Reflections on Shadows

by Beth Woodbury

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    August 29

    I’ve been feeling so depressed lately I can’t stand myself. I feel sloppy and grubby and not fit to be seen. For example, this evening was Mom’s Primary preparation meeting, and they had refreshments. Naturally I went upstairs to see if I could snitch some. Well, up in the kitchen there were punch and cake and Shane Dean and Mindy Lawrence, dressed in their good clothes with their great figures, talking about their fabulous summer of water skiing and dates. I felt like a big fat frump. They said “hi” and made a few comments of general interest, but they were off on something I wasn’t involved in, so I guzzled my punch and gobbled my cake, and as soon as they left I shambled downstairs again, feeling terrible. I’m not jealous of them or anything—I know how to dress to flatter my figure and I can sew better than either of them. It’s their positions in the world I envy.

    Here I am, stuck in the house all day, a recluse at 16, while all the other girls are running around doing fascinating things. I have so little social life, sometimes I feel like a hermit.

    November 11

    We had a party at youth activity night last night, and I really made a pig of myself. Of course, now I wish I hadn’t. What must people think of me when I eat so much? Even Mom says, “If you keep on nibbling, you’ll get fatter and fatter, like a balloon.”

    I don’t want to be fat. I want to be slender and slinky like a model in World magazine. At the moment, unfortunately, the only person who would want me for a model would be Peter Paul Rubens. I’m only five feet tall, but I weigh 120 pounds. I have a very large backside, a pot belly, and a curving spine from bad posture. In short, I look like a kidney bean with legs—from the side, that is. I don’t look too bad from the front, and when I stand with my back to the sun, my shadow falls long and slender before me. My shadow always looks good. Too bad my mirror image can’t look the same.

    December 20

    Christmas is coming and I am gaining weight. I don’t care. It’s useless to try and diet during the holidays. I’ll begin fresh in the new year.

    Jared is home from college. I asked him how he liked it, and he said, “It’s all right academically, but the social life isn’t too great.”

    Mom says Jared’s problem is that he’s always trying to date the movie star type of girl, but he isn’t the movie star type of boy. Maybe that’s my problem too. I want to look like a model, but I’m not really that kind of girl. Not yet, anyway. I bet I could be if I tried. I’m going to begin as soon as Christmas is over.

    January 1

    New Year’s Resolutions

    I, Micah Rhinelander, do hereby resolve that this year I will—

    1. save money,

    2. get my hair cut,

    3. abstain from chocolate,

    4. not eat between meals,

    5. go to bed on time,

    6. not doodle in class,

    7. make my bed in the morning,

    8. be on time for seminary,

    9. get a tan this summer, and

    10. maybe lose some weight.

    January 28

    I’ve been rereading my New Year’s resolutions, and I’ve broken about half of them already. I haven’t been getting to bed on time, I still doodle in class, and I’ve gained three pounds from all the chocolate I’ve been eating. I’m going to remake those resolutions:

    1. Avoid chocolate. (Pretend it’s against the Word of Wisdom.)

    2. Don’t eat between meals, and stay away from those chocolate chip cookies!

    3. Lose weight!

    I’m sick and tired of being fat, and I’m going to stop overeating once and for all. I want to get down to 104; that’s what models are supposed to weigh. That’s 19 pounds to lose. That’s not so much; I figure I can do it in five weeks. In fact, I know I can! I’m going to be slim and beautiful by March 3!

    February 15

    Here I am again in the middle of the third week of my diet. I’ve lost ten pounds so far, and everyone says I look thinner. Sister Lawrence, who used to be a professional beautician, has cut and styled my hair. It makes me look even thinner, but I’ve still got a ways to go. I’m confident I can reach my goal, however. I’m doing so well that Dad’s begun to complain that I’m too skinny.

    March 24

    I don’t believe it! I just don’t believe it! A boy actually asked me out, a real, warm-blooded American boy!

    It’s almost midnight, but I can’t sleep. I’ve got to record my first date, my first real, honest-to-goodness date. It happened just like it’s supposed to: the phone rang; I answered; a masculine voice said, “Hi, Micah. This is Mark Sorenson. What are you doing tonight?”

    At first I thought he was joking and was just going to ask me to lead the singing at youth activity night or something. I stammered, “Whaa … what?”

    “What are you doing tonight?” he repeated.

    “N-nothing special.”

    “Would you like to go to the movies with me? There’s a good one playing down at the mall.”

    “I’ll ask,” I said breathlessly, and ran through the house screaming, “Mom, Mom, Mark Sorenson wants to take me out! Can I go?”

    Well, I can’t pretend the evening was perfect. Mom gave her permission, but when Dad came home he got mad because she hadn’t consulted him first, and he said I couldn’t go. I burst into tears. He relented, growling, “You just make sure you’re home by ten.” I hugged him ecstatically.

    “You’re great, Dad!”

    Then I had to find something to wear. I tried on and discarded everything in my closet—they all seemed to be too short. Again I dissolved into tears. Mom patted me on the back, told me to stop acting like an idiot, and did a quick hem job on one of my dresses. Watching her, I suddenly realized what she was doing. She let the hem down, and that means I’ve grown taller! Immediately I felt better.

    Mark was a little late, and I got impatient and started to put on my coat. Mom stopped me. “On a date you should always let a boy help you put on your coat. You should never let it appear as if he’s late, even if he is.” She continued to lecture me on the rules of dating etiquette, and by the time I walked out the door with Mark, I felt very knowledgeable.

    The movie was good and Mark was fun, but I’m afraid I was a disaster. The way to learn how to behave on a date is not to take a cram course one minute before you leave. I forgot to let Mark hold the car door open for me, and when I opened a can of soda at the theater, it sprayed all over. We both reached for napkins at the same time and bumped heads. During the movie I ate most of the popcorn, breaking my diet and a rule of etiquette at the same time, and when we got home, I was so flustered I forgot to say thank you. I won’t be surprised if he never asks me out again.

    Oh well, at least he did ask me out this once. That’s the important thing. I’m no longer a never-been-dated 16-year-old, a hopeless wallflower, a poor thing. I’m attractive. I’m interesting. I’m normal. I can look at the models in World and say, “I am one of you. I know how it is. I’m your equal.” I even wonder if I’m not a little better than they are. After all, they’re only drawings on shiny pages. With their long legs, big shoes, and small, skinny bodies, they remind me of something—I can’t think what. I’m too tired to think.

    June 18

    Since January I have lost 20 pounds and numerous inches. I am now around 103 pounds. I still need to watch myself, though. I don’t want to start gaining weight through carelessness.

    Here are my diet plans for the summer:

    1. Three meals a day, no snacks, no second helpings.

    2. Ride bike as much as possible.

    3. “Early to bed and early to rise.”

    4. Practice good posture.

    5. Don’t look in the mirror.

    6. Weigh frequently.

    A strange thing happened the other day. Mark and I double dated to the prom with Shane and Sam. Mark was very attentive and courteous throughout the whole ordeal, but Sam, who’s kind of a joker, was always wandering off to visit friends or get refreshments for himself. After a while Shane nudged me and said, “Will you come to the ladies’ room with me?” I excused myself and followed her to the girls’ lounge, where she began to apply makeup with a shaky hand. Her eyes reddened and watered slightly as she did this, and I suddenly realized that she felt as inadequate as I used to feel. The only difference is that she uses makeup and pretty clothes to cover up her inferiority complex while I hid inside the house under books and magazines. I don’t know why I always thought of her as being a girl with a perfect life—I guess I couldn’t see past my own shell. Anyway, I patted her on the back and made a few tactful (I hope) comments about certain boys who are nervous around girls, and she seemed to cheer up. I hope we can be better friends now that I understand both her and myself better.

    August 10

    Today was Dad’s birthday, and I made him a cake full of chocolate chips, raisins, and maraschino cherries. Wow! It was delicious, and as you can probably guess, all my resolutions fell apart, and I ate about half of it. Now, of course, I wish I hadn’t. However, at least it’s strengthened my resolve to diet tomorrow.

    Sometimes I wonder how much longer this is going to go on, or if I will have to worry about my weight forever. I want to eat like a normal person, but to me, “normal” eating, that is, eating when I’m not on a diet, is overeating. When will I ever hit the happy medium?

    October 18

    I’m not going to count calories anymore. I need to learn how to eat as little as possible instead of setting a goal and then stuffing myself to the limit.

    I feel that the dieting this summer did a lot of good. I haven’t lost anything, but I haven’t gained anything either. I think my figure has trimmed down, and I know I have nicer legs from bike riding. Sometimes, however, I slip up. Today crackers were my downfall—soda and graham. I just love them, and could eat them forever. I like to make sandwiches out of them with cottage cheese, but of course this isn’t good for me, so I’ll have to quit. That seems to be the only way to keep from eating too much of one thing—not eating at all.

    December 30

    Here we go again—another year, new resolutions. Looking back at last year’s list, I can see that I’ve been pretty good about keeping them. It concerns me, though, that none of them are very spiritual. I feel a little guilty at times because of this; I feel I involve myself too much with the things of the world. I don’t want to give up my material possessions, and yet at times I long for more simplicity.

    January 1

    I, Micah Rhinelander, do hereby resolve that this year I will—

    1. finish reading The Restored Church,

    2. be more teachable and tolerable,

    3. practice good manners,

    4. go to bed and rise early,

    5. pay more attention in classes,

    6. exercise regularly,

    7. pray morning and evening,

    8. have more consideration for others,

    9. stop looking in the mirror so much, and

    10. generally make myself more endearing to the public.

    June 26

    I’ve been reading through all my old diaries and laughing. It’s amazing how much I wrote then. Did I really have nothing else to do? I can’t remember, but what I do know is that I’ve had so much to do in the past few months that I haven’t had time to write at all. My social life still isn’t up to Shane Dean and Mindy Lawrence’s standards, and I don’t think it will ever be, but I don’t particularly want it to be either. I have more fun planning and making decorations for social events than I do going to them, and most of the boys I know would rather do something like that too. Right now Mark and I are working on the youth conference and having lots of fun doing it.

    I guess I’ve really changed a lot, for the better, I hope. I got into a big argument with Jared today, though. I know I should show more love toward him, but it’s hard when he acts as aggravating as he did today. He came storming into the house, shouting, “I hate girls!”

    “Why?” I asked.

    “They’re stuck up, that’s why! The Church leaders are always telling us fellows that we should get married, but how can we when all the girls think they’re too good for us?”

    I felt like hitting him. “I like that! I spent all last year losing weight and trying to make myself attractive like President Kimball tells us to, but do you think guys are swooning at my feet? No! The trouble with you and all your snobby friends is that you only want to take the glamorous girls out. They already have plenty of dates. You never pay any attention to the girls who have to try hard to be pretty!”

    He considered that. “Don’t all girls try hard to be pretty?”

    I thought for a moment. “I guess we all just try to be our best.”

    And, as far as I know, that’s the truth.

    I just wrote a letter to World publications canceling my subscription to their magazine. I can get more out of the pattern books at the store than I can out of World, and I no longer want to be a model. “In the world but not of the world” is my motto from now on.

    By the way, I now know what the World models remind me of.


    Photos by Kevin Merrell; posed by model