I almost feel sorry for people that were born beautiful. You know the kind I’m talking about. The people who never experienced an awkward stage, as proven by a high school yearbook photo that looked like Angelina’s over here. <<<
Instead of this. >>>. BTW, this isn’t me, but it easily could have been. When your boyfriend sees your senior yearbook photo, and his only response is a combination of shock, pity, and an “Oh…Honey…” gesture of condolence – well then, that’s when you know it’s bad.
It’s truly tragic…the people who never experienced the horror of waking up to a monstrous zit that instantly turns their entire face into a bullseye. The people whose hair always looks like they just emerged from a blow-out bar no matter the time of day or weather. The people who could give birth to a future linebacker and be back in their skinny jeans the next day. (Yes, Giselle – I’m talking to you.) I wonder – how will they cope when they no longer have that unique form of privilege that is only bestowed upon the beautiful?
As a little girl, I was a charmer. I remember hearing comments all the time – so pretty, aren’t you a pretty little thing, such a pretty girl, pretty, pretty, pretty. Even way back then, I began to wonder if that was the only important thing about me.
I also remember when I started getting noticed in a different way – and unfortunately, like it does to a lot of tween girls, it happened when I was way too young. Walking home from the bus stop at the age of 12, there was a neighbor – I’ll call him Pedo Phil – that I swear used to lie in wait for me. Pedo Phil was in his late twenties, and he would whistle at me and say things like“Hey foxy”, “Looking like a fox today”, “You sure look foxy in those Jordache Jeans.”(Apparently, he had a limited vocabulary, at least when trying to seduce jailbait.) It was mortifying – especially when he started lurking around in his open garage shirtless. Thankfully, I had the intuitive Oh Hell No response whenever he invited me to come inside his house, and eventually his mother finally kicked the creeper out.
Once I hit 13, I had an extended awkward stage that lasted so long I assumed it was permanent. Convinced – like almost every girl that age – that I needed to lose weight, I started the dreaded cycle of yo-yo dieting that only served to pack on the pounds even more. Combine that with braces, acne, a questionable fashion sense, and some really unfortunate haircuts, perms and dye jobs, and let’s just say I came to accept that my role would be as the smart, sassy girl who had to survive on her wits, instead of her beauty.
Much later, in my twenties, that awkward stage finally wore off. I emerged, much to my surprise, as something akin to a swan. I admit it was nice. Even when male attention was unsolicited, it was still comforting to know that I was once again, a Pretty Girl. Like it or not, being a Pretty Girl meant also enjoying a certain intoxicating power that you can wield for either good, or evil. (See Mean Girls if you aren’t sure of the concept.) People assume you possess positive traits like intelligence and friendliness when you’re attractive. You get hired and promoted more frequently. The opposite sex will vye for your attention. You are more likely to be admired by your peers and forgiven for transgressions, both big and small.
I understood this because I had also been the Invisible Girl . I’d had conversations with guys where they couldn’t seem to maintain eye contact – they would stare right past me if any shiny object happened to walk by. I remember wanting to grab them by the shoulders and shake some sense into them. “Look at me! Can’t you see that I’m smart, interesting, and kind? You’re as average looking as I am! Why is it that I can see past your looks, and yet you still have the arrogance to think that I’m not good enough for you because I don’t look like Christie Fucking Brinkley? Are you kidding me?”
But there is something even worse than invisible. There are the Outliers – the ones who fall far outside the very narrow parameters of what we consider attractive. Their very existence incites mockery or emboldens morons to make incredibly rude comments. I imagine the morbidly obese and people with even a minor disfigurement experience this uniquely human form of cruelty all the time.
I’ve been an Outlier as well. It occurred when I lost all my hair to chemo at the tender age of 19 – a side effect of the poisoning I had willingly consented to, because that very poison was also my one and only chance at salvation. I remember that with every strand of hair that eventually jumped ship from my inhospitable scalp, it felt like I was losing something even more significant – both my femininity and my fragile sense of self. I did not recognize the person staring back at me in the mirror, and so for a long time I simply avoided looking.
And yes, I was mocked in public – for being bald, as well as for sometimes donning a really unfortunate wig. As bad as I knew that it looked, it covered up the part of my body that announced my illness to the world, whether I wanted it to or not. The hair helmet allowed me to pretend – at least for a little while – that I wasn’t engaged in a battle between life and death at an age when my biggest challenge should have been maintaining my GPA while spending a significant percentage of my time at either frat parties or the beach.
I remember, when I was bald, running into a guy I had recently dated while visiting a popular hangout in town. He was surrounded by his posse and he literally turned his back on me, visibly mortified, when he saw me walk in. What did he think my sick ass was going to do to him? Tackle him and demand that he make sweet love to me right there on the bar?
Really asshole? A hug and a few words of encouragement might have been nice though.
It hurt. A lot. But it also made me stronger and gave me an appreciation of my hard won battle scars relatively early on. I wasn’t just a pretty face waiting for time to inevitably diminish my value as a person. I was a fucking warrior who understood that what is on the outside can be taken away in a single unfortunate moment, but what is on the inside lasts forever.
Think of beauty as a Tootsie Pop. Sure the outside is tasty, and has lots of different flavors…but it’s actually the delicious, chewy inside that makes it special. Anyone can be a sucker. But a Tootsie Pop? That shit’s got substance you can sink your teeth into.
I try to keep those various perspectives as intact and engaged as possible, although it’s easy to get comfortable, let your guard down, and believe that the person you are now will continue to live on forever. Some people think the trajectory of life should be a flat-line followed by a precipitous drop at the very end. I get that – frankly it feels good to know what lies ahead. It also feels good to be comfortable in my own skin, even if it comes with a few more scars and wrinkles these days.
Yet somehow, I think I may still have a few more unexpected points of view, as well as a few more ups and downs. And guess what? I’m all in. Because nobody should coast through life. Assume it’s the only one you’ve got, and you are – and always will be – your life’s one true warrior. Fight hard for it, through every peak – but especially every valley. Whether pretty, ugly, average, or like me – all of the above – these are fleeting concepts and are not your lasting legacy. You are far more than the sum of your symmetrical parts, and don’t ever forget you can find real beauty amidst the chaos.