dark brown (& almond shaped)
my nose was wide (& round)
my mouth was small (& pale pink).
I’d never be a tall, restrained, universally liked queen,
since I was a short, loud, unapologetically honest woman.
There was a newfound freedom (& power) in being myself.
I (finally) recognized that when
my handsome man said, “You’re beautiful.”
it was the truth.

“What are those things under your shirt?”

As a teenager, I babysat rambunctious boys. They destroyed everything in their path. They brawled to resolve arguments. Their parents laughed, “Boys will be boys!” when I described their aggression.

When a couple down the street asked me to babysit their demure five-year-old daughter Ana, I was relieved. Playing with Barbies and reading stories would be a welcome break from the chaos of babysitting boys. I wouldn’t have to stop fights or put valuables in unreachable places.

After going over Ana’s bedtime routine and their contact numbers, her parents left for their date night. We had pizza for dinner and played hide and go seek. (Not as difficult with two people, she discovered.) Before bedtime, Ana insisted that we have a tea party. We sat at her pink table and sipped invisible tea out of matching teacups.

“Samantha, how do you like my tea party?”

“It’s the loveliest tea party I’ve been to, Ana. Thank you for being a gracious hostess.”

“What are those things under your shirt?”

“You mean…my bra?”

“What’s in your bra? My mommy said those are called breasts, right?”

“Uh — ”

“My mommy and daddy are doctors. They say you should use the real words for privates.”

“Scientifically speaking, I have breasts under my shirt.”

“When will I get those?”

“It depends on when you go through puberty.”

“What’s that?”

“When your body changes — actually, you should ask your mom about it, not me.”

“My mommy and daddy aren’t regular doctors. They talk to people to make sure their brains are happy. What’s that called?”

“They’re psychiatrists.”

“Why are they white and I’m brown?”

“…”

“My hair doesn’t look like my mommy’s either.”

“This tea party has been a fantastic one, but it’s your bedtime, Ana.”

“Already?”

“Teeth brushing and pajama time for you!”

“You’re not making me sleep early because I ask lots of questions, are you?”

“Not at all!”

While Ana slept, I decided two things:

  1. I would rather broker peace between battling brothers than field more awkward questions from this observant little girl.
  2. I would never babysit for a couple of psychiatrists ever again.

“There are starving children in Manila. Finish your food.”

“There are starving children in Manila. Finish your food.”

This refrain was repeated throughout childhood. At an early age, my siblings and I learned that regardless of the amount or type of food that was on your plate, you ate it. No questions asked. Kids who wasted food were rude — repugnant, even. Our friends were judged for being picky eaters.

It’s no surprise that the three of us have had weight issues at different stages of our lives. After years of hearing “clean your plate,” learning moderation was (and still is, at times) difficult. Even now, my mother is a relentless food pusher.

“I’m trying to eat healthier.”

“So? You can have ice cream. Then you can just run later.”

“I would rather just skip dessert.”

“Just listen to me, I know what I’m talking about.”

Except, my mother doesn’t know (about this, or anything she hasn’t actually experienced).

In elementary school, I was the chubby kid on the country club swim team. To say that the kind of girls who lived in that neighborhood were cruel shallow bitches would be an understatement.

“What size do you wear?” Maddie asked as I wrapped a towel around myself after practice.

“Why do you want to know?” I quickly packed up my tote bag.

“So I never let myself go like that.” She followed me to the parking lot.

“I have a slower metabolism than you do.” Don’t let her see you cry.

“Maybe you should lay off the fatty foods, then.” She flipped her hair and sneered.

We were eleven years old. I waited until I bolted out of my mother’s car and into my room before crying and eating a stack of Chips Ahoy cookies. I found solace in food and books. Though my mother insisted I was beautiful as I was, she added that I’d outgrow my chubbiness. I did in middle school, but eating my feelings was a habit that persisted.

Now, I’m unlearning the association that only wasteful assholes don’t clean their plates. I’ll never be a waif, but I’m working on being healthier. I’m not perfect and I’m okay with that.

Your former nemesis

It’s one of those days
you can’t escape
self-loathing
(your former nemesis).
In front of a mirror,
you tug your tanktop
and pinch your sides.
It’s one of those days
you try, but fail
to remember that
(you are not your weight)
you are beautiful.

Three deadly sins

I. Wrath

When Brie was diagnosed with autism, I became her defender. I was an aggressive crusader against people who said “retarded” or “retard” in a derogatory way (or ever, really).

Tenth grade was the height of my belligerence. On a bus ride after a marching band competition, an obnoxious drummer was impersonating a boy with Downs Syndrome from a rival band.

“I’m a reeetaaaard.” He kept repeating as he intentionally tripped down the bus aisle.

I tapped him on the shoulder and slapped him across the face as he turned around.

“What gives you the right to make fun of that boy?! You’re pathetic — making fun of a kid who can’t defend himself.”

“Damn — I was just joking, Sam.”

“Did it ever occur to you that he’s someone’s brother? Or maybe, that I’ve got a sister who’s in special ed? Or that other people do, too?”

“No it didn’t. Shit. I’m sorry.”

II. Envy

When you’re a former chubby girl, it’s hard to overcome body image issues even after you’ve lost weight. Most days, I believed what I saw in the mirror and in photos. Every once in awhile, old insecurities crept into the back of my mind.

Andrea is lovely. She has long eyelashes and brown hair. Her favorite food groups are cheese and bacon, but she’s naturally slim. She’s also one of the smartest and quirkiest people I know. We’ve been The Ridiculous for over a decade, so it’s uncertain whether we react to things similarly because we’ve been best friends so long, or if that’s why we became friends in the first place.

In college, there were times when guys (acquaintances, not friends or romantic prospects) would say,

“Your friend’s hot. Hook me up?”

I would laugh. “You wouldn’t stand a chance.”

Yet self-loathing mantras of days past persisted.

Your best friend is hot. You’re the funny, sassy one. Why would someone ever think you’re pretty?

III. Pride

When I was in middle school, there was no one more insufferable to have as a classmate than me. I went to a small Catholic school in Birmingham with less than fifty kids per grade (from preschool to eighth grade). I was the Filipino Hermione Granger from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and due to the size of the school, most people knew it.

In eighth grade, my group of friends was constantly getting dragged into the guidance counselor’s office because of another group of girls. Our group was comprised of overachievers. We won the spelling and geography bees. We had the highest test scores. We genuinely liked and got along with our teachers.

The other group was comprised of the girls who were wearing full makeup in sixth grade. By eighth grade, they either were or knew people who were partying with their older siblings who went to the Catholic high school. The situation was a Taylor Swift song personified.

The other group’s queen bee and I would get into emailing wars. We accused each other of talking shit. Finally, our homeroom teachers staged an intervention, Mean Girls style. We gathered in a circle and each girl aired her grievances. Tears were shed. Everyone got along (for the moment).

Still, I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself because the queen bee claimed that our group was put on a podium, not a pedestal.