I remember one time when I was a teenager wailing to my mother that I was sooooo ugly. And she told me, "it's more important to be smart than pretty." Which I understood, with the kind of self absorption that only a 15 year old with acne and a big nose can command: Even my own mother thinks I am ugly.
I think I was in my early thirties before I understood that she meant: beauty will not serve you as well as thinking will. Before I understood that she meant that I was smart.
In the meantime, in my teens and twenties, I vacillated so hard in my perception of my looks that I was probably a little crazy. I know I've talked about this before but it's just so weird to look at pictures and remember how awful I felt, so much of the time. On the one hand, people, particularly men, seemed to like to look at me. I watched a man at the gas station turn around to look at me and crash into a wall, pure slapstick. On the other hand, I had boyfriends who regularly told me that I was fat, that my face was weirdly lopsided, that I wasn't pretty enough to love. A woman stopped me on the street to tell me I could be attractive if I would just make a little effort. I got to a point where anything that might have been positive felt negative, like I felt even if someone said I looked nice it was from pity. I thought that anybody who looked at me would have looked at Joseph Merrick in the same way, I felt like anybody who touched me did so the way they might pet a snake. Some days I couldn't leave the house because I felt so guilty about inflicting myself on people. When I did get out, I apologized to people for my Cyrano nose, my horse teeth, my peasant's ankles, for freckles, until I had made perfectly sure that was all they saw.
In my thirties, I had Squire, and a few things happened. One, I had a person in my daily life who did not care a bit how I looked. Two, I was way too tired to be thinking about my looks so damn much. Three, I got a job on the internet that meant nobody was looking at me and they truly only cared about how well I did my job.
This is when I came to understand my mother's words, finally.
And when I hit my forties, I noticed that some of my friends, friends who were deeply pretty in high school, were taking the aging process really hard. I was in my prime, mentally, and the fact that I was in decline physically was comparatively nothing to me. Wrinkles? Mostly laugh lines. Grey hair? I couldn't wait. I had the intellect now to avoid mirrors too well lit or people who negged me; I even had the word neg in my vocabulary. Sure, there were still moments, like the time someone came up to me on the beach and told me I was so brave for wearing a bathing suit in public. And sometimes I had my moments of self-doubt that I made all by myself. But for the most part I was busy figuring out what I could do with my brain and having a much better time of it. In the course of this I came to realize how incredibly boring talking about being ugly is. Oh, it's so so so boring, it's worse than talking about the weather.
So now I'm fifty. To be honest I'm sometimes surprised at the extent to which vanity creeps in -- I got permanent eyeliner, and that's really the least of it. Tattoos are transformative. It's like most other things, I guess -- it's a lot easier to play in the water once you've learned how to swim. It still comes back, this wave of horror, and even just a month ago I had a minute where I couldn't breathe for fear of being pulled under it. But it's a receding wave, it's no longer likely to drown me. Also when I got enough white hair to justify it I bleached the rest of my hair to match it, all platinum, and listen to what wikipedia says about that: It is a dense, malleable, ductile, highly unreactive, precious, silverish-white transition metal. Indeed it is. We are.