When I was in high school, we had these special classes every so often that were organized by our last names. I can’t remember what they were called or even what the point of them was really. I do remember something very vividly about the very first class though. The teacher was taking roll. As she got towards the end of her list, she called out a girl’s name who had the same last name as I did. I thought “oh cool, someone else with the same last name.” Then the teacher called my name. After I said “here”, the other girl with the same last name turned around, looked at me, and said “eww”. Obviously this moment is burned into my memory since I can still recall it clearly today. In high school and actually, even more so in college, I felt like the ugliest girl in the school. I had braces, my hair was frizzy, I had no boobs…all that wasn’t helping…but I was also disabled; keenly aware of how different I was from my classmates. So when this girl turned around and said what she did when she saw me, it was only validation of what I already thought about myself. The worst part was, this girl would follow me around the entire 4 years of high school. Not in the literal sense, we were never friends obviously, but every time I got my schedule, it was hers and I had to give it back. Turns out her parents have the same exact names as mine do too so to this day, my parents are constantly having to explain to places in my hometown which couple they are.
It’s been a long time since this happened. I forgave the girl a long time ago. I’m sure she’s a perfectly lovely person now. We were all struggling back then. I realized when I got older and my confidence started to pop up, that not only was I not ugly, but I was not more ugly than her either. We were both pretty. But at the time, having to be constantly reminded about her when people would get our names mixed up (it’s worth noting she was also popular and I of course, was not), I could never really escape the “eww”, however much I wanted to. And this was long before Jimmy Fallon’s notorious skit:
These days, I generally appreciate and accept how I look physically. But sometimes, that girl sitting in that class, feeling like the ugliest person on the planet, creeps back up. I look in the mirror and all I can see are my flaws. I feel like I’m looking pretty good…maybe even for weeks at a time, and then I see a girl who has the perfect body, perfect hair, perfect skin and most definitely no limp and I’m reminded that I’m pretty far down on the ladder in comparison. It’s not a competition and there will always be people who are better looking than you, but for girls, it’s so hard for us to have to pick ourselves up and keep going every day. Society is constantly telling us that the most important thing about us is our looks, whether we have a disability or not. That’s where the worth lies: in how pretty or unpretty you are. Whether guys are interested in you or not. How many guys are interested in you. So we’re born already feeling inadequate.
I was thinking about it today and I wondered if I hadn’t been born with MD, would I struggle so much with my self-esteem? And the answer, sadly, was a resounding yes. Even if I didn’t have MD to contend with, even if I didn’t have a limp, I still had my skin issues, my eyesight issues, my teeth issues. All of those were totally unrelated to my MD. And all of those society deems to be things that make a girl unattractive or not worthy. So even if I hadn’t been born with a disability, I might have been sitting in the back of that class still feeling like the ugliest girl in the world. And when my classmate said “eww” when she looked at me, I would have felt just as strongly that she was right in saying it.
There are a lot of things I wish I could fix about the world. But the way it perceives women is one of the biggest. It’s completely unfair the pressure we have to deal with. The unequal treatment. The sexualization and objectification. How hard we have to fight just to feel beautiful. I wish I could prevent every young girl from ever sitting in a high school classroom and feeling like she’s the ugliest person at her school. It’s a real shame that I think this is something almost every girl goes through at some point in her life. Instead of being told we should strive to be smart, to change the world, to be kind, we’re told the one thing we should really want is to be pretty. That that’s the only thing worth anything. That that’s the only way someone will want to be with us. I don’t want anymore girls being brought into the world, feeling like they’re “eww”.