Yesterday, I read something online that said, "Repost this if you honestly believe or have ever been told that you are ugly.” I was able to see how many reposts it had received, and the number was almost shocking-—well past a million. After reading it, I realized I had a lot to say on the subject, which is why I am writing this.
His name was Tommy. I remember his shaved head. Even when the campus was bustling—after classes let out, as everyone ran to find their bus home—I could spot him from afar.
He followed me around, calling me “Ugly Amy”—over and over, from the moment I set foot outside the building right up until I got on the bus…and sometimes he followed me onto there, too.
Being called ugly while standing outside the school was often the cap to a long day of being called ugly while standing inside it. When it started—back in the dark ages of junior high—it was exactly that: Outside of me. Other people called me ugly, and I believed it was in their control. They decide if I’m ugly; there’s nothing I can do about it; they’re neurotypical, I’m “wrong”; they know better. I don’t.
In high school, however, it changed. When someone would call me ugly, the word didn’t simply die in the air after it was said. The voices that spoke it were not without; now, they were within. That “little voice” inside. The one no one else can hear, talking at me, every second of every day. Telling me that I was ugly—telling me it was my fault.
It was in my control now. If only I could get breast implants. Wear makeup. Get rid of my “weird” toes. Not be too skinny to fit into the clothes that would make me beautiful. I am ugly.
After being told the same thing, day in and day out, I internalized it. I believed it. It shifted the burden from them onto me. Not only did I feel responsible for being “ugly,” I felt responsible for others’ reactions to my “ugliness.”
I felt guilty for looking the way I did—that, if I could somehow be not ugly, they would have something better to look at, and they wouldn’t be so mean to me. To my mind, it wasn’t their fault they were calling me ugly—they were just letting me know, because I didn’t know it myself.
By high school, I more than knew it. I knew, and could never forget.
I haven’t thought of myself as ugly for a long time, but I don’t see myself as beautiful, either. To this day, when someone compliments me, says that I am pretty, or cute, I don’t really take it in. “Ugly” is what I am more prepared for. I don’t feel it about myself, and I would roll my eyes at someone if they were to actually say it. But, somehow, it still feels closer to the truth than “pretty” does.
It saddens me that so many people have been called “ugly” in their lives, or feel that way about themselves now. We spend so much of our time trying to look like this “perfect” person, but that person doesn’t even exist. The standards that society has created are so impossible to achieve that even the people we think of as the “ideal”—tall, thin, blonde, whatever—see themselves as ugly.
For years, I desperately wanted to look like someone else. People sometimes do these “celebrity lookalike” things (“Oh, she looks like Gwyneth Paltrow!” He looks like Ben Affleck!”), and in high school, I would be devastated when I realized the only person that I looked like was me. I thought I couldn’t escape it.
Well, I was right. I can’t escape it. But the only person I want to look like now is me. Because that’s who I am meant to be.