“They” say that travel broadens
one’s intellectual horizons, and that’s probably true. For me,
travel to another country, where beauty was defined differently
than it was in America, was a lifeline . . .
On Being Fat in a
could have used me for the sibyls of his Sistine Chapel. Ruben
might have made me immortal, instead of the strawberry blond
who now graces his canvases. The native Hawaiians would have
dethroned Queen Leilani to place me in her stead. Yet in the
thin world in which I live, I cannot be a beautiful woman.
Being fat shapes the mind and the heart just as surely
as being female or being black, not because being fat is significant,
but because others think it is. And eventually so do we. Being
fat makes us neuter. No one imagines that we might be romantic,
perhaps even passionate. Shrouded in dark colors, all crumpled
in on ourselves, we hide the bodies too big to be beautiful.
When I graduated from high school, Twiggy was the
model of the year, her curveless body an ideal my thinnest friends
could not approach. I had always described myself as “chubby” or “pleasingly plump.” At eighteen, a navy blue hulk,
scrunching my lonely way through life, I realized I was “fat,” and “fat” was oh so ugly. I would have been ugly all
my life, had I never visited Italy.
I arrived in Italy in the company of skinny boys and
slender girls. I ignored the whistles, knowing full well they
could never be meant for me, nor need I fear the infamous Italian
pinchers. My thin friends had little luck hailing a cab, until
suddenly one screeched to a halt in front of us, the driver jumped
out, took off his hat, and bowed chivalrously to me. Though I
knew no Italian, I understood what his “elegante” meant
and that it was meant for me. In Italy, for the first time in
my life, I was beautiful.
Even today, I am surprised at the impact of that one
moment. I could never have been beautiful, not even to myself,
without Italy. That sincere, gracious gesture has been an enduring
Valentine. If I smile and walk with head held high, wearing bright
red and flirting with assurance, it is because I carry the memory
of a thirty-year-old compliment. Although today I must live,
day by day, in a thin world which never entertains the possibility
of beauty, jumbo-size, I move through that world shielded by
a moment of traffic-stopping Beauty.