Sunday, March 23, 2014

Life Lessons and Confessions of an Ugly Girl

"Ew, gross. Why are your hands all wet?"

Recoiling, I feverishly rub my sweaty palms against my jeans, mutter sorry, and subconsciously add this to the list of things that are repulsive about me.

If you asked me what I thought about myself in high school, I would've told you that I think I'm ugly. I have eyes that disappear if they're not rimmed in something--mascara or eyeliner--proven by the fact that if they're not, people ask me if I'm tired or sick. I sweat much more than the normal person, in grotesquely obvious places, like my armpits, hands and feet. Going to class wearing pit stains isn't exactly an ideal feature. My feet and occasionally my arms are ravaged by eczema, a painful skin condition that keeps me from wearing sandals because no one wants to see that. And my butt is rather large, as has been pointed out to me on numerous occasions, leaving me feeling chunky, or stout as I like to think of myself.

When I was a kid, I didn't really think about my looks. But I did grow up in the era of Disney princesses and their cartoons, which taught me that all desirable ladies have at least one thing in common: beauty. How I looked never seemed to matter, much. I was tall for my age and had a lot of guy friends, who treated me like a guy most of the time. My first almost-boyfriend came along in 8th grade. Nothing really happened because I wasn't allowed to date. We talked on the phone a few times and I found out he and his friend had nicknamed me 'nef,' which stood for 'never ending forehead.' I hadn't given my forehead much thought before that, but after, I agreed it was rather bulbous.

My yearbook photo from sophomore year,
which I hated, of course.
Before my sophomore year of high school, we moved, which aided in confirming my suspicions about my looks. The only guys who talked to me were the socially awkward ones, the sexual predators, or the ones who wanted to copy my homework. I was kind of a loner nerd who didn't know how to dress, so that didn't help my cause. No one asked me to a school dance, much less on a date. When I compared myself to the girls who did get asked out, there was one glaring difference. They were pretty and perfect, I most definitely was not. I befriended who I could, finding that not everyone--like the guy who sexually harassed me in class multiple times--could be trusted. It was a long, scary road, filled with depression and self degradation. I started focusing on everything I did wrong, trying to fix what I could about myself. If I could project a composed, perfected image, I could disguise the ugly parts.

Me around junior year.
My senior year I asked a guy friend--who had liked me for a while, but lived about an hour away--to be my date for prom. He agreed, but made it clear we were just friends and he wasn't interested. At this point, I didn't care, I just wanted a date to keep me from looking like a total loser. I had gone stag enough. I planned a pose for our pre-dance portraits that would keep us from having to hold hands as mine would undoubtedly be clammy. At the dance, my date was busy trying to get my girl friend's number because she was cute. I got left out during a slow song and swept up by the resident gay couple because they felt sorry for me.

At this point, I was just ready for college. It would be a fresh start, with mature, Christian guys, and since I would be out of high school, I could actually date. Maybe one of them could see past the flaws that seemed so glaringly obvious to me. And deep down inside, I think I felt a needless desperation for some kind of validation. Validation that would say, 'You aren't ugly, you are beautiful, and these flaws, they aren't deal breakers.' And even though I knew God loved me, made me, saw me as beautiful, I thought I needed something human to say the same.

At new student orientation, just before the start of my
freshman year of college.
Freshman year of college was a blast. An exciting, crazy blast of emotions, feelings, and newness. I got to completely start over, no longer having to be the loner nerd because practically everyone was new, or friendly. There were so many people, girls and guys, to meet and befriend. And lots of nice, normal guys actually acknowledged me, something that had been foreign for so many years. It instantly brought back my childhood, when I had been more of a tomboy, with all my guy friends. I relished it all, soaking it all up, making the most of opportunities, and finding myself caught off guard when people would hint at me being pretty. Pretty? That's the last thing I thought I was. I was the awkward, ugly, quiet girl in the corner who was virtually invisible.

When guys would ask me to hang out or go out, I would never turn them down. I couldn't believe it was actually happening, and I never knew when 'hanging out' might turn into something more. Not that I was dying to hurry up and get engaged, but I had always wanted to get married. I thought most people met their spouse in college, so why needlessly shut a good guy down? I saw lots of girls being much more selective. If they weren't sure about a guy, they'd turn him down immediately. In my mind, it wasn't serious until a guy said so, so what was the harm in a simple date? (And it never got serious with anyone but Nick.)

Nick and I hanging out during my senior year at Moody.
I slowly learned that my modus operandi, in an environment like that, would turn me from an ugly girl into a 'dating whore.' Or at least that's what other people decided because they thought I hung out, or 'went out,' with too many guys. I was labeled as 'trouble,' and a slew of other things, from the people I had first befriended and trusted, throwing me into a world I didn't know and making me into something I wasn't. In less than a year I was living on the 'other side' of girl-dom, feeling bitter and confused, not knowing how someone ugly could be so much trouble. I didn't know which one was better, or worse, I just knew I had to keep being me, despite what everyone else was saying or thinking.

Sometimes when I look back on college, I wish I could change things, do things differently. But then I realize that I wish I could change others more than myself because I was changing. I wish I could change what they thought about me and thus how they treated me, because what I was doing was needed. It was a part of growing up, learning to be confident in myself and not sell myself short. I was learning how to lead balanced relationships with the opposite sex. Not ones that fulfilled me as a woman, or gave me value and purpose, but ones that reminded me that I was an important human being, a good friend, and a valuable member of a community. That I could go into the world, conquer it's challenges, make a difference in society, and not be defined by my flaws, insecurities, or ugliness.

There are so many things wrong with how society treats women, I could fill a dozen other posts, but this is the one I think about when I think about me, the ugly girl. Women are told to find their value in all the wrong things, all the wrong places. And if they don't have what it takes to 'have value' in those areas, they are dismissed as somehow less. A physical body should not hold more value than a loving soul or a sharp mind. These things will live on, while a physical body will age and decay. And while it takes more than one person to change a society's view, one person can change someone else's view, and then you have two. So if you're reading this, it's time to change your view. What makes women unique and special and important isn't their face or skin or hair or body. It's their heart, mind, and soul, things that dictate how they live, love, and interact with the world. It's their wit, intelligence, service, dedication, contributions, and character that truly matter, that make them beautiful and unique.

To all the girls who have thought or do think they're ugly, I've walked that road with you. It took a long time for me to see myself differently, and sometimes I still don't believe it. Sometimes I stand in front of the mirror and pick apart the things that are wrong with me. Rarely do I stand in front of the mirror and list the things that are right. I think today we make a change, look inside, find that makes us really beautiful--the things that will last--and tell this shell of a physical body, that it's beautiful too.

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