Being Thirteen

I was ugly when I was thirteen.  I don’t remember if I thought so then, but sorting through old photos proves it:  I went from innocent beauty to zit-ridden adolescent in three short years.  Add chubby to that as well, and the image is complete.    It was no wonder that Peter McClueless didn’t know I was alive.  What boy would be interested in returning  the unwavering admiration a fat, ugly girl beamed at him every single day of most of his eighth grade year?

No boy would, except for someone like Paul, who lived across the street.   He tried to shove a note at me once while we were in the library in Seventh Grade.  He was much shorter than I, weighed more, and had smooth, round cheeks.  A year later, I’m sure he was counting his lucky stars that I refused to take his note, relieved that he wasn’t burdened by the stigma of being associated with a fat, ugly girl.

A tow head, I’d had long hair and braids for years but always wanted it cut.  The lure of something different was more important than having shorter hair, and it was never a matter of wanting to look a particular way.  My hair was thick and more coarse than fine — not quite like a Brillo pad, but similar.  There were no glossy curls that bounced when I tossed my head, but uneven waves that turned under on one side, and not the other.  When I finally got my hair cut short, it was a relief to not have to worry about it any longer until my father bluntly mentioned that one of his friends had asked if I was his son.

What kind of father tells his daughter something like that?

A fat, ugly girl’s father.

None of my girlfriends seemed to notice I was fat and ugly.  We were all awkward victims of fashion then, wearing granny skirts and peasant tops, or ribbed sweaters and plaid A-line skirts in brown and ochre, avocado green or rust.  Our shoes were clunky and dark — not the best way to end legs without nylons, and often still unshaved. On some days, we donned giant sunglasses with lenses tinted yellow or purple, thinking ourselves cool.  We must have seen other girls at school who wore them, because none of us had a clue about what was in and what wasn’t.  We didn’t have subscriptions to teen magazines, or older sisters, and outside of what we saw on television, we had no idea about what we should wear.  Most of us made our own clothes.

The world seemed just as much in transition as we were, our bodies changing whether we wanted them to or not, and forcing us to think of ourselves differently than we had before.  The Vietnam war had three more years of lives to waste before it would end, drug education at school was relentless, and the new Hollywood was no longer a fanciful escape.

I had my head inserted firmly in the clouds, reading books and watching old movies on television, or wasting afternoons with Susy, who lived next door and made me laugh.  She was fat, too, but didn’t seem to notice, flaunting her legs in Levi cutoffs with seams split so high, the pocket linings showed.  Strutting around in our back yard, she talked about being Racquel Welch, clasping her nonexistent breasts, and pushing up as if to fill her tee shirt, laughing the entire time.  She loved vampires and roller derby and would have killed for a boyfriend.

I don’t think I ever told her I was madly in love with Peter McClueless because I knew she was the kind of person to blurt it out during lunch in front of everyone.  It wouldn’t have been to hurt my feelings or embarass me because she didn’t know I was fat and ugly either.  In fact, I’m not sure anyone knew, but if my secret got out about Peter, then I’d see  judgment on their faces, and have to acknowledge it myself.

No, I’d be 15 before I actually thought I was ugly, and 15 was miles and miles from 13 if you were me.





12 responses to “Being Thirteen”

  1. Beautifully written. This was fun to read, especially as someone who was in a very similar situation albeit on the other side of the gender equation. It seems like a different world now … I guess it actually is a different world :).

  2. Oh I hated my teenage years as well. I have ALWAYS thought I was ugly. I used to cry over my hair and even refused to go to school some days because I thought I was so hideous.

    There are some days (even now) when I still feel like that 13 year old girl.

  3. I was pretty ugly at 13 too. Ugh, I hated being a teenager.

  4. i never remember feeling fat or ugly or clueless…. but i never felt like i fit in either… so maybe stuff like that didn’t matter as much as we thought it did…….

  5. Thanks Francis. I can imagine. It would have been nice to have some boys who were friends, but back then, I’m not sure how much that happened. You’re right that it’s a different world now, and thankfully. Kids seem to have much more confidence and completely different issues than I did. Thanks for reading…

    Meleah — Congrats to you for scoring the whole not going to school over your hair. I wouldn’t have thought of it, instead grousing to myself about inadequacy. Whatever, right?

    paisley, the odd thing is, I did feel like I fit in just fine with my own group. The rest of them were fun for observation, and I was lucky that they never made me a point of ridicule. Horrors! But you’re right, it didn’t matter in the long run.

  6. This was great. I knew I was ugly at 13. It was a year that my family moved so I had not one, but TWO god-awful school pictures taken. I destroyed all of them and my mother was furious. I told her I didn’t want to remember what I looked like then. Funny, but I can “see” both of those photos as if they were pasted in an album……

  7. Earlene

    You were never ugly. A little chubby. We wore the same clothes sometimes. Your dad called you “fatty jo” but he was an asshole. I contributed to your discomfort the night before you went to high school by saying “oh no look at your face” when we were all sitting at the kitchen table. Stupid mom. But I did send you and your bro to the doctor for face meds. I tried, but then my dad always told me to “think before you speak” I still have the same problem. Sorry I caused you pain. sob……

  8. Thirteen was a rough age for me too. Really rough. Not only was I going through a SEVERE ugly duckling stage, my friends all turned on me and I was ALONE during that stage. Then I began to wonder if it was all because of my looks.

    Ya, rough.

    I totally get what you’re saying!

    Oh, thanks for opening THAT can of worms… *sigh*

    (just kidding! not your fault. totally.)


  9. That was lovely Kelly. I think of an Elliot Smith song “thirteen” when I think of the age thirteen, as I can’t remember much of it. I was still getting used to this country after living elsewhere for most of my life.

  10. Lydia, I still have my awful school photos, and if I can find them, I’ll scan them and they’ll be here. I’d have never had the nerve to rip mine up, so I’m wondering if maybe I just didn’t do that whole trade them with friends thing we always did. Yes, my photos are in my memory, too, just like it was yesterday.

    Hey Mom — yes, he was an asshole. A big one. I still know to this day that he was determined to crush whatever spirit I had and I think it bothered him that I didn’t act like flatliner. As far as pain goes, this wasn’t meant to be maudlin. That’s the point. I wasn’t hiding away from anyone or anything. I thought I was just fine. It’s hind sight that always nails us for not having hang-ups I guess.

    Sam, the friend thing can be so cut throat at that point in life. What’s horrible is teaching that age group and watching friends treat each other so horribly. Yeah, the memories can be brutal.

    Thanks, cooper. I appreciate the feedback very much. I remember the whole “getting used to this country” thing, but when I was 11. The country had definitely changed and I’d had a wonderful 4 years away from the crap other kids my age seemed to be dealing with. Sad, now that I think of it.

  11. I love reading your writing over here! I can’t believe that you were ever not beautiful, but kids can be so unkind to one another. I loved my teenage years and would relive them in a heart beat…lucky me huh?

  12. That was written very well. Who wasn’t ugly at 13? I know I was, and seems like I began that transition at around age 12 to be exact.

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