Growing up, I was tall for my age. Not in the Amazonian sense, but at least a head taller than most of my friends. If being tall wasn’t awkward enough, for my 10th birthday party I was denied entry into the “Chuckee Cheese” playground for fear I’d crush the smaller children. "Children over this height, are not allowed in." The pimple faced boy, dressed in his blue “Chuckee Cheese” issued polo shirt blankly stated. “You can’t be any taller than this,” he muttered with zero empathy as he directed me to the height restriction sign cut into the shape of a mouse. Standing next to it my shoulders and heart sunk but my head was clearly above the Mouse’s finger pointing to the “maximum height” line. My Mom, a righteous and tall woman in her own right, saved her fight for another day and spared making a scene with the pubescent robot. Instead of narrowly crushing my petite friends in the enclosed children's play area, I ran amuck amongst the tween and teenagers playing video games and skeet ball while the parents ate greasy pizza and drank pitchers of Miller light.
Cut to a few years later, still tall and awkward, the extra height made me “model material”, or so I was told by the father of one of the kids I babysat for. A professional photographer, he offered to take my pictures in his downtown Chicago studio and introduce me to a talent agent he worked with. A voracious reader of “Seventeen Magazine” for years, I was giddy with the idea that I could open the pages I fawned over and one day find myself there. In preparation for my upcoming shoot, my mother took me shopping for wardrobe. I pieced together multiple outfits, complete with imitation Keds sneakers, stretch jersey separates with matching socks, hair bows, headbands and oversized earrings. On a Saturday afternoon my Father and I drove to downtown Chicago and I had my first photo shoot. From there, I signed my first talent agency contract and my part-time modeling career began—as did my obsession with skin.
Other than signing a contract, having a “comp card” on the wall of an agency and getting out of school early for the occasional job, my life didn’t change much. Unlike the other girls whose parents agreed to send them to Japan at a young age, my parents felt it was important that I remained a kid. Instead of galavanting off to foreign lands, I attended school and stayed involved with extracurricular activities like viola and dance. A ballet student since 3 years old, I was introduced to the concept of physical discipline and body awareness at an early age. Literally growing up in front of a mirror, standing in my leotard week after week, I became super aware of my underdeveloped, bean pole of a body and the moles! The more I obsessed in the mirror, the more I realized my entire back was covered with moles. In contrast to the girls I saw in the magazines with perfect skin, my back was speckled with dark brown spots like a chocolate chip cookie. I hated each and every one of them.
My Mother and Father justifiably were concerned that the moles could be precancerous, so we had them checked out. While at the doctor, they discovered one of the moles showed symptoms of melanoma and we immediately scheduled to have it removed. During the consult with the doctor I inquired, “Can you get them all?” Purely for cosmetic reasons I admit, I wanted them gone. My parents, on the other hand, for fear of future concerns also agreed to have them removed. I didn’t care, either way, I was on the road to “perfect” skin. In one sitting I had 14 dime size incisions cut and stitched into my back.
I left the doctor with high hopes of flawless skin like the models I admired in the magazines. Unaware of all the hours of retouching and makeup that went into a final magazine layout, my visions regardless of this minor surgery, were unrealistic. The scars on my back did not heal well. In addition to being diagnosed with Scoliosis when I was 12, I had developed terrible posture over the years from wanting to look and feel smaller. As I stood each day with rounded shoulders and hunched neck, the stitches pulled and formed bigger scars than the moles themselves. My back that once looked a Dalmatian, now looked like a multiple stab wound homicide.
In spite of the scars, I managed to make a respectable career as a part-time teen model and even made it into the pages of Seventeen Magazine “Prom Edition”. It was awesome, I wore enough Aqua-net and sequins to last a lifetime! Ironically, the first ad campaign I booked was for my “good skin”. It was for a mattress company and the shot was of me lying on my belly with my bare back to camera. At the casting they did not ask to see my back and I didn't know to tell them about my scars. So, the day of the shoot, to avoid hours of “post”, the makeup artist spent extra time covering each scar, because it was the late 80's and photo shop was not a thing yet.
While I was wallowing in my sorrows of moles and awkwardness through the 80’s, another young woman, you may have heard of her, Cindy Crawford, was taking her mole and amazon status to new heights! Instead of trying to fit in and look like all of the other girls, Cindy had something that made her unique and stand out. There was no convincing me otherwise at the time, but looking back, had I embraced or at least accepted myself as I was, I could have skipped years of self doubt and low self esteem. As I was trying so hard to "fit in" and look "Perfect" I was missing out on being "Me".
Advice to my 12 year old self:
Love yourself. The longest and most intimate relationship you will ever have is the one you have with your self. And yet, if you’re like most, it can feel downright impossible to fully and truly love and accept your body. The largest organ you have in your body is your skin, take care of it.
Stand tall. You may feel awkward because you stand out...but here is the thing “You Stand Out”. We all want what we don’t have...it’s human nature. Just know the very thing you don’t like about yourself is the very thing someone else is wishing for. (Not to mention...good posture is a must!)