Then came the day when this ballet goddess broke my heart. When I was seventeen, Irene told me that I would never become a classical ballerina. She thought I would make a better comedienne. Although I was crushed, she turned out to be right, and I just had to live with it. But all those years of devotion to dance didn't go to waste. By my midteens, the ballet classes had shaped a near-perfect body.
By age thirteen a truckload of hormonal changes had come raining down on me. I was emotionally still a girl, but now suddenly I was be¬coming a young woman. It was frightening. Nature was running its course and pubescent girls had to just sit helplessly waiting, during what amounted to a high-stakes poker game, nervously watching to see what cards they would be dealt in the game of life.
Dad said I had racehorse legs. Was that a good thing? Anyway, I was broad shouldered, small waisted, and slim hipped with new rosebud boobies starting to blossom. What should I do about it? It was embarrassing and reassuring at the same time. It seemed too early to start becoming . . . a woman. Then, suddenly and mysteriously, lovely things began happening to me. Nature was working its magic, transforming Raquel Tejada into someone else.
However, the game was playing out slowly, taking its time over a period of a couple of years. Whereas for some girls it was one summer— and whamo!—girl to woman at the speed of light, for me it was more like watching grass grow. My development was gradual . . . a work in progress.
It's my theory that during this early period of uncertainty, almost all women come to hate themselves physically. I haven't met a woman yet who really likes her looks. That's because we don't identify with the finished product but with the anxious memory of waiting to see whether we'll win or lose. Not many draw a winning hand in the first round. But once the game begins, we can bluff our way through and play along the best we can. And that's the essence of the female persona, concentrating on our strong suit and shaping our hand into a winning streak.
How Do You Know If You're Pretty?
I didn't like my hair (very fine like my mother's), or my eyes (too deeply set and almond shaped, in standard-issue brown), or my nose (not cute enough), or my mouth (a bit too wide). Then there were my hips (not high or round enough) and my breasts (set too widely apart on my torso). But there were things I did like: my shoulders (square and broad), my back (shaped like an inverted triangle), and my waistline (super small). I also liked my skin (olive and fine-pored), my hands and feet (delicate and well-formed), and my teeth (super white, and I had my mother's smile). My cheekbones (prominent like Kate Hepburn's), my ears (small), and my proportions (svelte after years of ballet) were pretty damned good.
Looking around for confirmation, I wasn't able to spot anyone similar to my type whom I could gauge myself by. I judged myself "passable." Fortunately, any lack of confidence I had about my physical ap¬peal wasn't shared by the opposite sex. They were not nearly as critical as I was. This became obvious from the way they stared at me when I got off the bus and walked down the street to my dance class. It was rather uncomfortable . . . but intoxicating.