I got my period in fifth grade, and just like that, my breasts were grenades waiting to be set off. I got a set of curves that I had absolutely no idea what to do with. Was it the Italian in me that grew curves? Or was it the American in me—from growing up in a culture of Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, and Lunchables?
Whenever I would have family dinner with my nonno (grandpa), my body seemed highly visible. These dinners would also further situate the importance of men. My nonno would say things like, “Save some food for your brother!” It was very confusing, because one minute my nonno would tell me to “slow down” and the next moment, he would say, “Eat up, Chrissa!” Old Italian men often think they know what is best for women’s bodies. We are supposed to start and stop according to their cues.
I have never been “fat,” but I have felt like I was more often than not. I wouldn’t say this was necessarily due to my ethnicity, but rather the mentality of society-at-large. It also didn’t help that I was a ballerina for thirteen years—mostly during puberty. At my thinnest, I still felt “fat.” I still felt ugly.
When I was younger, I used to tell my parents that God left me on the backburner when he was creating me, and that he mistakenly threw in characteristics from various ethnicities to form my face. My nose has always been large—but not “Italian-large”; my nose is too wide to be Italian. The dark, chocolate orbs that make up my eyes are considered Italian, but my small lips seem more Anglo. To me, I looked like a Pablo Picasso painting—but not in a good way.
My relationship with food has always been tempestuous, and Italians will quickly let you know if you’re getting plump. When I lived in Italy with a 70-some-year-old woman, she remarked to me once in Italian, “You came back from Venice, and you got fatter!” I was mortified. I had a good rapport with her, so I asked: “Why is it ok for you to be fat, but not me?” She replied succinctly, “Because… you must still find a husband.” Well, that cleared things up.
The fact that I must eat/not eat to “find a man” implies that my body is not my own. My body is not mine. It also implies that my physical appearance is all I have to offer in a relationship. I store all women’s insecurities in these thighs.
At the end of the conversation with the old Italian woman, she told me that I was still “in the clear,” because I wasn’t “as fat” as the other young woman I was rooming with. At the time, I’ll be honest, I thought, “Thank god.”
I don’t see my nonno that often anymore since he lives full time in Florida—God’s Waiting Room. When I talk to him on the phone, since he can’t see me, my weight and food isn’t mentioned. Instead, he talks to me about other things like the Republican National Convention, and how I’m “just like Sarah Palin—a strong woman.”
Though we differ in a myriad of ways, I’m glad the focus has shifted off of my body (until I see him next, that is).
I know that when I see him again for another family dinner, I will have to mentally prepare as I always do—telling myself that he is just my silly, 92-year-old Italian nonno, and that his opinion doesn’t matter.
But it does, and it always has…