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I am a writer and psychotherapist specializing in multiracial identity. I am also a former ballet dancer, with essays published in Longreads, Narrative.ly, Mamalode, Interfaith Families Online, and Social Work in Healthcare. A native New Yorker, I now live in Montclair, New Jersey with my husband, two children and Goldendoodle.

The Wrong Pair

Getty / Collage by Katie Kosma

Lisa W. Rosenberg | Longreads | November 2018 | 15 minutes (3,844 words)

 

Dr. Alvarez furrowed his brow, crouching to view my right breast head-on, inscribing something on it with a dark blue marker — a map for his scalpel.

“You’ll notice a real laterality here,” he said, glancing up at one of his two male assistants, presumably residents. “Not so much on the left.”

“Yeah,” The younger physician concurred. “Wow.”

I bit my lip, amused. I was too giddy to be mortified. Nothing in life prepares you for a situation where three guys in white coats marvel at the nuances of, and the contrast between, your breasts. I sat, compliant, tolerant. My greatest wish was coming true. On the other side of this day would be relief from my aching middle back, from carrying around twin entities that had never felt like mine, and which had contributed to a struggle with body image that lasted through my mid-40s.

When Dr. Alvarez finished marking me up, he asked if I had any more questions before they wheeled me in for anesthesia. He had explained everything already: what kinds of I incisions would be made for minimal scarring, what the healing process would be like, how long before I’d be able to run.

“How small can we go?” I said, though we’d been over this as well.

“A C-cup,” he said. “Any smaller would compromise the integrity of the breast.”

Integrity and my breasts had never belonged in the same sentence as far as I was concerned. I felt no guilt about my choice, no reservations. A woman I’d met at physical therapy a few weeks before, who had overheard me talking about the upcoming surgery, had clicked her tongue at me.

“God don’t mess up,” she’d said.

But he did in my case, I’d wanted to tell her. I pictured a boob conveyor belt where God’s helpers — whoever they might be — awarded specially-selected, custom-designed boobs for every female in the queue. I imagined a woman in line before me: broad, tall and brash, with frosted, feathered, Barbara Mandrell hair, pausing to fix her slingback heel. Then me, pushed forward, forced to take the double E knockers that God had designed for her, instead of the nice, delicate A cups intended for my slight frame.

“A B-cup might be nice.” I told Dr. Alvarez.

“I’ll do my best,” he said.

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Brown Girl with Bubblegum

Illustration by Loveis Wise

Lisa W. Rosenberg | Longreads | August 2018 | 11 minutes (2,676 words)

My fifth birthday was approaching, and I had one goal: to blow big, beautiful, pink bubbles out of real Bazooka bubble gum. I’d seen it done many times in person as well as captured in storybooks and on television. Bubble-blowing, I understood, was a critical marker of American girlhood — alongside hopscotch, Barbie dolls, and long hair with bangs you could flick out of your eyes with a toss of your head. I remember one image from a magazine: two girls riding bicycles up a tree-lined suburban street, their long, blond hair streaming out behind them in the wind, heads thrown back to relish the dappled sunlight. From the lips of each girl floated a pale pink bubble-gum bubble, half the size of her head. The girls were white, of course. In the ’70s, magazines didn’t show many little brown girls like me — with wild, free-form, biracial hair. I remember gazing and gazing at the picture, admiring those perfect girls with their flawless, pink bubbles. Somehow, someday, that would be me.

Julie Meyers — a girl in my class who was tall, with older siblings, and therefore worldly — could blow bubbles. She had long, straight hair that she was forever sweeping out of her eyes. We weren’t allowed gum at school, but a sister or brother had slipped Julie some Bazooka one day and she was showing off. The bubble she blew was so big, Julie didn’t notice Peter Rothman sneaking up on her — or when he raised his hand to pop it. Bits of bubble gum got stuck in Julie’s hair, which made her cry, but this did nothing to detract from my adulation.

Every day my mother would brush out my curls — like you’re not supposed to do with hair like mine. But Mom was white with short, straight hair and I didn’t have any black female relatives she could ask for advice. Dad was black, but all he knew hair-wise was his own shallow ’fro, which he tended with a pick. Fearing I’d get a headache if she braided my hair too tightly, Mom would work my woolly tresses into two low, loose pigtails. These would hang nicely past my shoulders until about 10 a.m., at which point they’d rise like yeast-laden sourdough, puffing past the bounds of their elastics into misshapen clouds of brown frizz. Maybe I’d never know the delight of my hair streaming out behind me in the wind, but one day, I promised myself, I’d blow bubbles so big and pale pink that I couldn’t see past them. As passersby exalted in their beauty and my skill, I’d suck the gum back into my mouth with a loud crack, and begin again.
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