Monday, December 12, 2011

late bloomer

A few months ago I showed STG some pictures from when I was a teenager. He'd shown me his teenage photos - the charming, handsome, smiling young STG a clear promise of the handsome smiling man he is today, and I thought I'd share in return. He was gentle, and quiet, and slightly, I think, confused. He finally said, "don't take this the wrong way, but you are so much more beautiful now." 

I couldn't take that any wrong way - he's totally right. I look at pictures of myself from when I was 14-19 and barely recognize myself. Or, perhaps more accurately, I look at pictures of myself more recently and don't recognized the pretty, confident face I see. 

I'm sure it's a fairly universal experience, but I was an awkward looking teenager. My hair was a mess no hairdresser seemed to understand - at puberty it turned into a muddy dark blonde with no real shape, too stubborn to be straight and too heavy to curl. My nose, particularly in my high school grad photos, was big in a way that changed how I saw it for a long long time (I was in a snow tubing crash the week before we had our grad photos taken ... my black eye had faded, but my nose was still swollen). I have high cheekbones now that for some reason hid then. Although my grandma had first offered to pluck my eyebrows for me when I was 13, I hadn't managed to tame them - they were dark, and thick, and constantly threatening to meet in the middle.

My tall, chubby, curveless body was hard to find flattering clothing for in the remote small town we lived in - and even when we went to the city to shop, I often ended up with clothes beyond my years in order to get the length I needed. Those long awaited curves really didn't show up until I had pregancy hormones. 
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I could go on. I didn't know I was unattractive then - and to be fair to teen-age me 'unattractive' may be an over-statement. But it's very safe to say that in the looks department, I was a late-bloomer. And I'm not even saying I'm a stunning orchid now, but whatever I am showed up later than expected.

We act like it's not a big deal. We like to think that looks are superficial and shallow and not a determination of who someone is. But when you are a bookish, out-spoken, borderline unattractive teenager in a small town who never gets asked on a date, there are deeper implications. You learn to give extra weight to physical compliments, and to seek them out. Your objective reality - 'I'm pretty' - and your experienced reality - 'I'm invisible, at best' - constantly battle for years after. The strengths you've always relied on - intelligence, compassion, creativity, charm - never quite measure up in comparison - they are the consolation prize for not being 'the pretty one.' 
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I see pictures of myself now - bright eyed, broad smiled, curly haired, curvy - and I wonder ... how would I be different as a woman if I'd seen that in myself at 16. Or if others had seen it in me then. Or if we really did live in a world where it didn't matter. 

6 comments:

  1. At 15 I remember thinking I must be ugly...not based on anything I saw in the mirror, but because I never had boys asking me out. I KNEW I was smart, funny, kind, interesting. Those were never in doubt. So if boys didn't like me, what was left? I MUST be ugly.

    Obviously I'm not ugly. I'm beautiful. High school boys are just idiots.

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  2. Hi Alyssa - yes, high school boys are definitely ... idiots. I never really thought I was ugly, but definitely awkward. Such complex beings those teenagers are. :)

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  3. I think you look adorable as a teenager, but that picture above is beautiful!

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  4. You look like a professional model in your new pic...with character :) Beautiful! Rivers is a lucky man! ♪bobbi♥

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  5. Thank you, Bobbi. I think I'm the lucky one to have found Rivers :)

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