So, I wrote this thing a few weeks ago, but I was never really sure where to put it or what to do with it. When I rediscovered it today, I decided maybe it needed a place other than my computer’s hard drive. I’m putting it here. It’s kind of long, but I like to think that a lot of you out there can relate to some part of it. And I really would like to be better about liking myself, so maybe this will help.
I’ve never been particularly pretty.
Now, before you stop reading this because you think it’s going to turn into a pity party fueled by self-deprecation, please just stick with me for a few minutes.
“Average at best” is how I’ve taken to describing my appearance. I’m not a delicate, doe-eyed, winning-smile, bat-your-eyelashes brand of pretty. What I’m saying is, if I ever get pulled over for speeding, the cop will probably still write me the ticket. I don’t have enough pretty to get me out of sticky situations.
I was a cute kid. When I look at pictures of me as a three-year-old with big blue eyes and a head full of wispy, bouncy curls, I can understand why my parents were briefly under the insane notion that I could be a child model. But I always told them I was glad the shady terms and conditions of the modeling agency turned them off to that idea, because the agency would have been sorely disappointed with the way I grew up.
Puberty was the one exception to my “late bloomer” tendencies. I was in third grade – just eight or nine years old – when my mother started buying me training bras. It was around that time that I started gaining weight – my face became rounder, my arms, my thighs, and my midsection grew thicker. My classmates, for the most part, remained stick-thin, whereas I suddenly had a softness about me – a softness I became acutely aware of as time went on. Friends’ parents recommended I sit in the front seat of the car whenever there were too many of us to fit in the back because I was “built most like an adult.” Cute, girly clothes from Limited Too didn’t fit my body in the same way they fit the bodies of my peers.
It didn’t take me long to figure out that I was the dreaded “fat” that our health books warned us about.
Suddenly, I wasn’t cute anymore. Relatives stopped referring to me as “a beautiful little girl” at family functions because they didn’t think it wasn’t true anymore. There are phases of my life where I bordered on being downright homely, with my thick body clad in oversized t-shirts and ill-fitting jeans, and my beaver-like front teeth with the massive gap separating them. And when, in middle school, a pretty, thin, blonde girl whose eyes were always perfectly lined and mascara-ed, told everyone in our gym class I looked like a mouse, I couldn’t help but agree with her.
That was the phase I never grew out of. I went through various stages of curvy and chubby and chunky all throughout middle school and high school. I was the only eighth grader I knew who was a Weight Watchers member. One time, a little girl stopped me in the locker room at one of our local pools to inform me that I was “a little bit f-a-t.” Y’know. Just in case I didn’t know already.
My weight and my totally average face, which, from time to time, was populated with cystic zits, coupled with the fact that I was saddled with braces from the time I was in seventh grade till the time I was a senior in high school rendered me unattractive.
Boys wanted nothing to do with me. At my best, I was known as “the smart girl.” But what good is “smart” when you’re 13 and your hormones are raging and everyone around you is experiencing their first bouts of puppy love and getting their awkward first kisses? “Smart” was just another word for “nerdy.” Another strike against me.
When you get to be 18 or 19 years old, and no one has ever shown a shred of interest in even holding your hand, you start to think there’s something wrong with you. You’re repulsive. You’re defective. You’re unappealing. You’re disgusting. You’re unlovable. You’re going to die alone with a houseful of cats because nobody else wants you – hell, probably the cats can’t even stand the sight of you, they just don’t know how to articulate it.
At least, that’s what I started telling myself.
I pinch my upper arms and watch them jiggle in disgust. I don’t smile naturally in pictures for fear of a second chin appearing. I went three consecutive summers without putting on a bathing suit because I didn’t want to repulse anybody else with my body. I won’t wear shorts even on the hottest of days, despite the fact that my home in Ohio has no air conditioning. I let the stretch marks on my tummy and my breasts convince me that no one will ever want to look at or touch my naked body.
I have spent years wrapped in a blanket of self-loathing.
People have told me I need to stop. My self-loathing based on my appearance mutated into a loss of all self-confidence. I’ve spent so much time hating myself that my thoughts concerning my flaws have become completely irrational. I stopped believing every positive thing about me. If people complimented me, I figured they did it out of pity.
Recently, a friend told me if I continue to think I’m going to die alone, I will. I told her I didn’t know how to stop. She told me it’s something you just do. I told her that would be hard. She said she knew.
It is hard. It’s not easy to finally start accepting the notion that you are supposed to like yourself after you’ve spent so much time not liking yourself for one reason or another. For me, it started with being self-conscious about the way I looked, even before I was ten years old. For over a decade, I have been hypersensitive to the fact that I’ve never really looked like the girls who model in Seventeen magazine, or the girls who act in goofy face wash commercials, or even the girls around me.
I’m sick of it.
Everyone who loves me is sick of it, too.
It’s taken me almost 20 years to finally begin to understand that I’m more than the way I look. I am better than my unpredictable complexion, and the way my skin occasionally dries out so much that it starts to peel away without warning, no matter how kindly I treat it. There is more to me than the couple extra inches that hug my waist. And maybe I’m not ready to look at myself in the mirror and tell the girl who looks back at me I think she’s stunning, but it’s a start.
So what if my pores look abnormally big, or if I get a couple of annoying zits in my cleavage from time to time? Really – what does it matter if my thighs touch when I walk? The way my hair frizzes in the incessant Boston humidity doesn’t make me any less of a person, and I’m tired of feeling like it does.
I’m finally beginning to realize I’m grateful I didn’t grow up classically pretty. I’m glad people had to come up with better adjectives than “pretty” or “beautiful” when they went searching for a way to describe me. Because compliments like, “Your tweets are hilarious” feel so much better than, “Your skirt is really cute.”
I learned so much more because I couldn’t rely on the way I looked. I had to learn how to conduct myself in such a way that people would take me seriously when I spoke up. I spent years honing my dry, quick wit and fusing it together with my intelligence to make people laugh. Instead of spending my evenings and weekends during my teen and preteen years going on dates to movies, I read books and wrote stories and drank coffee with my friends. Those were the nights I discovered my passions and learned the most important lessons, and I realize now I wouldn’t exchange any of those things for one crappy date with any guy I went to high school with.
The boys in middle school who wanted nothing more from me than my help on an assignment in history or science class were right: I am smart. I’m more than that, even.
I’m funny, I’m passionate, and I work hard. I have fairly impressive resume that is growing all the time.
I’m creative. I have a gift for the written word and great attention to detail. I was an incredible, award-winning high school journalist, who, for a time, was in charge of an incredible, award-winning high school newspaper.
I have this maternal, compassionate nature that draws people to me, and I love that. I love the way my friend Lauren consults me every time she goes to purchase a new bra, and the way my suitemate Rachel climbs up on my bed just to cuddle and online shop with me.
I’m cautious and careful and exercise a lot of forethought before I jump into things, which has saved many asses on more than one occasion.
I am a great driver, even though I only have the option of doing it five months out of the year.
I can play the ukulele and carry a tune, despite all the time I spent believing that I couldn’t.
I am a master of creating delicious caffeinated beverages with nothing more than a Keurig (or even a gas station coffee machine) and a couple different creamers. I make damn good blueberry-lime muffins, and, if you ask my friends at home, flawless stovetop macaroni and cheese.
I have a number of other unusual quirks – like a fear of tomato seeds, an obsession with knee-high socks, and the inability to pop popcorn without burning it – that hopefully somebody will learn to love in the same way I finally am.
And all of those things, regardless of how long it took me to realize them, are infinitely more valuable than being pretty to look at.