Elfin Girl-Queen

Maggie: When did your relationship with your appearance change? I know you felt good about yourself as a kid.

Kate: Here’s a brief overview, in dramatic story form, because apparently I’m terrible at just answering a question:

I was fourteen, looking in the mirror, dressed as an elfin princess. I wore a gold gown that I’d made myself. It had a random seam running up the entire back, but that didn’t show in the mirror. My boots were knee high, lace-up sienna suede, my hair fell to my waist, curling lightly. I was stunning. I was captivated by my own eyes. Gold and green at the same time. No one else had eyes like that. They were round, and I loved the way they fit into my oval face, which a fashion magazine I’d read once called the “ideal facial shape.” My lips were full and perfectly shaped. My nose had a prominent bridge, and I thought I looked like a bird of prey or a queen. Unlike all those models with their wide set eyes and tiny upturned noses, my face was strikingly closed, bold, and fascinatingly Jewish.

I just found this photo. This is me around 14 or 15. Apparently I did elvin photo shoots, too. Those elves are pretty technologically advanced...

My butt was chubby and bouncy, my legs tapering. I fully expected every boy I met to fall in love with me. But when a boy preferred my adorable blond friend Emily, I didn’t feel very hurt. All that meant was that he liked pale blond hair better than golden brown. I never looked at Emily and thought, “She’s prettier than me.” I never had that thought about anyone. I watched movies where gorgeous supermodels flaunted flawless bodies and I admired their beauty, thinking, “Nice, but she’s got nothing on my nose.”

By college, I had developed the ability to look in a mirror and see nothing but flaws. A horrifying compilation of worst moments and characteristics that evolution should have weeded out long ago. On my nineteenth birthday, I locked my dorm room door and dropped the towel I’d wrapped around myself after showering. I looked in the mirror for a long time.

My short hair was devastatingly thin, and my scalp showed in raw patches when my hair was wet. My face looked lumpy, poorly proportioned, with eyes too close together and dully colored for any chance at real feminine beauty, an abnormally large nose without any shape to speak of, and puffy cheeks without the slightest hint of bone structure. And that was only the beginning. My neck was stumpy, my shoulders rounded and bulky, my breasts practically non-existent. My ribcage was lopsided from a congenital deformity and a random, inexplicable extra rib. My thick, peasant’s arms were covered in hair. The legs supporting this utter failure of heredity were on the short side, though my height was exactly, boringly, average. My natural thinness was a waste, since I was not graceful, lithe, or even vaguely attractive as a result.

I shook my head at myself, feeling sorry for my parents. What a tragic accident. And their first child, too! Thank God there were the two boys after me. The two fresh-faced, confident, admirably masculine boys. There was something masculine about me, actually, but not enough to make me a good-looking boy, if I were to opt for sex reassignment. I could be a stand-up comic, cracking jokes about gay men turning me down, not because I was a woman, but because I wasn’t hot enough as a guy. Like those really, really overweight women who did stand up about stuff getting stuck under their breasts for years before they realized it.

Nineteen, and since I didn’t think I was quick enough with the comeback lines for comedy, my life was pretty much over. I could run away to the woods and live off the land. Chasing after squirrels with a sharpened stick. There’d be no one to compare myself to out there, so I might begin to feel ok after a while. The thought of how awful I looked after not shampooing my hair for a day put an immediate stop to this logic. Plus, how do you even begin to eat a squirrel?

“Alright, so I’m ugly,” I said, deciding to try a different approach. “At least I’m talented and interesting.” I knew, of course, that no amount of either talent or interestingness would ever substitute for being pretty. Seriously, how could any girl not know that? But what choice did I have? I had to tell myself something. So I lied.

“You’re going to be fine,” I said. “You’ve got a lot going for you.” I tried to think what I had going for me. There was a long pause.

“Um. You…” I avoided my own gaze. “Well, you’re pretty good at piano.”

I raised my eyebrows. Really? That’s the best you can do?

“Ok, ok. You get good grades. Your professors really like you.” I looked up. “What I mean is, you’re smart.” Aha! The most dependable contingency plan for unattractive girls. Classic.

It was over four years later, in graduate school, talking to a friend at the table in my studio apartment in NYC, that I remembered something from my distant past. My friend Liane is a brilliant PhD student, and we sometimes make each other laugh by describing, both visually and verbally, how terribly unphotogenic we were. Words like “leper,” “hag,” and “rabid, crippled, drunken chipmunk” enter into our exchanges a lot.

“Eat more pie,” I was saying. “I’m going to fatten you up.”

“And here I was, thinking I might be able to trust you.”

She’d been talking about high school, and how she’d never felt she matched her body, while there was something distinctly embodied about certain girls who were considered prettiest. Something about the way they stood. About the way their limbs moved. They looked all different, she said, except, of course, that they were thin. But being thin didn’t save her. Her femininity was discombobulated. It was a struggle.
I nodded along in sympathy and complete agreement. I served dessert.

“Hold on,” I said, my fork in the pie. “I just remembered something.”

She looked at me curiously, but I couldn’t put it into words yet. It was just an image. My own face above the gold dress, in the mirror, in the warm, dim light. Me, looking at myself and thinking, “I am so beautiful! I can’t believe how beautiful I am.” My sweet, round, green-gold eyes, my pink, plush lips, my daring, proudly arched nose. No one else looked like me. And that was exactly what made me so beautiful. I tried to tell Liane about it, but I was almost too sad to speak.

Everyone: When’s the last time you looked in the mirror and thought, “WOW. I’m beautiful”?


Kate on March 17th 2010 in beauty, body

16 Responses to “Elfin Girl-Queen”

  1. Iris responded on 18 Mar 2010 at 12:06 am #

    I watched your video, and I know you’re not writing this to get compliments, but I think you’re beautiful. Pretty damn hot really! Start believing it ’cause it’s true!

  2. Rachel responded on 18 Mar 2010 at 1:50 am #

    Kate, I love this blog! It is rocking my world, and I can’t wait to see how it continues to evolve! :)

    I think that, like your ‘Elfin Girl-Queen’ moment, all women have had that experience in childhood when they looked at themselves and thought, “Wow, I’m beautiful! I love looking at my reflection in the mirror!” And maybe this seems like an obvious comment, but it was so easy to feel beautiful before we all knew what was ‘supposed’ to be beautiful or not. Before we viewed ourselves as filtered through the views of other people, it was just an amazing self-discovery of “wow, I’m a beautiful individual. No one looks like me! I’m unique and that uniqueness is always changing and developing.” To answer the final question you posed: I still have those moments, but it usually happens, interestingly enough, while I’m practicing singing (sometimes I’ll look in the mirror while I’m singing to make sure my jaw/mouth isn’t doing anything funny and to see how a certain expression reads). So sometimes in my practice sessions there will be moments when the confluence of seeing myself sing, hearing myself sing, and thinking about a beautiful image or the beautiful text I’m saying will make me think: “Wow, that woman staring back at me in the mirror is beautiful.” Well, maybe that’s not right – not so much that I think I’m beautiful, but just FEEL beautiful because of creating something that is unique to me.

    So…maybe it’s time for everyone to unearth their respective ‘Elfin costume’ and love their reflection :)

  3. lynn @ the actors diet responded on 18 Mar 2010 at 4:47 am #

    what a terrific site you guys have going here!

  4. fitforfree responded on 18 Mar 2010 at 1:49 pm #

    Amazing post.
    I feel like I go through phases . . . I’ll look in the mirror and see only flaws, or look in the mirror and try to avoid the flaws, looking at only the things that make me feel okay (or even . . . ashamedly PROUD?) of my appearance — but even that doesn’t FEEL good, because I know I’m just avoiding all the “bad” stuff, not accepting the whole package.

  5. AnnaD responded on 18 Mar 2010 at 3:04 pm #

    Kate, I’m loving your & Maggie’s blog – and the topic is so spot on!!

    Answering your question, most recently I had a ‘mirror->beautiful’ moment just getting ready for work like I do every morning. I had just finished messing with my hair and I really liked how it turned out for once. Then the rest of me looked really good, too. It was interesting, though, because I’m still dealling with a break up (as you know) and my immediate next thought was: ‘Guess who’s missing this, now! Bastard, serves him right for not making me feel beautiful when we were together.’

    I’ve had negative body image for most of my life – seriously, it started when I was 9 – and its only been in the past 4-5 years that I’ve started believing people when they tell me I’m beautiful. Thanks for the space you’ve created, and I look forward to reading more!

  6. Cindy responded on 18 Mar 2010 at 3:32 pm #

    I grew up with 3 brothers…I never looked in the mirror thinking I was beautiful…I used to just hate that I had to be a GIRL and the brothers got to do all the cool stuff and I just got to be the babysitter. I so wanted to ride motorcycles and hunt for crawdads and be wierd like them..I just wanted to fit in and be one of the guys…but I had boobs (evenutally) and always got left out.

    that’s what haunted me during all of my child hood and most of my adolescence.

    I am just finally beginning to apprecieate my feminine side. I am almost 40.

    does that way suck or what! haha

    and still, when I hear that the ‘brothers” all got together and golfed or did something “brotherly” I stll feel that twinge of left-out-hood.

    and I live in a house full of men…hubs, teenager and toddler ….it’s just me and the cat!

    great post Kate! Love them!

  7. Shane Landazuri responded on 18 Mar 2010 at 5:26 pm #

    Hello,I love reading through your blog, I wanted to leave a little comment to support you and wish you a good continuation. Wishing you the best of luck for all your blogging efforts.

  8. Kate responded on 19 Mar 2010 at 5:42 am #

    @ Anna— I know for a fact how gorgeous you are! He is missing out such a huge amount it’s not even calculable. Thanks for writing!

  9. Betherann responded on 19 Mar 2010 at 4:07 pm #

    Kate, you still ARE that elfin queen — except now you’re a young woman-queen. Or simply a woman-queen. You can decide. :) Anyway, I still see that beauty in you, plus a hefty helping of sass courage. Rock on.

  10. Stephanie responded on 26 Mar 2010 at 1:33 am #

    I’ve just started reading all of your entries, there’s so much here, but I just had to say, in answer to the question that ends this post: You MUST go to this blog:


    I think their blog is such a nice conversational response, and powerful meditation, on the questions you’re asking here.

  11. Elvina Spurgers responded on 30 Mar 2010 at 7:36 pm #

    This post is beyond awesome. I am always wondering what to do and what not to do so I will follow some of these tips.

  12. Kate: Bra Shopping « Eat the Damn Cake responded on 01 Apr 2010 at 12:13 pm #

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  14. Eat the Damn Cake » The Awesomeness of Overdressing responded on 04 May 2010 at 9:30 am #

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  16. Kate Fridkis: The Art of Overdressing | Huffington Post Style responded on 29 Jun 2010 at 4:07 am #

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