Author Archives

Pauline Campos

You Are What You Hear

Illustration by Katie Kosma

Pauline Campos | Longreads | January 2018 | 14 minutes (3,469 words)


In the winter of 2011, in the dressing room at Target, I get caught up in an existential crisis. While trying on bathing suits, I find myself toggling between two drastically different views of myself: one is informed by the harsh words my mother verbalized so many years ago, probably without meaning to hurt me or realizing I was internalizing everything she said; the other by my young daughter’s unconditionally loving view of me.

In the midst of this crisis, I must perform a juggling act: I need to treat myself and my body kindly, not only for my benefit, but for my daughter’s too. I can’t pass on to her the body shame I alone somehow absorbed — the only one of my mother’s five daughters who’s wrestled with eating disorders.


“Mama, that one’s pretty!” my daughter shouts when I try on the blue one-piece.

I frown at my reflection in the unforgiving dressing room mirror. The lights are too bright. Beneath the glare, I see a too-fat woman with too-full hips and a too-round belly shoved into not-enough Lycra. There is fat where muscle had once been, cellulite hiding definition lost long before I got pregnant almost five years earlier. As my eyes follow the lines of my body from my head to my toes, I hear my mother’s voice and see what her words once described. My daughter, however, only sees her mama in a pretty blue bathing suit.

“I don’t like the way this one fits,” I say, evasively. “Let’s try that black one on and see how it looks.”

Innocent eyes blink up at me.

We are shopping because of a last minute birthday party invitation — a pool party, and it is tomorrow. At the time we are living in Arizona, and although I miss the changing of seasons, I can’t really complain about what I am missing while my daughter is thrilled about the chance to go swimming with her friends. She already has a bathing suit, thanks to regular swimming lessons. I do not. My husband hasn’t seen me in one since before we were married.

The black suit is…disappointing. Or rather, the body within it isn’t living up to the standards of beauty set so deeply within. It could work, except it is a bit too tight around the stomach and my boobs are spilling out of the top. I see lumps and bumps and cellulite. I keep hearing my mother’s voice. And seeing my daughter’s eyes. I keep my expression neutral and smile at her reflection.

“Let’s keep looking,” I say.

Trusting eyes blink back at me.

“Okay, mama,” my daughter says.

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My Father’s Weakness for Beer Never Lessened His Strengths

Illustration by Kjell Reigstad

Pauline Campos | Longreads | June 2017 | 9 minutes (2,131 words)


By the time I was eight, I knew how to pour the contents of a beer can into a travel mug without foam. I used to joke that this is why I later became a kickass bartender and waitress in my college days, a side-benefit of being the daughter of an alcoholic.

My father was a high-functioning alcoholic. He never missed a day of work due to drinking, and gave it up every Lenten season as easily and selflessly as Jesus himself had given his body and his blood for the sins of every Catholic.

No one ever questioned why he kept going back to it, if he obviously had the willpower to stay dry for 40 days and 40 nights. It would only have been considered staying “dry” if he were officially an alcoholic trying to not drink, and that was not something he or anyone around him ever acknowledged. When he was alive, those words were never spoken. No one was in denial, I don’t think. They knew he was an alcoholic, but they didn’t see it as quite a problem, and he did his best not to make it one. They probably figured, why try to fix what wasn’t exactly broken?

My father was larger than life to me, even after I hit my adult height of 5’6’’ and we stood eye to eye. He was stocky and strong; he was built like a bulldog and walked with the cocky self-assurance that is the birthright of every Latino male. I’ve been told I walk like him, and when I hear these words, comparing my stride and carriage to that of my father’s, I beam with a ridiculous level of pride. His astrological sign was the lion, the Leo; king of the jungle and his world, just like his father, just like the man I married, though I’d sworn I would marry someone who didn’t remind me so much of my father. Although I married another Leo, my husband is a man who rarely drinks. Still, I’ve never judged my father for his drinking. My dad was the strongest man I have ever known; the craving for beer was just his achilles heel. Every superhero has a weakness.

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