I was going on about a boy that I liked as my friend and I walked back to our apartment from lunch. I had liked him for months. He was sweet and talented and thoughtful. He was also good looking, went to an expensive private university, and came from a good family. Liking him and actually making a move felt like two very different things.
“I’m definitely not his type. Besides, his family would never accept someone like me,” I said, “I could never—”
“Well if you were pretty, you could,” my friend said.
If I was pretty. I think that I actually physically gasped. I was insulted. I was sad. I was confused.
She obviously saw my reaction and quickly said that she was sorry and didn’t mean it “that way.” She proceeded to tell me that she wanted to cry because she thought that I was angry. The problem is, she had told me on multiple occasions that, if you want someone to forgive you, all you’ve got to do is cry. So I lied and told her that I was not offended. And you know what? I tried not to be.
Besides, the entire day she had something to say about everything. She would point out a double chin in a picture, told me to sit like a lady, and basically proving to me that when she said she was only at school to get her “MRS. degree,” she was not joking.
But I was offended. I felt like I was in high school again. Under a microscope at every moment of every day. I have hated the way that I look since I was in middle school. I was probably a size two for one day in the fifth grade. I have always been tall and I have always had curves. I was not always healthy about my weight, and went to extremes to make myself thin, but no amount of exercise or diet could change the way I was built and, once I realized that, I just started to take care of myself. When I got to college I even started to love myself, and dove headlong into secondary education because I want students to realize that they can be anything that they want to be. That they could love themselves, too. I wanted them to know that they can write their own story, that looks weren’t everything.
So why was I beating myself up again? Why was a letting this girl who was so obviously caught up in a vapid ideal making me feel like I was worthless? Why was I letting my story turn into one of self-loathing? One where I start crying in the bathroom after making myself sick or one where I stop eating because I think that will solve things.
Later, I told my roommate what happened and she automatically said, “You are so much prettier than her! How dare she!”
And yet that was not the reaction that I wanted. I didn’t want to put another girl down simply because she made me feel like shit. Although it is sadly what most girls do without thinking twice, it’s not an answer to the problem.
I don’t ever want to see one of the young women that I will be teaching or my own daughter feel like she is not good enough because she doesn’t look like the women that we see splattered across our television screens or because she would rather read or study than go to a party. I don’t ever want anyone to feel the way that I felt when Sarah told me that I wasn’t pretty enough to get what I wanted. If I really wanted that boy, I could show him how beautiful I am. I could make him see that it was my confidence in myself that made me sexy, it was my knowledge and my talent that made me irresistible, and it was my ability to tell him exactly what I want for myself that made me perfect for him. But that isn’t what matters to me. What I want is to get a great teaching job. What I want is to affect the people around me and make a difference. What I want is to be happy and make the people around me happy.
I know that beauty is skin deep and in the eye of the beholder—we’ve all heard it before. But no one tells you that, no matter how much you tell yourself that you are beautiful, someone will always come around and try to shake you. And when they do, it is going to hurt and it’s going to sting. What makes you truly beautiful is changing those ifs into because and never letting anyone tell you otherwise.
Because I am beautiful, I can.