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.