Monday, September 24, 2012

The day I realized Beautiful

*the following is my personal essay for Honors writing. It's main point is not to be funny, but I think it was an important element from my life. Enjoy mis amores! 

The Day I Realized Beautiful
  Would you like to play a game? It’s called High school. The rules are always changing, the dice are always loaded, and grades, friends, teachers, popularity, --pretty much every component of high school-- can be leveraged by playing your cards right.
Some strategize in favor of a personable attitude. Others make use of knowing exactly when the teacher is and is not going to check for homework. The elite few wear the SBO sweater “get out of jail free” card to leave class early.  There are all kinds of hands you can play but half way through high school, I realized that in the game of life, “pretty” is an ace in the deck.
You should probably know that I was raised blind. Not literally (although that would have made a fantastic narrative) but figuratively in that I didn’t pay much attention to beauty. My elementary school class had basically the same 26 kids from kindergarten to sixth grade, so by the time we were aware of, or placed any kind of importance on physical beauty, we knew each other well enough to get judged on it.
Consequently, junior high was a whirlwind of girls stowing lip-gloss into their trainer bras, guys sporting high end basketball shoes, and enough cheap cologne in the hallway to intoxicate a small whale. It was a materialistic side of life that I had been relatively underexposed to. Luckily however, I found a group of girlfriends who didn’t put too much stock into the “pretty” complex, so neither did I.   
Freshman. Sophomore. It was junior year in high school. My small circle of girlfriends had eventually expanded to the typical guys-and-girls group, and as luck would have it, we got some of the more popular boys. I was sitting next to three of them (due to the lucky guy-heavy class list that every girl prays for) the day I realized pretty.
 My A.P. English teacher had put in a documentary for us to watch and analyze the ethos, pathos, and logos presented in the film. I sat at my three-guys-one-girl table taking notes, when my ears heard something that my eyes would never forget.
Trevor: Dude, why are they interviewing your girlfriend?
A chorus of male voices chanted the testosterone-specific “ohhhhhhhh” in recognition of a good diss.
Mark: well where’s yours? That fat chick in the yellow dress. I think you’re going to have to buy a bigger car, cause I don’t think she’ll fit in your Subaru.
Trevor: Yeah right, like I’d ever date her. I’d have to be blind. And retarded. And don’t pretend like you didn’t think the chick in the yellow dress wasn’t hot. We all know you had a thing with Samantha Jameson in 6th grade.
Mark: oh man. She was obsessed with me. She like stalked me.
James: Yeah. Remember when she drew a picture of you guys kissing in her planner and someone found it?
Mark: that was so creepy. And how she wears those cat ears?
Trevor: I think she’s trying to seduce you, man. She uses about a pound of make-up.
James: I hate it when girls do that. It’s so ugly!
Trevor: Except Kimmy. She (he gave a meaningful look) can definitely pull it off.
There were affirmative grunts and knowing head nods.
Mark: Don’t tell me you’re cheating on that girl on the movie. I think she wanted to take you out for a hamburger later.
Trevor: more like a triple cheeseburger. Eating it would probably be her exercise for the day.
They all laughed so I guess, to them, it was a joke. Just another way to sit through 89 minutes of repetitive interviews and poor back lighting, but to me it was the first time that beauty had really struck me as an indispensable characteristic of acceptance. I suddenly felt self-conscious, trying to work the puzzle pieces of the information they had just given me into a picture of self-awareness.  I began to wonder if I was too ugly or too fat or too anything else to be liked, or even accepted by the guy-friends who were so critical of the girls in their two dimensional world.
From then on out, I listened closely for some other criteria on which they judged girls, but ultimately, all they would talk about was “pretty.”   
I tuned in more closely to my girlfriends as well, and began to notice that 99% of the compliments they gave were related to some aspect of “pretty,” and how most of the insecurities they expressed, even jokingly, were about being ugly or undesirable.  
Between the physical critiques of girls from my guy friends, and the incessant appearance-chatter form my girlfriends; I slowly began to decipher, and eventually speak the language of “pretty”
The Language of pretty is similar to English, except that instead of the most common word being “The” or “A” the most common word in the language of pretty is “than.” Dick is better looking THAN Jane. Jane is uglier THAN Dick. See Dick smile. See Jane try to impress Dick with her charming personality, but it doesn’t work because Dick is too consumed with beauty and doesn’t notice anyone without a small nose and naturally high cheekbones.
The other main difference between English and “pretty” is the use of suffixes. The most common suffixes in English are probably “ed” or “ing.” (RunnING, smilING, laughING, listenED, pardonED, attendED.) The most common suffixes in Pretty are “er” and “est” (loveliER, cutER, bettER, prettiEST, hottEST, happiEST,)
My speech became so polluted with speaking “pretty” around my friends, that it’s the language I began to think in. My mind was saturated in THANs, ERs and ESTs. Compliments became the currency for my self-esteem, and I eventually adopted the standard I so hated.
Obviously I realize now that this was an unacceptably shallow, flawed, and harmful way to establish self-awareness, but when everything is about the way you SEE things, you paradoxically become more and more short-SIGHTED.
In retrospect, I think I compare my former thought process to this analogy. If you base your happiness on how many elephants you own, then you’ll never be happy because elephants aren’t legal pets in America. It’s the same concept with beauty. It’s just ridiculous to base your happiness on something you will never achieve. And that doesn’t really matter much or make sense anyway.
Being immersed in the culture of pretty was exhausting. There is always someone prettier THAN you. You are never the cutEST female on the premises. And in the culture, if either of these things are true, you are deemed by default lessER than someone else, and consequently more unhappy. 
A side effect of living in the pretty.
When your mind has marinated in “pretty” sewage for so long, it’s hard to be anything but unhappy and discontent.
But then came the day I realized Beautiful. A catalytic moment that I can’t even put my finger on. It wasn’t a specific event, or cutesy Young Women’s quote on matchy-matchy paper, it was just the day that I began to see how beautiful things could be when they weren’t pretty.
A garbage pile in a museum titled “Future,” a necessary but painful truth, a fast food worker who took pride in his job, a laugh that sounded like someone was sawing a log. These were all encompassed in the realm of Beautiful, and yet contradicted the standards of “pretty.”  
As my standard for the world shifts from pretty to beautiful, my standard for people is too. It adds so many components to someone’s worth other than how attractive they are. Intelligence, kindness, compassion, hilarity, honesty, creativity, determination, endurance, generosity, humility…a whole new side of life is introduced.
Sometimes I get frustrated with myself for ever having entered the “pretty” culture. It was such a waste of life, and I was so unhappy that I often wish that I could do my junior and senior years all over again. But then I remember how much joy, personal growth, and value I get from deciding to step out of the pretty. My pathway through pretty prompted me to consciously choose which characteristics are important to me, and to actively seek to find the good qualities in others that might not be apparent at first glance. 
Maybe this is why there’s a pretty culture in the first place. Because no one wants the arduous task of finding out who people really are. They simply collect the visible data most readily available to them and base their opinions on that.
Honestly, I’m still finding out what true beauty is. I know a lot about what it’s not. It’s not big baby-blue eyes, or a flat stomach, or naturally dark eyelashes. But as to what it IS, I’m still not sure.  What I do know is that it manifests itself differently in each person. It’s just harder to see than what you see.


  1. Hope this is AWESOME. Seriously I love it!

  2. Well said. Beautiful people are the best and yo are one! Thank you