Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The 1960s, Twiggy and Me

Today is the birthday of what I would consider a nemesis of my younger years – someone I never met - and while I want to wish her a happy birthday, let me explain my relationship, or rather lack of one, with her.

I am taking a memoir writing class at a local university, and each class we write on a different theme. A recent theme was what I call body beautiful, all about health, appearances and our body. Thinking about the topic brought back memories – not fond ones – of the styles and clothes of the 1960s, most of which looked horrible on me. Luckily sometime during the second half of the decade jeans became a fashion statement, and that was fine with me. But I never quite recovered from the anti-reality ideal of body beautiful popular at the time.

My body awareness was the result of a slow process of realizing that I was born at the totally wrong time when it comes to cultural body ideals and fashion history.

Let me explain. I am barely 5 foot 2 inches tall. As a little girl I assumed I would be tall and slim like my father’s mother, my Nana, and my Aunt Harriet, her daughter. At the time I did not know anything about genetics, DNA and other pertinent information that would later dash my hopes and dreams.

Nana was tall and slim, a model in New York City before she married. When her husband died and left her with two children, she got a job at a high-end dress shop in Manhattan and worked there for decades. I remember visiting the shop a couple of times and being in awe of the furnishings, the fashions, and the women ensconced in those surroundings. I was only a kid, but I understood even then it was not my world.

I ended up inheriting my height (or lack thereof) from my mother’s family, although even my mother was taller than me. I received my body shape from my mother’s mother, Grandma Rose. I grew not in height, but in other ways. My breasts began to bud when I was in the fifth grade, and continued growing.

I have a waist, but have not seen it in decades. Even when it was sort of apparent, it was kind of squishy. My generation, or at least the friends I hung out with, did not prioritize firm physiques honed through exercise and strenuous physical activity. Weight was an all-consuming topic of discussion and dieting a mainstay, but taut muscles and a lean, mean gym scene never an issue.

Somewhere during my teen years, coinciding with the 1960s, the world transformed in more ways than any of us realized at the time. My friends and I did not understand how fast our world was changing, from the rise of the Beatles in the early part of the decade to a man on the moon at the close of the era. There was the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Cuban missile crisis, Andy Warhol’s soup cans and Marilyn Monroe art, and Marilyn Monroe’s death. There was the Berlin Wall and the Cold War. President Kennedy was assassinated, and so were Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy. Edward Kennedy left the scene of an accident, and thousands descended on Woodstock. The first Super Bowl played and Star Trek premiered. Classmates went to Vietnam and some never returned.  Sesame Street was created and Twiggy’s picture was splashed all over newspapers and magazines.

An anorexic-looking English model epitomized the essence of body beautiful in the 1960s.
And it was not my beautiful body.

At least I had long hair reaching my waist. My mother never wanted me to grow it long – she constantly berated me to cut it – but I loved my long hair. It was curly, contrary to the straight locks of every woman in every magazine in the world, but it was mine. I could straighten it and iron it and brush it. And I guess, looking back, it was my statement that I was a child of the 60s.

I should have been a 17th century European woman, for my body is more like the round, substantial (today we might label them plus-size) women of Rubens paintings than the ever tall, thin American ideal.

The 1960s ended, I graduated college a couple of years later, married and had two children. My obsession with weight has been a life-long annoyance, but not as consuming as when I was a self-conscious teenager. As I age my weight fixation centers on health concerns. I exercise to fend off some of the ravages of aging as long as possible.
I googled Twiggy and found her website. Apparently she is still modeling. I did not recognize her. She actually looks much prettier now than she did over forty years ago. But then I am sure her picture was photoshopped and doctored to make her look gorgeous, however she may look in real life today. By the way, today she is 63.

So Happy Birthday Twiggy! May you be happy, healthy and have a few more pounds today! Eat a bissel (a little), as my grandmother used to say...


  1. Great post, Meryl. The memories are vivid, and the body image issues die hard. For all of us. I can tell you it didn't help much to be tall as a teenager. Those boys with the guts to ask me to dance usually came just about up to my boobs . . .

  2. Ah, for the days of Jayne Mansfield, Brigitte Bardot and Marilyn Monroe, all of whom were much curvier than Twiggy.

    But I'm a man and was supposed to have the build and athletic prowess of Joe Namath and Mickey Mantle. Not even close.