7th-grade was the first time I realized I did not fit the typical beauty mold. Even at that young age, beauty meant something to my fellow 7th-graders in all their Cherry Lip Smackers glory. It was the defining difference between having a boyfriend and practicing kissing a Zac Efron poster.
I bounced through 7th-grade a lot like other kids my age. Uncertain, excited, curious. 7th-grade was the year to explore boundaries and make new social circles. It felt like a new world. About a week into the school year, I had memorized all my classes, where my locker was and the combination. I felt good. Now I just had to make a friend. Coming from a different school than everyone else meant I didn’t know anyone. I craved the social acceptance of girls and to be a part of one of the ever giggling circles.
I sat silently, waiting for my American History class to start, listening to the girls around me talk about clothes, boys and how much or little they ate. They talked around me, undeterred by my presence, neither rude nor inclusive to the shy girl with glasses.
“Hey” a voice from the other side of the room pulled me out of my thoughts. “I like your binder.”
“Thanks. I like tracing the flowers.”
“It’s super cute. Do you like mine?”
I looked over at the girl’s binder. Bright pink with polka dots and stripes, it was definitely a coveting worthy binder.
“I love it!” I told her.
“Great. I’m K.Lani. What’s your name? And why are you sitting over there? Come sit by me. It’ll make it easier to pass notes in class.”
And so our friendship began. K.Lani and I spent our time giggling, writing notes and comparing our cute school supplies. She always had a bag full of lip gloss, gum and extremely potent floral lotion and body cream. We shared everything. Well, she shared everything because I wasn’t the kind of girl to carry around a purse, let alone a purse full of glamorous stuff.
7th-grade in 2006 was not really the epitome of fashion, but I was especially incapable in that category. I picked out clothes I liked and my mom always told me I looked cute in them, so I was set. K.Lani always wore bright, colorful tops that clung to her petite figure and growing bosom. She wasn’t the only one. All the popular girls with boyfriends had nice clothes and were always talking about shopping. I went home one day, begging my mom to buy me new clothes. I even convinced her I needed a purse.
No one had to tell me I looked different. I felt it. I saw it. Standing at my locker, I saw girls reapplying lipstick, comparing bra sizes or flirting with boys. And I saw the way those boys looked at them. You would have to be daft to not know what they were thinking. I was daft. Clueless to their thoughts, all I knew was that they weren’t looking at me like that. I felt like no one really saw me.
I felt uncomfortable exploring my budding sexuality. My friends would all swoon over the cutest guys in school and on TV while I just giggled awkwardly. Don’t get me started on Zac Efron and my complete adoration for him. But when it came to crushing on real people (Zac was and is obviously a god), I felt uncomfortable. Guys at our school didn’t look at me. When K.Lani and I went to the mall and some guys smiled at us, I knew it was at her. I didn’t need anyone to tell me they didn’t like me, I felt it. K.Lani was beautiful and radiated confidence. It was obvious who the boys preferred–and in 7th-grade, boys were all that mattered.
Once, K.Lani found out who I liked. Toby Christensen. K.Lani was a good friend. The kind of good friend that bolstered me up in false hopes.
“He could be totally into you!” K.Lani danced around me in her absolute glee at the juicy prospect.
She put forth all of her power into getting Toby and I together. She gave me pep talks, much like the aforementioned, let me bathe in her deliciously potent lotions and even played the game of forcing me into conversations with him. She was good. With all her power, Toby succumbed to my lack of charm and absolute overpowering scent of Cherry Blossom.
He asked to borrow my pencil in math class.
He gave it back after class.
The next week Toby had a new girlfriend, Madison. Madison was the most beautiful girl in school. Everyone knew that. Toby continued to occasionally ask me for an answer or a pencil, but it was obvious where his interests lay.
These kind of interactions helped me understand just where society had placed me on the scale of beauty, and therefore, importance. I sat rather uncomfortably in the middle. I wasn’t unattractive. I had curly hair, full lips and brows, straight teeth and I loved my freckles. But the thing was, I wasn’t necessarily attractive either. I had glasses, frizzy hair, a persistent case of puberty acne and towered like a monster over the other girls in my size large shirts. Apparently I was the only one besides my mom that loved my freckles. I was rather unoriginal and entirely forgettable. I was the girl you borrowed pencils from. I was the girl who had all the cute friends. I was not the you dated.
Year after year, these unrealistic molds of beauty etched into my developing brain. I learned beauty was an intrinsic value to social interactions. My average looks separated me from the popular, more beautiful people in my classes. Later, social studies told me I was less likely to get a job, get tipped well or receive help from a stranger.
For years I allowed this inaccurate view of myself to lead me by the rope through life. It fostered unhealthy relationships with men when I got older. I went through my young adult life expecting nothing from boys and rejoicing when they looked twice. I demanded no effort from them, instead, fighting for their attention in an effort to prove I was more than my freckles and lacking figure. It did not matter if I found them attractive or drawn to them. I was grateful they were fooled enough to want to date me. Bouncing from one manipulative relationship to another, I believed relationships were a reflection of how I felt. Empty.
It took me 10 years to understand fitting the beauty mold had absolutely nothing to do with my actual beauty and value as a person. My lowest point finally pushed me to look away from my unhealthy relationships and turn to myself. It required extensive labor, love, compassion and chocolate to repair the damage my heart took over the years. There are days I strut through my life as confident and powerful as Beyonce. There are days I look in the mirror and have to remind myself that my appearance and what people say about it has nothing to do with who I am. What I’ve learned about my self-worth was not taught in schools. But then again, neither was what I learned in 7th-grade.