"I am entirely content with who I am": Diane's story

Interviewed by Tiffany Williams
Spring 2021

I was born in 1951 and grew up with two older brothers in a small suburb of Portland, Oregon. When I look back on my life, there have been many experiences that have altered my perception of myself and affected who I eventually grew up to be. My mom was a housewife, while my dad worked to support our family, which fit into the traditional gender roles of the day.

Because I was a girl growing up in the ‘50’s, I was expected to be prim and proper, never voice an opinion, and stay quiet in the background. Growing up with brothers, I was able to see the differences in how boys were treated versus girls. Boys were allowed to do whatever they wanted with no consequences. Girls, on the other hand, were expected to behave in a certain way, and if we stepped out of line there were always repercussions. The differences were blatantly obvious, even down to the dress code the school enforced. Boys were only required to wear pants and a shirt, while girls had to wear either a skirt or a dress with nylons- no bare legs or pants allowed.

Some of my first memories of my childhood negatively affected me. I remember being 10 years old and my grandma looking at me and saying “Wow, you are so fat.” At the time I was not yet fully aware of my body or how others perceived me, but the comment hurt my feelings and made me cry. Little did I know that I would hear many more similar comments throughout my life.

After the remark my grandma made to me, I started to become aware of how I looked. My mom used to tell me my lips and teeth were too big, my ears stuck out, and I was ugly without makeup on. I overheard a boy I liked at school tell his friend that I would be cute if I lost a few pounds. I was always taught that I needed to be attractive so I could find a husband and have a family, and based on the comments from those around me, it was all that mattered. There were not many opportunities for young women back then. There weren’t even sports for girls besides cheerleading and pep club, so it became very clear to me that my appearance was the only thing I had to get me further in life.

When I was around 14, I was fed up with the negative comments about my weight, so I decided to stop eating, and I started walking everywhere in hopes of finally being “skinny”. By the time I turned 16, I had lost the extra weight, was popular, and started dating the star of the football team. I had everything I thought I needed to be happy, except I wasn’t because I didn’t love him. My parents were friends with my boyfriend’s parents and made it clear I was to marry him after graduation. I knew if I disobeyed them, I would be disowned and kicked out of the house.

Things were different back then- girls didn’t really speak up for what they saw as injustices. We also weren’t supposed to have sex, but boys were almost encouraged to. If a girl got pregnant, most times the boy would not take responsibility. Their family would even deny their son was the father, leaving the girl to fend for herself. Because abortion was illegal, one of my friends who accidentally got pregnant, had the father kick her in the stomach until she miscarried. I knew multiple girls who were kicked out of their homes when they got pregnant as teenagers.

 

There was never any talk of going to college in my family, especially for me. My dad made it clear that I wasn’t smart or even capable of a higher education. To put it bluntly: my job was to get married, have children, and stay home to take care of the household duties.

After my first marriage imploded, I met my now husband of 42 years. He’s a wonderful man, but things weren’t always so smooth when we first got married. It was very important to him that I look a certain way- slim, and always put together. After I started wearing makeup as a teenager, I have never left the house without my hair done and a full face of makeup on. We had many heated discussions about my weight, even when I weighed under 100 lbs. I have struggled with my weight my whole life, constantly yo-yo dieting so I wouldn’t be an embarrassment to my family.

I was a stay-at-home mom until my daughters reached middle school. I felt it was important for me to prove to myself and everyone else that I was capable of getting a job of my own and being successful. That decision was the beginning of me finding that self-esteem that had been battered and broken from my childhood. I wanted my daughters to be proud of me, to look up to me. I wanted to be a good role model for them. I worked at that job until I was old enough to retire, and I can say it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

As I reflect on my life now, I am entirely content with who I am. I know my value as a person, and it does not come from my outward appearance. In order for each of us to grow, we have to change how we react, how we behave, and most importantly, how we treat others. I have always believed women were just as smart, just as capable as men; I just never believed I was.

 

But, after all my life experiences both positive and negative, I have finally been gifted with the realization that I am too.

Interview was completed as part of Mari Lopp's English class (Spring 2021). Oral history is shared with the narrator's permission and may have been lightly edited to protect privacy.