I thought that my life would make sense by the time I was thirty-five, that all the millions of fragmented pieces (shards, really) would somehow glue themselves together, or, rather, I would glue them together. Turns out I didn’t even have the right glue; all I had was dollar store scotch tape, and nothing lasted, nothing held together. So here I am. I’m not David Bowie, I’m not even Paula Abdul. I work full time at an allegedly respectable job, and yet I live in a cockroach infested non-mansion that might as well be a converted old folks home. The median age in here is 72. My neighbors don’t leave unless they die.

Of all the things I haven’t learned in my life, how to be a woman stands out as number one. I am so unladylike that when I’m standing in line at a grocery store, the fiery depths of women’s magazine hell opens up its secret vortex and lunges at me, hoping to swallow me whole. They want to eat me alive, to claim me as one of their own, and when I see the inevitable white teeth and blonde hair screaming at me I think of drowning, of giving up once and for all. (After all, they say that drowning is the best way to go.) I will never be one of these, a specimen created by white patriarchal society to enslave a woman to her looks for now and all eternity, to make her forget about anything else, to keep her down, under their thumb. And yet here I am, enslaved.

I don’t think I was born ugly. Are some babies ugly? Arguably yes, and arguably no, though you will surely burn in hell for suggesting the former even if it might have an iota of truth in it. But before you get mad, think about it. Do you think Hitler was a cute little munchkin that his momma wanted to coddle and coo over, that strangers stopped to fuss over in the street? No. Google it. He likely had that same misshapen haircut and evil eye since the day he was born. But that’s beside the point…

I started to feel ugly because I was told I was ugly. I don’t remember the exact day or time, except that it was at school, that I was in third grade, that something shifted and people (children) turned mean suddenly, as if they had all swallowed a magic vile of inner ugliness that told them that I was something awful. I got made fun of every which way, I got called a name because I one day wore my hair in pigtails. And the name stuck. I got called it for four years straight. Everyday that I went to school I shriveled up inside of myself a little further. I wanted to die. The days were filled with dread, with remorse that I had ever been born. I didn’t tell my mom, I didn’t want her to know how ugly I really was.

As I got older, I learned that this was all true anyways: the teen magazines and televisions shows told me so. Too poor to find cheap half decent clothing that wasn’t fluorescent (this was the 80s, and nothing close to H&M existed), I stumbled around in ill-fitting attire that I chose myself, and that I had no idea was the exact opposite of fashion. (It’s worth noting, though, that almost everything I got made fun of for wearing has come into style from the early 2000s through now. Perhaps I was a tiny rookie fashionista before my time, daring to flaunt my individual style, though there was no internet to let me know that could be true.) I was on my own. I didn’t learn how to look normal or wear make up, my mom too busy working shitty part time jobs and dealing with hounding creditors to teach me anything like that.

So I was an ugly teenager. The world told me this, and it was reinforced by society and my peers. Boys did not approach me, though I yearned desperately for attention and affection- how else would I ever be normal? Eventually I discovered punk, and the inherent value in creating your own beauty. I cut my own hair, dyed it purple and later black. I forged a path out of my own ugliness. Mean girls finally stopped taunting me, but it didn’t matter, the damage was done. If anyone ever told me I was pretty, it could never be true. It could only be a misperception, a mistake; or perhaps I would be “unconventionally” attractive, what felt like a euphemism for borderline ugly. I was still awkward, and even the punk boys dared not seek me out. By now I was hiding inside myself. I knew I was ugly, and that the world didn’t want the likes of me. I didn’t belong, and never would.

Self loathing has stuck to me like white cat hair on a black coat: I can’t shake it, and no matter how much washing and cleaning I do it comes right back on. No matter what forays I make into this world, I still worry if I am pretty enough, if I am ugly. I have stopped myself from going outside on numerous occasions for fear of reproach by strangers, unwanted comments on my looks negative or otherwise. A homeless man once told me that it was too bad I didn’t have the face to match my legs, and that comment stuck to me like tar, echoing through my mind even now, over a decade later. On the flipside, I once allowed a stranger to take a photo of me in a subway station because he told me he thought I was beautiful. I was so desperate for positive attention, but later it felt like I’d been assaulted. After all, where was that 35mm photo hanging afterwards? What criticism was being stowed upon it?

I take it back: none of us are born ugly. But society tells us we are so. Though this may extend somewhat to men, the burden is overwhelmingly on women. We are taught that we shouldn’t leave the house without make up, that the vast majority of us are not worthy of being featured on television or in films. Is it any wonder that my life makes no sense? I am fragmented and split into shards, my whole insides like some cracked funhouse mirror, unable to reconcile my individual looks with the mission impossible beauty standards that society holds us to.

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