Bullying / all

Collage by Isabella Ares

“I am Pretty”: A Love Letter to Myself

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“I am pretty.” I would say to my mom, knowing she was going to agree.

“You are,” she always replies. “You’re the prettiest girl I have ever seen.”

But I don’t feel pretty.

I lack confidence in every sense of the word. My self-esteem has taken a toll on me for as long as I can remember—I don’t think there is an exact date that I can pinpoint. I was three years old the first time I ever did anything about my body hair. I wish I was exaggerating, but I’m not. The kids in preschool would make fun of the dark peach fuzz over my mouth, and my mom would bleach it.

“It’s ok,” she would say as I fidgeted under her grip, “you’ll get laser hair removal as soon as you turn 13, and you’ll never have to do this again.”

And so it happened. I turned 13, and I got laser hair removal for the first time. I was eager to never be called a “gorilla,” “monkey” or “man” again. I was excited to finally look pretty—like the girls I had seen on T.V. I would finally be able to wear shorts and a tank top, or those sleeveless dresses. Little did I know, my stubborn Arab hair would be too thick for the laser to work. Five years later, and I still have a lot of body hair.

I do not feel pretty.

My “bad” hair, as I’ve been told, has to be tamed. I started straightening it when I was just nine years old. My natural curls were straightened into a flat mess on my head. I had seen all the girls in my grade with long, straight blonde hair. I wanted to be like them. I wanted to fit in. I quickly started to realize that my curly hair, dark as coffee grounds, would never be like theirs. Soon, I started to wear my hair in a ponytail every day.

I did not feel pretty.

Eventually, puberty came along. My Arabesque body hair became more noticeable than ever, my curly hair became a nest, and my body developed. No one around me had hit puberty yet. I remember classmates laughing and telling me that I should drink diet shakes at lunch instead of having a meal to lose weight. I remember being told that I was fat because I had a big butt. I remember, at the ripe age of seven, years before I hit puberty, comparing my legs to those of my peers. My thick legs were never the same as theirs. My unforgivingly Brazilian body did not allow me to look like the other girls at my school. So I started to wear baggy clothes to hide my body.

I did not feel pretty.

Soon, boys started to notice girls. Consequently, I started to notice guys. It’s a natural part of growing up. When I was eight years old, my crush made fun of me for my unibrow. When I entered the sixth grade, boys started asking me out as a joke, to poke fun at me. They would ask me to dance at school dances and proceed to run to the bathroom when I accepted their offer. During a science lab about eyes, no one wanted to be my partner because my brown eyes were “ugly.” I started to wear glasses to hide my face.

I did not feel pretty.

“Your new school will be different,” my mom would say to me as I cried in the car seat next to her.

Another day had passed. Another lunch I had eaten alone. Another day I had been made fun of for things out of my control.“I can’t wait for my new school,” I would think. “It’s going to be so much better.”

It wasn’t.

In seventh grade, I cried at my first social. I was one of the only girls who did not get asked to dance. I had never danced with anyone before. When someone eventually asked me out of pity, I rejected them in fear that they would run to the bathroom.

I did not feel pretty.

My freshman year, I was told I looked like a monkey. I started to resent my non-white features. I proceeded to bleach my skin and wear makeup religiously. I wanted to make a good impression. I wanted to leave my past behind.

I needed to look pretty.

My junior year, I was told I was ugly for not wearing enough makeup. Boys started to call me “Frida Kahlo” as a joke, unknowingly stinging my past trauma. I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and started gaining weight. I have never asked anyone to the Sadie Hawkins dance in fear that I wasn’t good enough to ask. I was labeled a liberal lesbian for having opinions. I was told to suppress them if I wanted a boyfriend. I was told that I was only asked to dances out of pity.

I did not feel pretty.

After I got sick, I started to hate my body even more. I proceeded to starve myself. Calorie counting was my hobby. Exercising was my vice. I needed to be thin. I needed to be validated and liked. I refused to go out for food with my friends in fear of them noticing my lack of appetite or my break downs in the restaurant bathrooms. I would occasionally torture myself by trying to fit into a pair of jeans I bought when I was 14. I needed to look like social media influencers.

I needed to be pretty.

I am a senior now. I am not going to stop straightening my hair or futilely lasering my body hair. I am not going to ask anyone to the Sadie Hawkins dance. I am not going to give up dieting. I am not going to wear clothes that accentuate my figure. I am not going to look at myself in the mirror and love what I see.

“Why aren’t you more confident?” My friends always ask. “You’re so beautiful!”

“I don’t know,” I reply.

But I know. It’s because my features weren’t always beautiful. A curvy body, thick hair and eyebrows, tan skin, and the “exotic” look. They’re pretty now, but they weren’t when I was growing up. It has already been ingrained into my mind:

“I am not pretty.”

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