I was always the ugly one in the group of pretty girls. I could feel, when we would go out to a bar or a party, that I was the grenade one of the guys had to jump on in order to have access to a better girl. I was pudgy, awkward, adult acne-ridden, and saddled with facial features that made me look just a little bit weird from even my most flattering angle. Even when my friends or family would try to cheer me up with a little “Oh, you’re beautiful, don’t be ridiculous,” I knew that they were saying it for my benefit. I have never been concerned with being the most beautiful girl in the room, and I am confident that I have other things to offer the world in my life. In fact, if I had never been in a group of pretty girls, I probably wouldn’t have even noticed how I looked to the rest of the world.
But in high school and college, I played the kinds of sports and participated in the kinds of activities that tend to attract the pretty, popular, wealthy girls. My friends would wear ribbons in their hair and go from a cute-yet-muddy sports uniform to a sexy cocktail dress for a Saturday night out, and I would be the uncomfortable one in jeans over in the corner. While nearly every guy who walked through the door would stop to give them all a good-once over and decide who they wanted to try and pick up, I would be attempting to blend into the wall so that I didn’t have to watch the disappointed look on their face when they got to me. I would pretend not to hear the mean jokes, I wouldn’t look at the cute pictures at the theme party where I looked like a sweaty man in every other photo. Life in school was a dream for my friends, and for me, it was a lot of focusing on the good parts of my life and forgetting that I was the butt of my social circle’s joke.
The thing about really pretty girls — and I’m talking about the kind of girls who go on vacation to Miami together and get accosted by every single event photographer in the city — is that they are hyper-aware of prettiness. They know what they look like, they are constantly working on it, and they are always nervous about losing it even a little bit. They obsess over every last pound, every dimple of cellulite, every beginning of a potential wrinkle. It’s non-stop with the diet talk, the makeup talk, the skin care talk, the outfit talk. And while for the most part, I would just let their moments of appearance-obsession pass me by until they started talking about something else, it wore on me after a while. I started to feel like I would always feel terrible with them, like I was the meter of ugliness against which they could measure themselves. As long as I was there, they would be even more lovely by comparison (even if they didn’t need it).
After college, though, I started making a real effort to make new friends. I would go out with girls from work, from my meetup group, from friends of family. I made my group slowly, and it’s still very much in development, but I’m not worried about being alone every weekend anymore. And, if I’m being honest, most of the girls are ugly. Or “ugly” by society’s standards. They’re not really big on makeup or hair stuff, they’re not worried about being model-thin, they don’t have the most striking features. When people notice and talk to us, it’s because of who we are and what we have to say. We don’t get free drinks, we don’t get to cut lines, we don’t get put on guest lists. And that’s okay, because none of us have ever learned to expect it. And even though there are definite downsides to not being with the most beautiful group in the room, there is something really amazing about no longer being the obstacle that the guys have to bypass to get to the hot chicks.
I don’t only like ugly girls, I can be friends with a pretty woman just as much as anyone. But the kind of beauty that my friends had was the kind that ruins people, that poisons them and blinds them to all of the wonderful things they have to offer that aren’t their body or face. I might not ever be able to understand them, and it’s easy to stereotype a pretty girl just as much as it is an ugly one, but all I know is how I feel when I go out with my friends today. And a night out might have its problems, but never again will that problem be realizing that I am the girl who doesn’t belong.