Cheeky: A Head-to-Toe Memoir by Ariella Elovic

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You hate your eyebrows. Or maybe that should be “eyebrow,” singular. It’s like a six-inch caterpillar crawling above your nose, just one long unibrow and you hate it.

You’re not in love with your hair on your head, nor on your legs or underarms. You could stand to lose a few pounds, buy new clothes or find a new deodorant or, as in the new book Cheeky by Ariella Elovic, you could learn to love your body.

When she was six years old, Ariella Elovic was perfectly comfortable in her skin. She danced and played and ran without considering how she looked; wore swimsuits and comfortable, loose-fitting, unfashionable clothing without worry; and she barely even noticed her unibrow. But though her family never gave her reason to be ashamed, at some point during her preteen years, Elovic learned to hate her body.

Her mission two years ago was “to reclaim at least some of [the] confidence, feistiness, and joy” she felt as a child.

Mirrors were once a place to make funny faces until they “became the meeting place for myself and my inner critic,” says Elovic. She has a “round face” that she was self-conscious about, and she wasn’t happy with her smile. The evening she forgot to wax her brows before a date gave her a smidge of courage.

On a hot, humid New York City night, her “Yentas” (best friends) helped her realize that her hair was beautiful. “Letting my hair run wild is a release, an acceptance of perfection. Each strand does not need to be in its place or be smooth or neat and glossy. I’m ready for the day just as I am.”

She started developing in fourth grade and still can’t quite get over the fact of wearing bras every day for life; she was inspired by a Yenta to stop shaving her armpit and leg hair; and she has made her peace with food. There’s no shame in passing gas or using the bathroom, she reminds readers, and no need to be a “contortionist” anymore. “Your body is yours to feel at home in,” she says and to, “enjoy, take care of, and love.”

While Cheeky is a fun book to read, and its message could resonate with any woman who hates shaving, wearing heels or tight clothing, tweezing and waxing, it’s not a book for just anyone.
It’s true that anyone can read what’s inside here (and many will benefit from doing so), the sweet spot, it seems, is an audience of women who are between the ages of roughly 16 and 35. Author Ariella Elovic speaks to that group with a sort of serious-fun manifesto for self-love, self-acceptance and an end to senseless embarrassment that doesn’t dissolve into cutesy little-girl language or things we can’t talk about. For example, love for our legs, which might be hairy, contain cellulite or jiggle: “By repeatedly acknowledging and accepting my legs for who they are, they feel more like a part of me, rather than some alien logs of fat and muscle I am constantly battling, and I have a lot of appreciation for all that my legs can do.”

Openness, honesty and a no-secrets tone, in fact, are the main thing, making this book feel as if you’re reading a long, illustrated letter from a BFF or wise big sister you haven’t seen for a while.
Be aware that that takes readers into dressing rooms and bathrooms and it doesn’t hold back, neither in word nor illustration. This book lives up to its name for the right reader, but for one who’s unprepared, Cheeky might raise eyebrows.

Editor’s note: Ariella’s concluding acknowledgements contain the following paragraph: “An extra scoop of thank you to you, Mom, for being such an awesome female role model. I grew up in a home where being a woman meant being strong, ambitious, opinionated and powerful. Our culture has a sneaky way of undermining that from time to time, but you’ve given me an incredible example to turn back to. Thank you, too, for being such an open book about all things bodily. Even though your candidness mostly embarrassed me when I was younger, I grew up knowing that you were a safe place to turn (or send insane ‘does this look normal’ photos to). I wouldn’t be cheeky without you.”

Whether today we’re Ariella or Ariella’s mom, here’s a shout out to mothers everywhere who have raised strong, resilient women. Keep it up! ■