That is pretty much what I said to myself in the mirror at 11 years old. I resigned to being the ugly girl in my groups of friends. I was the designated driver when it came to interacting with others. There was even a time when I was mean — rejecting others before they had a chance to reject me.
I am dark. My natural hair never grew in right. It just sat on my head. My mom didn't know what to do with it, so she made me cut it all off. Everyone in elementary school thought I had cancer. I ran with that. On occasion, I would go to school smelling like fresh African spices and pre-pubescence. The two don't mix. My clothes didn't fit right because they came from the women's section at Mervyn's. Mom thought the juniors section was "too fast." Oh, and all the boys told me I was ugly. So I thought it must be true.
Growing up thinking I was ugly made me fearless. I could talk to anyone and say anything. I had nothing to lose. I thought people were already taken back by me physically, so who cares? When I started teaching, I would walk into a classroom and people would automatically break their neck to stare. It happens to this day. Children walk down the street and say, "why is she so dark?" When I enter a space, two people will make eye contact, one will make a face of disgust, and then laugh. I remember a girl who I thought was my friend offered to put some weave in my hair, "so I could be pretty." I took her up on it and it didn't work. Some girls even had a song the would sing for me: "Baldhead scallawag, ain't got no hair in the back. Gel and weave it, you know you need it!" (I ain't forgot, and I hope those heifas read this essay.)
That same day, I would go to the store and black women would stop me in the aisle to tell me how beautiful I was. She would be sure to point out my skin, how it was dark and free of blemishes. Impervious to acne or the extreme sun rays. I could tell some would go out of their way to let me know because they were sure I wasn't hearing it enough. That was true. But it never mattered how much I heard it because I didn't believe it, and hearing it a million times from unsolicited strangers didn't change that fact.
My very existence commands attention. There is something about me which allows me to dominate space with my simple 'step-in and inhale.' So I began to capitalize on that. As an adult, with my own money — I began to reassess my ugly. I stopped measuring it in drinks purchased on my behalf, or men who approached me divided by my light-skinned girlfriends. I began to measure it in the amount of fun I had pouring into myself.
I traded in my insurance bin glasses for my signature cat eye and never looked back. Now I have 16 pairs of cat eye glasses, 42 sticks of the brightest lippies, and giant earrings I had custom made in my likeness. I only wear gold — silver doesn't do the skin justice. Oh, and this body is always wrapped in color. I refuse for my onyx skin to be shrouded in shadow. One husband, two kids, a house, I have fashion sense that will kill you where you stand. So now when people break their neck to look at me they want to know, "where did she get those glasses from?"
But peace, like beauty, is fleeting.
At 29 years old, while at my full-time job, a black man old enough to be my young father called me "ugly." And there I was, 11 years old, staring in the mirror, feeling ugly, all over again. I feel silly writing about this now with so many women speaking out about sexual harassment, my harassment has always been men being outspoken about how unattractive I was to them. I have been called ugly in more ways and times that I can count. I wish I was numb to it, but I am not. Every time hurts.
So I'm calling myself ugly today. Not because it's true — because it's not — but because I'm reclaiming the world for myself. Years of you thinking I was ugly made me into one of the most gorgeous people you will ever meet.
But there is something about that word. Ugly. It has a hold on me. I'm married to a man who tells me I'm beautiful to the point I want to vomit. My daughter is a carbon copy of myself, and sometimes when she's sleeping, I stare at her in awe. I really do believe that she is the most beautiful girl in the world. Women like me, Philomena Kwao, and Uzo Abuda are gracing magazine covers in honor of African brown girls everywhere. And even with all of these positive things, it's a daily struggle for me to overcome the pain of thinking I was ugly for so long.
I don't believe that ugly people really exist.
You know how some white people don't see color, I'm gonna say I don't see beauty. We're all just people! You can only be ugly in the soul, not in the face, weight, gender, race or sexual orientation. I refuse to use the word to describe someone's physical appearance, and you should too. You can not be physically attracted to someone, but that doesn't make them ugly.
The real beauty of it is that I continue to exist, without fear, because I've never had acceptance and I don't need it. You see, ugly girls stay winning. We have the best partners, a strong sense of self, and we don't try hard because we don't care. But most importantly, as an ugly girl, I am free because I don't exist for the pleasure of anyone's eyes but my own.