Beauty is a Sense of Freedom
New Face of Beauty
We’d all piled into the car, my step-mother, my Dad, my two sisters and myself, and were taking a leisurely drive to the lake. I say leisurely because that’s how I remember it. It could have been hurried and frantic, for all I know. In memory, I savor the warmth of the sun pouring in those fully rolled down windows of the car (no, I have no idea what kind of car; to this day, my relationship to cars is to answer the, “What kind of car do you drive?” question with, “A gold one.”), and the chatter of the family talking about what we’d do once we arrived at the lake.
The lake was a frequent destination. Dad likes boating and while our boat was nothing to brag about, just a small sort of row boat with a motor, it was fun to go out in. Dad could fish out farther in the lake, with the boat. Although, he was just as happy sitting on the water’s edge fishing, also. And, Arlene, my step-mother, was always right there with him, at the water’s edge.
At that time of my life, I though the boat was okay. I would go out in it, feel the cool breeze of the lake on my face, drag my fingers through the cold, cold water, and marvel at the sense of freedom and luxury. Maybe the fact that my sisters were like fish, always in the water if they could be, convinced me to take my life in my hands and tool around the lake with my Dad, in that boat. Or, maybe I was more fearless then. Today, I don’t much go in boats. Long story for another time.
It’s strange to look back at those times and remember the fun, the excitement, even the buzz of the flies and the calling of the birds, all part of the summer experience – when kids could be kids – with a certain fondness that makes nostalgia a powerful feeling in the center of my being. We weren’t signed up for camp or carted off to swim class or stuck indoors with video games.
As many others before me have shared, we were outdoors all day. We ran through our neighborhoods like wild Indians (relevant reference – we watched The Lone Ranger… and Tonto…), chasing each other in freeze tag, or building forts in empty lots, or playing hop-scotch, or just lying on the grass watching the clouds go by. “Oh that one looks like a giraffe!” we’d exclaim. “Naw,” one of the boys would drawl, twirling a bit of grass around in his mouth, “it looks like a pirate ship.”
And, despite hard times (who had money then? no one I knew), despite wearing years old hand-me-downs, despite running around bare foot because we weren’t supposed to wear out our sneakers (Keds, don’tcha know)… we had fun. We loved our summers. We never thought of ourselves as disadvantaged… which is what kids in that situation think today, because that’s what we tell them they are.
We brushed away the mosquitoes, ignored the heat, awoke at seven in the morning, hit the floor running to grab the day with both hands, flying off into the unknown with an eagerness that stayed with us all through the sunshine, well into dark. We exalted in the cocoon of timelessness that summer was back then.
But I digress.
That day, on the way to the lake, I leaned against the car door, feeling my cheek stick to the plastic covering the backseat, letting my eyes travel up and over the tree branches going by in a blur. I may have even moved my lips and talked silently to myself, as I played the cloud game in my head. The quick rush of air flowing in the open window left me breathless now and then, but it was a good feeling. It helped me remember I was in the car, on my way to the lake. It reminded me how excited I was to be getting away from the city. I couldn’t wait to get to the lake, to spend a whole week exploring the woods, digging my toes in the sand on the beach, sitting by the camp fire at night roasting marsh mellows, and just being me… with no friends around to complicate that. I liked being alone. My family was happy to allow me that respite. Friends, not so much – if they were along, I’d have been stuck doing what they wanted to do, at least part of the time. This trip was my true vacation, where I could be me, or whoever I wanted to be. No restrictions. Endless freedom!
Just before noon, as the sun was dragging her hot tendrils of heat across our brows, we came to the local grocery store that served the area, and stopped. As we all strolled into the store, I remember my sisters giggling – talking about the canteen, a local hangout for the teenagers in the area. The canteen was actually part of the camp grounds. It had indoor toilets and tables where you could eat indoors if the weather was bad (you had to bring your own food, of course). It had vending machines with soda, which only cost a dime, I think.
Hard to remember the exact cost but compared to today’s prices, it was cheap. The building and the furniture was mountain rustic, weathered, and marked up. All the more inviting to my sisters – who were a bit older than I. They loved reading the ‘love’ notes carved into thw wood. I expect they were giggling over the anticipation of meeting boys at the canteen. And this year, they were far more interested in the opposite sex than in camping or boating or even swimming. Boys, boys, boys. Their whispered tittering only made me roll my eyes.
I stood by myself in the aisle of the little store. It was crowded with displays of canned goods, breads, cookies, coolers of milk and beer, and a large display of candy. Penny candy; nod if you remember penny candy; my favorite were the red hot dollars. I took it all in with uninterested eyes – watching my Dad gather up several packs of cigarettes. Yes, my Dad and step-mother smoked, back then. I wanted a candy bar – what kid doesn’t? – but I was certain, with the absolute certainty of any kid, that I could ask and the answer would be ‘no’… So, my mind was forming the argument – why they should let me have a candy bar, when I suddenly became aware of my sisters and the conversation they were having with the two boys behind the counter.
“… staying long?” one of the boys said.
“A whole week,” my eldest sister said, tilting her head just a little, flashing those big blue eyes at him.
“Up at the camp?” the other boy said, nodding towards camp.
“Yep, we come every year,” my other sister said. The two of them looped arms and presented a united front. My eldest sister tossed her blonde locks with a shake of her head, while my other sister twirled her brown locks in her free hand, always watching the boys with her big hazel eyes.
It was fascinating, actually. The boys were teasing to a fault – and even then I could see they were playing a game. No doubt a lot of girls came through that store. Girls prettier and not so prettier, than my sisters. As a student of “people watching”, I found myself intrigued by the repartee being exchanged. I wondered if I should be taking notes, even mentally, because… after all, I’d be a teenager soon, also.
I’d just turned 12, and while I found some boys interesting, I had not yet reached that point where they took center stage in my life. The glances, the way the boys’ eyes would slip over my sisters’ faces and bodies, noting the tank tops and shorts, pausing on the legs, then slowly come back up, embarrassed me. The girls just giggled and turned to each other with knowing glances. Knowing is an arbitrary term… they knew something which I did not, because… I was totally confused.
“What about her?” one of the boys asked, nodding in my direction.
(Where, you may ask, were my parents? I have no clue… this is my memory and they are not included in this moment of the trip)
“She’s just a kid,” my brown haired sister pouted, obviously not happy that the conversation had turned away from her.
“She’s cute,” the other boy said.
“Whadda ya mean?” my blonde sister said. I could tell by the change in her voice that she was not happy. She had decided, when I turned 12 just a few weeks earlier, to be my angel and guardian – protecting me from boys. Perhaps her concern was centered around… my breasts. Much against my will, my breasts insisted on growing … and they were already bigger than either of my two sisters’ breasts. My oldest sister, the blonde, seemed to think they would get me in trouble. I was not sure what that meant, then. I was annoyed by them and only wore a bra because I was bullied into it.
“Just that’s she’s cute,” the boy said, again. His gaze on me was sly, he pretended to be bagging groceries (I guess we bought more than cigarettes), but he was watching me closely.
Cute didn’t mean much to me. I knew it meant something to my sisters and I felt that it should be important to me but I didn’t know what of importance could be associated with being ‘cute’. Was cute good? I remember wondering.
“Yeah, cute,” the other boy sneered. It was a sneer. I have no doubt about that. “You know, on a scale of one to ten… maybe a six.”
Six. That stuck in my brain; it’s the main part of this memory, believe it or not. Six. I did not think six was good enough. I wanted to be an 8 or a 9 – never expecting I could be a 10. Six seemed… just okay and even then, I never wanted to be just okay about anything. Even my looks. And, of course, in short order, I discovered once in high school that six, or 60%, was not good enough for…anything.
The girls laughed. The groceries were paid for and we all trudged back out to the car.
I was 12, I had a short bob haircut, I was just beginning to develop as a young woman, I hadn’t thought too hard about my looks, till then… until two unknown boys labeled me a six.
How would I ever get through life if I was just a six?
And then, because I wasn’t as concerned with my looks as my sisters were with theirs, I fell back into enjoying the week at the camp. I hiked, I ran free, I went out in the boat, I lay awake at night in the tent, cuddled in my sleeping bag because it was pretty chilly, marveling at the difference between the wonderful great outdoors and the stifling city I endured on a more daily basis, back home. And, I forgot about being a six.
Until, I turned 13. When I turned 13, that six suddenly became all encompassing. I went from living with the freedom to not caring about being a ‘six’ to wondering how I could ever endure living as a six. I remembered that day with such clarity of purpose I demanded of myself to do something to change that label from six to… seven, dare I hope for eight? And so, began my odyssey with beauty.
The memory of that summer is still fresh in memory.
The summer that I learned what beauty really was – when it went from being a sense of freedom in the woods, at the lake, on the beach… to being a weight I would carry on my shoulders, for many, many years.
Please enjoy our New Face of Beauty Pinterest Board.