I told my sister that if she wanted to name her daughter Isabella, she’d better be sure she would be pretty. You can’t have an ugly girl named Isabella.

Yeah, or else the boys will say things like, “Bella… not!”

My co-workers laugh. I smile awkwardly, hoping they cannot sense the lurch in my stomach the moment the phrase “ugly girl” hit my ears. The first adrenaline-fueled thought I have is that the two of them are sharing a laugh about me. Instantly I am transported back to middle school, all awkward limbs and unruly hair, hunching over to make myself smaller and less noticeable. Every day, I silently pray that no one will say anything mean to me. I dive wholly into books and my own imagination in order to escape the constant feeling of discontent with my status as “weird/ugly/creepy/freaky/unlikable girl”.

Do these women have any idea what it’s like to be called ugly? Probably not. They are both young and pretty. When they were in middle school their worries were likely centered around which boy to go out with and how to spend their babysitting money.

The conversation ends moments later, after the two of them agree that it’s inappropriate for unattractive people to have nice names. By now I’ve calmed down and realized the absolute inanity of the discussion. It’s so superficial and dumb that I can’t even think of a fitting response, so I smile again (unconvincingly) and turn back to my desk.

Throughout my life I have learned a great deal about judging and being judged by appearance. Of course I am not immune to people’s looks. I definitely notice when a person has attractive features – after all, I have taken plenty of art classes wherein the ideal facial proportions (or golden ratio) was studied ad nauseam. However, I do not automatically assume that having a lovely face equals a kind soul.

My own self-image is a dichotomy between feeling attractive and confident that my beauty radiates from within, vs. feeling homely and hopeless. I most often feel confident in my appearance and only occasionally feel lousy and low. It has a lot to do with my mood and my ability to project confidence and kindness and other attractive qualities. When I do feel bad about my looks for whatever reason, the feeling usually passes after a short period of moping and feeling sorry for myself.

When I think of the people I care about most in my life, I don’t categorize them by their physical characteristics. My family and my best friends are beautiful to me, whether they fit the textbook definition of beautiful or not. When I look at pictures of myself, I am sometimes disappointed to notice that my nose is crooked, or that one eye droops more than the other. And then I look closer and see the happiness in my face, and in the faces of those around me and I don’t worry so much about looking perfect anymore.

A Whiter Shade of Pale
A Whiter Shade of Pale

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