A Body like Clay
December 3, 2021 / Shaina Jaramillo
If I pinch myself enough, maybe I’d be beautiful again.
I have a habit of pinching myself. Not to take me out of a dream or snap me back to reality. I pinch my flaws and insecurities. I stare myself down in the mirror and examine my frame. On instinct, my hands find parts of my body I wish to hide, pinching them to make sure I’m aware that they're still there.
First, I pinch the sides of my face. Soft skin is pulled between my fingers. I recall the words of my lola to my mother, “Mataba siya,” she said after seeing me for the first time in a while. “She is fat.”
I tug my skin back to sculpt away my round chubby cheeks. I pull my skin down or drag it as far back as I can, molding my face to one with hollow cheeks and prominent cheekbones. I let go. My skin, unlike clay, bounces back with elasticity. I see my face in full again. Mataba, I repeat back to myself.
I move to the next area on my list. I despise my upper arms. I hate how it feels when they chafe against my body when I walk. I hate how they rest against my sides and appear ten times bigger. I hate them to the point that I hate tank tops. And I hate them because they are a reminder of the first time someone criticized my weight.
You see, as a child being skinny was what I was known for. It was my defining trait. Thin as a stick and doted on for it. Titas and titos called me beautiful, pretty — maganda. They even complimented my parents and praised my size. I was maliit and thin. In the Philippines, beauty is skinny, a mestiza nose, porcelain skin and satin jet black hair.
I limited my time out in the sun, brushed my hair endlessly for it to remain straight, long and silky, and pinched my flat nose like I was told to in an attempt to make it small and pointy. Weight, however, was something I didn't need to maintain. It was a point of pride. Proof of my natural beauty.
Then, puberty hit. Like clay building up, altering the shape of a sculpture, weight gradually began to mount along my backside, thighs, arms and chest, going unnoticed till high school. My family attended a formal gathering. I adorned a pink and gold short sleeved dress I felt beautiful in.
At first, I thought the squeeze was out of endearment, like how one would pinch a baby’s cheeks out of love. I was mistaken. Here stood one of my titos, who years before applauded my skinny frame, now picking at the flaws in my figure. His judgmental pinch held the same meaning as the critiques my nose would get. My arms were now a problem that needed changing. I overheard him criticize my parents for the weight I put on and recommended that I be put on a diet. Instantly, my weight became an insecurity.
The one trait that defined my beauty instantly became my ultimate flaw. And my mother agreed. She found it was in my best interest if I knew what they were saying about my body behind my back. That their words would be motivating for me to lose weight. That if I turned my body back to what it once was, then maybe the criticisms of my titos and titas will shift back to adoration. Maybe I’d be beautiful again. Maybe I’d still be maganda.
My previous body became my muse, and I tried to carve and mold my present self after it. I skipped meals and limited my portions. I tried only eating fruit or chewing gum whenever I felt hungry. I ran on my treadmill or around my block, but no matter what I did I couldn't chisel away at my newfound body.
I find it hard to imagine that my new body could be another’s muse. In the eyes of my friends and Western beauty standards, my body is something I shouldn’t be hell-bent on, but feel lucky to have. In the U.S. having curves is desirable and an hourglass shape is the standard. One friend would tell me she wished she had a body like mine and would compliment me by calling me thic. But I took it as an insult. Little did she know I wanted a body like hers. One that was naturally slim. A body that was always a size zero or an extra small. She was my goal weight and reminder of the body I once had.
How did I fit into one standard and not the other? How was my body seen in two different ways? How was I supposed to look at my figure without the differing standards echoing in my mind?
In the mirror, I saw a different body every time. There would be days I would share the same point of view as my friends, being content with the extra weight puberty had gifted me. But my first introduction to what beauty is eventually outweighed the other. Everyday I’ll find some part of my body to pick at and each time my flaws grew larger till it was the only thing I could see. I would pinch them as if my body was clay and pinching would mold them into whichever way I wanted.
From then on my habit began. I would pinch down my body starting from my cheeks to my arms to my stomach to my thighs all while thinking mataba.
But my body is not made of clay. My body is not malleable and easy to manipulate. My body is flesh and bone, fat and rolls, stretchmarks and full of imperfections.
Maybe one day the words of my peers and community won’t hold any meaning. My habit will fade or my pinches will be out of love and appreciation. I will no longer harshly pinch and pull my skin to try and shape them to my desire, but tenderly pinch the parts of my body I tried to hide in gratitude and remorse for withstanding what I’ve put it through. Then, maybe I will see myself in full and think maganda. ■
by: Shaina Jaramillo
graphics by: Emma Weeden
graphics by: Emma Weeden