It’s mostly uphill, this walk, in a daunting stretch of slope and stairs that so furiously dominates Whittier College’s campus that there’s absolutely no way to get anywhere without going up and down it at least three times a day. It’s essentially a workout itself, like the layout of Whittier was formatted specifically to fight the battle of college student obesity or something. So anyway, the sun was up and pushing the temperature to a nice 85-ish degrees, and the typically smoggy, polluted-to-shit sky of Los Angeles was a shade of surprising blue that was almost making the walk not-so-endless. The weather was great, the lack of responsibilities was great, the coming of summer was great. I was pretty damn great, too.
And then Jess opened her mouth and said:
“I think my legs are too flabby. I need to be more toned.”
Jessica Bruno is my roommate of three years and my teammate of about one and a half. She stands at the height of five feet and one inches tall, and weighs approximately 97 pounds soaking wet. If we were somehow caught in a freak accident of life-threatening proportions that for some reason called for my obviously noble and heroic nature, I could totally just throw her over my shoulder with one arm and fly her to safety. Jess is so small she gets lost in the sheets of her own bed. It’s been said she was once almost blown away by an exceptionally strong gust of wind.
I looked down at her tiny legs. The muscles flexed and stretched beneath the taut, tan skin with each step; she hadn’t been on the swim team in almost two years and she didn’t even look an inch different than before. She was drop-dead gorgeous. She was royally shredded. If her legs were too flabby, then the appendages fixated to the lower half of myself had to be goddamn tree trunks.
“Girl, you have got to be kidding me.” I said.
And she was all, “I’m just gonna work legs today.”
It didn’t occur to me until I was standing at one mirrored wall of the gym, pulling at a layer of fat and/or skin that was clearly disrupting the lower arch of my tricep, that I believed the same thing.
I’m thick, soft, fat, fluffy. I do not look good enough.
Not toned enough, not muscular enough, not thin enough.
We are so insistent on living in a world where nothing is beautiful. It hardly even exists anymore, being beautiful, it’s just some impossible fairy-tale storyline, more like a half-baked metaphorical concept than an actual, physical state of appearance. But it is necessary and required for a meaningful existence; you’ve got to be hot, you’ve got to be handsome, you’ve got to be better, better, better. And there’s levels of attractiveness, scales of ratings and numbers, and everyone’s calculating and refiguring where we’re all set compared to one another.
She’s so fucking hot.
Oh my god, he could do so much better than her.
C’mon seriously, I am way out of his league.
Seriously, if you are not good-looking, good luck.
It’s such a load of bullshit.
Maybe it’s just the writer in me, with that really creepy tendency to watch-people-and-analyze-their-every-movement, but I think everyone else is sort of missing it.
Cause it’s not just there. People are like little pieces of seashell – all different sizes and shapes and colors, some of them hidden and some easy to find – and they aren’t going to shine unless you get them in the right light. You have to look for it.
I know a boy with broad shoulders and hair like dusted charcoal, who burns with a fire that makes him heated to the touch, that blazes up through to the earthy tones of his quiet eyes and scorches them a molten goldenrod. He is beautiful.
There is a girl who is another half of me, built entirely of her own independence with a sweeping sheet of strawberry-auburn hair and a smile composed of porcelain and diamonds, bright and persevering and so unaware of her own capabilities. She is beautiful.
I’ve seen a boy who was born from the water, whose skin is always tinged with the smell of the ocean and whose dampened hair is streaked with a sunshine to match his eyes of perfect, circled green sea glass. He is beautiful.
I knew a girl who moved as a force of nature, with her arms forged into tight cords of muscle and her eyes steeled with an obsidian relentlessness, as galaxies of people orbited about her pull of ignited, charismatic gravity. She was beautiful.
There’s a boy with warm, steady hands and honey-sweet blonde hair that washes quicksilver in the moonlight, whose eyes smile even when he doesn’t, two crashing waves of faded-denim blue. He is beautiful.
And there’s a girl who is as wispy and light as the wind, who hears everything and who braces all the hindrances of others, even as the weight of too many cruel worlds tries to break her beneath their pressures, and she is far stronger than she even knows. She is beautiful.
They are beautiful.
You are beautiful.
We are all beautiful.
I am surrounded by all these people, not paying attention to how I’m surviving in this too-big, ready-to-be-explored world. It’s about time I got to living this beautiful life, with all of my beautiful people, who I love with more complexity than that of the stars and constellations.