Monday, December 1, 2008

I'm dreaming of a [slimmer waistline]

by Molly Borowitz

If your family, like my family, usually watches White Christmas over Thanksgiving weekend, you'll have caught your yearly glimpse of Vera Ellen's 16-inch waistline. You'll also have noticed that Rosemary Clooney, similarly stunning and objectively slender, looks somehow boxy in comparison (most especially when the two gals march out in their high-waisted khaki trousers to sing "Gee, I Wish I Was Back in the Army"). Still, though, when Rosemary sings alone on stage, you'll have seen how those fifties dresses accentuate her perfect hourglass figure. You might have heard your mom say (as mine did), "God, look how small she was then!" And maybe your grandmother responded (as mine did), "Hard to believe when you remember how enormous she was later."

I don't mean to be mushy, but in that moment my heart absolutely ached for Rosemary Clooney, breathtakingly beautiful in her black velvet gown and white lamé gloves. Her perfect, smooth sound on "Love, You Didn't Do Right by Me" resonates painfully with the tired, heavy tone and shaky vibrato you can hear when she sings "White Christmas" with Linda Ronstadt (recorded in 2000), and her stunning silhouette reflects awkwardly on her 1994 role on ER as a fat, crazy bag lady.

But hang on—my mom, like me, was apparently unsatisfied to let that last remark lie. "Well," she told my grandma, "apparently she struggled with her weight all her life. Even now, when she looked like this, it was probably tough for her." I know it's not the perfect retort (perhaps the pithier among us would prefer a "Rosemary, society didn't do right by you either" kind of comeback), but this concession was soothing nonetheless. For one thing, the woman had five children. For another, my mom reminded me of the hell we put ourselves through to conform to some distant and unrealistic standard of beauty—which, after Thanksgiving weekend, isn't a bad thing to remember. If Rosemary really was "struggling" with her weight, who knows what kinds of unhealthy things she might have been doing to herself? What did she think when she looked in the mirror? How did she feel after spending months alongside Vera Ellen, who was born into a lithe, straight dancer's frame naturally narrower than her curves?

I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say that most women—in fact, most people—on this campus probably have a rough idea of the things she did, thought, and felt. We may be the most attractive Ivy, but we know firsthand that this coveted label comes at the high price of dieting, exercising, neurosis, and a whole lot of low self-esteem. I hate thinking about the pressure that Rosemary must have felt while "struggling" with her weight and the trauma she must have endured when she realized she'd finally lost the damaging and unnecessary battle. It must have been utterly unbearable to know that people who saw you thought, "What a shame—she used to be such a pretty, slender girl."

This Thanksgiving, I've learned a lesson from Rosemary: you can't set your standard by anyone but yourself as you are (not models, not actresses, not gym-frequenting friends, not even yourself as you were). Don't let other people decide whether you're a Carousel Club crooner or a frumpy, dumpy bag lady based solely on how you look. I don't care what you weigh—you wear that black velvet dress with the white lamé gloves if you want to. Rosemary did.


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