How To Be Ugly


When you met him, you felt special, like you were the four-eyed nerdy girl that had been picked by the prom king to be his partner during his victory dance beneath the gym’s florescent spotlights. He was the sort of boy who viewed the female body as an object to be conquered, some mysterious, unearthly landscape with curves that flowed like river water, some inferior plaything that made him feel like an iron-hearted Alexander the Great (it would’ve been too kind to call him a man, because at twenty-one, he still smiled as though the proverbial silver spoon was still stuck to the roof of his mouth).

You were flattered and surprised that he was determined to win your temporary affections. After all, you were used to being either completely ignored or dehumanized via the lens of white, heterosexual male exoticism. He knew how to disguise himself; he knew how to disappear in a crowd. He was like a movie star. He knew when the camera was on. He barely looked at your friend, the leggy bottle blonde with a coke bottle waist and a plastering of expensive eye makeup. Under the influence of cheap beers plucked from someone’s father’s cooler in the garage, you were more than willing to feed his attention. Wasn’t the pursuit of the male gaze something that had been ingrained into your fucked-up belief system, wired into your brain waves like some kind of confidence corroding poison? Even on those nights when you were a freshly minted thirteen and you were swiping drugstore makeup to combat your adolescent apathy and your girl friends were sneaking out windows to go to someone’s house party, it was all about collecting the admiration of as many worthy suitors as possible. A party symbolized the chance to tear down the trappings of your society, the flimsy set of labels that sought to pigeon-hole a person of color’s self-identification into a joke, an exercise of (white) power. It was the suburban girl’s fever dream equivalent to a genie in a bottle, a chance for the stars to align and experience the type of nerve-frying romance cultivated by obsessively watching John Hughes movies. Deep down, you must have known that the fickleness of the male gaze would never make you happy or make you complete. But it would act as a token of acceptance, a sliver of hope that even weird black girls were desirable.

That night when you went to the bar, he made it a point to sit next to you. He pulled his chair close and whispered in your ear and his hot breath tickled your neck. Each time you sipped your beer, his eyes watched your lips and your palms were slick with sweat. He made you feel wanted and that was worth more than your sense of dignity. The smell of cologne clung to his polo and his eyes were the color of blue crushed velvet and when he laughed, he stretched open his mouth so that you could see that the bottom of his back molar was capped with silver.

All of your words were just flashes of prolonged foreplay. He made excuses to touch you, to let his fingers linger on your arm and drift across the exposed skin of your back. In the car on the way back to your friend’s house, he insisted that you sit on his lap and you felt like you could die right then and there. The windows were rolled down and your body was pure electricity. He pressed his lips against your right shoulder blade and then the left and it was as though you were old lovers, bound by a comfortable intimacy. He had you hooked and you were ready to call him your very own James Dean, ready to paint his personality with the temperament of a sensitive soul, a visionary artist.

You know that part of you hooked up with him just because you could. The other part of you hooked up with him because it seemed like the sexiest form of rebellion, a way to utilize your rage as revenge against a society and an American-made culture that favored streamlined beauty standards. You had not yet learned that you did not have to give away pieces of yourself to be considered beautiful. After that night, you never saw him again.
A year or so later, you notice a post he publishes on Facebook. It’s in reference to the George Zimmerman trial. His words are a kick to the gut.

why did obama have to make that speech about trayvon martin? why couldn’t he have just kept his fucking mouth shut! this isn’t even about race! what’s he trying to do, start a fucking race war? i didn’t realize this was the 1950s!!!

You keep staring at the words as though the longer you look, they’ll magically morph into something else. This is the worst of white privilege front and center; any lust or lingering attraction you feel dissolves like body parts dropped in vats of acid. You’ve seen too many Facebook posts that echo his sentiments in various displays of colorful or coded language. It only reiterates the delusion, cluelessness, and animosity of many white Americans. You are black and you are not a true American. You are black and you are worthless. Black bodies are expendable.

Something snaps inside of you and after taking a moment to collect your racing thoughts, you type out a series of counterarguments, paragraphs plumped with the guidance of literary mentors such as bell hooks and Cornel West and Audra Lorde. You feel as though you have to say this, even if it pans out to be an exercise of screaming to the wind. The ghosts of progressive politic revolutionaries peer over your shoulder, encouraging your diatribe, shaping it into coherency. When you finally finish, you are drained, hands slightly trembling.

Your ex-paramour types one response.

Are you fucking stupid?

Before you can unleash another round of debate, you find that he’s deleted the entire conversation and blocked you.

You can only smile.

You feel like a warrior.

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image – DeeAshley