Maybe it was the rose bouquet I wore on my head they were staring at. Too much?
¡ Mira, miraaaaa! ¡ Hay una gringa con pies gigantes!
I whipped my head around to see who she was yelling at, my feet still squished into the tiny pedicure tub. She’d flung the salon door open, and seemed to be proclaiming this news to the entire dusty Guayaquil street. Did she know I spoke Spanish? Did she think I might be offended that she’d just announced to the neighborhood:
Look, looooook! There’s a white lady with giant feet!
Well, I had to give her credit. She was right. My size twelves were probably the biggest feet to ever step inside her little shop. And at only eight dollars for a mani/pedi (not each, together), I wasn’t about to complain about her lack of tact. I would gladly be her freak show. Her exciting story to tell her children when she returned home. Her fond memory of the time the blond, white, freakishly tall American lady asked to have her ginormous toenails painted dark lavender and left a large tip.
For the first time in my life, I stood out. And not just for my above-average height and my “giant” feet. My hair color was different. My eye color was different. My skin color was different. From the moment we landed in Ecuador, I felt like a pale, awkward skyscraper. I could feel caramel-colored eyes staring up at me wherever we went. I frequently overheard comments about the “gringa gigante.” Yep. That was me. The giant white woman.
And while I didn’t embrace this term at the time, there was another word I heard that completely changed how I viewed myself. Exotic. Who, me? Pale, nondescript, me? Wasn’t that term reserved for raven-haired beauties with honey-colored skin? Certainly not for a “pretty unfly for a white girl” like me. I was the opposite of exotic. I was white bread in a sea of toasted muti-grain. I’d fought against my “Powder-esque” skin color through my adolescent and college years. Lotions, potions, creams, UV rays pounding directly onto my epidermis. I was “pasty,” as one muscle-bound YMCA worker called me when filling out a membership form. Thanks, dude.
But here, in a place where I was the minority, my differences were celebrated. I learned to embrace my lack of color, and just rock the pale. I gave up my aversion to heels, and wore whatever gosh-darn shoes I wanted, whether they had a four-inch lift or not. If I ever return to beautiful Ecuador, I will gladly stand on the steps of the Mitad del Mundo and proclaim, “Soy una gringa gigante!” To which, someone will probably shout back, “Get down you crazy white lady!”