I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard these words.
Usually while growing up.
But still sometimes as an adult.
I grew up being told I wasn’t the pretty one. The one who’d have to settle for whomever wanted me. I would never get a top-shelf boyfriend, as it were. Not anyone worth anything. I would have to take what I got.
Sometimes the word pretty would be substituted for Cute, lowering my potential even more.
My family would talk about how smart I was to other people but at home, I was rising above my worth, acting like I was better than they were because of one thing or another. My love of books was dangerous and I can’t count the number of times I was hit because I was reading.
But I’d be worth something if only I’d tried.
I grew wary of compliments. Wary of people trying to be nice to me. Wary of affection. It was a tactic used to draw me in close. Being drawn in close meant bruises and sometimes broken bones. I have chips of bone running along the inside of my jawbone, beneath my teeth and under my skin. I didn’t know you weren’t supposed to have those. I can’t remember not having uneven chips and divots there.
My right ring finger is deformed at the first joint. I did that to myself. Writing. Writing continuously. Because you see, in hearing I would never be pretty, would have to settle, never be worth anything… I buried myself into words.
Both reading them and writing them.
Books brought me into worlds I never knew existed. I created words out of the oddities forming in my brain. I wrote about faces that looked like mine but I rarely read words that echoed my face, my experiences, my cultures.
I learned not to be worried about being pretty. It was easier to shed that expectation because I was never going to be more than cute, even if I tried my hardest. But what I could do was sculpt my own worlds out of paper and ink… which could be pretty if I tried.
I love writing pretty but that’s not my world. I grew up in violence, grit and a manufactured paradise with a bit of rot behind the stage dressing and some laughter here and there. I’ve loved and lost. And I’ve been loved by family members who were taken from me too soon. I never heard damning words from my grandfathers, not the kind of hatred-hardened rocks used to break my bones. I was told it was okay to be smart or even not be good at something. So long as I tried.
So I guess that’s really the best bit of advice I use to guide me.
Try to be a person you can be with. Try to form your own worlds or reach into someone else’s. Wear what makes you feel pretty or handsome. Be what you admire. Remember people are sometimes assholes but for the most part, they want to help you.
And just try.