Growing up, I can’t say that I ever felt beautiful. I was tall and scrawny with big, frizzy hair and a gap in my front teeth wider than the Grand Canyon. Most of my clothes were hand-me-downs from the girls at church, so they were often out of style and far too short for my gangling limbs (when capris came back in, I cringed, recalling all of the jokes about waiting for a flood that were banal in my childhood), or too big for my tiny waist—I actually went from ages 10-14 without a back belt loop.
My parents weren’t wealthy. We always had what we needed; anything more was a treat. I was never what one would consider “stylish,” since my clothes had generally been worn by three other girls before me. I recall longing for a Hypercolor t-shirt in seventh grade—I yearned for one of those shirts more than I did for my crush to notice me. My mom even humored me one day and took me to the mall, only to loudly proclaim how ridiculous it was that a t-shirt would cost $50. It was a repeat of the year prior, when I begged for a pair of LA Gear high tops, to no avail. No matter how I longed for just one token of socially acceptable fashion, it just wasn’t happening on my parent’s budget.
As the eldest child of a mixed-race couple at a time when such a thing was seemingly foreign to a vast part of society, it took a while for me to realize that it wasn’t my clothes that made me different, it was the fabric of my ancestry. Growing up not white enough to be white, but not black enough to be black, I wasn’t ever sure where I fit in. Add to that enough Portuguese blood that a regular wax is necessary to keep me from looking like a Mexican boy. By sixteen, it seemed that I was in the midst of a never-ending awkward phase.
In elementary school, I used to get questions from classmates that were so unbelievably ridiculous to me.
“Is that your real dad?” (Yes.)
“What are you, anyway?” (Um, American?)
As I got older, the questions were more random and bizarre.
“Do you know how to make chitlins?” (I didn’t even know at the time what that was.)
“Is it true that you can’t wash your hair?” (Um, why not?)
“Is that your boyfriend?” (No, that’s my dad. Gross)
“What nationality are you?” (American.) “No, I mean, where did you come from?” (Arizona.)
Struggling to identify with a race or culture left me with just as obscure a perspective on beauty. I poured over the pages of my teen magazines that showed my teen idols (Tiffani Amber Theissen, Candace Cameron, and Paula Abdul, to name a few) and their beauty routines and style choices and truly believed that those were the things that I needed to feel beautiful.
I used to lament to my mom as a teenager that none of the boys at school liked me because I was nerdy and wore unfashionable clothes and didn’t hang with the popular kids. She would tell me that they were just intimidated by my unbelievable beauty. I believed she was full of shit.
What I didn’t realize then is that the saying “beauty is skin deep,” isn’t actually true. Sure, my mom saw my olive complexion (“that so many women pay tons of money to have”), and my crooked smile, and even saw beauty in my straggly hair. But she also saw an incredibly gifted young lady with a big heart, who was willing to help someone out whenever the opportunity arose. She saw that no matter how many bigoted questions I got, I answered them honestly, but still made friends with anyone and everyone. I used to believe that she saw all that because she was my mom, but as I have gotten older, I have learned that beauty radiates from the inside out. I still have frizzy hair (when I don’t flat iron it). I still have a crooked smile. I almost never wear makeup. And I’m cool with that.
My most beautiful friends today don’t fit the picture-perfect standard of beauty. Some are carrying extra weight in all the wrong places. Some are tall and gangly. Some fight physical disabilities. It’s easy to see past all that because they have gorgeous hearts and souls and are out making this world a better place. That is a beautiful thing.
This post is part of the Beauty of a Woman BlogFest VI! To read more entries, and potentially win a fun prize, visit the fest page on August’s McLaughlin’s site between today and 11pm PST March 11th.