Sunday, July 15, 2012

Ladies in Waiting: A Tiddly Bit Nipply

Note: My early journey as a long-term single person was eclipsed by one, okay two, predominating physical maladies that ruled my life. I wasn't missing a limb, or scarred from an accident, though I felt my situation was just as tragic in a different way. Some people would laugh and say I was blessed. But you can only know the shame of it, if you are the one with those horrific "blessings."

Since I'm a red personality I hide my insecurities with an electric fence, three dobermans and a guy from Samoa named Junior. I had a secret that was no secret. A lie that was no lie. A cover-up that was tough to cover-up, though I tried a hundred ways to hide it. It was the negative precursor to every positive thought I had about myself and filled me with shame. Though some girls would have traded me straight across, I wouldn't be caught dead hanging around those girls. I thought if I didn't talk about it, no one would notice. Wahhhhh!! Hilarious. Time to pull this rock out of my pocket.

All the girls were to wear the same thing. When you looked at the example pictures it appeared to be a glamorous, off-the-shoulder gown trimmed in a blue, ethereal feather boa. I was excited. I had never posed for a professional picture in a studio. I painstakingly applied makeup to cover the acne and it had taken me all morning to put every hair on my head in place and remove every "unwanted" hair on my body. I was 17 and that was a LOT of hairs. I probably got up at 5am for a noon appointment. Those were the days.

Me, 1982
Corey Adams Studios had a contract with Alpine School District to take the annual school pictures of all 25,000 or so school kids that they taught. Great gig for Mr. Adams, eh? I was just one of those kids and it was my Senior year at Lehi High. We didn't have a choice back then, it was Corey Adams or you got a gray stripe across a white box that said "Picture Unavailable" in the yearbook.

I was excited to be a Senior at last because that meant that you moved to the first section of the yearbook, it was in color, and you got to wear the fancy dress that made you look about 40. I arrived at the studio (which was actually their home I think) and was ushered back into a dressing room (somebodies half bath with a flower border around the top) where I would be "fitted" (also exciting!) for the dress. I passed several rooms full of camera equipment, stools, backdrops and lighting. I would be sitting in one of those rooms glam-ming it up in no time. A very busy lady came flying into the room to measure me. She took one measurement. The bust. Then she sighed "ohhhhhkay..." she said, "...take your shirt and bra off, I'll be right back."

No one had ever said that to me.


So there I was in the back half-bath of some old house full of camera equipment, sitting on a kitchen chair holding my shirt up to my chest, a hollow-core door separating my nakedness from the people walking loudly up and down the hall explaining picture packages. Felt like I had signed up to model for porn. In Utah County. Wahoo!

As the bra came off I realized that I had dark red "ditches" on my shoulders, evidence of my overworked bra straps. I grabbed my makeup and tried to cover the color at least. I started to sweat from the top of my head, which is my typical physical reaction to anxiety. Has been my whole life. Then add "flat hair" to the list of things I was already freaking out about. Flat hair, captured forever in the '82-'83 yearbook when Farrah Faucett had set a new trend: "the bigger the better." The anxiety was piling up.

40 days and 40 nights passed. The lady returned with something that looked like a stretchy scarf with a feather boa attached to the top edge of it. "Try these on and when you find one that fits, come out and sit in the chair in the hall so we know you're ready."

Now keep in mind that I am conjuring this memory up after 30 years. In fact, exactly 30 years this summer. Time fades the actual vernacular used, but not the emotional terrorism. I remember it like it was an hour ago. The smell, the panic, fighting off the tears so as not to smear my Big Lash. The memory still gives me hives.

The glamorous gown turned out to be a tube top. Just eight inches of blue elastic wide, and velcro on the ends to hold it together. After thousands of wearings, the "feather" trim looked more like "Blue Persian cat" that had died from a fight with the neighborhood dog.

We weren't allowed to wear tube tops at our house. We weren't even allowed to wear anything sleeveless. Don't get me wrong, we weren't crazy, skirt-wearing fundamentalists or anything...but tube tops were out of the question. I carefully held the strip of elastic up to my chest, wrapped it around my enormous boobs (did I mention that I had worn a DDD bra since the seventh grade? Thanks Grandma Leona, for the gifts) and tried to hook up the velcro. No go. None of the tops fit around my endowment. My hair was getting flatter. So, being the daughter of Kay "McGiver" Shelton, I used the velcro to hook the smallest size to the largest size and that seemed to work.
My beloved Grandma Leona

But eight inches wide is eight inches (visualize it) and from the cat to the bottom was not enough length to cover the triple D's. Imagine a 3-inch Ace bandage trying to cover a 12-inch wound. Something would be sticking out on either side. In this case, I could choose 6 inches of cleavage up top, or free hanging nipples pointing to the floor below. It really was pornographic at that point. I stretched it every which way, but no go. It was already at its snapping point. I wished I'd brought some safety pins.

I took several deep breaths and waited for the expert lady to come back. There was no way I was going to go out into the hall and look for her. I think she wondered what was taking me so long because she finally knocked on the door just short of my full-on tears. "Hello?" she said. "Come in." I squeaked. She knew I was stressed out the minute she saw me. But there were other kids waiting behind me. "On no," she said, "the district has strict rules about cleavage," as if I really wanted to give the Lehi High yearbook a PG13 rating all by myself. She went right to work, attempting to push, pull and stuff the girls into that tiny piece of fabric. Cleavage taken care of, I wondered if the district had any rules about exposing your nipples in the yearbook? "Oh dear!" she realized, looking down. "That won't do." (Ya think?) "But Corey will only shoot you from the armpits up. No worries." (Yes. Please. Shoot me.) Was I the only plus-sized Senior they had ever taken a picture of? I felt awfully unique right then when unique was not what any high school girl wanted to feel.

Betsy, great eyes!
She pointed out that my first mistake was putting the tube top around my torso under my arms, but, as you can see here in the pictures of two of my B.F.F.'s, the tube was to be wrapped around the outside of your arms if you were emerging from the the feathers cat. So my arms had to be down to my sides. Hair getting flatter and flatter. What about the very obvious headlights hanging below? I was instructed to hold onto my elbows and she taped the bottom of the tube to my arms. "Ready!" she exclaimed. O.H.M.Y.H.E.L.L. I said in my seminary presidency head. 
Kelly, great hair!

She flung the door open and XXX-corted me to the room with the Lehi High backdrop in one end. Corey Adams appeared. He had me sit on the stool. I was too tall, had to stand up while he turned the stool down. Stand up, sit down, stand up, I could feel the tape leaving my arms and the hair in my eyes with no way to fix it but to expose myself completely. I was choking on my own tears, thick panic had settled in, but better to swallow them than ruin my mascara.

I asked the lady to fix my hair and wipe the sweat off my upper lip. I had no shame at that point. I needed to salvage the situation because my parents were paying a lot of money for this sitting and I didn't want to ruin the yearbook. I was already the girl with the big boobs, I didn't need to be the girl that exposed her big boobs in the yearbook. I took a deep breath, threw my shoulders back, cleared my head in a split second and put myself in another world, a world with plus-sized tube tops, B-cups and fluffy hair. It was at that moment I knew I was going to be a great actress one day. I got in the fourth wall zone and simply smiled. That's been a handy tool over the course of my life.

So behind the smile, was a girl with big...hope...that somehow I would look better than I felt in the end. I never loved my yearbook pictures because I knew exactly what was going on from the bottom of the frame down. But my friend Lisa, who was alphabetically placed to my left in every yearbook since seventh grade, said "You look incredible! Hey, we look good!" And because she wouldn't say it if it didn't have some truth, I felt better. Thanks Lisa, I've always appreciated (and remembered) that.

What brought me back to the Corey Adams fiasco 30 years ago was my niece Katie who had her Senior pictures taken yesterday and stopped here on her way home, all smiles. Hard to believe she will graduate this year, I witnessed her birth just last week, wasn't it? She showed me her cute changes of clothes and letter sweaters for Drama and Student Government. No dead cat for girls in 2012. Her makeup was perfect, she managed to escape the circus boobs from her Shelton side, and her hair was trendy and flawless. This was, by the way, AFTER she had the pictures taken. I just said "thanks for the blog." I've had four nieces graduate from high school and not one of them endured the tube top.

Seems like we are never satisfied with the gifts we are given. We always wish we had more money, whiter teeth, a nicer car, less junk in the trunk, a bigger house... but this was more than that to me. I felt shame. Shame feels like ice, and permanent bronchitis and half a dozen wrecking balls to the heart every other day. Shame eeks into the crevices of courage. It oozes out your pores and creates acne born of stares and pointing. As if you could change your genetic predisposition! Shame blocks positive thoughts like, "I'm a great actress," or "I have a pretty face"...if only someone would look at that first. If only they would consider me for Juliet and not the Nurse, the grandma, the drunk...or the madame.

Good Mormon girls smile and accept themselves for who they are. They take their roles, their lumps and their gifts. We strive to endure to the end of our trials and smile through the pain. There's always going to be some pain. Well, if we had everything we wanted and were completely satisfied with the way we looked, we'd have nothing to work toward, now would we?

And there would be no plastic surgeons in the world. That would be the real tragedy. ;-) Lucky me.

Smile though your heart is aching
Smile even though it's breaking
When there are clouds in the sky you'll get by
If you smile though your pain and sorrow
Smile and maybe tomorrow
You'll see the sun come shining through
For you

Light up your face with gladness
Hide every trace of sadness although a tear may be ever so near
That's the time you must keep on trying
Smile, what's the use of crying
You'll find that life is still worthwhile -
If you just smile.