Body of Lies

When I was growing up, the Miss America Pageant was a big TV night. While my mother pin-curled my hair for church the next day, the whole family watched the pageant. It was our chance to see the faraway (at least from South Alabama) glamorous Atlantic City and 50 of the country’s most beautiful girls. By the time TV coverage started, the preliminaries had already happened and the competition was down to the top ten. We got to see evening gown competition, swimsuit competition, the talent competition, and the impromptu question and answer for each of the finalists. Naturally our family pulled for the Southern girls, and we all had opinions on who would win. Of course, Bert Parks was the emcee and one year, 1959, our favorite, a Mississippi girl won. It was Mary Ann Mobley, and I thought she was the most wonderful creature on earth. She could sing and dance and had a perfect body and straight teeth and I wanted to be just like her one day. But as I got older and stopped growing in height at 5’1” I was told that I’d never be a Miss America (or a Rockette) because beauty queens (and Rockettes) are tall.  I was limited not by ability or even my looks, but by something I could do nothing about. The conclusion here was that my body limited me as to what I could accomplish, what path I took in life, and maybe how valuable I was to the world.

My friend, Bonnie is almost six feet tall, which is well above average for a woman. At 5’1”, I am several inches under the average. We each have dealt occasionally with inferiority because of our heights, yet there is absolutely nothing that either of us can do about that. Oh, I can wear 3-inch heels and gain some altitude, but you will never see me in 3-inch heels. Bonnie, however, doesn’t have any tricks to reduce her elevation. She could, then, try to appear “normal height” by slouching or slinking about trying to minimize it. Instead she proudly stands straight, wears high heels, performs on stage, and seems to celebrate the gift of vertical real estate. When I asked Bonnie what image struggles she faced, she said,

“The summer before I entered 8th grade, I grew three inches from a normal height to almost six feet tall. Classmates would literally walk up and say “What happened to you?” as if I had three eyes.  I was taller than every guy in school, their fathers and the faculty at large. My journal from this year is in a safe place, rich with drama and not a little comedy. Those years are life-branding for many of us and unkind remarks could have taken me down. Thankfully, years of studying classical piano required correct posture. It was tough being tall and skinny and feeling geeky and different. I credit immersion in the performance arts and a healthy fascination with [1960’s model] Twiggy for a dose of courage. High heels have always been an option. I embraced the advantages of being tall but don’t we all wonder at what we haven’t experienced? I’ll always be fascinated with what it feels like to be look up into a man’s eyes, to buy clothes without having to check insanely long inseams, to be the cheerleader, tiny and tossed into the air. “(personal interview)

I’ve learned a lot about my own body image by watching Bonnie (and secretly praying that when I get to heaven, I’ll be tall and can look Bonnie in the eye.)

You know, I’ve never met another person (especially a woman) who loved the way she looked, especially when it came to her body. There’s always something, maybe many things, that made her less than perfect; but what constitutes perfection is a lie that we may embrace as truth.

On a website called Mirror, experts who address eating disorders publish great insights about body types. Here is one about the perfect body:

“If we consider society’s idea of the perfect body image for women based on the average fashion model, we would think that the perfect woman was about 5’10” and weighed only 120 pounds. However, the National Center for Health Statistics reports that the average American woman is only about 5’4” and weighs about 169 pounds. There is a big discrepancy there.” [i]




7 thoughts on “Body of Lies

  1. Ann Mims

    Thank you for this blog. It is encouraging for all. As soon as I saw the attached picture, I knew it was Mary Ann Mobley. She is from Brandon, MS, just 10 miles from my hometown. I remember everyone being so excited when she won Miss America. Later, my parents moved to Brandon and lived very close to her parents. Small world!

  2. Kay Stutes

    Nan, this is the best one yet in this series. The struggles with body image are timeless. Young women in the new millennium deal with the same poor self-images as did the ones of previous generations. By the way, you are perfect just as you are.

  3. Shelby Cowen (Roland's wife)

    Very interesting reading. I remember the night that Mary Ann was crowned Miss America, I was hoping she would be the one.
    Statistics reports that the average American woman is only about 5’4” and weighs about 169 pounds” – That’s about right if you are in your 70’s but probably not true in your teens or 20’s – Speaking for my myself of course, I weighed a whole lot less back then 🙂

  4. Kathie Hill

    Wow! Turns out I am average – 5’4″ at 169 lbs. At 63, I have finally stopped worrying about wearing a size 12 and find pride in good posture, a relatively flat stomach and muscular legs (from the knees down!) The good thing about aging is your desire to have health over beauty.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *