Thursday, December 16, 2004

How it is if you’re ugly...

I wonder how many people know how it is to be unpopular and socially clueless. Luckily, if you're not one of them, I’m here to help you understand.

“Normal” is a pretty narrow stripe on the spectrum of possible human behaviour. You don’t have to be very far outside that section to make people uncomfortable, and people don’t like to feel uncomfortable. All you have to do is be a little funny-looking, or height/weight disproportional, or dress badly. Or fail to make the right kind of eye-contact, or project an aura of cringing cluelessness, or miss a few social and conversational cues.
If you’re “abnormal” – especially if you also seem powerless – people don’t treat you with respect. Usually, their eyes kind of just slide over you – except when they’re having a joke at your expense.

For example: let’s say you’re in high school, and you’re an acknowledged dorkwad, and you go into the student store to buy a pen. The popular student behind the counter will ignore you. He will talk to his friends, or make a phone call, or help everyone else before you. If you screw up your courage to ask for what you want, he will look at you with a faintly amused sneer. It’s a little bit like what the guy described in Black Like Me – when you’re different, a certain number of people just dislike you automatically. I don’t remember very often getting what he described as The Hate Stare, but I got a lot of The Sneer.

And it’s even worse when it’s girls – at least, it was for me. I really didn’t care that much what Joe Jockstrap thought of me in high school – most of them seemed like morons, and they were definitely BO-ring. Even when they were being oafish – the fundamentals of which they excelled at – they had no imagination.
Jock1: Did you see the boobs on that new girl?
Jock 2: Yeah, man. I saw ‘em.
Jock 1: Man, I’d like to get ahold of *them*.
Jock 2: Dude, me too.
Jock 1: Dude.
Jock 2: Yeah.

I wanted to grab them by their thick jock necks and bang their heads together. You guys are such freaking idiots! You can’t even leer with any style! Girls’ bodies are the greatest thing on this entire planet, and all you can say about them is “Dude”?

Anyway, where was I? Right, it was worse to be ignored or mistreated by girls, because I couldn’t hate them or dismiss them like I could the guys. I desired them desperately, and wanted badly for them to like me. When they laughed at me, it was disheartening and demoralizing.

And I *was* definitely a dorkwad. I had glasses, and they weren’t the stylish kind. (Back then there were only about 4 kinds anyway, and none of them looked good – but I set some sort of Guinness Book record for Stupidest-Looking Glasses, I’m sure.)
I read constantly, I played chess, I scored a million on the SAT. I skipped first grade, so I was younger than everyone else. To make it worse, I didn’t start the puberty process until I was about 15, which meant that throughout high school I looked like a little boy surrounded by hairy, muscled young men. I had straight, fine hair, and it was cut short – by my dad – at a time when everyone else wore it long, parted in the middle, and blow-dried. And we had very little money, so I had no car, a second-hand bike, and weird clothes. (To be fair, I could have dressed better on the same amt of money, but I was utterly without clue when it came to clothes.) All in all, it wasn’t a picture to inspire much enthusiasm in a young woman, and I don’t really blame them for not being interested. Most chicks don’t dig the elegance of the Queen’s Pawn Opening, or Durkin’s Attack, and I understood that – but the ones who were mocking and mean about it – that kind of hurt.

Okay, so what is my point? I’m sure I had one at some stage of this ramble down memory lane. Oh yeah, here’s the deal:
If you’ve never been in the position in life where every interaction with people (clerks, cops, peers, waiters, salespeople, etc etc) is a challenge, it’s worth thinking about. When you’re good-looking and confident, people WANT to help you. They notice you. They greet you. They go out of their way to get you what you need. When you’re Strange (as The Doors said), people step in front of you, people ignore you, dismiss you, talk down to you, or just plain don’t care.

I am no longer in the Strange category, that I know of (shut up, Anya). I matured a lot in college, my looks improved, and I gained some self-confidence. I can afford a decent haircut and clothes, and looking young is now a bonus.
But I remember so well how it feels to be snickered at, to never be taken seriously, to be unnoticed or deliberately ignored. Twenty-five years later, I’m still slightly surprised when people remember me, or when strangers smile or women flirt. And I value that memory of what it was like when I was young. It gives me a connection with people who are still in that situation, the inclination to take them seriously, and a desire to see the person underneath the hesitant exterior.

So anyway, that’s how great I am. I have been forged by the fires of social ostracism into a person who is incredibly empathetic, yet at the same time amazingly handsome and confident. I dazzle myself with my splendidness. I don’t blame you if you want to be like me, or at least bask in my aura a little. I’m available for parties and bar mitzvahs. Weekends extra.


At Thu Dec 16, 10:47:00 PM PST, Blogger No_Newz said...

So what I want to know is... was it "Hannah" or Queer Eye for the Straight Guy who saved you from dorkdom? ;)
In all seriousness, those are good memories and they made me search my own mental file cabinet.
Some of the things I pondered while reading... Was I a dorkwad? Was I ignored? Did I ignore others? Did I look cute in my Flash Dance half top? Good God, was my mullet current? Is my mullet still current? Sorry, I would write more but I have to consult the Magic 8 Ball.
Lois Lane

At Thu Dec 16, 11:37:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I feel lucky just to be living in the same century with you. I'm pretty great too, though. I mean if we're being totally candid here...


At Fri Dec 17, 07:38:00 AM PST, Blogger bryan torre said...

No, it wasn't Hannah, and Queer Eye wasn't around back then when I needed it.

I went to university, and took a job in the library serving the public. I got good at my job, which gave me confidence, and I was forced to develop some inter-personal skills dealing with "customers" every day.
Also, people at uni were much more mature, and I slowly learned that not everyone was going to laugh at me, or dismiss me.
Girls still acted fairly uninspired, but that started to change as I grew into my looks, or something.
My 2nd year at uni I had my first ever girlfriend, and eventually I was breaking girls' hearts -- or at least, torquing them off (eg, Karli).
After Karli, I met Hannah -- we got married during my senior year and lived happily ever after. Or rather, we're still learning how to be considerate of one another -- not always easy for two people who both think they're the one in charge... :-)

At Fri Dec 17, 11:05:00 AM PST, Blogger unca said...

"So anyway, that’s how great I am. I have been forged by the fires of social ostracism into a person who is incredibly empathetic, yet at the same time amazingly handsome and confident. I dazzle myself with my splendidness. I don’t blame you if you want to be like me, or at least bask in my aura a little."

Sounds like a 12 step program gone bad.

At Fri Dec 17, 02:27:00 PM PST, Blogger anya ransuns aka Roxy said...

Augh, ick, this post hit a little close to home. It made me sad for you, for me, and for anyone else who's ever been on the receiving end of The Sneer. I too have blossomed marvelously, of course -- actually lately I've blossomed a little too much, but that's another story-- Anyway, something I realized later is that some of the kids who were mean to me at school had really bad or moderately bad home lives and parents who didn't love them like mine loved me. This was not a comfort, but rather a sort of dark Churchillian revelation-- "After high school I will be loved and respected, not to mention cute, but your dad will still be a jerk...."

PS I've seen Lois' picture, and if she had an awkward stage, she's definitely done with it. Um, actually Ms. Lane, I think if you have to ASK, you didn't. I suspect the Flashdance shirt was all it was meant to be and more...

At Fri Dec 17, 02:58:00 PM PST, Blogger Stephanie said...

Ahhh...but I think you missed one very important point...what actually happens is that those who were beautiful and popular in high school graduate and become the losers working at the local shoe store (ala Al Bundy from Married With Children), while the nerds grow up and take over the world, ala Bill Gates...err, actually, he's a bad example. He's still a nerd. But you get my point.

I keep meaning to go to my high school reunion and wow everyone but I'm usually too busy being glamorous and beautiful, living my exciting Los Angeles lifestyle. Ha!

At Fri Dec 17, 07:19:00 PM PST, Blogger unca said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At Fri Dec 17, 07:29:00 PM PST, Blogger unca said...

Here's another thought: All those people who thought you were strange in high school--just like you, they've probably changed too. I recently started a small site for the people I graduated from high school with. Some of the people on the site were strange (I guess I was) and some of them were those (jocks, cheerleaders, real lookers) who may have looked down on us strangees. But now they're regular people with their own families, problems, and hopes. Nobody cares anymore about who was doing what 43 years ago, we're just some friends who keep in touch from a distance. Time is a great leveler -- not so much for looks or sucess or money--but for finding out what counts. Well, this is sounding pretty sappy but that's my two cents. One more thought: does anybody really look back on adolescence and consider themself to have been "normal"?

At Sat Dec 18, 01:14:00 AM PST, Blogger bryan torre said...

Good point(s), Unca -- we were all insecure, feeling our way, making mistakes, etc. People grow up, and the little mini-world that was our high school experience is gone now -- might as well get over it at some point. But I *do* think those years and those experiences tend to be formative in no small degree. At least, it feels like they were for me.

At Tue Sep 23, 05:36:00 AM PDT, Blogger JustAnotherDude said...

I need someone's advice.

The thing is that I'm not confident.According to some people around me, I'm nice-looking boy.
But I don't see myself as a good looking, so I just lose my self-confidence.
If anyone could help me somehow..
email me ~

At Tue Sep 23, 05:44:00 AM PDT, Blogger JustAnotherDude said...

I need someone's advice.

It's about my confidence,
according to some people around me
I'm a nice-looking boy.
But I don't see myself as a good looking.
So I just lose my self-confidnce and I can't act normaly, or talk.

If anyone could support me,email me.


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