With a shiver, I tugged on the collar of my thick wool coat to pull it up higher and button it tighter around my neck to stave off the cool early morning fog and harsh wind coming off the bay. From a few blocks away, I could hear the charming ding of a cable car bell. Quintessential San Francisco. Freezing cold and windy all year long, but there’s nothing like the sound of those bells to help you romanticize your intense suffering at the hands of Mother Nature. I sighed and carried on.
Struggling to keep my body upright while carefully toddling down the ridiculously steep street that led from my apartment to my job in the financial district, I glanced toward my right to survey my reflection in the oversized glass doors of a high-rise building. Given the awkwardness of my stride, it was clear that my choice of footwear was most unfortunate. My heels were clearly much too high for me to navigate the hilly streets gracefully.
I crossed the street, then took another quick look in the doors of the next building, as is my usual morning routine, to ensure my long blond hair isn’t getting too frizzy. Hairs were starting to curl up all over the place. I quickly ran my free hand from the top of my head down the length of my hair, tucking the ends under my coat collar to try to keep it flat.
Then, with a second glance, I examined my legs from my knee-length skirt down to my ankles. My legs are absolutely my best feature, but I don’t want to flaunt them too much in the workplace. Just an appropriate amount of flaunting…
Lest you think I’m conceited or egotistical about my legs, or hair, or anything else about my physical appearance, you should know I haven’t always been this way. Not even close. In fact, it’s about as far from whence I came as you could possibly imagine.
I came into this world with considerable Irish heritage and all that comes with that. And by ‘all that comes with that,' I mean terrible grammar school taunting by the other children. After sunlight exposure, my normally very pale-white skin would burst out a crop of new freckles or simply turn bright red. I got very used to being referred to as “Freckle Face” and “Lobster.”
This was not at all helped by my parent’s choice of my name – Aoife – a classic Irish girl’s name, which not a single person in America can pronounce. As a result of this very unfortunate name, every year on the first day of school, I would be called either “Oif” or “Oaf” by my new teacher. Even after I corrected my teacher, every single year, with my name’s proper pronunciation (“Ee-fa”) it wasn’t any less hysterical to the entire class.
Throughout my childhood, every single night, I’d close my eyes and pray, followed by opening my eyes and wishing upon all the stars I could see out my window, that I would wake up in the morning with a plain name like Jane or Mary, plain brown hair, plain brown eyes, and skin that would turn a nice shade of tan in the summertime, like all the other girls in my class. Sadly, none of those things ever happened.
Our family tree also has a fair amount of German heritage on my mom's side, which translated into most of the women on her side being not particularly small women. Given how often my mother was on a diet of cottage cheese, canned peaches, and carrot sticks when I was a little girl and how sassy she got when she complained jealously about how I was so ‘skinny,’ I could only assume that being skinny must be some type of a good thing.
At no time did I view my being skinny as a good thing. I had inherited my mutant genetics, very much unlike my immediate family, but rather more like a Great Uncle who was a 7’ tall and very skinny man.
I grew into my full height of 5’8” by the age of 13, just when platform wedge shoes were all the rage and of course I had to have them. The very first day I wore them, as I walked to school, a big yellow bus full of students rolled by and all the boys were hanging their heads out their windows gawking. Then one boy yelled out his window, “Look at the giraffe!” and everyone on the bus started pointing and laughing. It was a pivotal and demoralizing moment. I was hard pressed to imagine it could get any worse.
It got worse.
When my permanent teeth had grown in, they stuck out in front, making me look like Bucky the Badger. As a result, I had to get ugly metal braces on my teeth and wore them all throughout middle school, followed by years of wearing a retainer that made me lisp.
You'd think things couldn't get much worse. Spoiler alert: They could.
My mother, who is all about curly hair, which I did not have, decided she needed to perm my hair. If your mother ever decides she needs to perm your hair, just walk away. Very quickly. Maybe even run. This probably goes without saying, but later that week, we had to go to the hairdresser and get what used to be my long straight reddish hair that went all the way down my back, completely cut off into a little short hairdo.
Eventually; however, my hair grew back out, and I learned about the magic of hair coloring products so my hair could be more blond and less red. I began to dress in something other than flannel shirts, overalls and Converse sneakers. I took a class to learn about proper makeup application. My braces and retainer were finally gone forever. And, eventually I got asked out on my very first date. It didn’t go well. But it was a start.
So now, as I stroll down the streets of San Francisco and glance sideways to take in the sight of my long blond hair, and my long lean 'giraffe' legs and finally feel a sense of contentment with myself, I realize I just needed to grow into the body I was born with.