One of the gifts of age is finally, blessedly, accepting the body you were born in. I have two teenagers who regularly lament things like hair/eye color, body size, and the strange idiosyncrasies unique to that body. A typical mother, I say things like, “Be grateful you aren’t handicapped/have enough to eat/are loved/have arms and legs,” you get the picture. I enjoy pointing them to people like this. The truth is, I so get it. I’ve been there, too, and while I’ve accepted my body for the most part it doesn’t take much to flash back to the days of cursing genetics and wish, wish, wishing I had other physical features as I perused People Magazine and Cosmopolitan. Perhaps I can best explain my battle with body image by an encounter at a local grocery store two days ago.
There I was, hunting for a snack in the healthy foods aisle while said teenagers were loading groceries in my truck and driving it around to pick me up (having a chauffeur is a major perk of adolescent children). As I compared the ingredients of several bulk trail mixes I felt someone checking me out. Nodding politely at a man old enough to be my father, I started scooping “energy” trail mix into a baggie. He continues to stare. What is his problem? Wearing a barn outfit of dirty vest/jeans combo—complete with stray stalks of hay, my riding shoes, and no make-up I’m pretty sure he’s not impressed with my appearance. Did I pick the wrong trail mix? What? When I look at him again he smiles and says, “You’re tall.”
Stop the presses. I’ve just been informed of amazing new information about myself. In 38 years I’ve only heard this inane statement from complete strangers about, oh, a million times! I’m never quite sure how to respond to this… “Congratulations for noting the obvious?” I answered with my usual, genius comeback, “yep.”
I’ve always found it interesting when people tell me I’m lucky for being tall. By the age of 13 I’d reached my full height of 5’11. This did not feel lucky, it felt like genetic punishment. Most of my friends were short and petite. And in the eighth grade this included the guys. There was one boy in junior high as tall as me and he wasn’t one of the cute ones. Guess who I had for a partner for square dancing every year? My first “boyfriend,” Sean, came up to about my shoulder. We had a meaningful relationship for several months after I circled “Yes” on the note he sent asking if I wanted to be his girlfriend.
The battle for self acceptance continued through highschool. Blessedly many of the guys began to grow, but I still wished and dreamed of being small and cute with a curvy cheerleaderish shape. Instead, I got “Olive Oil.”
Perhaps I’d have felt differently about my size if it included amazing athletic skill. I could have tried out for WNBA and felt secure in my height every time I made a bank deposit. Then I’d have nodded enthusiastically when I got asked, over and over, “Do you play basketball?” But, no. In lieu of athleticism, God made me a painful introvert who hated sticking out in a crowd. Who says He doesn’t have a sense of humor? Thankfully I had horses. They were the one thing that made me feel graceful and at all talented in the athletic department. Without my horses I’m not sure how I’d have made it through the teen years.
It would make sense to pair my extra height with a big beefy warmblood or, at the very least, a leggy Thoroughbred. Alas, like my first boyfriend Sean, I’m a fan of the shorter members of the equine world. Tall for my very favorite breed—the Arabian—Eli is a solid 15’2. Not huge but on the bigger side of average. Borrowing his energy, drive, and grace under saddle is an absolute thrill and the experience does what riding has always done for me—make me more comfortable in my own body.
While I’ve finally accepted my height with a measure of gratitude, I still look at some of the little breeds with envy. What fun I could have if I were small. I’d gallop away on a wild looking Kiger Mustang, an adorable Pony of the Americas, or, perhaps my very favorite small horse, a Welsh Pony. Check out Northforks Cardi, a simply stunning Welsh stallion.
Oh, the horses I’d ride if I were only five feet tall…