I'm not hot and I'm okay with it.
Just to be clear, I'm not fishing for compliments. I’m definitely not ugly. When I wear makeup and nice clothes, I can be cute. I have many positive attributes, including, but not limited to: writing ability, strong sense of empathy, good work ethic, enjoys making brownies from scratch.
I’m just not hot.
Which is fine! But for a long time it wasn’t.
My last two years of high school, I befriended three girls who were prettier than me. This wasn’t — and still isn’t! — a case of teenage girl “I-Hate-Myself-itis,” they were just objectively prettier. Pretty, in my town, meant thin and athletic, straight hair, little ski-jump nose, super-padded Victoria's Secret bra. I was a little overweight, didn’t know how to handle my curls and didn’t go to a stylist that could teach me. (Supercuts, baby.) I couldn’t afford Hollister tank tops or Victoria's Secret bras, unless my mom found them for me at the local thrift store.
There was always a matching set of boyfriends, crushes, or sexually-charged “guy friends.” They seemed to think I was smart and funny but pretty much overlooked me as a sexual prospect. I felt like, if hotness was a condom, intelligence and humor felt like Plan B — a last-ditch effort to be appealing. I also felt cheated. My pretty friends were also nice, smart and cool, even though the deepest, ugliest part of me wished they dumb and/or mean, because it just didn’t seem fair that they had it all.
The misfit girl with glasses is lionized in pop culture, but there’s something emotionally myopic about deciding you’re smarter than the hot girls because you feel like the underdog. I find myself criticizing this exact “she wears short skirts, I wear t-shirts” bullshit in a lot of my writing, from an academic essay about your problematic fave Tina Fey, to the characters in my upcoming YA novel SCARLETT EPSTEIN HATES IT HERE. I write about it a lot because it’s an impulse of mine that I hate — that resentful feeling I get when men laugh a little too loud at a hot woman’s joke, or when beautiful women my age get huge book deals — and try my best to fight against.
Before starting college, with the idea of reinventing myself, I did a lot of research on the cost of rhinoplasties and chin lipo. The mother of one of my friends from school had offered her daughter a nose job for graduation, but she’d turned it down. I remember thinking she was nuts. My friend wound up going to UPenn and getting a very exclusive, male-dominated job with the government. A few years ago she told me she was really glad she hadn’t gotten a nose job. If she had, she said, she’d be too pretty to be taken seriously at work. As a teen, I was too up my own ass to realize that hot girls have their own shit to deal with.
Things looked up for me when I went to college. Maybe in my shithole suburb of New Jersey, I was an uncategorizable blobfish. But in college, I was a viable sexual archetype — the smart, funny Jewish girl. Now that guys were actually paying attention to me, an entirely new subspecies of guys who preferred smart-sexy over sexy-sexy and thought Hollister was trash, there was a whole new layer of pressure.
I got Keratin and Brazilian blowouts that made my hair easier to straighten with a flat iron, damaging my curls for years. I went back on diet pills and used this crazy $39.99 Sharper-Image-looking thing that was supposed to electric-shock your excess fat off — if anyone can find it online, anywhere, I will be forever in your debt. It was unpleasant. Every shock made the tendons of my neck tense up and my eyes tear. The summer between freshman and sophomore year I’d sit in my mom’s living room until 3 AM, wired on the pills, shocking my double chin with the thing and watching reruns of Just Shoot Me.
It was so cute, you guys.
In my early-to-mid twenties, I chased after a guy who didn’t like me, who in retrospect was clearly a way to make my insecurities more tangible. (Tangible, and in SUCH a stupid jacket.) I got stupidly-expensive hair extensions on a $25,000-a-year salary. I got way too thin, partly from anxiety, and partly because Tangible Stupid Jacket's constant rejections brought up my old high school food issues. My sister coined it the Sorrow Diet. I felt a sense of accomplishment, but I didn’t feel especially hot. Looking back on the photos (the one above is from that time, picking at small plates at my birthday dinner), I look sort of bobblehead-y.
I’m 29 now, and all my closest friends are hotter than me. Again! But I don’t care anymore. Maybe spending half my life in therapy has paid off, finally. Getting older seems to be good for me: I have run out of fucks. I used them all up early — like, who puts on a full face of makeup to go to Duane Reade? — and now they are gone. Most of my female friends are running low on their own fucks, which helps. There’s less uneasy sizing-up, less evaluation of who’s the hottest when we all go out together.
There’s way more sizing-up and obsession about careers. But that's its own story.