A year ago I embarked on something I called The Ugliness Project. Someone gave me a piece written by a young woman who was in terrible pain because she believed strongly in her own ugliness. In this moving essay she articulated every single feeling I’ve had about myself at one time or another, and though I never sent it, I wrote a letter to her, that turned out to be a letter to myself as well.
As long as I’ve been aware of myself I’ve had feelings of not being good enough, and certainly not pretty enough. Pretty enough for what is irrelevant, because when you feel you aren’t pretty it doesn’t matter whether you are or not because I promise you are not. It is impossible to feel hideous and be pretty. And so I embarked on a project to dissect and ideally deconstruct those feelings, and maybe even replace them with something more positive.
My project had all the qualifications of an earnest grammar school book report including colored construction paper, photos taped to said paper, and handwritten paragraphs beside each of the fifteen pictures laid out in chronological order from age seven to my mid-thirties. In each paragraph, I tried to recall how I was feeling about myself at that moment.
I think what shocked me the most was that in most of the pictures the girl I see ranges from pretty to very pretty, with an awkward moment at age thirteen. I can see myself in each one, the same face I see now, apparent in all of them, and yet though I can see what was there then, it is still tough to go from those pictures to the mirror and find those same features somewhat older and try to find my own beauty, but I know it is there.
People who love me, when I am willing to talk about it, all swear that they think I am beautiful, but of course, they do. That is part of loving someone; seeing their beauty. I have met people who I thought were unattractive and as I got to know them they became beautiful to me. I am trying to learn to be that generous with myself. To grasp that it doesn’t matter if someone thinks I am beautiful because of or in spite of my physical appearance, they are equally real. Just as the great beauty who is unkind and unpleasant becomes unattractive.
In the letter I wrote to Joanna (and myself) I wisely wrote:
Every day you spend believing and buying into these thoughts is a day stolen from you. It is a day you are denying yourself both your own self-regard and the love of others. It is a day spent alone and in isolation, apart from the world, you feel unworthy to take part in. Every day (and those days mount up so fast you will not believe it) you spend hating yourself and believing that what you are is ugly is a day of being ugly, no matter how beautiful you are, and you will make yourself as ugly as you fear you are.
And so I go to the mirror and look deep inside my own smile. I look for the person I know is there. Would I be happy if by some miracle that face was a bit thinner and younger? Sure, but if my Ugliness Project has resulted in an even slightly more beautiful me, it has been a success.