by KATE FRIDKIS
Sometimes I think letting myself be ugly is one of my biggest accomplishments. Which makes it sound like I will most likely not go on to win the Nobel Prize at anything (hey, it remains to be seen — you never know).
As a kid, I thought that I was gorgeous, in part because girls were always gorgeous in books and movies, so I figured that was an important part of the whole girl thing. I figured that I was probably the real deal. Even little girls in books are often described as beautiful. Beautiful is a sizable part of being sweet. Of being saucy. Of being a girl sleuth. And of course, I could picture myself as a saucy girl sleuth, both with and without the floppy hat.
So it was a serious invasion, defeat and colonization of my entire identity when it occurred to me that I might not be beautiful after all, and later, when I realized with dawning horror that everything was definitely wrong with the way I looked.
The main problem with beauty for girls is that it gets conflated with just about every other good thing. Even the nerdy, smart girls we gratefully identify with in our favorite books get played by typically lovely actresses with shiny hair, slender limbs and delicate, even features. It’s OK to be endearingly dorky, as long as you can transform into an angelic vision of ideal femininity the moment you put on a prom dress!
We love it when beautiful, famous people tell us that they were an outcast, a dweeb, a rebel. Look at them now! It’s all so sweet and humanizing! They might even be people, too!
But what if you take the beauty out of the equation? What if the nerdy girl is truly awkward-looking? What if the spirited, impertinent girl is also very fat? What if the gentle, sensitive girl has a big, beaked nose and lots of acne? What if none of these characters have clear, pale skin, round eyes and hair that ranges between white blonde and shimmering chocolate brown?
Well, then that’s real life.