The first time that I heard it I was in sixth grade. Of course, when you’re in sixth grade anything that anyone says about you is always life altering, especially when it comes from the boy that you like. But he wasn’t just any boy. He was the boy. Every boy wanted to be him and all the girls wanted to be his girlfriend. Looking back on it, my small group of friends was the popular girls. I had always had a habit of making the pretty girls my friends, although I didn’t realize that until much later in life. Maybe it was a lot easier for them to be friends with me because I wasn’t a threat for them. They could like the boy and they could get the boy without having me as the competition. I was the friend that could give them the confidence and self esteem they needed to pursue that boy… And when he reciprocated, I could hang around them and still remain a non-threat. I was the perfect friend for just that reason. He wouldn’t ever want me. And when that boy turned her down, I was the friend to tell her how beautiful she was. How thin she was, even though she insisted she was fat. And, of course, I would be able to tell her with confidence that the boy didn’t know what he wasn’t talking about and he was stupid for not wanting her. I was that friend.
I remember it as if it were yesterday. We were hanging out in the back of the classroom before school started. We, my group of pretty, popular friends, were hanging out with the boy, Dylan. Of course, Dylan had his group of cronies who hung around with him; they were considered part of his small elite group. Dylan was the All-American boy. Clean cut, well-mannered, sweet, and of course, drop-dead gorgeous. He had sandy, light-brown hair, the perfect face and dimples to die for that went along with his perfect smile. I don’t remember if he was one of the smarter kids, but I would imagine so; it did have it all, after all. On the few occasions that I talked to him, he never made me feel like I wasn’t good enough to be talking to him, even though I wasn’t. On this particular morning, one of his friends made a comment about me and my weight. I do not recall what he had said to Dylan, I don’t even know if I actually heard what he told Dylan. What he told Dylan was something having to do with poking fun at me, probably something about how heavy I was or how I would never have a boyfriend. Maybe he even said, “That’s your girlfriend,” referring to me being his girlfriend as an insult, which happened more times than I care to remember. I clearly remember what Dylan’s response was. “She’s alright. She has a pretty face. If she just lost some weight she’d be pretty.” I will never forget the brief moment of hope that I felt as those words left his mouth and the simultaneous sting of the reality that I had been judged. He did not say it in a malicious way; he said it as if it was just a fact. I heard it as if he were saying it to me directly; everything that Dylan said lingered in the air like sweet cigar smoke. I was pretty–almost. I didn’t need his friend to later tell me what Dylan had said, but he excitedly told me anyway. “Just thought you should know, Dylan thinks you’d be pretty if you lost weight.” Yeah, I knew that. I knew then that I could never have this Dylan or any other “Dylan’s” of the world. What I didn’t know then, was that I didn’t need them or want them.
To this very day, those words have been etched into my memory. If only I could lose weight, then I’d be pretty. Finally! Pretty was a great thing to be… and I had never been it. In sixth grade, I would have given the world to be able to lose weight so that I could finally be the girl that the boy would finally want. I wanted to be pretty. I tried to lose weight that year. And every year thereafter. I was holding on to some ray of hope that would never come. I would never have Dylan, and that was something that I would have to deal with. If I wanted him, I needed to become something that I wasn’t and would never be. He didn’t want me for me, he wanted me only if I were pretty.
“Pretty” and I have a love-hate relationship. Mostly hate.
In retrospect, you can’t blame the kid. At an early age we learn what is good and bad, what is pretty and what is ugly. Fat was ugly. My face was pretty. The equation didn’t add up.