I had it easy growing up—I know I did.
I grew up in a nice neighbourhood, with nice friends, and a nice family, in a nice house. But when I talk about my childhood with other people, I describe middle school as “the worst years of my life.”
I know this is dramatic, but hear me out.
Like most kids going through puberty, my body began to develop in ways I didn’t know how to handle. But on top of the usual changes, I had bad acne and an excessive sweating problem called hyperhidrosis. I was also a good foot taller than most of the other kids in my class. And I felt like I was this giant, pimple-faced, sweaty, ugly girl.
I remember one moment after school, I was waiting to ask my teacher for help when this kid, who everyone made fun of for having a rattail, turned to me and said, “What happened to your face?”
I went beet red. I think I muttered, “Nothing,” under my breath and then, “I have to go.” Then I stumbled out into the hallway on the verge of tears. All I wanted back then was to be invisible and here was this boy—with a rattail—pointing out the very thing about me that I was afraid was all that people saw.
Now, when I tell these stories to people, I laugh—and they laugh too. I picture my younger, pimply, sweaty self, and it has all the elements of humor.
I don’t look like that anymore, so it’s okay to poke fun. But it sure wasn’t funny back then.
I remember the feeling of freedom when I finally got treatment for my hyperhidrosis and was able to raise my hand high in the air for the first time in two years. Around the same time, I got a prescription medication for my acne. My skin cleared up. I started wearing push-up bras. I learned how to pluck my eyebrows. And I came back in grade eight like a whole new person who people started to actually notice.
I want to say that the lesson in this is that I gained confidence from finally getting the treatments that I needed for my skin and sweating. I want to say that the lesson is that there are some tough years, but you get through it. Don’t sweat it because all this stuff is temporary.
But honestly? What I wish I could do is go back and give that little girl a big hug and tell her not to be afraid to be herself.
I want to tell that little girl not to be held back because of how she looks and to hold her head up high.
I want to tell her that it gets better, yes, but she shouldn’t waste this time being sad about her looks. Don’t waste this time wanting to hide yourself away from the world. I want to tell her that although we live in a world that seems to value looks above all else, there is so much more out there to live for.
I want to tell her that her writing will be her savior during this time. Write every day. Dive deeper into your passions instead of spending hours staring at your reflection hoping it will change.
I want to tell her that the books and movies have it all wrong. Don’t wait for a boy who will “see through” you and sweep you off your feet. You will hold onto this narrative—disappointed—for years to come.
I want to tell her to focus on what she can do and practice gratitude for all the things in her life she does have—like her nice friends, and nice family, and nice house, because there are many people who don’t have those at all (but they do have other things that they can be grateful for too).
I want to offer her compassion and empathy, but also teach her to be strong and self-reliant.
I want her to know that if she doesn’t work on her inner self now, she will grow up believing she is still that tall, sweaty, pimply girl, and she will continue to waste years and years not believing she is worthy of all the things that she is.
She will grow up not knowing what she is capable of.
I wish I could go back and sit down with my younger self over a coffee. We would talk about all the things we want to accomplish in this life. And I hope that she would leave with a little bit more hope and a little bit more sympathy for herself too.
I often think about that moment with rattail boy. I haven’t stayed in touch with him, but from what I’ve gathered, he’s doing some pretty amazing things now as a political journalist. I’m sure he doesn’t remember saying what he did to me at all. I’m sure he had a lot of his own struggles then too. And I’m sure he didn’t realize the struggle I was going through either.
I now walk through the world remembering that everyone has a little, “ugly” girl inside of them, but I now realize that it’s an “ugly” girl who maybe isn’t so ugly after all.