Learning to Love Your “Ugly” Self

I don’t know when I first started hating the way I look, but I do know how I stopped.
Who knows when I first started hating the way I look? It could have been in fourth grade, when I went to camp with my beautiful cousin who got more attention than slightly chubby me. It could have been in sixth grade, when I was suddenly taller than nearly everyone else in my class. It could have been in eighth grade, when I realized that my friends were starting to date and I wasn’t. All I know is that from junior high all the way through high school, I can’t remember ever looking in the mirror and being happy with what I saw.

I’m sure it didn’t help to have an older brother who apparently felt it was his job to tease me. He started calling me “chubs” when I was in seventh grade and kept it up till he graduated from high school a few years later.

But he was just part of the problem. I couldn’t help but compare myself to other girls at my school—girls who were thinner, prettier, smarter. Nothing about me seemed quite right. I had curly hair; everyone else had straight hair. I played tennis and the cello; the “popular” girls played basketball and the clarinet. And while I knew I was a good friend, a decent student and fun person to be around, those things just weren’t enough to boost my sagging self-esteem.

What really clinched my whole self-image problem was guys. I couldn’t figure out why, of all my great guy friends, not one of them wanted to date me. For example, one of my best friends in high school was a guy named Eric, and I had a major crush on him. Eric and I spent tons of time together. I knew he really cared about me and valued my friendship. But despite my obvious interest in him, he never wanted to date me. He’d tell me about his girl problems. He’d wonder out loud why other girls weren’t as easy to talk to as I was. And as we became closer friends with no hope of romance in sight, I’d wonder, What’s wrong with me?

I couldn’t help but compare myself to other girls at my school—girls who were thinner, prettier, smarter.

That was it—my prevailing thought through junior high, high school and on into college: What’s wrong with me? It didn’t stop with Eric. All the way through my teenage years, I had great guy friends who didn’t want to date me. I was smart and funny and could attract all the friends I could ever want. But that somehow wasn’t enough. I didn’t get dates, and I wasn’t in the top echelons of popularity, all because I didn’t look quite right. To me, that seemed to be the only answer.

While I felt horrible on the inside, I tried to act like it didn’t bother me to be the “dateless wonder.” I filled my life with other things, things I was good at, like theater and choir and the pom team. And while those things helped me feel better about myself, they weren’t enough, either. In fact, in some ways, they contributed to my feelings that I was fat and ugly. While I usually ended up with leading roles in school plays, I was never the leading lady—the pretty girl who ends up with the guy. Instead, I played the character roles that got lots of laughs.