I was labeled in school as the ugly duckling and for about 12 years, I continued to be one.
You know what elementary school’s like, you’re technically a nobody when your clothes are not high street and your boobs are not high end, and all you can think about is Nada Surf’s lyrics of Popular. It’s not that nobody speaks to you because your large sized, introvert t-shirt spells Nirvana and your hair doesn’t smell like the thick, sweet fragrance the other girls are wearing. The worst part is made of the edgy looks you get. Colder than the blizzard of ’77 and somewhat more glacial than the icebergs of the Northern Sea in November.
My long-run attachment in life to men rather than women may be a direct consequence – deeply rooted into psychoanalysis – of spending all my teenage years amongst vivid, loud – the give me some ear plugs or I’ll kill a few kind of loud – gossiping herds of GIRLS. And don’t get me wrong, I’m a complete fan of the HBO series with the same name, but what’s in school stays in school ‘cause it’s completely fucked up shit! There was this girl – let’s call her Madeleine, although she more reminded me of a Petula – who’d always grab my hair. Hers was big, long, dark and curly, like the wool of an Australian sheep just ready to be UGG-ed. She seemed Asian, although she wasn’t.
“Your hair is wrong, just like it was licked by cows”, she would say.
“Your life is wrong, just like a typo”, I silently mumbled all the time, without the actual courage to smack that bitch up.
I thrived to follow the heard, but the heard seemed to get stuck in places I found boring, so I left it behind, until it became the size of a peanut, and then minuscule like the small dark dots Twiggy would draw under her lower lashes. I have tried to put a red dress on, put a lipstick on, to listen to the tunes of my generation. I fondled myself trying to talk about making out, girls and boys, sometimes even about beauty, fashion and trends, in the conventional way. I desperately tried to smile when everyone was doing it and to enrich my vocabulary with elitist expressions and idioms that some of them chewed in the way Swedish people chew tobacco. I tried to be liked, admired, I sometimes didn’t eat and I drank what the others would drink, in the end, only to please. I never succeeded to really get between those people and I don’t even think I was made to excel on the upper ladder, as it is classically presented to us today.
I have been uncomfortable with my bra size until I was 21.
Some will laugh – Ah, kinda late! but I’m aiming for the higher rate of those who stay like this for life. It just felt weird. School and everything that followed was packed up with C and D-cups swollen in padded bras that protruded through polyester flashy tops. Then I saw Jane Birkin’s daughter Lou in the French Playboy sporting the kinkiest small bosoms on the hardcover – and changed my mind dramatically. That was about the same summer I kicked the prints and most colors in my wardrobe goodbye and embraced leather, lace and other rampages. “Coming back in time, down spiraling, I realized it felt good to be me.” In the end, I stopped trying to be somebody else. Because the beautiful will always come small, wasted and rotten, despite the modern generation mind and body surges and therapies, but the ugly can only bloom, like the maggot that turns out butterfly. Where it was dark let there be light. It’s a breezy, pleasant light that has nothing to do anymore with the clench of wanting to have, to take, to possess and to make it. With cardboard life, dreams readymade, salon tan, gloss for no loss, books you read ‘cause they’re in fashion, clothes you buy ‘cause Vogue dictates, post-teenage angst prolonged into adulthood or shoulda-woulda-coulda’s. I met all the girls later. We bumped into each other via Facebook. Big reunion party. 10 years later they wanted to be friends, to hang out. Oh, we like your shoes. You seem really busy, what’s going on with your life? Oh, where’d’you buy that? Oh, you changed so much!
“The idea that eating should be a classy act is a barbarian concept invented by beauty magazines.”
But they didn’t change one bit. Hair, clothes, chatter, everything was in its right place. A bit – or a bloat – of fat here and there. Swollen chests that lost all the flattery they got in high school. The end of an era. I felt younger than everybody at that party. My crepe de Chine dress was pale and my skin felt bold under the fabric. Coming back in time, down spiraling, I realized it felt good to be me. There was also the time when dieting rose into teenage fashion with the intensity and the awe of a snowfall in July. It may have seemed fancy, in a way that made most girls around me befriend the B monster of binge eating and tooth brush problem solver. It seemed like a terrible effort and I love food too much to waste it, so I only picked a habit of skipping breakfast, that stayed with me to the day.
I tried hardly to accommodate to all the instruments that follow a dish at table, but I resigned to a different kind of refinement – the one that has to do with taste. I’m not charming when I eat – it’s because I do it with all my heart. Food consents me to a personal love affair with my stomach. I splurge, I lick my fingers. The idea that eating should be a classy act is a barbarian concept invented by beauty magazines. All in all, I realized any torture chamber is better than the chamber of your own mind. Better said, than the chamber you sometimes not choose to populate with voices and crowds, but that creep in by themselves even years after the main show was done. I cleaned heavily. Brushed up all the corners, shut down the volumes, opened my eyes to what I really mirrored. The chatter was done. I prefer this ugliness of love rather than the beauty of perfection. But I kept my graceful amount of vanity.
I am flawed. I have uneasy cheekbones, almost invisible breasts, and crooked teeth. My nose looks larger than when I was a teenager and my hips have widened. My neck is not very long and my hands are veiny. I have dermographism so each scratch or bump I take will show up like braille or like liquorice on my skin. My legs are not so long and my naturally waving hair never seemed to manage to resist the weather. So what? I am whole. These are all mine and no one else has them. I revel at them now and I’ll probably revel more in my thirties. Everyone else is free to revel at themselves. This is the only monument you get. And it’s free!
Ioana Cristina Casapu is the Managing Director of Art Parasites Magazine. She likes Brian Eno, airports and never says no to a good old Gin&Tonic.