Written by: Ashley N. Ortiz (Instagram handle @autumnwednesday)
I took a biography and memoir course in my last semester at college. During the semester, my professor gave us a challenging assignment. We had to write a memoir in only six words. Somehow we had to convey a snippet of our lives that evoked emotion, meaning, understanding, and not to mention the lingering effect it had on us.
I had started writing at 11, and my brother would call my writing something William Faulkner would write. Not because I wrote well, but because I wrote a lot. And I mean a lot. A limit of six words to express myself did not seem like something I could do. But I gave a considerable amount of thought about it.
My professor had suggested a site to use as reference to get started. I skimmed the site, thinking of what stood out about me that would invite curiosity but exhibited what I felt inside.
It brought me back to something I was asked when I was about 10 years old.
“Don’t you want to be pretty?”
This question would conveniently rear itself before I was about to eat, after I got dressed, or after school. When my father asked me this, my clothes felt tighter, my cheeks felt fuller, and my confidence was M.I.A. I was always a heavy girl, and also the token fat girl in a classroom. That question haunted my mind when other girls had clothing sizes in single digits and letters. Why couldn't I be like them? Why couldn’t I be pretty? My mind frame became centralized around that question. My weight interfered with my beauty. I was considered undesirable.
As a child, I had seen my share of cartoons where fat kids were depicted as comic reliefs. They were hopeless footnotes in comparison to svelte ideal main characters. The perfect image was to be coveted, not mine. I never felt envious, just confused. I had to be...not me, in order for people to find me appealing. It suggested something was wrong with me.
It took longer than I’d like to admit, to be able to look in the mirror without looking away before I could behold myself. When I’d talk about boys with my friends, I felt as if I was not entitled to discuss who I’d want to be with because I was a bigger girl. I remember once telling myself, as an attempt to boost my self-esteem, that one day, the world will embrace the curvy girl.
So I embraced myself before the world had a say. A part of this assignment included going up to the blackboard and writing our six word memoirs on the board to let the rest of the class determine what it meant. When it was my turn, all I could hear was my heart in my ears. I went to the board beside two other students. After we wrote our memoirs on the board, the guessing began. Though I feared my class’ honesty, none were honest. They skirted around the issue, gently alluding to my size as a probable reason for the question. Some suggested it was how I dressed. And yet, no one deemed the question as hurtful. It is a natural desire for a person to seek acceptance, especially from their peers. But I had learned that it begins with yourself. When you learn to love yourself, you learn to love others. And when you don’t, you learn to seek the hate from others to justify your self-hatred. I didn’t want to be pretty. I already was. I just wanted to love myself.