It Hurt Me To Be Beautiful

Delta Winds cover 2009Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student Essays
A Publication of San Joaquin Delta College


It Hurt Me To Be Beautiful

Lee Britton

Growing up in the late eighties, I recall being part of a group of young teens who liked to be cruel to others based on their appearance. If you didn't have the Guess® jeans or the Marithe Francois Girbaud® clothes, then you weren't worthy of my time. In retrospect, I don't recall how I became so cruel. I know it wasn't something I learned at home and I don't think it was gradual. It was more of an overnight transformation as a result of peer pressure and envy. All I can remember is that in the sixth and seventh grade at Herbert Hoover Middle School in San Francisco I was your average "dork." The majority of my friends were either nerds or the artsy type, and I was a member of the school orchestra. I was a mediocre musician and an average student. I wore Laura Ashley type dresses with the huge flower prints and floor-length skirts topped off with a lovely pair of red-rimmed eyeglasses. I epitomized dorkdom. I was happy with my friends, my music, and my long skirts. However, I guess deep down I wanted more, so I allowed peer pressure to dictate what my happiness should be.

I allowed peer pressure to dictate the way I dressed, the way I fixed my hair and the way I applied my make-up. The peer pressure also dictated whom I ate lunch with and what school activities to be a part of. I had to keep up appearances, I had to look good, surround myself with people who looked good and do things that were considered acceptable by my new eighth-grade crowd. At the time I thought that in order to be happy I had to not only keep up my physical appearance but keep up appearances period; boy was I wrong. I was far from being happy.

I guess I succumbed to peer pressure so I could experience popularity and be one of the beautiful people. Don't get me wrong. I liked my friends and who I was as a person. However, a big part of me was envious. I wanted people to pay attention to me, to admire what I was wearing and to admire my hair and not look at me as if I were a freak. I had an "anti-freak" cure. I would take a quick trip to San Francisco's Union Square with the girls and drop-in around the corner to Woolworth's to pick up a can of Aqua-Net Hairspray along with a stick of Wet-n-Wild eyeliner. My shopping trips became frequent. I started cutting class orchestra in particular. I mean the kids I knew in orchestra were my old geeky unfashionable friends. Why bother? I stopped going to the Youth Philharmonic group that I participated in outside of school. I stopped going to my piano lessons. Who was going to see how hot I looked at my piano lessons? My eighty-something-year-old teacher? I think not! I had places to go to be seen and people to be seen with. I looked way too good to be wasted on dorks.

With my bangs sprayed to perfection to stand at least four inches high atop my head, my eyes carefully outlined and my carefully coordinated outfit, I was ready to hang out. Lunch was as coordinated as the outfit. Back then there were only two options. Lunch was either purchased in the Beanery, a sort of school sponsored convenience store or in the cafeteria hot lunch line. We all met up at the Beanery Line to buy our bagels with cream cheese and bags of Doritos. The last thing I wanted to do was be seen in what was considered the free lunch line, also known as the "cafeteria hot school lunch for the geeks and the poor." I had to have money to spend or be ready with a good excuse such as "I'm on a diet." The way I looked at it, it helped me either way. I was cool if I had money to spend, and if I didn't have money to spend I was helping my figure by not eating.

As I drifted away from orchestra, I found my way onto the dance planning committee and the softball team. My new friends thought that it was hilarious seeing my old friends lug their huge instruments around as if the instruments were attached to their bodies. They made fun of them and the effort and care they showed in protecting their instruments. When they tired of making fun of them for their instruments, my new friends would tease my old friends about their clothes, shoes and hair. Most of the time I would ignore the cruel comments, and sometimes (if I didn't personally know the kids being made fun of) I would join in. This behavior carried on when it came to the school dances as well. If a kid's clothes didn't look new or stylish, we would pick on the kid. We hurled insults and sometimes food. I admit that most of the time I felt bad for the kids being picked on. It didn't matter how I felt though. What mattered is that I wasn't the one being picked on, so I didn't dare speak against it or stop it. Are you kidding? It would've been social suicide. I worked too hard on not only my physical appearance but my social appearance as well.

Focus on my physical appearance was just a steppingstone to a world of trouble for me. The attention and the importance I placed on my outside, however fun it was in the beginning, led me to a world of hurt. I found that the more I focused on my appearance the more intense I became about it with the company I kept. I constantly needed more. I outgrew people my age and gravitated to older people with more style, more money, and unfortunately, with more bad habits. I found that I was not skinny enough and my new friends had a way to help me with that. I was introduced to powder cocaine and a straw. My weight problem was now under control; I just didn't have the urge to eat anymore. I also developed a thirst for alcohol with my newfound weight control regimen. It seemed that with everything I tried, I would need to try something else in order to control or adjust my physical appearance. I spiraled out of control.

In retrospect I can say that I placed undue emphasis on physical appearance. My juvenile frame of mind opened the door to a lifestyle that gave me everything except happiness. Focus on physical appearance and not substance is a waste of brain cells and an insult to one's intelligence. I find happiness in what I've accomplished as a person and as a parent. I have also found peace in that I strive to be remembered more for the person I am than for what my physical measurements are or may have been.