When I was seven years old, I would put my school book bag on both my shoulders and had it sit plumb in the middle of my back, as backpacks were made to do.
One morning, when it was so frigid outside you could barely muster getting out of bed, my older brother joined me at the bus stop, and told me I was wearing my backpack wrong. He grabbed it, tossed it over my right shoulder with both straps on the same side and said, “There, that’s better.”
Then he said, “You’re not pretty, so you have to try harder. OK?”
I stayed smiling because even at a young age, I understood the importance of pretending to not have emotions. In my household, it was a matter of survival. But what he said crushed me.
Soon thereafter, I started picking up on the signs one receives when they aren’t attractive. This was made more complicated because I had a lot of friends and people who, for the most part, liked me. I was good at sports. I had various musical talents and up until life completely fell apart at home, I was a good student. I was also a fighter so people didn’t dare make fun of me overtly, at least before growth spurts kicked in and the playing field was still even.
Mostly, I paid for not being conventionally attractive by being ignored or not included in “moments” – the many moments attractive people experience.
Many times, I walked into a room with all of my friends and witnessed them receiving compliments – everyone except me. It’s not that people look at you say, “My god, you’re incredibly ugly. Tell me, how do you not kill yourself?” It’s how you can stand next to an attractive person and the people around you, even the unattractive ones themselves, will say, “Wow, your friend is pretty. Look at her, have you ever seen a girl so pretty?”
It took me being observant and honest to see I didn’t belong. It took studying the aesthetics in photos taken by my friends and knowing something wasn’t quite right. It’s a lack of pride you know would be there if you were just prettier, or sexier. It’s that you simply know that no matter what you do, sans literal plastic surgery, you will never belong to a certain club.
But here is where I throw you a curve ball: my being unattractive hasn’t stopped me from living the other side’s life. Most people never figure out how to navigate this world I live in. I will just tell you I rejected the rules of the beautiful, and learned how to make them work for me.
I decided I would shoot out of my league. I made friends and dated people I shouldn’t be allowed to date. I stepped over the line. I surrounded myself with individuals who are more educated, prettier or smarter than me, even in the face of people saying, quite literally, “they are out of your league.”
I may not technically be the smartest or most beautiful person, but I run with those who are. I become by association, even a touch of such, even at a lower rank – beautiful. I buck the system.
To do so, yes, means you may be painfully aware of what you are and will never be. You will be defined by what you have the nerve to aim at being. In doing so, you will challenge and question what smart is. You will not be generic, or predictable. Attractive is only what we define it to be. Don’t pigeonhole yourself so quickly. Live the life you want to live – even if you didn’t win the genetic lottery.