52. Perfectly Imperfect

52. Perfectly Imperfect

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Curvy & Confident

Perfectly Imperfect

No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.

~Eleanor Roosevelt

On the last day of fifth grade, a boy in my class was reciting the alphabet out loud and matching each letter with the name of a classmate in the room. “A is for Anna, B is for Brian . . .” When he reached the letter “E” he looked around but couldn’t find a student with an “E” name, so he pointed at me: “Elephant!” My classmates snickered.

It was just one of many bullying incidents I’d experienced at school because of my weight. After school that day, I walked home in tears. But deep within the pain and anger, a strength rose from within me. I swore to myself that from that moment on, my life would change. I would never again let anyone diminish me by calling me names and I would never let my weight stop me from doing anything I wanted to do.

The following year, in sixth grade, I began using humor as a tool to win the approval and admiration of my peers. Instead of hiding behind my weight, I put myself out there in full force. And I discovered something wonderful: I liked myself. That revelation amazed me and I no longer felt like a victim. Now I was in charge of how people treated me. I fast became one of the most popular kids in school and maintained that status throughout my school years by utilizing humor and kindness. My senior year I was a plus-sized Homecoming Queen. I felt as rare as a unicorn.

After graduating from the University of Michigan I headed to New York City to pursue my dream to be a plus-size model, landing a contract with Ford Models. It was the late 1980’s and I was one of the pioneers of the plus-size industry, along with my dear friend Emme. In a sea of muumuus and polyester pull-on pants, being a plus model was being an advocate for women’s empowerment.

But while I felt sexy and curvy, I was often made to look older and without sensuality in my photos. The photographers (at the command of the clients) told the plus models to “smile at the camera.” The subtext was: You’re a plus talent so be a one-dimensional, fat and happy figurine. The blatant prejudicial treatment was everywhere we turned in an industry that valued a specific type of physical perfection above all.

I headed to New York City to pursue my dream to be a plus-size model, landing a contract with Ford Models.

When I shot spreads for a leading department store, they had us do our own hair and make-up before arriving on set. Our shoots were scheduled early in the morning and by having me arrive “shoot-ready,” they could finish quickly before shooting “straight-size” models — as in, real models. As I was in front of the camera shooting my outfits, I’d watch as the thin models had their hair and make-up done by a professional. In the client’s eyes, plus models were not even worthy of hiring a make-up artist. The unmistakable message: You’re not beautiful; you’re only necessary for us to make sales to second-class citizens.

I tried not to let the painful message diminish me. But there were times I could feel the old shame bubble up from within, scars from my childhood, and I would wonder if I deserved any of what I had worked so hard to create. How could I be a model in New York City, signed with the greatest agency in the world? I have cellulite. I have rolls. I weigh over 200 pounds, and I am full of imperfections. At those times, I wanted nothing more than to dive into a half gallon of ice cream in a vicious cycle of self-punishment.

It was on a day such as this that I was lying on my chiropractor’s table staring at the ceiling, feeling fat, ugly, lost and alone.

I’ve always had a strong faith, so I started to talk to God. I prayed that He would heal the pain and shame inside me. Then, a flash of clarity washed over me as I realized: “You are perfectly imperfect.”

When I looked up, I saw a beautiful woman with long blond hair and a diaphanous white gown floating above me, surrounded by a glowing white light. She was smiling at me, laughing lovingly with a twinkle in her eyes as if to say, “Of course you are, silly!” Then she kissed my cheek and faded away. I was in shock and in tears, wondering if I had just hallucinated, dreamed it, or if someone had slipped me a drug. The air in the room felt like it had shifted.

A moment later, my doctor walked in and stopped dead in his tracks, asking, “What just happened in here?” He felt it. It had really happened. He confirmed it without seeing anything.

Was my vision an angel, my guardian, or my higher-self whispering a reminder of my own deepest wisdom? It doesn’t even matter; she was a miracle to me.

Since that life-changing day, I’ve had days when I’ve struggled with self-acceptance, but I’ve never doubted that I am supported and loved, and never alone.

My “angel” reminded me of what I already knew: I am perfectly imperfect, worthy of love and the realization of my dreams. And so are you, my friend. So are you.

~Alexandra Boos

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