At about the same time, Daddy took me to see the movie The Red Shoes. As I watched Moira Shearer dance herself into feverish abandon in the film, she quickly became my new idol. I was under the spell of her magical red toe shoes. It pitched my romantic temperament into high gear, and that was when I began to take ballet lessons. Ballet would become a consuming passion—especially in my teenage years—and a lasting influence in my life. I started classical ballet at age seven and continued to study dance for the next ten years, and even after I graduated from high school.
Not surprisingly, I developed a schoolgirl crush on my ballet teacher, Irene Isham Clark. She cut quite a striking figure with her long silver hair cascading down her back, well past her waist. She would put it up with exotic-looking combs during class. Irene Clark was not at all like the typical La Jolla matron. She was an artiste. She conducted class by tapping an ornately carved cane with a silver tip like a rhythmic metronome to the count of Les Sylphides.
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.