I’ve always believed being beautiful would promise love and a life with less heartache.
So I became a model…actually, a hand model. Technically speaking, a “parts” model, since at my height, I was fortunate to get a foot in the door of fashion…
I thought that working in the beauty biz would bestow me with more confidence, but occasionally my self-esteem seems nearly as pathetic now as it was prior to a parts profession.
Recently, I asked my husband, Chris, a sensitive question: “Ya’ ever think about me…getting older…ya’ know, with the cane, or like in a wheel chair kind of old?”
“I try not to think about the future,” he said.
I was hoping for: “Baby, pleeze. If you were so old that your face covered your neck, I would only love you more.” (Ideally spoken as he cups my face gently without breaking eye contact).
But that’s not the man I married. I married my husband in large part because he’s trustworthy. And I’ve resented his unaffected honesty ever since.
Had I been more honest, I would’ve asked: “Will you love me when I look old?”
Most of my life, I’ve assumed my appearance has played a critical role in my relationships with men.
My Sicilian father loved women – the more beautiful, the better. His frequent philandering ultimately led my mother to high tail it out of her hometown of New Orleans, with a man named Lightning, in a bus called the Mars Hotel.
Years prior, my mother’s striking features first captured my dad’s attention on the campus of Loyola University. He often recalled how captivated he was by the sight of her long dark hair, and big brown eyes.
“I stood there thinkin’, ‘Who’s THAT?!’” he’d say.
These were the rare times I heard him speak of my mom in a tone that reflected something tender, something lost…something that sounded like love.
Following their divorce, Dad would defend his position for why things didn’t work out, by recalling my mom got “fat” after my brother was born. He’d explain his argument while lighting a cigarette, looking at me with a bit of guilt and a hint of ‘what-are-ya’-gonna-do?’.
Confirming his case, he’d warn, “Take care of ya’self Deli. That’s important to a man.”
There and then I made a pact with myself to be as pretty as possible.
The moment the Mars Hotel rolled out of Cajun Country, my dad became like a rock star to me - someone I sang songs to while staring out of the back window, Hopelessly Devoted.
I lived to become his everything…as he would remain mine.
So I set out to be sexy. Not that I thought I was particularly attractive, I just believed if I wanted to score points with Dad and other men, being hot would be my best bargaining chip. I was no academic star, and my timidity made me a terrible athlete and someone who would disassociate when put on the spot.
When I was told by the drama coach that I didn’t get the part in a school play because I was “too beautiful”, I didn’t fret for long. Heck, I would’ve survived even if he had said my acting sucked – just as long as he didn’t think the same about my face.
My father, though short and bald, would inevitably become displeased with the physical appearance of every woman he encountered. Some flaw would be discovered, and often pointed out to me.
Sometimes he asked my advice on how to encourage his woman to improve herself. I was barely into puberty when he began dating a lovely lady with a French accent. Apparently, she had a great rack, but the hair around her aereolae was a problem.
Having been born with a moustache myself, I suggested he ask her to “pluck” her boobs. Their relationship didn’t last long. I imagine her nipples weren’t the only problem area.
Though I still struggle with confidence issues, I am certain, that my particular parts when photographed in the right light, at certain angles, with the help of a talented team of hair and makeup, along with a great stylist, and with a little retouching…will most likely look great.
I’m also confident that I can get guys similar to my dad to notice me. Since I was quite young, I’ve enjoyed attention many might consider offensive.
When I was 13, an ‘older’ man (a guy in his twenties) approached me and my friend, Susie, at a café while we were visiting Dad in New Orleans.
Without invitation, the man sat at our table, smiled and said, “I can see you girls didn’t wear any bras today. Great choice. I like that.”
As I half-smiled shyly, Susie sat with angry eyes in horror, gasping with insult, and urging we leave immediately.
I was hoping to hear more of what this man saw in me – how my budding breasts stirred such strong emotions. But Susie’s insistent huffing forced an early exit.
When we got home, I wanted to tell my dad that a grown man admired my boobs, hoping he’d be proud. But by then, I was pretending I too was offended by this ‘gross guy’.
Susie wasn’t the only one who saw the dishonor that eluded me in such exchanges. My mother, caring not to conform to her husband’s or society’s standards, took off to a changing culture in California, where she joined a brigade of Birkenstock-wearing women and men who embraced their bodies regardless of shape. Gray hair was as accepted as the unshaven growth on any ol’ part.
Mom made no apologies for ‘flaws’. She and her friends didn’t care if their butts sagged or their bikini line extended to their knees. While I admired the freedom of the feminists who raised me, I knew such loose liberty didn’t fly with my father. So I continued posing for patriarchy.
Before I hit high school, Dad shared with me that he received oral sex in a bathroom stall from a woman who was then an 80s singer/sex symbol (and his girlfriend’s boss). After I received her autographed album cover, I thanked him and said, “She’s really pretty.”
“Yeah…” he said, shaking his head with a disapproving frown, “… but you shoulda’ seen ha’ feet.”
Did I mention his thing for certain parts?
Sometimes, when with my father, I felt as though I were in the presence of a God. Although at times he ruled under a tyranny of perfection, I would experience much of life’s beauty through his eyes…eagerly awaiting those glorious moments when he would catch a glimpse of greatness in any part of me.
“A body is just a body,” my mother often said, while in the buff at our home on the commune. Like her, I believed nudity was as natural as the food we ate, and what spirit intended. However, if one’s body was “objectified”, it was considered degraded and dishonored.
Yet for me, objectification felt like a form of fatherly affection. It was akin to a compliment, and to this day, I secretly desire attention others might find inappropriate.
While I wished to reach my father’s impossible benchmark of beauty, I also wanted to win the respect of my mother. I felt torn between being an “empowered” woman, whose objective is about soul rather than surface, and fulfilling the part of me that not only wants daddy’s approval, but wishes to be girly and glam it up.
One of my first parts hired was my mouth, making mine the poster lips for collagen, literally. I hoped the hippies from home wouldn’t notice, so I stipulated in the campaign contract that my face be cropped and “unrecognizable” in the photos. I was well aware I’d score little love from feminists as: Girl raised on raw food vegan diet, becomes objectified body parts model, plumped full of bovine by-product.
I spent years trying to become my dad’s ideal woman and my mom’s good enlightened girl. Yet no matter how analyzed or ‘evolved’ I’ve become, or how much praise my parts receive, it’s not enough to satisfy an ache inside.
Some part of me is still seeking to be seen…even by a creepy stranger.
During a recent dinner party, while people rolled their eyes at a drunk guest, I was pleased when he slurred to Chris with pointed finger: “You’re a da-amn lucky man.”
I hoped my husband would join the sweet talk, but while he appreciates my ass-sets, he doesn’t objectify me (or others thankfully). His rare comments on what I look like are usually delivered as passionately as if he were sharing his salad selection with a waiter.
Being married these past few years has provided me with a new sense of stability and balance, which at times has been a bit sobering. Gone are the poetic highs of the past, played out with dad, and so are the devastating lows.
My father-daughter finale came after Dad’s dramatic death. Despite his many flaws, there will always be a little girl who sees him as a hero…along with a woman wishing to capture the attention of her father in heaven.
Mere admiration of my appearance is no confirmation of commitment, and remains an unfulfilling substitute for Love. Perhaps until I feel I’m enough, no amount of ‘love’ will be enough. As I redefine love through my marriage, I am learning to accept all parts: good, bad, and even ugly.
So far, the greatest gift of getting older is that I begin to appreciate the heart as the most beautiful part.
With every part and all my heart,