I don’t know when I really realised I wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t anything my mum said, nothing my family did, to make me feel, well, less than pretty. Even though I have many, many, brothers and sisters (thank you biological dad!), I grew up with my two younger sisters, L and JL. L grew up blonde, blue eyes, tan and the one what all my gorgeous little cousins “took after”. JL was the complete opposite, quite pale and and very dark features, a million lashes framed her deep brown eyes. Even as the eldest, I was somewhere in between. My hair wasn’t dark enough to be really brown, neither light enough to be considered blonde. I called it my dirty water hair, because that’s what it reminded me of. Even my eyes were a mix of green and blue. Nothing spectacular.Growing up seeing people fawn over L’s beautiful golden hair or JL’s doll-like features didn’t bother me, because I did it too. I didn’t stop to realise people didn’t really fawn over how I looked.
Maybe it was that old catch-all, school. In secondary school, I seen my peers in the toilets trying to straighten their hair with the hand dryers, decide what kind of earring went with the school tie. The popular girls, no matter what their natural hair colour, would have white blonde highlights in their hair, worn like a badge of honour. Perfectly cut in the space just beyond their shoulder blades.When Britney’s “Baby One More Time” video came out – those girls wore the knee high socks, tiny skirts, knotted up oversized cardigans, yada yada. I remember looking at then with a feeling not unlike envy, and thinking, “why can’t I look like that?”.
And what did I look like during those years? From 12-14, my look was tied back hair (barely combed), black trousers, whatever colour trainers I found a pair of first, a school blouse and my loosely put together tie. No make up. Yup, I was a total tomboy. When I wasn’t in school I was out on my bike, hanging with friends – not indoors trying to tame my hair or bleach it to within an inch of its life. I wasn’t considering how what I wore attracted the boys, I was too busy giving them Chinese Burns!
Fourth Year – two months after I turned 15. During that summer, I started changing – just a bit. I realised I liked to take time making myself feel good, if not pretty. For me, it took some effort. I just wasn’t naturally pretty, and I realised that information didn’t bother me one iota. I re-entered school that year with a foot firmly in each camp – a well dressed tomboy. Just because I didn’t wear make up at school didn’t mean I didn’t experiment with my mum’s make up. I had done since I was little, and it was time to put what I learned into practice. On that day, I showed up, wearing classic black court shoes, a pale coloured pair of tights, a black pencil skirt and a fitted cardigan over a blouse with a properly knotted up tie. My make up consisted of clear brow gel and lashes of black mascara, and a small flick of eye liner. Some of my mum’s light rose coloured lipstick completed the look. My hair was brushed back, not straightened, in a half up, half down style. I was definitely channeling some vintage style, although I’d have a way to go!
Why do I remember this so vividly, 10 years on? I remember because of the looks I got. Even the teachers had difficulty realising who I was. My friends loved it, and the popular girls snorted and looked away. Thing was, I was already friends with the boys they liked, and now I looked “passable”. I won’t go into the things they said, what interests me now is why they said what they did. I still don’t, to this day, understand it.
Remember, I still didn’t consider myself “pretty”. Not like them. For all the time they must have spent to look the way they did, to me, it still seemed they had the one thing I didn’t – they were pretty anyway. Take away my new look and I’d be that tomboy again, but they’d still look lovely. My male friends still farted in front of me, none of them hadn’t come to the startling realisation that they really liked me. More to the point, neither did I. There was no She’s All That moment. They were still just my friends.
Since then, I’ve struggled with the thought that my looking after myself means something more than it is. I like doing it, and spending some time in the morning making sure I’ll go through the day feeling good about myself is the reason I do it. There’s no ulterior motive. I might not feel pretty, but I’ll be damned if that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate myself. I’ve discovered something I might not have had I felt pretty enough to not need to bother.
I’ve went through the tomboy stage, the classic goth stage, the neon bright industrial, the vintage, the Bollywood. So much joy found in the different, the strange, the comfort of experimenting. I’ve not been lazy in discovering new things, and I love each and every thing. I’m no jeans and t-shirt girl. I can’t wear something I know is popular, because I hate the idea of looking like just another person. In my quest, I’ve found talents in myself, creativity, a different perspective. I’ve found others like me, to bounce ideas off of. I love that even though I love vintage most of all, I can take different aspects of other styles and make it work. I can’t imagine not living this life.
And all because I don’t consider myself pretty.
Not such a hardship after all, is it?