The closest I ever came to being a pretty child was when I was a newborn (now known as my “glory days”), when my eyes were so freakishly large for my head that I became the most adorable baby in the nursery. Unfortunately, bug eyes are only cute for so long until people start making E.T. and Chucky references.
I eventually grew into my saucer-sized eyes, but that didn’t make me any more attractive. Which, for a while, was okay, since younger children tend to be blind to physical aesthetics. But soon middle school rolled in, and beauty became, like, a thing. Boys started picking out girlfriends and girls started to form their own tribes based on looks and popularity. I had neither, of course. I was pudgy, had frizzy, unmanageable hair and a nose that took up half my face, and was more flat-chested than most of the boys. I soon associated myself with the other unattractive and socially awkward girls of my school.
I learned pretty quickly that, even as a 12-year old in middle school, looks are important. The pretty girls weren’t ignored by the boys. They were treated better by teachers and were invited to social events (the closest thing to a party that I was ever invited to was a sleepover in 7th grade). The “cool” thing to do when I was in middle school was rollerblading. One night, I decided to get ballsy and asked my mom to drop me off at the skating rink. It only occurred to me once I had entered the building that I had no friends there, and had absolutely no idea how to skate. After less than an hour of attempting to get people from my school to notice me and trying to teach myself how to skate, I called my mom to pick me up and cried in the backseat while my mom tried to comfort me.
The summer before my freshman year of high school, my family moved to a new town. I was excited to have a fresh start, and convinced myself that things were going to be different in high school. I was enrolled in a college preparatory school with less than 140 students, which was a huge change from the 2k middle school I had previously attended. By the time school started, I had lost a good amount of weight, grew into a B-cup, learned how to not dress like a Cabbage Patch Kid, and even managed to tame my hair. One day, I overheard one of the boys referring to me as “that cute new girl”. This was probably the first time I’d ever had a boy notice me, let alone find me “cute”. Convinced I had finally escaped my awkward phase, I rejoiced.
Being called “cute” by one boy one time wasn’t the big event I had hoped it would be. My nose was still big, my belly still wasn’t anything close to flat, and I was still as socially awkward as ever. Because even though I was cute, the other girls in my grade were hot. They were hot and confident and everything I would never be. I was never invited to dances or parties or asked out by boys. I became friends with some of the girls, but in a sad, pathetic way. I followed them around like a little puppy dog and practically worshiped the ground they walked on, even though I knew for a fact they constantly made fun of me while I was gone. My freshman year sucked.
I don’t know exactly when things began to change, but sometime around my 16th birthday, I became hot. My body fat finally started going to my boobs instead of my inner thighs and I developed D-cups. I became addicted to YouTube makeup tutorials and learned how to not put on eyeliner like an Avril Lavigne drag queen. I got my braces removed and grew out my hair into beachy waves. I learned that the clearance section at Forever 21 was my best friend and developed an actual sense of style.
I started getting hit on, something the ultra-feminist part of me absolutely abhorred, but the ugly duckling part of me secretly enjoyed. Guys started paying for my lattes at coffee shops and girls started asking me where I got my clothes. One night, my friend and I went to a small concert at the local college campus. She ordered an iced coffee, and when one of the baristas asked his co-worker who he should deliver it to, he replied, “the hot one’s friend”.
I’d never, ever been the pretty one in a group of girls. I’d never even been one of the pretty girls. Suddenly, the girls that I had previously worshiped were inviting me to parties and boys that had never noticed me before were asking me out. The teachers even started treating me better. I learned the art of flirting, and used it to get out of several speeding tickets.
I always knew that I was getting preferential treatment because I was pretty, but it never occurred to me that there was something wrong with it. I loved the fact that if any of the guys that hit on me had seen me a year or two earlier, they wouldn’t have given me a second glance. But now I relished in the fact that I had the ability to reject them. The way I saw it, that was the way life worked. You’re ugly for a while, and then you lose some weight and put on some lipstick and everything gets better! Right?
But what if my bust size stayed small or my acne never cleared or I never grew into my nose? Would that mean that I still deserved to be treated badly? I’m the same person as I was when I was pudgy and brace-faced. I’m still awkward and make dirty jokes at inappropriate times. I wave my hands around too much when I talk and like spend my Friday nights playing World of Warcraft. I still have to struggle to not stutter and cannot seem to walk 6 feet without tripping over my own feet. And yet, people treat me like me like a completely different person.
I understand that aesthetics will always matter in life. We live in a very physical world, after all. People don’t see your colorful personality or your hilarious sense of humor when you walk down the street. I know that me being attractive won’t last much longer than my unattractive phase did. For all I know, in four years I will be right back where I started. I could gain all the weight back, develop adult acne, and accidentally get my hair cut into a backwards Kate Gosselin. And frankly, I think I’d be okay with that.
I’ve been on both sides of the social spectrum, and I still have no idea which one I prefer. The inside is a very comfortable place to be, after all. But I don’t need free lattes or cat calls or invitations to parties I’m too lazy to attend.
I’ve finally made friends who like me for who I am. They laugh at the jokes I got from Laffy Taffy wrappers and share my love of both Swedish art films and Dumb and Dumber. None of them care what I wear or what state of frizziness my hair is in. Sometimes, they don’t even make fun of the way I dance. They are all beautiful and make me feel so too. And as of right now, that’s all I need.
M. Blake is a teenage girl hailing from central Texas who likes to abbreviate her first name because she thinks it makes her sound mysterious. She likes writing, biting her nails and picking lint off her clothes. She won second place in her third grade spelling bee and still considers this one of her greatest accomplishments. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram: @maymayonethree and on Tumblr.