“You are very beautiful. Your features are very striking. I hadn’t noticed how green your eyes were, are you wearing contacts? Wow. Yes, you’re beautiful both inside and out.”
We were looking at a photo taken from my last show. One where I’ve got my head rested gently against my puppet, my Wayfarers slid halfway down my nose, and my wavy hair held back by a loose black lace bow. I was channeling my inner 80’s punk rocker – heavily influenced by an early Madonna. My skin was pale, my eyes and lips were dark. The fake mole that had appeared for a brief moment removed, CARCINOMA! I was stunned by her comment. A person unrelated to me, not beholden to me in any way saying I am beautiful.
The truth is I am not. I am ugly.
Now, this will cause a small uproar among some of the folks closest to me. They don’t want me to feel bad about myself and for the most part, I don’t. To me, being ugly is a part of me. It’s a lot like announcing: I am a brunette, I am 5’6”, or I have green eyes. I am ugly. I accept that. This is not to say that people haven’t found me attractive; there’s family, friends, the occasional fetishist or the person who says sweetly, “it’s not looks that matter; it’s what’s on the inside”. I get that a lot. It’s an expression used on ugly people so they don’t feel bad. Hey, you’re beautiful on the inside!
I’m an inside person.
The part that hurts me, when it does hurt me, is how eager people are to let me know how unattractive they find me – even as an adult. As if I’d woken up one day and seen a Victoria’s Secret model peering back in the mirror and these saints wanted to intervene and provide a much needed reality check – like I’d somehow forgotten. “Quick! Remind Beth where she stands in the pretty spectrum or else she might demand head shots and a spot on the runway .” “Hey Beth, on a scale of 1 to Ugly, you’re OH SWEET JESUS grab a bag! Whew! Our work here is done. High-five me, bro!”
A sample of the words that I carry – the words that define me:
“You’re no Miss America, but I sure think you’re pretty.”
“I’m tired of dating beautiful people and just want to be with someone like you.” “You’re the kind of person you raise a family with.” (My ex-husband. How I miss his praise.)
“People are either smart or pretty. I could tell you were smart.”
“Your mother told [long time family friend] you were retarded; I didn’t know what to expect when I met you.” (These would be people who knew me well and in theory would know better. You see, I was born with strabismus and had a brace to correct hip issues; I didn’t learn to walk until much later than the average toddler. Moving my legs was excruciating. My looks and my delayed motor skills are where this comment came from.)
“The guys on base saw your picture and said you were ugly, but I said, ‘She has a degree!’”
“I got your picture. Ummm… that wasn’t what I expected. I think we can still be friends.”
“Your face scares me.”
“She’s ugly like a dog.” (This started a round of random people from two schools barking at me in the hallway. People I didn’t know and had never seen before barked every time they saw me.)
I know who I am. I am keenly self-aware. I understand my limitations. What continually surprises me though is how comfortable people feel saying these things to me. How one of those comments was said as recently as a month ago. Of course, when pressed the person claimed, “it’s a joke!” Because calling me ugly is hilarious. My face was the punch line? Well then, slap my face on poster board and put me in your comedy routine. I’m hilarious.
When did we become so brutally honest? Is there some civic duty to point out people’s failings? Being reminded of something I’m already aware of gets old. No one goes around saying, “you’re still a brunette”. Why is it necessary to say, “you’re still unattractive”? It boggles me.
This is why my WordPress Gravatar only shows half of my face. I don’t want to hear how I’ve scared a stranger half a country away. It’s why photos of me on Flickr are set so only friends and family can see. I have the face only a mother, some family and a few friends can love. A face that will never launch a thousand ships much less a dinghy.
And when this woman looked at my picture from last weekend’s show and said “you are beautiful”,
I walked away.