I was about 12 when I starting feeling insecure about the way I looked. Up until then I didn’t really think about it too much, aside from a stream of remarks prophesying my future as a “pretty girl.” People didn’t gasp when they saw me but they did mention, “Oh, she’s going to be a beauty when she grows up,” “You’re gonna break some hearts,” “You’re so pretty when you smile,” etc. Somewhere in the back of my mind I had a vague idea that this was going to mean something someday… Then it happened, almost overnight. In one summer I got my period and grew five inches (in every direction), but instead of becoming the pretty girl everyone said I would, I was certain I had turned out anything but. This would have been fine, I guess, if I were a guy but apparently (sadly) things were different for girls…or so I was told.
I never saw it coming. No longer did I have the privilege of getting out of bed and being “ready.” I couldn’t just get up, throw on whatever was closest to me (dirty socks, jammie bottoms, and my favorite sweatshirt) and run out the door without attending to my appearance. The fashion police arrived and took me into custody, and without explanation (or bail) I was sentenced for life to...getting ready.
Nor did anyone really spell out why I wasn’t ready just the way I was. Unfortunately, before I had time to inquire, snap; my entire childhood came to a screeching halt. Now, instead of deriving a sense of being and accomplishment from who I was and what I loved (like being the fastest runner in my class, including the boys, spiking a volleyball like an Amazon, picking up every single jack in one swipe, dancing ecstatically to the sound of my own heartbeat, or feeling defeated because Randy Brown beat me again at math flash cards), all the values seemed to change.
Suddenly my passions, my natural self-expression, my unbridled life-force got thrown into the back seat (locked in the trunk is more like it) making way for…dun dun dun dun…the mirror! Looking back, I can see the abruptness of it all, but while it was happening it was downright subtle and confusing. It was though the mirror seduced me, little by little, systematically picking me apart and rewarding my efforts to please what “it” wanted to see. At first my hair was unruly , then my clothes weren’t right, then, gasp… my nose wasn’t pointy enough, my eyes were the wrong color, my hair was too straight, my feet were too big, I was too tall and on and on…. Suddenly, for the first time in my life, it was like my outsides flipped with my insides. And it sure felt like it!
Up until that point I had compared myself to other kids, but for the most part nothing really fazed me. Back then, nobody really stood out in those terms. In first grade there was no one who was obsessed with how they looked. When it came to appearances, the worst thing that could happen was to be forced to wear something you hated, which you forgot all about by recess. And while everyone had unique characteristics, we generally speaking didn’t dwell on them. We were busy just being…that is, until now.
There I was, age 12, blindsided by the epic realization that I wasn’t enough, and that I had to do something about that…every day. To make matters worse, I got braces: the metal kind, the railroad tracks. My younger brother saw this as a fabulous opportunity to mention no less than several times a day that in addition to being remarkably dog-like in appearance, I was now “brace-face.”
Puberty is in general not an easy time, but for me it was punctuated by escalating fads that elicited a kind of demoralizing self-loathing, a standard that was set (and reset without warning) that no one, particularly not a child of 12, could ever meet.
The good news is, I was a survivor and very resourceful, so Instead of being swallowed by misery and falling into the abyss of permanent self-loathing, I sought out someone who could help. I guess you could say she was a role model. She was several years older, completely hip and cool, and seemed like she knew what was going on when it came to what was expected from us girl-types. She wore loads of makeup, had permed hair, tons of hairspray, musk perfume, long beaded earnings, tight jeans, platform shoes, skin-tight t-shirts and very very long and glamorous eyelashes.
This was an immediate relief, ‘cause I figured all I had to do was get a hold of whatever she had, slap it on myself and voilá, problem solved.
It unfortunately wasn’t that easy. I had to get through all the mixed messages to grow up and stop acting like a child but not look or act like a whore. Yikes, what did that mean? My father (and brothers and uncles and…and..) said whores wore makeup and red toenail polish, etc., yet…sorry, but I have to say it, that’s who they were attracted to and whistled at and paid all their attention to. Which is it, guys, I wondered from time to time, 'cause ugly was unacceptable, (they all made that abundantly clear). Even the womenfolk were on board, which was even more confusing.
Then my father sent me to modeling school, and instead of boosting my self-esteem it only accentuated what was wrong with me. It was like turning a flood light on my imperfections while everyone was watching. I found out I not only had bushy eyebrows but I had to add fat to my long and growing list of imperfections. Let’s just say that from 12-19 I was fully indoctrinated into the way things are when it comes to being a girl.
By the time I was 19 it was clear that being a pretty girl was required and that most of one’s resources would have to be invested in maintaining this status. Every once in a while I would catch a glimpse of someone who somehow managed to avoid this trap. She was usually overweight, really smart (or magnanimous), and almost always single, the kiss of death for a “pretty girl.” I sold everything I owned and moved to Europe.