I grew up the anomaly of my grammar school class, Saint Margaret’s School, class of 1981. The “anomaly” part was purely cultural as I was always a pretty nice kid, very social, and I just liked to please and I liked people.
Pearl River was known as “Little Dublin,” and I was, I believe, one of maybe four non Irish kids in my class. I asked my mother once for Irish dance lessons, and my friend, Cathy was in a feis, and she taught me a few moves. Fitting in is very important to a pre-adolescent. But, sometimes I felt “adopted” and out of place. I didn’t have anyone to share my traditions with.
Not understanding how important culture and tradition was, I was in shock that my Sunday, meatball and pasta ritual was not shared with others. Kids used to tell me they had a sandwich for lunch after Mass, and in my mind, I’m like, uh, “a sandwich, on a Sunday? Where the fuck did you come from?” My sandwich came the next day, leaking through a Bamberger’s bag, a meatball sliced in half, one half per Italian bread slice. They looked like two boobs if you opened the sandwich flat. My mother did not buy the handy pack of lunch bags at Shop Rite. Every lunch bag she used revealed where she shopped, indelible for all to read. Embarrassing.
She would slice an orange for dessert because I was chunky. Cute, but chunky. She took a knife and sliced sections from top to bottom so I could peel and eat. I think I threw it out half the time. I was mortificata.
The food isn’t where the contrast stopped. I started body shaming myself very early on. I had boobs…early. My grandmother had them. My mother was normal. My very skinny cousin had them, so we commiserated a lot, but she was still skinny, so I could not even exhume a fragment of sympathy for her. My hips were curvy, and I did not resemble a boy…I was jealous I didn’t…not in a masculine way, in a feminine way. I wanted flat. Flat chest, flat ass, and forget my thighs. OMG…the crowning glory…NOT! To this day, my nemesis.
I remember getting ready for a class trip in 8th grade. I wanted to be like the other girls, so I wanted Sweet Orr pants..do you remember them? The cargo pants of the seventies. Of course, spandex and Lycra were a thing of the future, so stretch wasn’t even an option. The night before I went to sleep, I took two big text books to emulate my spreading thighs, and put one in each pant leg, with the covers open. I prayed God would stretch my pants with the text books and they would fit me like they did the other girls. I was sadly mistaken. I stayed short, rolling up every pant leg, and I stayed “not skinny.”
My hair was also incredibly curly. That completely messed me up because I wanted that straight, nothing, pinned to your head like grease look, similar to getting caught in the rain. Instead, God opted for the white chick “fro,” which my mother kept short, and in the humid weather expanded like a whoopie cushion with even the slightest suspect of humidity. I started realizing my face wasn’t that bad, but everything else…I was just so different and unappealing.
My Nonna, my mother’s mother, was an amazing cook. Her immigrant Abbruzese roots spawned the best peasant food this side of Vasto…and she was always feeding me…her sheet pan pizza was not to be messed with, and everything else she made, I would eat. She skimped on nothing fattening…oil, butter, cheese. I think as a little kid I didn’t get it. But, after a while I caught on…this is yummy but it’s not making me skinny.
By the time high school came around, and girls were getting more feminine figures, some plumping out, others looking great in bikinis with itty bitty boobies. I only paid attention to the bikinis, small boobies and flat stomachs. Remember, Kate Moss, was my idol. She lived on saltines and ginger beer more than likely, and never gained an ounce. But, by freshman year in college, I had had it with the Italian thighs…so I went anorexic for a summer.
Do you remember the book “The Summer of My German Soldier?” This was “The Summer of my Anorexia,” by Linda Grace Perillo. I think it was the summer of my freshman year at Fordham, and I was a DJ on WFUV. I loved it. I lived for it. I loved talking, an audience, and after four years at the Academy, I had guys in my life. If you ever wanted to motivate a curvy girl to lose weight, this was it.
I was down to 105lbs. My skinniest ever. I followed Weight Watchers to a tee with measuring cups and a food diary. I did aerobics every morning. My clothes fell off, and it was joyous. Our PD, Dr. Jennings, lifted up my arm one day outside the studio door and said, “Do you eat?” I was so proud of myself as I ate a turkey sandwich with nothing on it, and one piece of bread. I wasn’t “Fat lard,” anymore. This only spurred me on to continue my dream of looking flat and Irish.
That summer, I went to Italy with my niece. I ate nothing but vegetables and a cup of pasta and fish every day. When I came home, I was so skinny my father looked at me and said, “Linda, you need a steak.” Oh, dad, you are so funny! Deathly skinny is in. Just ask the boys in my class at St. Margaret’s.
A few weeks went by and I managed to pass out at the beach with my boyfriend, and with the same boyfriend I passed out in church, and cut my lip and my tongue on the pew in front of me on the way down. He told my parents when I got home. The next day, I had an early radio shift, and I had just gotten my class three license for the patch panel, so I had no engineer and I had to get there with the tweet of the first summer starling. I got up at 4 a.m., and found a sticky note on my mirror: “Linda, even the President takes a day off.” I think there was a part of my dad that recognized my drive like his early on. He tried to save me. Ok, so being skinny had it’s drawbacks. But like my friend says: “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.”
As years passed, and adulthood and pregnancy took its toll, skinny was a distant memory. Contrary to my belief that skinny was the bomb, my pregnant body was the bomb. I felt so beautiful, so Madonna and Child, that I didn’t care about the flat figure. Models like Kim Alexis, Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell were at the fringe of curve acceptance. They got wider as the years passed, and J-Lo proved, the latin thigh was sexy. Kim K shoved silicone in her butt to make it wider, and suddenly, in my forties, my body was “in.”
Getting older, I worked harder on my body than I ever did, and I finally reached acceptance.
Admittedly, when Brynn had a breast reduction three years ago, I was jealous. I’m short. 5’2 is short. You can call it what you want, petite, tiny, little,…I’m short. My boobs are half my torso, but I started to realize there are women out there getting implants to recreate what nature gave me. Victoria’s Secret makes padded push ups to achieve what I had naturally.
I’m gonna work it, work with it, through it and love it. I have a 24” waist, and bigger hips, and I will never have a small ass or thighs. The solution to my psychosis was working with what I had and making it the best it could be.
I have dreams of walking in my fourth grade classroom even though I hated my teacher, Mrs. Courtney. Oh my God…little shop of horrors. But, I would walk in proud of the Italian thighs, raised on my mother’s Carbonara, nonna’s pizza and fritelle (fried dough with ricotta), aunt Lena’s meatballs and sausage, and not care if I wasn’t “flat.” Keeping myself in check, eating right and omg, working out with trainer Greg, and cardio are the key, even in my early 50s.
But, loving yourself, telling the haters and the mockers, the bulliers to “F off,” is the most refreshing, liberating thing I learned from my Italian thighs. If you got it, girl…work it...someone is gonna love holding you at that tiny waist, even if your hips come out like a shelf. And if they have a problem with it, walk those thighs far, far away and put on the hot pants and blow yourself a kiss in the mirror like my daughter does…