I grew up feeling ugly, did you?

Toddler Brandi
Meredith-Age 3

I went through some old photos recently in preparation for my post about my daddy’s guitar. As I was looking at my baby pictures, I thought I was pretty cute. I see how much my daughter resembles me and I think she is beautiful.  When I was about 3, the age Meredith is in the photo, I had to start wearing glasses. Glasses for kids back in the early 80s were not near as attractive as they are now. They pretty much looked like old lady glasses. Like Sophia on “The Golden Girls.”

Brandi-Age 4
Brandi-Age 4

I hated my glasses until I got the pair that had little strawberry shaped enamel decorations on the sides, so my mom told me they were Strawberry Shortcake glasses. For a brief time, I loved them.  I think it was after then, when I started school and the first boy called me ugly that I started to believe I was ugly and my glasses were too. I still remember his name. He was mean and hateful. Now I can see, based on his Facebook profile picture, that the past thirty years have not been kind to him because he looks so much older than 35. But that is another story.

Me in first grade
Me in first grade

So was it the glasses or a self-esteem problem that made me feel ugly? Self-esteem. I never liked any of my school photos. It didn’t help matters that the photos were about as flattering as mug shots for everyone. Plus everyone except for the elite few goes through that awkward period from about 8-14 or so. Almost everyone has something during that time that isn’t flattering. Too skinny. Too chunky. Too tall. Too short. Teeth too big for your mouth. Too flat-chested if you’re female, not flat-chested enough if you’re male. Out of control hair. Acne. You get the idea. Don’t we all feel that way sometimes? I bet even some of the most physically beautiful people have flaws and self doubt.

Brandi-Age 11
Brandi-Age 11

My school photos were especially bad in my own mind. Ugly glasses, and then I was unfortunate enough to have permanent teeth coming in extremely crooked. Another little boy pulled down a bus window about this time to yell out the window to me “You ugly!” His grammar wasn’t the best. I felt like the ugliest kid alive, even though my mother told me all the time she thought I was beautiful and that we would get my teeth fixed as soon as all of the permanent ones came in. That happened the summer before 7th grade. So then I had the award winning combination of glasses, braces, extreme shyness and a boyish body.

Brandi-Age 15
Brandi-Age 15

That’s when I started writing and internalizing everything. I had my own sense of style. Nothing fancy at all. Baby doll dresses, embroidered patches, denim overalls, and some of the other strange trends of the early 90s such as plastic shoes and lots of plaid. Then grunge happened. Seriously, that’s me at about 15 wearing two men’s large shirts when a small would have still swallowed me. I still wear that Kurt Cobain shirt to sleep in now. I loved flannel for a while. The larger the better. I stole some from my stepdad’s closet at times.

 

 

Brandi-Age 16
Brandi-Age 16

 

There were brief occasions when I felt pretty, but they were few and far between.  It all goes back to self-esteem. Mine didn’t really pick up until my junior year in high school. Senior year was pretty good. By that time, my self-esteem was high enough that when a lousy guidance counselor told me I should consider community college because I might not do very well away from the comfort zone of home, I was determined to prove her wrong. She is no longer employed in K-12 last I heard.

Brandi-Age 17
Brandi-Age 17
My mom
My mom-Isn’t she beautiful?
Brandi-Senior prom
Brandi-Senior prom

 

 

 

 

 

 

Looking at my senior portraits, I still felt I was nowhere near my mother’s caliber of physical beauty. She is one of the fortunate few who is beautiful on the inside and out.  At least I finally felt pretty sometimes when I took what I felt was a good photo. I thought my senior portraits were fairly good. And I liked my prom photos for the most part. I went to prom with a sweet friend and had a good time. It’s funny, I was voted prom queen. I have no idea how that happened, but I was honored and surprised.

Brandi in college
Brandi in college

College was a whole new level of feeling ugly. I dyed my hair several times. It was dark brown, auburn and even pink at one time. I just wanted to look like someone else. Getting one’s heart trampled on can do that to a person. The person who broke my heart told me I was beautiful. I didn’t feel beautiful at all when I look back at our relationship. I felt downright Unpretty. Drawing back on all that poor self-esteem from my earlier years. It took a long time to get over that.

Brandi-Age 23
Brandi-Age 23

So, what’s the point? Why do we all do this to ourselves? Sometimes we let other people determine our worth. Mean people who call us ugly or who make us feel that way. We listen to them when they are wrong. Beauty is so much more than a pretty face. I listened when my boyfriend at 23 (now my husband) told me I was beautiful inside and out. He actually made me feel that way and still does every single day.

 

Brandi-Now-Age 35
Brandi-Now-Age 35

Why isn’t internal beauty valued more than external? I have no idea, but I hope our culture can change. I truly hope my children grow up never feeling ugly and never thinking that all they have to offer is what they look like. You know what’s ironic? As I have gotten older, I have chosen not to get contacts because my glasses have become a part of me and I like the way I look with them. In most of my photos now, I look tired. I’m still not the most photogenic person ever, but seriously, who is?

Drew-Age 7
Drew-Age 7

My son. He’s a handsome little guy. And he’s hit that awkward stage where his precious crooked teeth are too big for his little mouth. He couldn’t be more perfect to me. (Except for his occasional bad attitude and back-talking. A different story for another day.) And someone at school has already called him ugly. It broke my heart. I told Drew not to listen to those people and that people used to call me ugly too. He didn’t believe me. You know why? He said, “But, Mom, you’re not ugly, you’re pretty.”

Beauty is so much more than physical. The ugliest people I have ever met were not ugly because of their physical attributes but because of their actions and mean nature. The most beautiful people were often not people who would stop traffic with their physical characteristics, but with their sparkling personalities shining through.

-Brandi Easterling Collins

2 thoughts on “I grew up feeling ugly, did you?”

  1. You are all of us, Brandi! I always felt like I was a diamond in the ruff– like only I noticed my pretty features, and everyone else just saw a flat-chested, big-haired twig with hairy arms and legs and bushy eyebrows. As I got into high school, I floated on the outskirts of the cool crowd– not actually in the middle of it, but if there was a hierarchy, I at least didn’t think I was at the bottom. I did cheer in high school, but I always felt like the awkward one that the other cheerleaders didn’t care to hang out with. Other kids who were “lower on the hierarchy” seemed to envy my status, but they didn’t know I struggled with my identity and appearance, too.

    When you wrote about being elected prom queen, it reminded me that the same thing happened for our prom and homecoming. Everyone was sick and tired of the stereotypical queens that win everything in life. We were disgusted at the culture of high school popularity, and we chose to elect someone who we felt really deserved to be recognized for the queen she was– a “normal” girl who was friendly, kindhearted and unconnected to most drama. We wanted to feel proud of who we elected by making her feel special– not regretful for rewarding a “perfectly popular” girl that we all really disliked. I hope you know that you are that girl that people saw and recognized you have an uncommon beauty that doesn’t fade.

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