Growing Up Plain


I have a friend (guy) who helped open my eyes to how people are asssigned value in this culture.   He is average, however he decided one day in college he’d hang out more with beautiful people.  He told me about a girl-friend he had in college whom he broke up with.  I asked him why and his response was, “I thought I could do better.”

Better.   As in…better looking, I presume?   And better-looking = better, apparently?

I read a statistic once that ugly or not-so-cute babies are held less and fussed over less than cute ones are.  I believe this.  I believe from birth to death, people born with the disadvantage of not having the best genes, suffer a lot more hurts than the people who are deemed “better.”

I used to think it was because I was tall.   I watched one man I had a crush on, go out of his way to comfort a cute, petite woman after her boyfriend dumped her.  Rather than hang out with the rest of our group after a show, he went to sit with her in a car for, oh I don’t know, over a half hour.  Being concerned.  Holding her hand, perhaps, or just giving her the comfort of his presence.  She wasn’t interested in him, but he was attracted to her, and oh boy, could he be caring.

This same guy, once he learned I had developed feelings for him, started living with me 24/7 even though he had his own apartment down the street.  This was right after his cat died and at first I thought he just needed comforting, which I was very ready to give.  He slept on my couch and stayed in my home to cat-sit my cats when I was away.  Because he started doing this right after he learned I had feelings for him, I thought it meant he reciprocated in some small way.  Perhaps he was wanting to get to know me.  Perhaps he cared.  Definitely I assumed from this behavior I had made a friend in this man.

After about 8 months of this I came home one day from work in tears.  I had just learned at work that my mom had a stage 4 cancer near her colon and would need to have surgery and chemo.  I sat on the couch with tears running down my face.  He was lying on the floor facing the television.  I told him in a choked voice what I had learned from a phone call at work about my mom.  He shot over his shoulder, without looking away from the TV, “oh, that’s too bad.” 

Silence.  I continued to sit there.  I was feeling ripped apart because this was a mom I had hoped my whole life to bond with, had striven my whole life to be someone she could love, who had been my only parent growing up, and i was afraid she was dying.   Did this man get up to come sit by my side, hold my hand, say something to comfort me or give me a hug?  No.  He watched TV.  I finally said something about needing a hug–he mistranslated that as something else and made it clear there would never be anything physical between us.  Yes, like that had been on my mind right then.

I’m a big girl– 5’10”.  I’m also average looking.  I’m one of those people who if I really try, I can clean up nice, but I am not a beauty and I highly doubt I could ever be cute.   Once again, as I had discovered my whole life, it wasn’t bad for me to feel sad and cry.  It didn’t create feelings of concern or sympathy or compassion in this man I had opened my home to and allowed to stay with me who I had thought was my friend.   It was like I wasn’t even in the room.

This is the kind of thing I have lived with my whole life.  I had a crisis happen to me about two years ago and I thought my world was coming to an end.  I had this guy who told me he preferred to hang out with beautiful people in college, call me long distance and try to talk me out of killing myself–it was probably the worst day of my life.  He reassured me I hadn’t lost his friendship just because this bad very unfair thing had happened I had not asked for, and we’d still be in touch.  Long story short…the things he said didn’t happen.  He was too busy with his job and his life and his battles.  It was hard for me to have to accept the fact all my worst fears had been true.  I would not see this friend as much as before–I would not get to know him and his wife so much as before.

But then after a year of not seeing this friend because of this unfair thing that happened to me, there he is suddenly wanting to help out another friend of his–a beautiful woman who needed his help.  Suddenly he had the time, could walk side by side with her and be there for her.

It made me remember what he said about preferring beautiful women and it stirred up a lot of old hurt for me–made me fear I was an embarrassment to him; someone he didn’t want to be seen with.

All the times I grew up having to learn that for average or plain people it isn’t true–you can’t be anything you want if you put your mind to it.  You can’t be a cheerleader if you’re plain.  You can’t be in a beauty contest.  Your ability to become a lead singer of a rock band is less.  Your chance to act on stage and certainly your chances to be a leading lady, are less.  Do you have any hope of being a sports reporter if you’re a woman and plain, or overweight?  Doubtful.  Will there ever be a woman president, maybe.  But a plain woman president…doubtful.  Just look at all the attention that was given Palin for her looks.

Bottom line, our society prefers beautiful people.   Go to DisneyLand and ask one of their artists to draw your portrait in pastel colors–you will find your image deliberately doctored to make you look rather like you could fit in well with the Mickey Mouse Club.  My nose was suddenly little and perky.  Every flaw like my strong chin was softened.  I looked beautiful in that portrait.  It didn’t look like me.  So I asked the artist and she told me that’s how they are told to draw the pictures.  Because apparently the world according to Disney needs to be perfect and beautiful.  Go and watch the movie “War Horse” (terrible film in my opinion) and you’ll see more of this same attitude.  Every person in this film is physically beautiful.  Even the poor farmer doesn’t have dirt on his clothes.  

I remember once in grade school.  I was the poor kid in my class.  I had only one parent so I wore hand-me-downs and ugly coke bottle glasses.   I had crooked teeth, and a brother who was a bully and everyone knew it.   So I was not among the beautiful people.  I was one of several outcasts in my school.

One day we were in PE playing baseball on a hard field of red gravel.  I was running the bases and a pretty blonde girl named Melinda tripped me.  On my way to a crushing fall I side-swiped her with my shoulder and she went down as well.  I stood up crying, both knees bloody with red rock imbedded under the skin, and the same with the palms of my hands.  She stood up covered with red dust but no cuts, no bruises, no wounds.  The class gathered around her.  Even the PE teacher went to her.  She was escorted to the bathroom to clean up.  I walked behind them crying with blood running into my socks.  Not a single person so much as noticed me.  

That was the day I realized–it wasn’t just the cruelty of kids; even adults have more sympathy toward the fallen, possibly hurt beautiful little girl than the definitely hurt big and plain one. 

I also noticed growing up…when cute pretty girls cried….it generated hugs and sympathy and fussing over.  When big plain people cry, it’s just ugly.  It’s…annoying.  Or maybe funny.  Humorous.   Big girls shouldn’t cry.  Big girls should be stronger than that.  Big girls don’t need comforting.  They don’t need protecting.  And certainly big plain girls don’t.

This is what I learned very early in life.  “I learned the truth at 17.  That love was meant for beauty queens.  And High School girls with clear skinned smiles, who married young and then retired.”   That’s how the song goes.  Only for me I learned the truth at about age 8, and I have been living in it ever since.

At a bar one day I had a bartender accidentally spill a pint of beer into my lap.  I took it like a good sport.  Stood up and even tried to help them wipe the counter off (they did that before they thought to offer me a towel), and laughed at the blunder.  But then after about 20 minutes it became clear to me no one was going to apologize for the fact i had beer all over my velvet blouse and pants.  I said something to the head bartender.  He said “oh well, accidents happen.”

I had been at that bar waiting for a friend and now I smelled like a brewery.  I had to drive home and change and come back–about 20 miles round trip at a time gas was through the roof expensive.  Not a soul at that restaurant seemed to think this was a bad thing.  No one apologized.  Not even the manager when I went to him.  No one offered to cover my dry cleaning bill.  No one thought about the fact it cost of gas for me having to go home and change.

I have seen beautiful women or even just pretty women have something dumped on them.  Any one of the women around me at this bar in fact–had the same thing happened to them, people would have been falling all over themselves to apologize, to offer her a towel, to perhaps offer her a drink or meal on the house to make amends.  Something.   But that’s not how it happened for me.  Funny thing.

I used to think it had to do with the fact i’m tall, and big women don’t elicit the same kind of response as little cute women do.  But I have a friend who is very little–but plain.  One day she was carrying a big case of water bottles up a flight of stairs and a male friend of mine walked past her–said hello as he did, and kept going.   I watched this and thought, now if this same little person had been younger and cute or pretty, how different it would be.  This man would have stopped–in fact he would have hurried toward her to help her, take the heavy load from her arms and carried it for her.  But I think it was because she wasn’t young, and wasn’t pretty, that she did not inspire this kind of response.

I think it’s hurtful to be the one dumped because someone feels they can do better.  I think it’s hurtful to be ignored when one is hurting because one is not cute or pretty or little or whatever it is that deserves a caring response.   I never understand it when little women tell me they wish they were tall.  I look at them and think how lucky they are.  The only thing worse than being big is being plain and big–plain and big I think might be worse than being plain and little.  Especially if you’re a woman.

It’s really too bad people can’t see beyond physical appearance and see a person’s heart, see the beauty that isn’t skin deep, and the worth all of us have just as living breathing, unique human beings.  Beauty is in all of us.  Sometimes you have to look into someone’s eyes.   I met a woman at a restaurant where I work who had a rather profound disfigurement.  So profound I had to take a breath before I looked at her, so I could control the look on my face.  I found out something interesting about this woman.  After the initial contact, I found out she was truly a kind and sweet, nice person.  I found I saw beauty when I looked in her eyes.  And suddenly it wasn’t so hard to look at her.  Suddenly I didn’t see her disfigurement so much.  Instead I saw a person, and someone I could like.

What is the difference between being “better,” and being someone of quality?   Does someone who judges people’s value according to their age, size, looks, or how popular they are, have quality?   Is that a kind of person I would want to be.  No.

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