The Mirror and I Have Always Been at Odds
I remember the first time someone called me ugly.
I was in sixth grade at a school roller skating night, and the boy everyone had a crush on skated up to me. I felt butterflies start fluttering in my stomach. Is Johnny really coming to talk to me? Is he going to ask me to skate? I’ve never talked to him outside school. Oh my gosh, what do I do?
My heart broke when he dropped a snarky comment instead of an invitation for a couple’s skate. “Do you have to try to be so ugly?”
He might as well have stuck a knife in my heart.
Up until that point, I’d tried to fit in with what others deemed attractive, but I was always a few steps behind. I had big curly hair that my mom kept short because she didn’t know how to handle it. I didn’t have all the designer clothes my friends did either — and I was chubby. I figured that if no one made fun of me, I could just blend in.
But that moment solidified that I wasn’t invisible. Instead, I was very, very visible — and people didn’t like what they saw.
And I didn’t either.
School Is Difficult When You Hate Who You Are
In a way, I’m glad I grew up when I did instead of in the internet age. I don’t know that I would’ve made it out. I wasn’t bullied per se, but it was obvious (to me) that I didn’t fit in with the cool kids. I turned to food as a coping mechanism, adding more than 50 pounds — and more distance between me and the type of girl I wanted to be.
I remember spending hours in front of the mirror saying things to myself that I’d never dream of saying to anyone else.
You’re revolting. Why would anyone want you? You’re going to be as big as a house. Fat. Ugly. Stupid.
My escape was my imagination. I often dreamed of going far, far away — to a place where people didn’t know me and I could make my life into something I wanted. I’d be someone there.
I’d be beautiful.
I’d be wanted.
In reality, I went to college and everything was… the same. The same insecurities and reflection stared back at me no matter what I did. Seeing photos of myself out with friends was even worse. I wondered why I bothered trying to look good when I really just looked like hot garbage compared with everyone else.
Being the Best Version of Me
I know I’ve painted a pretty bleak picture of my life, but in reality I’ve had a great one in spite of how ugly I felt on the outside. I’ve traveled and lived in different countries. I’ve tackled goals some people can only dream about, like growing my writing career from nothing to having bylines in major national and international publications like The New York Times, Cosmopolitan and The Atlantic.
But still I felt like none of that mattered because I thought I missed the genetic lottery. Compliments “didn’t matter” because anyone giving those kind words was saying only it to be nice, I thought.
And here’s the really sad part: I’m far from alone.
A study by the personal care brand Dove found that only 11 percent of women feel comfortable calling themselves beautiful. Even celebrities aren’t immune.
“I would like to ask [the judges]: ‘What exactly is it that you personally find not sexy about me?’” former Sex and the City star Sarah Jessica Parker asked Grazia magazine. The comments were in response to a 2007 Maxim magazine poll that elected her “The World’s Unsexiest Woman.”
“‘Is it my figure? Is it my brain that bothers you? Do I fit some ideals and standards of some men writing in a men’s magazine?” she asked. “Maybe not.”
Looks very rarely matter in the end.
The plain truth is that the mirror — and society — lies to us. We spend so much time beating ourselves up over fitting some weird ideal that is impossible to obtain, thanks to our genetics. It seems simplistic, but over the past few years I’ve realized that looks just don’t matter as much as everyone thinks — even you.
Think about an obituary: Do they ever say “Sally Smith was beautiful” or “Brad Johnson was built like a Greek god” and end it at that? No. They talk about their accomplishments. Their families. Their hobbies. Looks very rarely matter in the end.
It’s perfectly fine to wear makeup and fancy clothes if that’s what you want to do — or to prefer board games over football and basketball. And I’m starting to realize that. What matters more is how you treat people, including yourself.
And that boy who called me ugly in the sixth grade? He sent me a Facebook message years later asking me out on a date. I turned him down.