Cristal Brawley and Amy Souza

Cristal Brawley

By Amy Souza
Inspiration piece

If beauty belongs to the beholder, what’s left for the beheld?

1. This body’s good for drawing, I suppose—curves, wrinkles, dimples, fat. No one’s ever asked, and I haven’t offered. I don’t know what the artist would see. Not sure I’d want to.

2. I began to think of myself as overweight in middle school, after a friend’s brother let me know—in case I didn’t already—that I was a porker. In photos from around that time, you’d see a gawky skinny kid, but my mind’s eye brimmed already with me as a swollen mess.

3. Once while shopping for clothes with my mother, a sales lady tried to direct us to smaller sizes. My mother lifted up my shirt hem to reveal my hips. “Oh!” the saleswoman exclaimed. “She hides it well.”

4. The doctor who treated my aunt’s heart attack with a prescription to run up and down stairs five times a day told me I’d be the girl at the party who couldn’t eat cake. “There’s always one,” he said. “It’s you.” I must prepare myself to struggle with weight. I should learn to accept limits.

5. During freshman year of college, I walked for miles around and around our tiny campus because I liked the air and time alone. I also liked to drink and eat, and despite the doctor’s warning, I did not forego cake. Three nights a week, I did aerobics in a dingy basement room barely large enough to accommodate a grapevine. The moves felt like dancing, and I enjoyed working up a sweat. One night I returned to my dorm to find my basketball-player friend visiting. She laughed when I told her where I’d been, raised a beer toward the others, and called out: “Can you picture her exercising?”

6. A man I was sleeping with, twenty years my senior, asked if I felt embarrassed that he kept his body in such better shape than mine. It hadn’t occurred to me, so I said “no,” but the word barely escaped my lips before an extra layer of shame attached itself to my flesh.

7. People started calling me petite sometime in my forties. At first, I didn’t know what they meant. Couldn’t they see me? Then I started to like the term. Then I started to crave it. Call me small! Call me tiny! Act surprised when we shop together and I head to the fourteens!

8. The woman I’m said to most resemble is my maternal grandmother, who died six months before I was born. In photographs, she has the typical pear shape of an older Portuguese woman who has borne nine children. My similarly wide hips would have been good for birthing had I chosen to become a mother. In photographs, Voa often wears an apron that accentuates her round middle and bottom. She wears her hair in a tight bun. Her face is round and fleshy.

9. Now that I’ve passed fifty, my midsection has grown and become the largest part of me. I’ve taken to shopping for maternity clothes and wonder if I’ll ever wear normal jeans again. No one has called me tiny in a long, long time.


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