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The Not-Quite-Right Stuff

By Marcia DeSanctis

When I was in college, my boyfriend’s brother had a friend who was dating Kelly Emberg, one of the most visible and successful models in the world.


At the time, I nurtured a fascination verging on worship for her and the other Amazonian glamour-pusses who leaped antelope strides in the editorial pages. Kim Alexis. Patti Hansen. Nancy Donahue. It was the dawn of the eighties, this was my generation, and these were my women. I did not radiate their icy blonde glow but I yearned to be one of them. I wanted my cheekbones to slice through the camera lens, to be photographed on an icy boardwalk wrapped in nothing but taffeta, to have the confidence to pose in head-to-toe black leather against some exotic backdrop. I suppose I imagined my new and serendipitous almost-proximity to Kelly as a sign in the cosmic realignment towards my destiny of being a model.

     By the time I was twelve, I had reached my full height of 5’10”. For years, I bristled at the jokes about “Stretch” and survived mortification in ballroom dance, where the instructor permanently paired me with the other class colossus, the male version of myself. It was the seventies, so I’m pretty sure his hair was longer than mine. I am the youngest of four daughters, and my mother couldn’t cope with any more braids, so my first dozen years I endured the consequences of a permanent pixie cut. A typical exchange at a random Friendly’s, somewhere on Cape Cod:

     Clerk: “What’s your pleasure, son?”

     Me, downcast: “Umm. I’m a girl.”

     Clerk: “You fooled me, you’re so darned tall!”

     He lied. I looked like a boy.

     In the context of my New England hometown, my extra-long proportions meant that I would: One, be the star forward on the basketball team, and two, be preordained for a lifetime of size-ten flats. Height therefore was a limited asset, one that I was encouraged to leverage in athletics but otherwise best tolerate with the practicality that was the hallmark of us Bostonians. Keds gave way to Jack Purcells, which gave way to topsiders, which gave way to Pappagallo ballerines in Easter-egg hues.



About the Author

Marcia DeSanctis is the New York Times bestselling author of 100 Places in France Every Woman Should Go (Travelers’ Tales, 2014). A frequent contributor to Vogue and Town & Country magazines, she has also written for Marie Claire, Creative Nonfiction, Tin House, Literary Hub, O the Oprah Magazine, National Geographic Traveler, Time, Tin House, The New York Times, and others. She has been awarded five Lowell Thomas Awards by the Society of American Travel Writers for excellence in travel journalism.