When I was a little girl, I wanted violet eyes. More specifically, I wanted to live in a magical fantasy-land and own a dragon and have a giant kingdom to gaze upon from atop my mighty dragon. With my violet eyes. Even when my aunt told me that only whores from romance novels have violet eyes, I wasn’t deterred.
It wasn’t that I thought myself particularly unfortunate looking. It was just that Aurora from Disney’s Sleeping Beauty was way prettier. She had everything I wanted: golden – not, ugh, blonde – hair, adorable little fairy aunts, loyal animal minions, er, friends, and a beautiful singing voice.
I was clever enough to figure out early on that I couldn’t sing for shit. People who can sing just know and since my parents weren’t falling over themselves to get me a record deal, I knew the truth. (And the fact that I was cast in my 8th grade musical, Alice in Wonderland as Alice only speaks to how much MORE awful all of the rest of the students must have been.) And since I couldn’t hold a note to save my life, I figured the chances of woodland creatures flocking around me had become fairly low.
I’d always just assumed I was pretty, though. Because I was a princess, dammit, and all princesses are pretty. My eyes might have been hazel (ugh, weird) and my hair might have been a rather mousy brown (boo, lame), but I was a pretty, pretty princess.
Until I was thirteen and my orthodontist told me different.
I was there to get four teeth pulled out, because apparently my mouth was too small for all of my teeth and the braces wouldn’t work properly. But all I heard was: blah, blah, torture, needles, die, death, muahahahahaha. I made it through the ten freezing needles with only a minimal (read: disturbingly loud) amount of crying and as I was waiting for my entire face to numb, it happened.
“Say, Siân, did we talk last time about the plastic surgery?”
“Ehwhuwha?” (Frozen Face for “What the fuck?”)
“Plastic Surgery. For your chin.”
The confused look on my face promoted him to continue.
“Your chin is too small. You need to get plastic surgery so you can look pretty. It’s a fairly basic procedure. They’ll cut a bit into your chin and insert an implant. Easy! And then you’ll have a normal chin.”
The entire explanation he was manhandling my abnormal, un-pretty chin. I pretended like the freezing was making it too hard to talk and I just lamely shook my head at him and fought the urge to cry. Looking back, I should have kicked that motherfucker right in the nuts. What kind of adult goes around telling sensitive 13-year-old girls that they need fucking plastic surgery to be “pretty” and “normal”?
My orthodontist, apparently.
And I believed him. I fucking believed him.
For years, I was too embarrassed to tell my mother what he said – ashamed of my own ugly face. I stopped enjoying having my picture taken and defaulted to making trying-too-hard-to-be-cute-faces to distract people from the truth; I never, under ANY circumstances, let anyone even think of taking a picture of my profile; and I decided that the reason guys never talked to me was because I had an abnormal and un-pretty face. (When actually it was just that I was a socially awkward introvert who believed in fairies and dragons.)
I asked my mum once if she thought I was pretty. And trying to be a most amazing mum she told me that there was more to life than looks. And that is true, yes. But impressionable teenaged me read between the lines and came to the conclusion that she was just being polite. Oh my god, even my own mother didn’t think I was pretty. Maybe she thought I needed plastic surgery too.
I know why she said what she said now but in that moment what I really wanted her to say was, “Why, daughter, you are the most attractive thing that has ever exploded out of my uterus. Perhaps the most attractive thing to explode out of ANY uterus. EVER. COME, let us frolic together and bask in our shared beauty.” Or something like that.
It took five years – until I was almost 19 – before I ever considered myself attractive. That might not seem very long in the grand scheme of things, but absolutely dreading your own reflection for five years is miserable. I couldn’t tell you exactly what finally convinced me that my orthodontist was evil and wrong. Maybe I’d finally grown into myself and my looks. Maybe I’d finally gone on some dates. Maybe I started to figure out that beauty is subjective. Maybe I figured out how to edit my face in Photoshop and saw how incredibly awful my adorably petite anime-shaped face would have looked like with a bigger chin. (Seriously, guys, it was terrifying.) Regardless, I could finally look in the mirror and say, “Fuck yeah, I’m pretty.”
Except, I noticed something strange: girls who think they are pretty are apparently not allowed to tell other people they think so. Now, I never, ever, talked about my face when I was un-pretty. I didn’t want to draw attention it or accidentally spark some sort of debate about the size of my chin. So I hid behind my horrendous punk-rock phase (props to my mum for even letting me out of the house in what I would wear) and whenever looks came up, I would suavely segue to a new subject.
“Siân, look at this article in Seventeen about highlighting your best features.”
“HEY AREN’T THEY SERVING FRENCH FRIES IN THE CAFETERIA TODAY?”
“They do that every day?”
“Man, I love french fries.”
And then, there I was finally feeling pretty, except if I ever mentioned it, I was vain, or fishing for compliments, or starring in my own sitcom, All About Siân’s Face. And it’s not like I’d sit there holding a mirror in front of my face going on and on about my theory of how if you cut off all of Regina George’s hair she’d look like a British man. I might mention that I like wearing cat-eyeliner because I liked how it highlights the shape of my eyes, or I’d comment on how I liked a flattering picture of myself, or—heaven forbid—I would agree with someone if they said I was pretty (“So you agree.” “What?” “You think you’re really pretty.”) and it would be all, whoaaaaaaa there, vain much?
It’s frustrating, and it sucks.
Listen, I don’t care if you think I’m pretty – that’s not the point at all. You probably have horrible taste anyway. And if there’s anything that Lady Gaga has taught us it’s that beauty is subjective. And sometimes covered in meat. There are also more important things in life than being pretty. Like french fries. I mean, kindness, generosity, inventing a time machine, making people laugh, intelligence, frozen yogurt, the way babies look when they sleep, Celine Dion, providing a hungry person a meal, building houses in third world countries, destroying Justin Bieber – take your pick.
But what’s wrong with also thinking that you’re pretty? And not just pretty, but pretty on our your own terms. Not a creepy orthodontist’s idea of normal and pretty, not your partner’s, especially not Tyra Banks’ – but your own.
Because we’re all pretty princesses, dammit, and we should think so.