I went through some old photos recently in preparation for my post about my daddy’s guitar. As I was looking at my baby pictures, I thought I was pretty cute. I see how much my daughter resembles me and I think she is beautiful. When I was about 3, the age Meredith is in the photo, I had to start wearing glasses. Glasses for kids back in the early 80s were not near as attractive as they are now. They pretty much looked like old lady glasses. Like Sophia on “The Golden Girls.”
I hated my glasses until I got the pair that had little strawberry shaped enamel decorations on the sides, so my mom told me they were Strawberry Shortcake glasses. For a brief time, I loved them. I think it was after then, when I started school and the first boy called me ugly that I started to believe I was ugly and my glasses were too. I still remember his name. He was mean and hateful. Now I can see, based on his Facebook profile picture, that the past thirty years have not been kind to him because he looks so much older than 35. But that is another story.
So was it the glasses or a self-esteem problem that made me feel ugly? Self-esteem. I never liked any of my school photos. It didn’t help matters that the photos were about as flattering as mug shots for everyone. Plus everyone except for the elite few goes through that awkward period from about 8-14 or so. Almost everyone has something during that time that isn’t flattering. Too skinny. Too chunky. Too tall. Too short. Teeth too big for your mouth. Too flat-chested if you’re female, not flat-chested enough if you’re male. Out of control hair. Acne. You get the idea. Don’t we all feel that way sometimes? I bet even some of the most physically beautiful people have flaws and self doubt.
My school photos were especially bad in my own mind. Ugly glasses, and then I was unfortunate enough to have permanent teeth coming in extremely crooked. Another little boy pulled down a bus window about this time to yell out the window to me “You ugly!” His grammar wasn’t the best. I felt like the ugliest kid alive, even though my mother told me all the time she thought I was beautiful and that we would get my teeth fixed as soon as all of the permanent ones came in. That happened the summer before 7th grade. So then I had the award winning combination of glasses, braces, extreme shyness and a boyish body.
That’s when I started writing and internalizing everything. I had my own sense of style. Nothing fancy at all. Baby doll dresses, embroidered patches, denim overalls, and some of the other strange trends of the early 90s such as plastic shoes and lots of plaid. Then grunge happened. Seriously, that’s me at about 15 wearing two men’s large shirts when a small would have still swallowed me. I still wear that Kurt Cobain shirt to sleep in now. I loved flannel for a while. The larger the better. I stole some from my stepdad’s closet at times.
There were brief occasions when I felt pretty, but they were few and far between. It all goes back to self-esteem. Mine didn’t really pick up until my junior year in high school. Senior year was pretty good. By that time, my self-esteem was high enough that when a lousy guidance counselor told me I should consider community college (which I didn’t want) because I might not do very well away from the comfort zone of home, I was determined to prove her wrong. She is no longer employed in K-12 last I heard.
Looking at my senior portraits, I still felt I was nowhere near my mother’s caliber of physical beauty. She is one of the fortunate few who is beautiful on the inside and out. At least I finally felt pretty sometimes when I took what I felt was a good photo. I thought my senior portraits were fairly good. And I liked my prom photos for the most part. I went to prom with a sweet friend and had a good time. It’s funny, I was voted prom queen. I have no idea how that happened, but I was honored and surprised.
College was a whole new level of feeling ugly. I dyed my hair several times. It was dark brown, auburn and even pink at one time. I just wanted to look like someone else. Getting one’s heart trampled on can do that to a person. The person who broke my heart told me I was beautiful. I didn’t feel beautiful at all when I look back at our relationship. I felt downright Unpretty. Drawing back on all that poor self-esteem from my earlier years. It took a long time to get over that.
So, what’s the point? Why do we all do this to ourselves? Sometimes we let other people determine our worth. Mean people who call us ugly or who make us feel that way. We listen to them when they are wrong. Beauty is so much more than a pretty face. I listened when my boyfriend at 23 (now my husband) told me I was beautiful inside and out. He actually made me feel that way and still does every single day.
Why isn’t internal beauty valued more than external? I have no idea, but I hope our culture can change. I truly hope my children grow up never feeling ugly and never thinking that all they have to offer is what they look like. You know what’s ironic? As I have gotten older, I have chosen not to get contacts because my glasses have become a part of me and I like the way I look with them. In most of my photos now, I look tired. I’m still not the most photogenic person ever, but seriously, who is?
My son. He’s a handsome little guy. And he’s hit that awkward stage where his precious crooked teeth are too big for his little mouth. He couldn’t be more perfect to me. (Except for his occasional bad attitude and back-talking. A different story for another day.) And someone at school has already called him ugly. It broke my heart. I told Drew not to listen to those people and that people used to call me ugly too. He didn’t believe me. You know why? He said, “But, Mom, you’re not ugly, you’re pretty.”
Beauty is so much more than physical. The ugliest people I have ever met were not ugly because of their physical attributes but because of their actions and mean nature. The most beautiful people were often not people who would stop traffic with their physical characteristics, but with their sparkling personalities shining through.
-Brandi Easterling Collins