Journey to Self-Acceptance: The Moment I Realized I Wasn’t Pretty

It happened in Mr. Henderson’s science class.

I can’t recall what grade I was in, but it was the early ’80s. We had those black-topped, two-student desk/tables, and I was fortunately (or unfortunately) assigned to sit beside Jamie Ross.

Jamie, if memory serves, was a slightly mischievous, blond-haired, blue-eyed boy that I probably thought was cute at the time. I think I remember being glad that I was assigned to sit beside him, after I got over my initial fear and awkwardness, since male, blond, and blue-eyed was everything that I was not. That fact, at least, I was acutely aware of. Being first-generation Greek-American in the era of Farrah, Heather, and Christie posters made it virtually impossible for me to not notice my non-blondeness.

Yes, with my pale, freckle-spattered face, diastema smile, straight brown hair, and—the cherry on top, glasses!—I knew I wasn’t like the “American” kids or the beautiful women on the posters. I knew I was different, but I was blissfully unaware of the concept of personal beauty, or more accurately, the value of it. I just knew they had blond hair and I didn’t; most of the kids in my class didn’t wear glasses, but I did. Beauty—as in my own—was a foreign concept to me.

Then one day, Jamie Ross turned to me and said:

You have a really big nose.

And my life changed forever.

First, I was shocked. I have a big nose? This was a revelation.

My parents, as good parents do, had never referenced my appearance or physical attributes while raising me. They let me be me, encouraged my creativity and education (first and foremost), and being a “cute little girl” was never part of their rhetoric (thank God for that; it has served me well). While Jamie’s delivery left much to be desired, the boy was right. In addition to freckles, myopia, and the gap-toothed smile, I had also been blessed with the most unappealing genetic marker of my ethnic heritage: MY BIG FAT GREEK NOSE.

Then, I was hurt. Childhood and adolescence are ironic in that way. We get a heaping helping of brutal, tactless honesty when we are but delicate flowers, growing, trying to survive myriad environ{mental} assaults. So Jamie’s curt observation stung. No, it didn’t sting. It was more like he’d taken a sledgehammer to my confidence, my ego, my very soul. 

Those six words validated, rather embarrassingly, that I wasn’t just different. I was flawed. And I wasn’t pretty. Had I been, Jamie probably would have been focused on pulling my ponytails, instead of pointing out my proboscis. Different was fine to me as a child. It didn’t hurt. Flawed was something else entirely.

I had been thrust—unwittingly—from the protective cocoon of childhood innocence, into the blinding, inescapable truth of self-awareness.

From that moment on, all I could see when I looked in the mirror was my nose.

Do you remember the moment you became aware of your physical appearance? How did it affect you?

This post is part of my Journey to Self-Acceptance series. Next post: Journey to Self-Acceptance: My Albatross

Comments

  1. says

    I think it’s so brave to put up this post! I think it’s so hard as women to admit that moment or that turning point where we realize we were less than.

    When I was growing up, my parents were the same as yours. I didn’t remember being praised for my appearance other than everyone lover my blonde hair (RIP Haired Courtney age 1-6) thus launching my lifelong love of blonde hair. Anyway, I digress.

    I have the same relationship with my nose. I’ve always thought it was big, though I can’t remember anyone telling me that other than myself, come to think of it. I’d spend hours in the mirror looking at it. Even now, I still think I have a big nose though I think it suits my face better.

    Anyway, this was an inspiring post! I may have to think about it some more and expand on my own blog.

    Thanks for sharing, Vahni :)
    Courtney’s latest post: Introducing Tech Tuesday: My Must Have Travel AppsMy Profile

    • says

      Thanks, Courtney! You know what’s funny? It’s easier for me to post on subjects like this than do outfit posts, if you can believe it. I’m more comfortable baring my soul than trying to make a pretty picture.

      Anyway, I’m glad you have come to terms with your nose. Come back to read more about how I finally came to terms with mine.

      Asa always, I appreciate your comment and support!

      • says

        I find it easier to post these types of posts in comparison to outfit photos as well, though I do admit it’s hard to really open up. Most people I gripe about my nose to often tell me it’s not big and I’m beginning to think it might just be me. If I had all the money in the world, I might change my nose but I think I probably look better with my nose.

        In any case, great post! Can’t wait to read more.
        Courtney’s latest post: I Hate Taking Outfit Photos (Blogger Confessions)My Profile

  2. says

    This is so ironic, but the exact same thing happened to me. Except I was in elementary school (5th grade), his name was Steve Murphy and he said, “You have big teeth and a big nose…” I was so very aware of my features from that moment on and realized I also was different, flawed, and un-pretty (to quote TLC). It was in Junior High and High School that I decided I would take the focus off of my features and I really started to become aware of fashion.

    When I was a senior in high school, Ricky Nierva, who was a sophomore at the time (who now works for Pixar), said “You always look like you come off of the pages of Vogue”. That sentence erased those 8 words I had carried with me for 7 years. I’ve never told Ricky, but I think I will if I see him again (I just saw his sister at our high school reunion).

    Love your candidness and I’m excited to read the rest of your series!

    xoxo
    Cyrillynn
    Any Second Now’s latest post: A Shimmering Night of Fun: San Diego Style Bloggers Celebrates One Year!My Profile

    • says

      Thank you for sharing your experience, Cyrillynn. GAH, I know how it feels…it SUCKS!

      I hate that you had a Jamie, like me, but at least you also a Ricky to balance it. That is fabulous. I hope you do get to tell him. The power of words, right? Incredible.

  3. says

    Wanted to give your teenage self a big hug reading this. You are such a gorgeous woman and from photos you’ve shared with us of your younger self you can’t have been anything but a very pretty girl. But it’s amazing how those sorts of taunts can affect us for years. I have a big nose too that I’ve always been self conscious about – but you know what I got the most flak about? My naturally curly hair which was more frizzy as a teen, and yeah, it just made me different – I used to get things thrown in it by boys and really mean things said about it all the time until I begged my mother to let me chemically straighten it. Thankfully she talked me out of it. I was self conscious about it for all my teen years. As an adult it settled more into curls and I learnt to love it.
    Veshoevius’s latest post: And the Bridesmaid Wore…My Profile

    • says

      Aw, and I will take that hug, sweetness! Thank you so much for your lovely words.

      It does take time to come to that point of self-acceptance, as you know. I do think that it doesn’t really start to truly click until your mid-to-late 30s. But thank goodness it does for most of us.

      And thick, glorious curls are enough to make me envious, I hope you know!

  4. Serene says

    I was just telling my husband the other day that if men are visual creatures then women want to be the object of their vision….we want to be admired. We grow up reading fairy tales of beautiful women being fought over and treasured. It’s like it’s a genetic level desire to want to be thought pretty the way boys want to be thought strong. In that sense, maybe there’s nothing wrong with it. But it’s the narrow definition of pretty that stings.

    Growing up, people always thought I was a different nationality. “What are you?” Was a question I often heard and on the school bus in first grade the kids would call me “Jap” because, to them, I looked Japanese. When puberty hit, I stared getting really curvy in the back side. My stepmother walked by my room as I was sitting doing homework and did a double take commenting, “you’ve got the biggest butt!” A comment she would repeat a few more times over the years. Enter my obsession with my weight! A nearly lifelong obsession that still tries to buck its way back into my cleaned up brain!

    After trying so hard for so many years to be beautiful, I’ve almost convinced myself that is rather be interesting than pretty! The quest for beauty (someone else’s definition) is a dangerous and frustrating undertaking and is paved with ” still not there yet”. Because I’m never going to be a tiny wisp of a woman. I’m never going to look as delicate as I feel sometime. I’ll never have fine features and perfect soft brows. There’s nothing subtle about my appearance, and that’s what you and I share, Vahni. Though our physical appearance is different from each other, like me, there is nothing subtle in your features. You’re not delicate. We aren’t the American version of pretty. So it takes an extra bit of head work to be good with that.

    I’m looking forward to reading this series! Now THIS would make a great basis for a blogger meet up! Instead of talking about how to attract more readers to our blogs, getting together and chatting about how to get healthier thoughts into our heads!

    Hugs girly! Serene

    • says

      Serene, my dear, you are so, so wise. And your comments are just the best. THANK YOU!

      No, I am not delicate, you are right about that. And like you, I’m OK with that now. You wouldn’t believe the number of people, men especially, who’ve actually said they were scared of me before meeting me! That’s all based on the way I look. I like to think it also keeps me safe.

      There is more to come in this series, so I hope you will stop by. I’ve got lots to reveal!

      Thanks again for every heartfelt, poignant comment you leave here. They really are something else.

  5. says

    Chicken legs.
    I remember being called “Chicken legs” and it didn’t bother me, until someone said, “You’re called chicken legs because you have skinny legs but you’re so fat.” Being called a dog prior to that never bothered me– dogs were (and still are) absolutely adorable. Why is it used as an insult? Something I *still* don’t get.

    • says

      Yeah, dogs do get a bad rap, and they are such wonderful creatures!

      I know this topic is something you have explored, too…I hope that you are feeling as strong as everyone else here, in spite of all those schmucks who try to tell you that you’re deficient. ‘Cause you and I both know you are NOT!

  6. says

    Oh, I loved reading this post! It struck a cord with me thinking about (most of my life) I did not look like everyone else. I always got teased becasue of my eyes being so slanted, and people thought my parents adopted me, since they are very different culturally, lol. I think even now it confuses some people. But, I had wonderful parents for support, and acceptance of your appearance is often a long and growing path personally. Thankfully, I am okay with me looking very different! Big hugs to you beautiful! I’m also in agreement with Serene about the last bit, it would be a brilliant blogger meet up discussion. xx/Madison
    FASHION TALES’s latest post: Style Notes: Emerald and TangerineMy Profile

    • says

      Thank you. Madison! That really means the world to me. I am also so glad to read that you and all my commenters on this post have only been made stronger by the teasing and unpleasantries. And of course, you are such a lovely woman, inside and out. Thanks again for sharing.

  7. says

    I think I’ve always known I wasn’t *pretty*. From the very beginning. I don’t remember hearing that I was a pretty girl from my parents or anyone else (because honestly, I really wasn’t a *pretty* child, and my parents were more interested in supporting intelligence, creativity, and ethics anyway.) I was chubby and pale with frizzy mousy hair early on, and glasses, and acne, and not many stylish clothes.

    In my late teens and twenties, though, I dropped the weight and the glasses and grew the hair and learned to cover the acne pretty well with makeup. Although I still wasn’t a typically *pretty* girl, I came to prefer being *striking*. Work the strong bone structure, the disobedient hair, the good curves, and the weird coloring. I still prefer to look at striking women, like you, Vahni. ;-)

    I wasn’t actively told I was ugly very often. The one incident that you remind me of happened in…7th grade, I think? Maybe 8th grade? I would have been 13 or 14. I had this kelly green crewneck sweater, in a typical boxy late 80s shape, that I wore happily — until Chris, who sat in front of me in History class, muttered something to his friends about me looking like the Jolly Green Giant. I don’t know if I ever wore that sweater again, and that moment lives on in my memory. Chris wanted to be Facebook friends a couple of years ago, and I thought “No way” and ignored the request!
    Sarah’s latest post: Simple Abundance and ScentMy Profile

    • says

      I wrote this in another reply, Sarah: “Had a friend who had a romp with my then-boyfriend AND the then-boyfriend try to friend me on Facebook. I was like, you have GOT to be kidding me! Hell-to-the-N-O. Feels kind of good, doesn’t it?”

      I totally get it, and NO WAY is the right answer!

      And thank you for your kind words. I’m so grateful that the standards of beauty have evolved since we were girls. Striking women come in all colors and sizes. That is one good thing about being a youngster today. I do think there is more open-mindedness about beauty and celebrating our differences.

      • says

        I had the most unexpected experience two months ago. I have been bullied in primary school, from when I was around 8 years old. I have suffered from that my whole life. Ofcourse the impact and pain diminished over the years and my confidence and personality grew. Overall I was happy, but deep inside a small wound always remained. As for my bully: I hated her all my life ( not that we were in contact or something).
        Then there sudddenly was this schoolreunion from back then. I was hesitant because of my history, but open for it. In the end I could not attend, since I was abroad. But in the months before the reunion, the organizers contacted me. To my shock my bully was one of them. Her attitude to me however was completely neutral-friendly (maybe she was totally unaware of what she did back then) and she wanted to be FBfriends. I accepted, we exchanged some innocent, nice chitchat and bam…out of the blue I felt ‘healed’. My wound that I had since 50 years was healed instantly. What years of therapy had not accomplished, happened in an unexpected way and moment. I did not bring it up to her and feel no need for that anymore. Instead of my former bully and a hated person she simply shifted in ‘just a woman’. Believe me when I tell you that I did not see this coming!
        I thought it was important to mention, since maybe it could work out this way for both of you as well?
        Anja’s latest post: How plastic surgery changed my nose and my life. Part 1.My Profile

  8. says

    Vahni, as usual, I can completely relate. I don’t even know where to begin! I was made fun of relentlessly in middle school. I was awkwardly tall and skinny with frizzy hair, glasses and braces. I was a late bloomer and didn’t wear a bra or shave my legs until I was teased for it. My parents always called me beautiful no matter what, and my mother never really taught me how to properly dress, do my hair or heck, shave my legs… I even had a unibrow but she never did anything to change it until I asked. I almost wish they had been more critical of me to prepare me for the traumatic experiences I had in school. I didn’t have my first kiss, date or boyfriend until I was 18 and I’m still shocked by how many men think I’m good-looking. I still feel like that little girl trapped in a woman’s body.
    THE-LOUDMOUTH’s latest post: Lunch :: #Loud30 Diary / Whole30 PrepMy Profile

    • says

      Thank you sweetie. Sometimes I still feel like that little girl trapped in a woman’s body too. That’s OK…that vulnerability is what keeps us grounded. And attractive, I think. No one wants a stuck-up, egomaniac in their lives!

      I think that being a late bloomer is a blessing in disguise. We are children and teens for such a small amount of time in the spectrum of our lives. Better to ease into adulthood and adult issues than face the consequences of making adult decisions with young, uninformed minds. Uh, can you say TEEN MOM?!

      I see you evolving all the time. You are so strong and I think you are totally on the right path!

  9. says

    From the sound of the comments above it looks like every single girl has gone, is going, will go through utter crap and garbage thanks to those little toe rags called boys and girls.

    I did, and while none of it matters any more, and while I can look at myself and not like what I see, I don’t dwell on it. I don’t let it effect me in any way shape or form, but God help anyone from my past who thinks they can run into me and say hello.

    Just a few years back a girl from high school walked up to me in the post office, while I was talking to the person behind the desk mind you (how rude), and I put my hand up in her face and told her I knew who she was and didn’t have anything to say to her. Oh, she was so shocked and I have no idea if she realised who I was. I hadn’t changed since high school. It looks like the only effect the kids did have on me was to make me remember them and what they did so well.

    I have a very good memory when it comes to bitches and bastards who did me wrong, but I don’t let what they did effect me as an adult.
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    • says

      Oh yeah, on the people who were nasty in the past re-surfacing, I’ve done the same. Had a friend who had a romp with my then-boyfriend AND the then-boyfriend try to friend me on Facebook. I was like, you have GOT to be kidding me! Hell-to-the-N-O. Feels kind of good, doesn’t it?

      Glad you didn’t let any of those mean kids affect you for the long-term. I didn’t either…but it sure doesn’t mean I have to like them or accept them back into my life!

  10. says

    I’m totally feeling you, Vahni. All throughout my childhood, I had friends of every ethnicity. Being in Miami, it was just natural. For me, though, I was always painfully aware that I was black and that I wasn’t small and cute like blonde-haired, blue-eyed Cristina. By the time I went to middle school, I was always just super bummed out because for whatever reason, I’m just drawn to dorky white boys but of course none of them were into me and I blamed it on me being black. I was also made fun of for “talking white”. My snaggle-tooth grin, oily skin, greasy hair, and awkward disposition didn’t help my case out either.

    In middle school, that’s when other girls are most openly cruel, but in high school, friends are brutal behind your back. I once had a friend say that I was not proportional since my butt was huuuuuge on my skinny little waist. I was also once told I looked like a horse in my formspring (I realized why one would think that upon removal of my braces–my porcelain braces brackets were just doing all sorts of awful things to my gummy smile), and the same person told me, “Some of your close friends think so, too.” That hit me pretty hard. Now, though, in my 20s when I’m spending a night on the town, the most frequent ice breaker a guy goes for to talk to me is about how great of a smile I have! It’s the ultimate “F you” to the person that wrote that. And those awful middle school girls, I’ve found proof that they now read my blog. Puberty did make my hips a little crazy a little fast, and I literally find my measurements span the entire size chart when I’m online shopping because my hips are still crazy, but I love them. Best of all, I’m finally feeling empowerment in being black. I absolutely love the skin I’m in. Over the years, I’ve seen how loving what people perceive as their flaws be embraced instead, and it’s done loads for their confidence.

    Great series, Vahni. Can’t wait to read more. I’ve told you in the past but your content is the most refreshing across the sea of tired subjects (a.k.a. the VMA debacle). Thanks for sharing your story as I’m sure it hits home for many. And no matter what this Jamie kid says, you and your “big fat greek nose” are absolutely gorgeous! I personally don’t find it large at all, though :)
    Melanie’s latest post: 25 Random Facts VlogMy Profile

    • says

      Hi Melanie, thank you so very much for sharing your experience here. I am so glad to read that you have come to love who you are. That’s all we have, right?!

      And thanks about the nose…er…all I can say is there is more to come on that!

  11. Junebug says

    I admire you and your story. My journey to self-acceptance is from the opposite side. I grew up the youngest of four, the baby with really blonde hair (tow headed :) green eyes, and olive complexion (eye color remains the rest is purchased). Always being told you are “pretty” is hard; people would say “when you’re older boys will need to be beaten off with a stick” and shotgun wedding comments from dads friends stuck with me. As I matured and realized that looks fade and beauty really is fleeting (or in the eye of the beholder) it was hard to overcome. The first sign of aging hurt!!! It made me realize that beauty from the inside (character/substance) is much more important. How I live this life not how I look living! What will be remembered about me when I am 90 and wrinkled? Boy she used to be pretty?? Or boy she is a loving old lady!

    • says

      Hi Junebug. I really appreciate you sharing your perspective, because it shows that the grass isn’t necessarily greener. We tend to assume that, but as you noted, you had your own set of challenges.

      I have found as I get older, I’m starting to accept the concept of aging (gracefully as I can, of course), because there is a confidence that comes from knowing that no matter what you look like on the outside, only your intentions and actions matter. Clearly, you get it!

  12. says

    It’s posts like these that keep me coming back here.

    For me it was in elementary school when some school mates called me fat. In actuality I was very tall for my age and very curvy, starting puberty really early. From then I started wearing really baggy clothes so it hid everything. It wasn’t until I hit my mid twenties did I start accepting and loving myself. Having a child last year really solidified things. :)
    MJ’s latest post: Six Things to Have in your Make Up Bag This FallMy Profile

    • says

      Aw, thanks, MJ!

      As you can see from the comments, we ALL have had someone who was unkind and judgmental of our bodies. I’m also glad to see that with age and maturity, we’ve learned that that’s just a bunch of baloney!

  13. says

    I know your intention wasn’t to show “this is how a blog post should be done. bam” but you do that over and over. And over again. Bam. This is how to be vulnerable, honest and relate-able to your readers. This is how you share not just yourself but a universal moment. And this is how you keep us coming back for more.

    Or yes I can relate. For me the term was “exotic.” Over and over I was called that- as if I was a transplant from somewhere. But I, a part-Anglo, part-Chicana growing up in the Pacific Northwest never knew any other place than “here.” And clearly I wasn’t from “here.” It hurt. I made me cry- I remember an article writtten about me in the school paper, and the point of interest was my “exotic looks.” They meant no harm but it stung. It was a constant reminder that I wasn’t them. And when the teacher refused to take it out of the article, with a comment “well, you ARE exotic looking, so get used to it” I remember giving up a little. Ok, a lot. I stopped trying to fit in. I stopped thinking I was one of them. I pulled away, and lived even more in my head where I wasn’t deemed otherworldly or exotic but a born native, and always welcome.

    Great post.
    Bella Q’s latest post: Porkpie in Black (it’s a Hat Attack)My Profile

    • says

      Exotic. Yes, that’s one I’ve heard before too. I can’t believe that teacher said that to you!

      And thank you for your kind words, Bella. They really mean a lot to me. It’s good to know that getting back to my writing roots is going over with everyone. I swear I just cannot be bothered to take one more photo of myself!

      xoxo

      PS: Thank you for keeping me in your prayers, too. Can never get enough of those!

    • says

      So many of us have some horrible little memory related to our appearance, don’t we? Thanks for sharing here and retweeting this post, Terri.

  14. Sam.I.Am says

    If we knew the years of hurt our words can inflict on people….especially young girls.

    I was called “Budgie” in grade school by the boys because of my beak type nose. The grade 8 teacher (a man) once noticed my knees in gym class and made me stand in front of the whole class in my shorts to show my strange legs.

    But…I have been married to a wonderful man for 27 years who treats me like a princess and calls me gorgeous everyday…except when I have PMS and am being miserable :).

    It has taken me a long time to realize that it’s our relationships and how we treat people that makes us beautiful.

    Thank you for sharing your journey.

    • says

      Hi Sam, thanks for sharing your experience. So glad you got past all that terrible teasing and have found a wonderful partner to share you life with, and who loves you to pieces.

  15. says

    I had a similar/parallel experience. I, too, was the (half) Greek girl with the gap-toothed smile and the big nose comment. At that age, negative comments about my weight happened to and it really stuck with me.

    Kids can be so hurtful…and now as a teacher…when I notice my students acting like that to each other, I really try to get them see how the negativity is just hurting everyone and can really do damage. I don’t know if I get through, but I keep trying.
    Stephanie’s latest post: Landscapes on my Clothes…My Profile

    • says

      Stephanie, thanks for sharing! Oh, that DAMN GREEK NOSE! The bain of our existences, right?! I hope that you are feeling better about who you are now.

      I think it’s wonderful that as a teacher, you have the power to help children understand the consequences of teasing. I think it’s amazing that you are trying to make that part of your teaching philosophy. The Golden Rule is just as important as English and mathematics! Bravo sou!

  16. says

    I’m catching up on my reading and what a lovely re-introduction to your blog to begin with this post. At university I was called chicken legs, which is probably why I post so much about dresses on my own blog now, because I dare not wear skirts when I was younger for fear of being called names. Whilst all the other teenagers in my year were busy going as short as they could with the skirts, mine were getting longer and longer. I find it really interesting and very sad how just a comment like this can stay with you in life. I think girls in particular can be so cruel, and we should be teaching young people to careful with their words for sure.

    Wonderful writing. Very much excited to meet you later this year!

    http://www.styleonthecouch.com
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    • says

      Thanks for the sweet comment, Sarah. Well, all I can say is that I WISH those ridiculous people at uni could see you now! You are stunning, and just as beautiful inside as you are out. We’d ALL love to have your bod and mile-long gams!

      Since you work with children, and knowing how cruel they can be, it gives you a special opportunity to infer how powerful words and our decisions can be. I agree, though. I wish parents had more time to parent these days…I feel like so many children just aren’t getting the basics (and the lesson of the Golden Rule) at home.

      Looking forward to meeting you too!

  17. says

    Hello there, i wrote two posts about my nose and selfesteem. One appeared yesterday, part two appears today. A friend read it and gave me the url to your article about that defining and somehow devatstating moment in your life. Oh, I recognize it so well. I am going to read the rest of your articles about it now. Anxious to read how you coped. I ended up doing pastic surgery.
    Anja’s latest post: How plastic surgery changed my nose and my life. Part 1.My Profile

    • says

      Hi Anja, just wanted to make sure I responded to all the wonderful comments you left on these posts. Thank you! Going over to chat on your post now.

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