The Little Chubby Girl

By Janey Womeldorf

I first heard the story when I was eight years old. I have never forgotten it.

One day, the bird kingdom decided to hold a competition to see which bird could fly the highest. All the birds gathered: sparrows, owls, eagles, and more, including one tiny bird whose name nobody knew. The gun sounded and a feathered cacophony of shapes and sizes shot into the air, all striving for the coveted title. One by one, the smaller, weaker birds dropped out, their tiny wings exhausted. Before long, only one bird remained – the mighty eagle – its large, strong wings sending it higher and further than any other.

Confident of a win, and empowered by the sight of his weaker brethren beneath him, the eagle boldly declared himself the winner and set back down to earth. Right at that moment, the tiny bird jumped off the eagle’s back, flapped his wings wildly, and flew upwards into the skies, soaring high above all the others.

My childish excitement boiled over and a loud whoop of joy escaped from my lips. “Yes, yes,” I remember cheering. I did not know what mattered more – that the insignificant, little bird had won, or that the highly-revered eagle had not. All I knew was that on that day, in that classroom, a light bulb of hope went off in my naïve, eight-year old world: Beauty and strength are not everything.

As a child I remember staring curiously at my short, chubby legs. I asked my best friend why my legs were so much fatter than hers. I was too young to understand what this would mean or why our bodies were different, but I already sensed that fat legs were not a good thing. I was eight years old but I already knew: I was no eagle.

It is no surprise that the eagle is our national symbol; we value what it represents – beauty, strength and confidence. Benjamin Franklin proposed the turkey; it never stood a chance, turkeys are ugly. Its neck is an unwelcome reminder to women everywhere of their underarms, and besides, what would we eat at Thanksgiving? No, a symbol of national importance demanded more; it demanded beauty.

We are a nation drawn to attractiveness. Beautiful faces and svelte bodies grace magazine covers and movie screens. Would Diana still have become our fairy tale princess if she had looked more like the wicked witch instead of Cinderella? Is it just coincidence that most of our popular movie stars are delicious to look at also? Not that I mind, of course. I drool over Sean Connery, like a dog would a bone. I will never tire of him in “Hunt for Red October.” I consider it a chick flick purely for the eye candy. They say that people who aren’t attractive enough to be on TV go into radio. I wonder if Don Imus would agree with that.

My thin-legged friend was an eagle – she was pretty, slim, and a boy-magnet. I basked in her glow as the chubby friend, unnoticed but never insignificant. I believe that everybody has “something.” She had the looks, but I was funny. She got them to the table, but I kept them there. By the end of the evening, I held my own even if I did have to jump off her back to soar.

As an adult, I came to realize that our world is full of non-eagles all of whom have found success, albeit it some greater than others. The reality is that true confidence comes from within, regardless of shape, size, strength, or weakness and when it comes to success, we are all equally worthy of it. It’s just that for some of us, obstacles are a natural part of the process.

Abraham Lincoln was born into poverty and overcame electoral defeat eight times before becoming our 16th president.

Charles Darwin, famous for his theory of evolution, once wrote that he considered himself “a very ordinary boy, rather below the common standard of intellect.”

Fred Smith, the founder of FedEx, recalled only receiving a “C” for a paper he wrote in business school about improving a company’s delivery system.

J. K. Rowlings was too shy to ask anybody for a pen when she said the idea for Harry Potter “fell into her head” while traveling on a train to London. For four hours, all she could do was “think.”

As a child, I wonder if Oprah ever imagined the heights to which she would one day soar. Somehow I doubt it.

I have learned to call them strengths and differences not strengths and weaknesses. Decades later, the eagle and I are still best friends. She is still better looking, but I am still funnier. I feel comfortable saying that because this is my essay not hers.

Now, when self-doubts lurk and chip away at my confidence, I reflect on that story. Time may have blurred some of the details but nothing has eroded the lesson. The anxious little girl with the chubby legs grew up into an empowered, happily-married, successful adult with a gym membership, gratified to have learned early on that beauty and strength are overrated. There is only one thing that really matters: Anything is possible.

How do I know?

A little bird told me.

About this writer

  • Janey Womeldorf Janey Womeldorf once went to work wearing different shoes. She now freelance writes and scribbles away in Orlando, Florida. It’s probably best.

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