Skin Deep

The first time I met Robin, I immediately disliked her. When I walked into our young singles Sunday school class for the first time, I thought she was one of the most beautiful women I’d ever met. She was well-dressed and seemed to really have it all together. I assumed we had nothing in common and would never get along.

Over the next few months, I got to know her better. I discovered that although she looked perfect, she was also a real person who got in car accidents and had trouble finding decent guys to date and complained about her job. And she was a good person, too, who really cared about her friends and family. So why had my first impression of Robin been so negative?

9th grade school pictureBack in grade school, the popular people were the fashion trendsetters for our little school district. They were the first to wear Guess jeans and all the other status name brands of the day (Esprit, Forenza, Op, Banana Republic). Their hair was perfectly permed and highlighted.

I was not a part of the popular crowd. Nor did I want to be: As a group, they came across as shallow and silly and mean. I really liked the friends I had and wouldn’t have traded them for anything. So when it happened one day in seventh grade that I wore the exact same outfit to school as one of the popular girls, I was probably more embarrassed about it than she was. I did not want to be like them, and I didn’t want anyone to think I was trying to be like them.

I felt that I knew that society in general seemed to value the popular types more, with their good grooming and fashion choices. Even so, I rebelled from that aesthetic. I probably ended up selling myself short – I never saw myself as pretty or even beautiful, but rather average-looking. I was OK with average though, since pretty carried with it the baggage of popularity and meanness and, according to some stereotypes, stupidity.

I know my lack of care for my appearance probably drove my mom crazy. In high school, she had to remind me to brush my hair almost every morning and beg me to wear at least a little makeup to school dances. At the same time, she had to keep me from making sometimes bizarre fashion choices as I strove to find my own individual style. I remember one time in particular when she vetoed my wearing a belt as a skirt (in my defense, it was a really wide belt).

Over time, I supposed I developed a chip on my shoulder. I refused to conform to the slick, stylish society ideal — I still didn’t want anyone to think I was like "those people" — yet I also insisted that I not be regarded as a lesser person because of it. I moved forward through college and beyond with confidence in myself and my abilities. I learned how to mimic some of the styling techniques pretty people used because I saw how they could be useful in certain situations, but it was really never more than play-acting, putting on a costume to achieve an effect.

I’m glad that I became friends with Robin. She taught me not to judge people based solely on their looks. But the fact that I need to constantly remind myself of that lesson just goes to show that the chip is still on my shoulder, that I am still inherently suspicious of anyone who looks too good, and that I’m still daring the world to think less of me because I won’t conform.

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  1. This is a strangely familiar sentiment. That automatic distrust of the good-looking folk prevails in my mentality as well, though my contrasting inattention to appearance had more to do with the fact that I simply couldn’t be bothered since I couldn’t do it well, and it’s taken a lot of time for me to absorb the reality that attractive people aren’t uniformly shallow.

    It’s taken time for me to mellow since high school, but learning to be comfortable in my own skin meant that I also learned that there will be some perfectly nice, trustworthy people despite their attractive exteriors. 😉 That and friends who grew into insanely stylish, yet remained inherently the same lovable people, really helped.

    Glad you posted this.

  2. Dan says:

    And sometimes people actually become less fashion-y as they get older, as I’ve seen in the past week.

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