When I was little, I didn’t know who I was. All I knew was that everyone described me as pretty.
As a kid, I had hair long enough to fall into the toilet when I sat down and eyes that held so much happiness and compliments. I was beautiful, and looking back at the plethora of pictures in photo albums and the magazine cover I graced at 2 years old, I didn’t blame people for rubbing my cheeks and tousling my hair everyday.
But pretty never occurred to me as something I would have to strive for in the future, because all I knew then was that I had pretty—whatever that was. It was a part of me as much as my porcelain skin and big round eyes.
Since then, my life has become a tug of war with pretty on the opposite side. Throughout high school I had lost grip of the rope. By university, I learned how to pull harder. I took off my braces, gained a few pounds to fill up my clothes, straightened my hair and learned how to wear makeup.
But to this day, it’s not the same pretty I was so accustomed to back when I was little. Maybe it will never be my place to have that kind of pretty again. Maybe it’s not everyone’s place.
One train ride I mentioned the word ugly to describe someone.
My friend jumped in. “Everyone is beautiful.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Everyone?”
“Yes. In their own way.”
I never understood that. They say that everyone’s beautiful and yet we know people with rotten minds and selfish souls. We know people whose faces look like its been distorted by funhouse mirrors—faces we would never switch with if given the chance.
Some people didn’t win the genetic lottery, and perhaps that’s okay.
Beauty can lie in the heart. I have friends who are so kind, so talented, and so clever that they radiate beauty from within. But I’ll be damned if I have to see a face with features that protrude in wonky angles, and fool myself into believing that they are an exquisite work of art.
Every night when I take off my makeup and tie my hair back, I can see the spots that I always cover up. I see the discoloration on my skin, the uneven folds on my eyes, the acne marks that never seem to disappear. My small, formless lips, or the small bump in the middle of my nose. I see the frizzy baby hair constantly growing, my asymmetrical jaw, and the surgical scar down my back. I notice the white stretch marks on my knees and my hips, but now moving up to my waist.
I grew up with flaws, and I’m still in abundance of them, but I’ll never trick myself into seeing my weeds as roses. Instead, I’ve learned to live with the weeds, and cherish the roses I have.
I have learned to see parts of me as ugly, and see parts of other people the same way.
We are created to be as diverse as possible in shape, race, and character. We are built to look different, just like everything around us. The rafflesia flower isn’t as beautiful as a water lily, and the warthog is not as majestic as the snow leopard. The world is made of the beautiful, the awful, and everything in between. That’s what makes it so wonderful; this medley of people, animals, places and things that excite our senses.
We have such a fixation on having pretty that we refuse to believe that people—including ourselves—might be bereft of it. And there’s really nothing wrong with that. Why is being conventionally unattractive so unspeakably terrible that we have to erase any notion of it altogether? Instead of reassuring everyone that someone will love their looks, shouldn’t we encourage them to embrace the idea that maybe people won’t, and that’s alright, too?
Posters and quotes constantly promote the belief that humans can only be beautiful and nothing else. Yet we still wince at the sight of bad art, unsightly landscapes, and grisly animals. Our minds are still capable of differentiating between the lovely and the hideous, but we refuse to accept that humans can be anything less than pretty, even subjectively.
So maybe the real acceptance isn’t that all of us are beautiful, but not all of us are. Not all of us should be.