Alison Berkley: The Princess’ Palate
June 30, 2010
On Tuesday two teenagers who are taking a photography course at Anderson Ranch came to my house to photograph me for a “Stories from the Valley” project they’re doing during the week-long workshop.
I love teenagers. I really should be doing more work with them because I’m pretty sure there aren’t many people who feel the way I do. I just love how fuzzy they are, their budding beings all soft and tender like a peach. They’re so delicate and impressionable and can be so sweet if you let them mature and don’t pick on them too early.
It was an incredible honor to be their subject, to answer their questions and watch their faces change with my responses. Nothing makes me happier than a mouthful of braces that seem to sparkle with a smile. I have so much faith in them. Even in the darkest kids you can see the light if you know where to look. More times than not, the doom and gloom is all a façade. In my experience it’s the kids with the most talent who like to hide behind that. Sometimes at that age, being smart, or being really interested in something, just isn’t considered cool. If you’re going to be put off or offended by a despondent teenager, you’re in big trouble. The lack of response is a response in and of itself. You just have to know how to read it.
These kids weren’t that way at all. They were animated, inquisitive, polite, happy and bright. They asked smart questions and did a good job with the interview, especially considering their assignment was to capture me in my “process.”
I knew that unless they wanted photos of me snipping my split ends or eating salty snacks in front of a blank screen on my computer, I’d better come up with something.
So I decided to go with the whole Princess persona. I showed them my overly elaborate and insanely expensive shoe collection. I pulled stuff out of my closet like a pink boa and the blonde ponytail hair extension thing leftover from some stupid theme party I probably hated.
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And then I heard myself say, “I never wear this stuff now that I have a boyfriend and it doesn’t matter anymore.”
The older kid who came as their chaperone is like, “We should get that on tape. That’s a a good one.”
It was then that I had one of those out-of-body experiences, like I was floating somewhere above, watching myself – in horror.
I won’t know until the kids present their multimedia presentation at Anderson Ranch on Friday how I was portrayed or how I came across. I only know how I came across to myself.
There are plenty of people out there who have not been too shy to tell me that I basically suck now that I am happy and have a boyfriend and don’t have any of those bad-prom-night-face-down-in-the-gutter moments anymore. People like the pain. They like the mess. Now that my life is in order, both physically and emotionally, it’s not fun or funny. It’s all too clean.
But the truth is, I am still a mess. It’s just that it’s my mess, not one I can pawn off on my latest romantic disaster. Now I’m left with having to figure out how I feel about myself. And the worst part of that is, if I don’t like me, I can’t get drunk and break up with me and then sleep with myself two weeks later. (All of which makes for good column fodder.)
The truth is, I’m scared I’m on the fast track to mom jeans (do they still make those?) and comfortable shoes and a lower maintenance haircut.
OK, maybe it’s not that bad. But I did give away most of my skinny jeans to my favorite hot yoga chicks, and those shoes that I once prided myself on have not come out of their pretty boxes since I moved into my boyfriend’s apartment a year ago.
While I’ve managed to maintain a fairly disciplined, intense workout routine I can’t seem to motivate myself to go to the extremes I once did to look my best. It helps that I have someone who loves me for who I am. I’m just not sure I can love myself as unconditionally as he does.
My parents were just here for a visit and I’ve noticed my Mom hardly eats and then goes on these long road bike rides. Sometime before dinner she hits the wall and gets really irritable.
“Jesus Christ, why don’t you go eat something? All you ate today was a Kind bar and a slice of toast. That’s not enough to sustain you through a long bike ride,” I said.
“That is not true,” she said in a terse, exasperated tone. “I had a banana.”
Instead of taking her to Eating Disorders Anonymous, fearing she might be the oldest one there, I say, “I think you should eat more, that’s all.”
And she goes, “I’ve been counting calories my whole life. It’s ingrained. I can’t just stop doing it now.”
It hit me. Not only has she been happily married for 42 years, she’s 67 years old, she’s in the best shape of her life, and she’s still not satisfied. She still has to work at her relationship with herself: how she sees herself, how she feels in her own skin.
“Honey, it’s a never-ending battle,” she always says.
Sometimes life will throw you these cosmic mirrors that give you a candid glimpse of yourself when you least expect it. Somehow, talking to these kids, putting myself in front of the lens of their cameras, created a reflection I didn’t expect to see.
At least now I know what I have to do. Even though they’re my own, stacked in pretty boxes in my closet, I have pretty big shoes to fill.
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