I first realized I was ugly in fourth grade.
Our class pictures had been sent home.
My parents rarely, if ever, bought any photos through the school but for some reason they had decided on the class photo that year. For once I had not been singled out as the only kid who did not receive an envelope. I eagerly tore it open so I could get a good look at myself. There were no pictures of me up around the house. No photo albums. I had no idea how I looked on film.
My fantasy was that I was graceful and dainty and beautiful. My face would glow angelicly from the photo paper, offset perfectly by the golden shimmer of my hair. Parents would ask their daughters to tell them who this stunning vision was exactly and demand that they befriend me. My lonely days would soon be over.
That was not my reality.
In fact, I was standing in the back. Tall compared to the other girls, my head and shoulders stuck up awkwardly, towering over the stylish haircuts and ribbon tied pony tales and swirly, lacy dresses.
My hair was stringy and mousy, in need of a wash. My hair was long, to my waist because I was not allowed to cut it. My smile looked goofy, lopsided and self concious. I was in jeans, wearing a boxy light sea foam green shirt with a white snap front. It had been my favorite at the time. Comfortable. Never mind the fact that it had come from the second hand store like the rest of my wardrobe. I had loved that shirt.
I never wore it again.
My cheeks flushed and eyes stung with shame. The familiar lump caught in my throat.
I wanted to rip up that godawful ugly photo. I wanted to erase myself from everyone else’s pictures. I never wanted to go back to that stupid private school again.
Everyone had surely seen it.
My mother saw that I was upset. When I told her how embarrassed I was, she shrugged and laughed. “You are just being silly. You are very…” She paused searching for the right adjective, “You are very pretty.”
What? How could she say that? Pretty? I looked downright mangey. She was certifiably insane. Clearly, I could not trust her.
That was the day that I learned not to believe complements from her or from anyone else. They were meaningless.
Maybe this happens to us all? There is that moment when the world loses credibility? I felt myself shrink up as I retreated further inside my shell. It would be years before I ever tried to come out again…