Spotted in Starbucks: A Tale of Two Girls


I think all of us, to some extent, are stalkers.

I know I sort-of am. Not because I’m skilled at the art of the cute guy’s Facebook background check (though I will admit that I am). It’s more because, as creepy as this sounds, I sometimes like watching people, observing them. It’s mainly I’m trying to be a writer, so I sort of need to in order to create a believable bunch of humans to populate a story, but to be honest I could just use my friends as samples and that would work just as well, if not better. I people-watch because I find individuals in general, especially strangers (I never put much stock in the rule of not talking to them; I always did and sometimes still do.), fascinating.

One of my favorite places to people-watch is Starbucks, because coffeeshops tend to attract a huge assortment of people, from suited-up business types on break to giggly students chattering between classes. I don’t stare: just casually observe, skimming the crowd like a book and making the odd note or two in the back of my head, when the mood strikes me. I was doing that this morning, sitting in the newly renovated downstairs Starbucks EDSA Shangri-la, when suddenly, a girl caught my eye.

I guess what got my attention first was that, despite it being freezing in Starbucks, she was in sleeveless: this sparkly gray vest top over cigarette-cut cargo-style trousers, which were cut just above the ankle to show off her combat boot-style studded wedges. Slung over her shoulder was a slouchy hobo bag, and her face, half-hidden by oversized aviators, was framed by a cascade of wavy, dyed orange-blonde hair. She walked with a fierce, runway-model gait.

…and like a runway model, she was scary-skinny.

As she passed, my eyes flicked from her twiggy arms, to her upper torso all but swallowed up in the loose top, to her legs that seemed to be rattling around in her trousers. But what really made me wince was the sight of her ankles: they looked like chicken wing-bones–the skin sunken in around the bone and all the veins and tendons showing. She looked painfully, terrifyingly thin.

As I watched her walk out of the coffeeshop, I spotted another girl standing in front of the doors. Dressed in a stripy t-shirt and skinnies, she was definitely less high-fashion than the first girl. Her hair was a natural Filipino black, and tied in a relaxed ponytail. Compared to the fierce urban explorer/hipster who’d just stomped by her, this girl was definitely bigger: of a curvier build than I, and with obvious fat on her. Her arms were nicely rounded, her torso well-proportioned in her top, and her legs looked like legs. What I noted was that, after the sight of the model-type who’d just pased, she looked so much better–not just prettier, but more relaxed. The skinny girl on the other hand, had sported a miserable, Posh Spice-y (and even she smiles sometimes) expression.

And yet, the most of us would glorify that skinny girl and call the other one fat.

I remember being in high-school, and having a guy classmate who wanted to be a model tell me I was too fat. Admittedly, compared to the “prettier” girls in my class, who had the classic Asian ideal of petite figure with honey-gold or creamy-peach skin and slender, gamine limbs, I looked stockier, more solidly built. A (hashtag) tank instead of a Miata. The comment haunted me for the bulk of those ugly-duckling years, even after I entered university and discovered the relative advantages of my more “masculine” figure (for one thing, I tend to look taller than my 5’3.5″ height). I would look at myself in the mirror and see only the paunch I could never quite banish, the wobbly thighs, the “bingo flaps” under my arms. Even my face seemed fat–lacking in high, arcing cheekbones, my strong square jaw serving to make it look wider in photos.

But I’m only a petite’s (5’3.5″, remember?) size 4 or, for small sizes, a six. That’s hardly morbidly obese.

The sad fact is, because mainstream media and even fashion blogs will glorify that scary-skinny girl, we do to. We admire her because her clothes “hang better,” because in photos she looks absolutely gorgeous. What we forget is that the camera adds ten pounds, so in reality to look that way we’d have to be ten pounds heavier! In person, these towering glamazons that capture our imagination are nothing more that skin and tiny bird-bones, to the point that sometimes photos fail to hide it (check the Ford model catalog for proof).

I’ll admit that there are still times I wish I could see my collarbones more, or have a clearer-defined waist with the flat belly and slightest suggestion of a ribcage. When I have lug on Spanx to squeeze into my mum’s old clothes (she had a 24 inch waistline; I’m usually 27-29), I feel like a mammoth. But after seeing the contrast between those two girls, I realized that there was no point aspiring to that “fashionable” ideal if, underneath the super-chic clothes, the body in them made you wince. As long as I’m physically fit, healthy, and happy, who cares if I’m never going to be a sample size? Honestly, I’d rather be Marilyn Monroe (she wore a size 10) than a bunch of bones.

Even a well-dressed one.




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