Having had a very strenuous work week, I was looking forward to staying home for the long weekend when Arthur calls to tell me that we have to meet up with a friend of his - "we have to" - and so I readied myself with much grunting and grumbling.
(Good thing we were meeting his friend at a place that served good food, which served to alleviate some of my misgivings about having a late dinner.)
What I didn't know was that I would be meeting the possible stand in of erstwhile socialite/former BFF of the more (in)famous "heiress" Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie. (Well, Paris has a more legitimate claim to the title heiress, her family being the owners of a known hotel line. Nicole doesn't sing, does she?)
Arthur's friend was so frail and, I swear, she actually makes how Nicole appears in the picture above heavy. She was very, very nice, and again, that helped ease the evening. As she could fill in - literally - for Nicole R., let's call her Leticia. (Follow the arrows: Nicole's double -> Nicolette -> Drop the Nico -> Letty -> Make it prettier.)
Leticia was a successful entrepreneur, having launched many companies abroad (based in Europe), all of which are doing quite well. Happily married to a foreigner and with kids, she struck me as someone who epitomizes the term "made", at least in both her family and work life. She didn't have on "branded" clothing, as what I might have normally expected from someone who's lived abroad for decades, a refreshing change from those twits who just went abroad for a week and come home with completely different accents and turning their noses up on "dirty" ice cream.
As expected, a large part of the evening was spent discussing business possibilities and opportunities, seeing as how she was a businesswoman in Europe, which is in the doldrums economically these days. I got a chance to see a true entrepreneur at work: I marveled at how she seemed to take in every detail discussed at the table, and analyzing it right there and then as to how it would fit into her general business plans and how she could minimize any negative effects that were brought up. She was involved in everything: food containers, retail, property, fashion and beauty, the list went on. This was someone born to be an entrepreneur and a businesswoman, one who reveled at difficult market situations to see how she could beat it and make a living despite it.
I certainly laid to rest those thoughts that she would be as "heir-headed" (horrible pun, I know) as Nicole.
Just as I was beginning to like her for her acumen in matters of business (and as I was digging into a delicious heirloom tomato salad), she suddenly stunned us by saying. "Arthur, do you like my boobs?"
Dead silence as we were digesting what just happened.
Without missing a beat and with the same analytical mind she used everyday for work, she proceeded to name the pros and cons of the next topic she would bring up: "You see, I have been thinking about my breasts for the longest time. They're sagging, they're drooping, they're just sad. And they need to be filled out and up! No one wants to look at sad eyes, do they? And I can't wear anything right! All these wonderful clothes, always stuck in a closet because my breasts don't look right in them. I'm the anti-model, I make clothes look bad. So I went to a plastic surgeon, and after choosing from the catalog as to what size, girth and depth I wished by breasts to be, he worked his art and here I am now!...What, is it too small? Too raised? Does it make me look like a bimbo? I'll have it reduced if that's how it looks. I certainly need to look good for business. I'm confronted with business people from all these different countries and I have to look my best."
More dead air as this was certainly different from what we ordered for the evening. And to top it off, she turns to me as asks:
"How about you, Joey? Look at my breasts...are they okay?"
I said "Mfjhuksshjpwmqj." (Muffled response while stuffing my mouth with as much greens as I could muster. I imagine I would say the same thing if I had something of that size pressed against my face.)
She then turns "introspective". "You know, I really don't like how I look, that's why I've already had my arms and legs sculpted, my tummy tucked a few times. I feel so fat, bloated and ugly...the only time I am able to wear anything sleeveless and backless is after I've been refreshed by the doctor. I've been to him so much, I should really get one of those loyalty cards that give me a free treatment after 10 visits. But that's the only way I can keep up and feel presentable with all these presentations, meetings and lunches and dinners I have to transact business in and socialize. I have to look my best."
Arthur turns to her with an incredulous look: "Leticia, you were never fat to begin with. In fact, I've always noted how payat (thin) you were and always wondered if you were fed properly and have the right nutrition, even from way back. Look at you, buto't balat ka na nga, eh! ("you're all skin and bones!")...I don't understand how you can say you're bloated."
Leticia says with much conviction: "Basta. (No direct English equivalent, something akin to "no more discussion, that's it, take it or leave it" but yet, not quite.) I feel fat and ugly. In fact, next, I'm having my cheekbones raised and my facial features enhanced."
I looked at Leticia from head to feet - as much as one can from a seated position, anyway - and wondered how was it possible that this business-savvy woman, with many companies to her name, a confident, killer attitude in conquering places where few women would think of setting foot in and manage to shine and outsmart the men in their game, could have a self-esteem so shattered and broken, that even though no one could find anything wrong with her physically, managed to be laden with self-doubt and unattractive pity for her physical stature that she had to overhaul herself - there's no other word for it - so as to give herself a sense of "worth".
Needless to say, my initial admiration for her fell the way credit ratings for Greece have fallen: a fast, sharp, downward fall.
When we got home, I asked Arthur to show me pictures of her when he knew her way back when. She was stunning in that photo I saw. She didn't have a square jaw, but soft features. Arthur was right, she would never be considered "fat" by any stretch of the imagination. She would probably be thought of as "malnourished" by some quarters, in fact. She had on a smile that seemed to indicate how carefree she was - and how unconcerned she was with her physical features.
A far cry from what I witnessed a few hours before I saw this picture from a past I'm not sure even she recognizes anymore.
It also drove home what it means to live in these times: we are supposed to be ashamed of every "flaw" we find in our bodies these days. We must be incredibly lazy, inept or just plain "uncaring" if we insist on carrying on our balding hairline, our blotchy skin, that crooked smile because of uneven teeth, those pesky last 10 to 15 pounds, that "cute" height (read: being short), frizzy locks. The message is no longer how we can "improve" ourselves, but how wretched our lives will be with our present, "unedited" state, and that true success and satisfaction can only be achieved if you let cosmetic surgeons, dermatologists, fitness professionals, stylists, hairdressers, dentists and a whole lot more industries come in and "fix" what's "wrong" with us.
We've taken the concept of "Photoshopping" ourselves to incredibly superficial, twisted and dangerous levels. It's come to the point where there is no more "self" left to salvage in our own self-worth.
I didn't realize our individuality was supposed to make us cringe and fear our own skin.