I, Elizabeth Grant, reinvented myself. If nature painted our human comedy using chromosomes, I used a scalpel. Or, I should say, I let other, more experienced hands wield that blade of cosmetic transformation: I merely paid them money. In this way I cheated my genetic legacy -- which had dealt me a very poor hand -- and surgically and painfully constructed one of the most photographed cover girl and centerfold models of the 1990s. I created a goddess.
From Playboy to Juggs, I have appeared in bathtubs and on bedspreads, recumbent, shamelessly naked. Magazines bearing my image have been used as currency in regions as remote as Nepal and Siberia. Members of Arabian royalty have offered me hundreds of thousands of dollars for a single month of my sexual favors, and men of varying degrees of fame in the celebrity firmament have issued proposals, both honorable and profane.
Yet for years I was nothing more than a morbidly shy fat girl from Texas.
So many particulars of my physical appearance left me in tears: My hair was more mouse-colored than brown. My teeth, despite years of humiliating corrective headgear, still had a gap in the middle. (No, it didn't make me look a thing like Lauren Hutton.) My weight, 165 pounds on a 5-foot-4 frame, was stratospheric. My bust line wasn't keeping pace with my waistline; and my facial structure was a thin pale disk, with no remarkable features except a well-shaped mouth.
All told, it was enough to keep me out of the pool in the summer and out of the prom in the fall. And although I wasn't exactly a tormentable object to the boys at my high school (most of whom were strapping Texas stallions whose weekend sexual exploits with the cheerleading squad were common knowledge by noon on Monday), I was -- perhaps worse -- largely ignored. Not even a "pretty" fat girl, I clutched my textbooks to my flat chest and walked the halls unnoticed. During gym class, unable to stand even a minute with those half-naked, size 5, perfect little Barbie-doll bodies, I hid in the bathroom stall to change my clothes. My high school career was one of nail-biting misery and chocolate cupcakes -- cupcakes that I bought off campus and consumed voraciously once I reached the privacy of my bedroom.
Despite this inauspicious beginning, I always knew I could re-create myself. I knew that, if given a chance (not to mention $15,000), I could deconstruct what shabby work the gods had wrought and build myself a temple of flesh and silicone, a place where men were sure to worship. For once in my life I wanted to be gorgeously, irresistibly sexy. And I wanted power: I wanted the power to say "yes" or "no" as I pleased, to select from among a baker's dozen of handsome, affluent eligible men.
So at 18 I decided to reshuffle the deck. I started, naturally, with my makeup. Realizing I was neither objective nor knowledgeable, I put myself at the mercy of a makeup artist, a sweet lady who worked at a high-end department store near my school. She reeked of scotch, but her eye was good and she gave me sound advice on how to camouflage my many imperfections. The results were pleasing. I could pass by reflective surfaces without wincing. Already I was starting to perceive subtle differences in the ways both men and women addressed me. Men were more alert, more attentive; women, more wary. Not that I cared a bit what other women thought. Secretly I had always hated them for their smug superiority.
I then performed chemical wizardry on my hair. I decided for obvious reasons to go blond. I didn't want to be just any blond, mind you, but the kind of light, Scandinavian blond who turns heads in baseball stadiums and lights up dark corners in tony downtown restaurants and looks so achingly provocative leaning against black satin pillows. My longtime hairdresser (a friend of my mother's) flatly refused to comply with my wishes. "You're too young," she would say to me. "You'll have to double-process the rest of your life." Being 18, I thought, "Ah, to hell with you," and went elsewhere.
The change just one bottle of peroxide made in my life was nothing short of miraculous. Still chubby, I was now getting dates from men who never would have looked at me before. My long blond hair was to certain men what a red flag is to a Spanish bull, and I made the most of the advantage. I curled it, teased it, shellacked it with premium hairsprays. I dyed my pubic hair to match. Somehow I had pulled myself out of the garden of wallflowers. I was now a minor object of desire.
But -- ever the glutton for punishment -- I moved out of my parents' house (my mother, especially, was starting to voice strong objections to my appearance) and shared my new quarters with one of the Houston Oilers' cheerleaders, a girl named Tiffany. Tiffany wasn't human. She had naturally blond hair and naturally straight teeth and a naturally bubbly, vacuous personality. Her bedroom was immaculate and perfectly appointed. Littering her bedspread were a hundred stuffed bears, which the hundred men who courted her brought as fuzzy offerings on a hundred Saturday night dates. I was never a Saturday night date. I was a Wednesday or Thursday night date. I was a "call at the last minute," "hey, I'll bring over a pizza" night date. Consequently, I was obsessed with Tiffany. I studied her. To my everlasting shame, I peeked in her diary and was thrilled to discover not only that her improbably pert breasts were compliments of Dow Chemical but that she was pregnant and didn't know who the father was. It was gratifying to find that even beautiful girls had problems.
In the end, the flip chart of handsome suitors ringing the doorbell for Tiffany proved too much for even me to bear. I moved into a ratty efficiency apartment, socked away half of everything I earned as a secretary and shut my ears to the rambunctious lovemaking of the couple next door.
Three hours a day of weight training and aerobics will kick-start the most sluggish of metabolisms, and I was relentless. Rain or snow or PMS, I aerobicized 40 pounds off my body, and for the first time when I looked in the mirror I liked what I saw. I spent $5,000 of my slave-labor wages packing my pectoral cavities with implants the size of a small African country. Six months later I enlisted the surgeon's art to enhance my cheekbones and my chin. At long last I had arrived. Like Botticelli's "Birth of Venus" born aloft on a half-shell, I floated above the plain, book-smart nobody that I was, and became -- in a word -- gorgeous.
To say that ours is a superficial world is an understatement. Here I was, the same girl who read Herman Melville for her own amusement, now winning bikini contests and wet T-shirt contests. I dated famous football players, bank presidents, a former Mr. Olympia. My amazing new proportions made my continuing residence in corporate America impossible, so with my last $40 in hand, I plucked up my courage, bought a rhinestone G-string and headed for the one avenue open to women such as I had become: upscale strip clubs.
This proved to be the ultimate contest of "Who's the fairest of them all?" Here I competed with the most beautiful, surgery-addicted women in America. These women had been playing the game far longer than I had. They put ground glass in my high heels and told the visiting celebrities and oil-monied magnates who frequented the club that I looked damn good for someone who'd had three kids. It was a cutthroat business, as mercenary as any beauty pageant. Descending center stage with a G-string full of large bills was a victory missed by no one. In a single evening I made enough money to get six of my teeth veneered.
My triumph was now complete. If I flew an airline and the ticket agent happened to be a heterosexual male (who was not also a Bible-college candidate), I was bumped up to first-class. Waiters and restaurant managers regularly comped my checks. Wearing very short shorts and a skintight midriff top, I attended a huge Fourth of July celebration downtown one weekend. A week later I read in the "In Search Of" section of the city's paper that a Playboy talent scout was looking for a woman he'd seen at that event whose description I knew could only fit me. It was amazing, an E ticket to heaven. I had a rich, handsome, attentive boyfriend, a closetful of size 5 jeans and enough silicone to bomb Pearl Harbor.
I was Rocky Balboa with breast implants.
The world treated me better, thought better of me because I looked like a toothpick with big hair and two wads of gum attached. To my credit (perhaps!) I was never arrogant. Now I do not hesitate to proclaim my former beauty because it was not me people found beautiful -- it was the glittering, artificial creature I had created. The power, once I had it, I never used cruelly or destructively. If anything, I was kinder and more considerate of others. I always remembered my previous self.
But if I was the cherished darling of men, women treated me disdainfully. They snickered and pointed and made shockingly rude remarks. They called me a "slut" to my face; several even hauled off and slapped their boyfriends for giving me a second look. One weekend I was mortified to see, as I went down the boardwalk, diners at the seaside restaurants -- men, women and children -- stand on their tables and cheer as I walked by. It was not a compliment. Often I was harassed to tears.
If I attracted the notice of good-looking, powerful men, I also attracted the notice of psychos. One broke into my apartment, stole my underwear and helped himself to several of the photos in my modeling portfolio. He made my life a living hell, threatening to kill me if I didn't agree to become "his girl." The problem only resolved itself when I moved to Malibu, Calif. More terrifying still were the aggressive sexual advances made by the cop who came to my apartment after I filed a report.
In California I achieved the pinnacle of my success: cover girl and centerfold of a huge number of men's magazines. It soon became apparent, however, that if I wanted to segue my notoriety into an acting career I would have to dispense sexual favors in the right places. During dinner at Spago with an eminent film director, I was instructed repeatedly to get up and walk across the restaurant so he could enjoy the mayhem, the gasps of astonishment, the slack-jawed amazement as I went by, humiliated. Later he suggested I blow him in the limousine.
This was not an isolated incident. Many roles I auditioned for or got called back for involved an ultimatum. And my own agent made it abundantly clear that he was no longer interested in representing me unless I complied with his sexual wishes, some of which included his Labrador retriever. I declined.
My first and entirely foolish ambition to finally be the prettiest, sexiest and most popular girl had savagely backfired. The very men whose notice I once craved were now exploiting me, manipulating me, using strong-arm tactics to weasel me into bed -- where, once satiated, they would surely have kicked me down the stairs for the next young hottie who attracted their notice. So successful had I been in eradicating the former Elizabeth Grant that no one could see me anymore. Their view was obstructed by my behemoth breasts.
I realized that in Hollywood at least, pretty women are a recreational commodity -- like drugs. Everybody wants you. And unless you're unbelievably lucky or willing to sleep your way up a movie studio roster, you wind up like a Heidi Fleiss girl. Or old. Or married to some coke-snorting rock star who cheats on you, beats you up and then trades you in when you turn 30.
With no regrets, I turned my back on Hollywood. I had grossly misrepresented myself. The persona I'd created offered the promise of mindless sex; the Elizabeth I was inside did not -- at least not to those who simply wanted to add my name to their address book.
So I packed up the U-Haul and headed back to Texas, my native land. I toned down my makeup and my hair color, dressed more conservatively and -- lo and behold -- found someone to love me whom I could love back. Now I am quite content to live the retired suburban lifestyle I once found so repugnant. I have a loving husband and two remarkable children. The days of misguided vanity and the insatiable need for male approval are not only well behind me but the subjects of humorous reflection.
Oddly enough, to discover who I was I had to first wear a disguise. Masked, I went into the marketplace, but I found that the wine and the music were not enough to keep me there.
I returned -- more naked, perhaps, than I ever had been in a magazine.