Today’s 40-something post is from a 40-something who has grown to realize that yes, looks do matter.
Left Out, An Essay by Sarah Gormley
My neighbor was the first person who told me I wasn’t pretty. She didn’t mean it to be cruel, it was just a matter of fact observation. Theresa was sixteen, and my friend Diane and I were enthralled by her. In our eleven-year-old minds, her age and experience made her an authority figure on just about everything. We were talking about what we might like to do when we grow up. I remember thinking that becoming a large animal vet was a good idea, but Theresa thought we should consider becoming actresses or, perhaps, models. But then, after thinking about it a little more she commented to me, “You might have the figure to be a model one day, but Diane is the one who is pretty enough.”
Until that moment, I honestly think I had not given a minute’s thought to my looks, my body or the fact that anybody else cared. At that moment, I began to realize I wasn’t one of the beautiful girls.
When I was in the eighth grade, an entire group of boys reinforced what Theresa suggested years before. We were in Mr. Ferris’s Advanced English class. The bell rang, we all took our seats, and then I saw it. Everyone saw it. On the chalkboard at the front the room, somebody had drawn a huge picture of me with words and arrows to indicate certain flaws. One arrow pointed to my pale legs, chalked in solid white. Another pointed to my flat chest, where they spelled out f-l-a-t like a t-shirt decal. One more arrow pointed to the gap between my front teeth. And next to the picture somebody had written UGLY in capital letters. I sat in the back row. I remember thinking the worst part of the whole situation was that because I was in the back row, everybody in class could simply turn around to see how very true the drawing was — to confirm that I was ugly. Somehow I thought that if only I had been sitting in the front row, they wouldn’t be able to see my face.
Years later, after college, my own mother reminded me that although I was attractive, I was not really pretty – not like my friends Missy and Nancy. We were at an engagement party and somehow a group of my friends and Mom and I ended up in a ridiculous conversation about our looks. Mom suggested that some of my friends were gorgeous girls, while others were attractive in our own, distinct ways. “MOM!” I yelled at her, “I mean, what in the hell? Are you kidding me? You adore me…you of all people should think I’m pretty! Or at least tell me I am — what’s wrong with you?” I laughed with her, knowing Mom didn’t mean it to be cruel, knowing I had never told her they story about my neighbor or the boys from eighth grade. As a woman who has never worn makeup or jewelry, she does not place any importance on appearance, but there it was again: the reality that I just wasn’t very pretty. “Honey,” she said, “Give me a break. Why on earth would you care whether people think you’re pretty? It has nothing to do with who you are as a person, and it really doesn’t matter.”
Maybe I should hate the neighbor and the mean eighth graders…but I don’t. I wasn’t even mad at my Mom. I don’t hate any of them, but I still don’t buy the notion that looks don’t matter. They do. They most definitely matter. And I like the way I look – not because I am beautiful, but because the way I look helps make me who I am. Because every once in a while, I look in a mirror and see my Mom’s blue eyes looking back, and because if you put me next to them, you know that my brother, sister and I belong together.
I recently attended a dinner party, where I was seated next to a man I’d met several times before. As the waiter poured red wine into his date’s glass, this man leaned over as if he had a secret to share with me. “I have to tell you something,” he whispered, “you have the most beautiful neck of any woman I’ve ever seen.” I thanked him, smiled…and sat there, quietly wishing there was a chalkboard nearby so that I might draw myself an arrow.
About the author
Sarah Gormley is a 40-something CMO, wanna-be writer who still has more questions than answers. She thinks mean people suck and believes in the power of wine and laughter. NYC.