Monday, January 30, 2006

She's Perfect With Just a Little Airbrushing

I was gorgeous before I moved to LA. If there is any town that will mess with your self image, it’s this one. Where women are rewarded with million dollar modeling contracts for not eating and living on cocaine, how is a real woman supposed to compete?

I did a little modeling for local catalogs when I was a pre-teen. I’d been scouted at thirteen by Elite but my dad was busy running a company and couldn’t drive me to jobs. He said I could sign with them when I was sixteen and could drive myself but by sixteen I was thinking about college and modeling just never seemed to fit in. In a family that praised brain power, using my looks to get ahead seemed like a mark of failure.

Seventeen years later, I figured what the heck? As long as I’m picking up long forgotten dreams, might as well see about that one too. I had a friend shoot some head/body shots of me and made the rounds of the agencies in town.

Most unceremoniously dismissed me. One said I had a great look but to try their Classics division. Classics means old people. At thirty-one I was supposed to schill for Depends? Another hawkish women said she liked my features but I was a little, you know, big. I plastered on a smile, thanked her and walked away.

Big? Old? Did this woman not care that I had worked my ass off over the last few years to lose my New York Frustration weight? I had gone from a size 14/16 to an 8. From 185 pounds to 150. “I never date a woman over 120pounds” says a profile on a local dating website, seeking tall women. 120 pounds? I’m six feet tall. Do you have any idea how emaciated I would look 30 pounds less? Well, if I could gain back up to fit a size 12 I could be a plus size model, was my consolation from hawkface. A 12? Plus size? A 12 is normal!

Discussing this with a former actress friend, she told me of her size-related dismissal. Once on set as a gigantic size 4, her zipper broke and when she went to wardrobe to get another dress she was told they only had size 0 and 2 in stock. She was just too big.

The thing is, I’m a grown up. I know better than to get caught up in body issues and pining for a size I’ll never achieve.

“Look how skinny she is.” I recently pointed out an A list actress to a friend.
“She doesn’t eat, sweetie.” She informed me. “They bring her juice in her trailer. Juice.”

A few months ago, Dove launched their Campaign for Real Beauty featuring normal shaped women on billboards all over town. I found myself staring at them every time I passed one. They tangled me up. My first thought was: Hooray for the big women! How great to give girls a better role-model than a juice-drinker. I loved the billboards.

I loved them as long as I had believed I was better than that. Great for them - patronizing pat on the head - but I’m skinny. I’m like that girl over there on the Calvin Klein billboard. That perfect, tiny-waisted, flat-tummied, perky-breasted, skinny-thighed…wait a minute.

As I checked out the stats of the Dove women online, I realized that was what that agency exec had seen when she’d looked at me, a big girl. A Dove girl, not a CK girl. A devastatingly normal girl. Then I hated the Dove billboards.

“Well, you are a big girl.” My dad’s voice echoes in my head. “A tall drink of water.”

“Um, yeah, well you eat,” says my friend Sarah.

So I should stop eating then. Clearly this is the solution. So me, a rational adult, a woman with no real visions of a super-model career, stopped eating. I fasted for a month. I drank juice. I worked out. I got down to a size six. A perfect, dress-fit model six. I felt gorgeous again. I went to the most expensive jean store in town and tried on jeans. I was sure the sales girl was insanely jealous over my perfect six ass. She was also probably not too thrilled I didn’t buy any jeans. I knew I couldn’t maintain it. Sarah was right. I eat. I like food. I learned to cook in Italy for chrissakes. And those people know good food!

So I spent many more months straightening my metabolism back out so I could eat normal, balanced food and not inflate like a balloon. I’m back to the size and weight I should be at six feet. I’m still trying to rebuild the muscle tone I lost.

It’s a challenge to love the skin you’re in when the world around you exalts the impossibly skinny and the boy you like stops calling you and dates a model instead.

And I was a grown up when I embarked on this folly. So what about the girls behind me? What about the women who know better who still beat themselves up for not looking like a juice drinker? How are teen girls with visions of Cindy Crawford stardom in their eyes supposed to keep their wits about them and their lunches in their stomachs? People slag Kate Moss for doing coke. Well of course she does. We demand that she maintain that impossibly skinny look and how else is it humanly possible? If she gained an ounce the press would rail on about fat and pudgy Kate Moss when she might be edging toward normal at that point.

Did I come to town thinking I’d be the next top model? Well, maybe not. But nor did I expect to be dismissed from every agency in town. Did I expect to be told I was pretty? Yes.

It’s taken me a year of going down down down and then back up to be able to look in the mirror and feel like I felt back home. And if the only person in town who tells me I’m pretty is me, it’s taken me that long to be fine with that - to be fine with normal. It’s important to realize that in a town this crazy image-obsessed, you should only listen to the people whose opinions really count. Like that girl in the mirror. And your cool friend, Sarah, who will share a cookie with you because, really, life’s too short.

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Anonymous Rob said...

You look pretty damn good to me Heidi. Makes me wish I lived in LA...and was single...

Keep smiling and let the skinny chicks starve.

3:43 PM  
Blogger Kid Sis said...

You know what I don't get about all this "fat" stuff in Hollywood...I've gone in the last year and a half from a size 4 to a 16, partly because I don't really want to deal with dating right now...and no matter what the media tells you about being undesirable at that weight, I still get asked out ALL THE DAMN TIME by quality men. Go figure.

1:48 PM  
Anonymous Neil said...

My wife recently had a guest shot on a TV show here in LA, and when they found out that she was a size 14, the wardrobe people almost went into a panic -- this was such a huge size for them. They ended up going to Ross and buying some ugly sack-looking dress because that's what they assume a size 14 wears to hide herself from society.

4:14 PM  
Blogger Heidi said...

It's just amazing, Neil. Normal is not a recognized concept here! And God forbid someone is valued for their brain.

11:00 AM  
Anonymous Ingrid said...

I just read somewhere that Tyra Banks weighs 150! What a relief! She is anyone's definition of gorgeous... and wasn't she also a supermodel for awhile?

Don't feel bad, my friend. My beloved hubby waited until just after we were married to tell me I am starting to look "chunky". I can't decide if that's a good thing or a bad thing... I obsessed over it for a good two months (you know how un-superficial he is) but I too love to eat and I refuse to diet. I was amazed at how upset I was, and I live in hippie heaven up here! It's so insidious you can't escape it.

p.s. I'm 5'10" and weigh 165.

6:11 PM  

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