“I’m so ugly,” I stammered in front of my oversized bathroom mirror one morning.
“Oh, honey, you’re so cute,” said my mother, trying to reassure me. But her words brushed against my ears like the kiss of death, like telling someone they have a good personality – which she proceeded to do two minutes later when she found me still in the bathroom analyzing my features. The mirror, coupled with three high-watt light bulbs overhead, illuminated every tiny flaw. My downward slanting nose. My small mouth. My deformed hands and feet. And my electric wheelchair that seemed to eat me alive, taking center stage in the story of my life.
It was the day I learned to fear the mirror – the day I began my feud with myself.
I’d been envisioning my wedding day since I was 4. My flowing white gown. The paisley pink dresses for my bridesmaids. And a handsome man waiting to take me in his arms at the end of that long aisle, lined with dimly lit scented candles and rose petals.
Growing up, I always envied my younger sister, Janelle. She was the pretty one of the family – Swedish, flowing blonde hair, crystal blue eyes, straight and slender arms and legs and a body that was completely disability-free. Like a Greek goddess, she possessed an air of poise and perfection, and everyone commented on how beautiful she was.
They followed up their praise with compliments for me, but they always somehow fell flat – a hollow, empty cry into the dark, void night. I graciously accepted, forcing the beginning of a faint smile across my face, but I felt an arrow pierce the heart of my burgeoning young womanhood.
Like any young girl, I’d had my fair share of crushes. There was the blonde boy in my second-grade class who I used to daydream about on a daily basis, and my red cheeks matched the color of my hair any time he’d walk by.
There was the boy on my high school newspaper. We were co-editors, and I spent meetings thinking not about the upcoming story assignments or proofing a new layout, but studying intensely his piercing eyes, wavy brown hair I desperately wanted to tousle and the way his orange shirt brought out his smile.
And then there was Him. My first love. It started innocently when I was 13, when I referred to him as “a major babe” in my journal and then grew to deeper feelings of envisioning myself growing old with him. I found myself falling for him. Hard. I analyzed every chance meeting we had in my journal. What did his body language mean? What was he wearing? How long did we talk? What did he say? How did he say it?
But for some reason, I could never muster the courage to tell him – or any of these other crushes – how I felt, not because our differing personalities may have gotten in the way, but because I could feel my disability already had. And I was crushed.
“Why am I 20 and never had a boyfriend?” I wrote in my journal in 2001. “No boy has ever been interested in me. Am I deficient in some department? Do I turn guys off with my disability? I really want to experience true love, but I wonder if that could ever happen to someone as ugly and undesirable as me? I want guys to take me for who I am and look past my disability. Can’t they find someone to love in this invalid body?
In my world, where all the twentysomethings around me could easily couple up, I stood somewhat on the outside, peering through the window of a life I desperately wanted but would never have. I even started to feel like an invisible ghost that no man could ever see “in that way.”
Maybe I was afraid to admit that I’d grown disgusted with my body, or maybe part of me just didn’t want to think about it anymore, but from that moment, I shifted my focus to my mind. I excelled at all things academic, and by my junior year of college, I had a shelf of shiny accolades. A 3.9 GPA. A plaque for the Best Reporter on my college’s newspaper. A certificate for being an outstanding women student. But I still felt alone. Empty.
I had a beautiful mind. But the little girl in me – the one who sat on her bed and dreamed so long ago of the flowing white dress – still wanted so desperately to feel pretty on the outside.
There’s a large lagoon in the heart of NIU’s campus. I must have walked around it hundreds of times, feeling the gnaw of nostalgia when I passed a group of preschoolers leaning into the water to feed bread crumbs to the squawking ducks. The ducks. I finally saw them for the first time one day. I stopped on the grassy banks for a moment to observe those winged birds flapping and fluttering in the shallow water. There was always one duck the flock seemed to leave behind as they paddled toward the majestic geese. The poor duck looked all alone and lost, like he was somehow desperately searching for his place in the world. I felt an instant connection with that lonely duck. We were both ugly ducklings in a sea of beautiful, graceful swans.
I’d spent so many years feeling ugly on the outside. When men never seemed to take an interest, I assumed it must be me. And my feeble attempts at focusing on my mind had merely been a way to avoid my body, something I’d come to view as an “ugly mess.”
For so long, I’d tried to run away from my disability. After all, my disability had become a wall that got in the way of everything. But it’s not that men were uncomfortable with my disability. I was. And I had been afraid to admit it to myself.
All I wanted was for a man to look past my disability and see the real me – she was tucked in there just waiting to come out of her shell – but it had to start with me. The next time I looked in the mirror, I started to notice my wavy red hair, my freckles and my piercing green eyes. But what stood out most were my surgical scars, not as a hopeless reminder of my differences, but as a badge of honor. A symbol of all I’ve overcome – even a symbol of what makes me beautiful. My swan had finally blossomed.
[Photos via We Heart It]
Couture Carrie says
Beautifully written post!
Holly Brennan says
Excellent epiphany. Acceptance does start with us. When we accept our flaws (which may be inward or outward) and become comfortable, nay, even happy with who we are, we teach others to look past perceived flaws.
They see that we are comfortable with who we are, and what seems to be flaws fade away…
Wow… that was so lovely to read. I applaud you for putting that out there — opening up to us. Your courage is inspiring.
Though I didn't struggle with the disability you have/are, I too felt "ugly" throughout my teens, and into college. I'm not a conventional beauty, and am in fact, pretty plain when examining the entire package.
I'd never had a real boyfriend, or a real first kiss, and I was still a virgin until I was 20.
Around that time, I realized there are certain bits of me that I like very much; my legs, my face, my hair. In time, I also learned confidence, and to be proud of my features and of my intellect (which I think is my most attractive quality).
And then a funny thing happened. While I wasn't worried what other people thought of how I looked, I learned to live and be happy with myself, and guys noticed my confidence.
The most important thing I've ever learned is that you can be fugly, but as long as you project confidence, guys won't care. You could be the most beautiful girl on the planet, but if you complain constantly about, for instance, your flabby arms, guys will take notice and become disinterested.
I hope you do not take my honesty in offense, but through reading your blog, I notice that you pin a lot of love-woes on your disability. Perhaps guys notice this lack of confidence. If you hide behind your disability, guys will pick up on that – most men want a confident woman who isn't quite so self conscious.
That said, I've been reading your blog's backlogs the past few days, and really enjoy it.
I understand this feeling completely – not through physical disability but through an innate feeling of just not feeling good enough and that feeling has been really hard to shift! In fact I don't think I really have but I am getting better!
Like the last post said, and one of my male friends confirms, it is confidence that appeals to guys however sometimes if you don't feel that confidence it can be hard to fake. Having good male friends has helped me alot but it is hard sometimes.
I love the fact you highlighted this issue in such a wonderful way. You give a voice to all of us with these kind of hang- ups and for that I thank you.
Your fan Frances
I think Lauren summed up. Confidence and personality are the keys. Looks can only get you so far. With out inner substance you're just mush with good hair and nice teeth (= boring). Excellent post.
I think deep down within us all, we all have some feelings of inadequacy. There is always someone who is more beautiful, more intelligent, smarter, confident, someone who has attained more than we have dreamed of. I've come to the realization that there will always be that someone we just want to be like. Not that it is bad, but it isn't necessarily good for our well being. Like Melissa, I must say that I've been through those days as well. I've been through those dark days of feeling worthless. ALmost like I'm not good enough for anything. I had a senior sister who always had all the admirers. Everyone commented on just how beautiful, hardworking, and wonderful she was. Ofcourse I felt really bad. Melissa, I think you are even lucky that you at least got some compliments from those who complimented your sister. In my case, I don't recall recieving such consolatory compliments. I wanted so desperately to be like my senior sister;however, no matter how hard I tried, I always came up short. It was then that I suddenly started to realize that I'm not HER. I'm ME. I'm an individual and there are certain things that make me special. If only I realized that if only I learnt to perfect the special qualities about myself, I would be a much better person. And so that was exactly what I did. Every now and then, I still day dream of being a different me. This time, I can happily say that I apply it in a healthy way to my life.I strive to become more like what I really want to be. So far, it has been working for me. Hope this helps someone out there.
I am a 19 year old college student and, although I do not have any sort of disability, I, too, have never had a boyfriend. I've never had a boy show any interest in me, for that matter! The trouble is, I have plenty of confidence, but yet not an amount that I think is too much. So, what's the deal? Maybe we just have to stop looking for something (or in this case, someone) for it to find us. What I'm trying to get around to saying is, don't give up hope that there's someone out there for you, because there is. I know I haven't.
God, THIS IS THE BEST WRITING I'VE EVER READ!!!! The portrayal you draw is a very brave girl… i think even this writing is a step for you to come out of yr shell…
I'D REALLY LOVE TO MEET YOU MELISSA. i mean for real… thanks for posting this. by the way i love the pics you post in all yr writings… how can you find them for god's sake???
i like it
"The trouble is, I have plenty of confidence, but yet not an amount that I think is too much. So, what's the deal?"
Do you have enough confidence to go find HIM, instead of sitting back and letting him find YOU?
Melissa Blake says
You're exactly right, Lauren. I need that confidence to give me a good kick in the behind to get me out there!
I exactly understand this feeling. I never had a disability , but I have a fear of miror. Although people tell me there are nothing wrong with my face but I just can not look at the miror and when I do I get depressed and sometimes I think about suiside.I think people are divided into two groups:Those who are beutiful and those who are not.This feeling got everything from me,EVERYTHING
Melissa Blake says
Anonymous, I am SO sorry to hear of your struggles. You ARE beautiful. Please always remember that! xoxox
it took me a while but i managed to find the link i was looking for you 🙂
i remember about it while reading your post.i agree with the end..everyone has something special and you can't really expect to love and be loved until you are ok with your own person,until you love yourself.always try to remember that the differences are the things that make us special and perfect in an ironical way.take care and i hope you'll like my link.if you do please let me know!
this was quite a touching post . honestly i feel so much anguish for others pains and although you are a strong person and you seem to have confidence i still feel tremendous compassion towards any other person or girl with disabilties going thru what you just described.
i know they are out there and i hate to think that some people wont get to experience the deep and incredible feeling which is to love and be loved in return.
and i have to believe that its possible for everyone .