Daily Life: Confessions of the ugly friend

Daily Life: Confessions of the ugly friend

I have a piece at Daily Life today, about a really tough subject, one that I think a lot of women grapple with.

I have bad habits. I crack my knuckles (and my back, and my hips). I fidget when the subway runs slowly, as though wiggling my toes will make the train go faster. When I’m nervous, I tuck my hair behind my ears even if it’s already tucked back. Those are the little bad habits. For over a decade now, I’ve had the big bad habit of forming close friendships with women who are much, much prettier than I am.

My best childhood friend, a woman who is still one of my closest friends, was one of the few girls who somehow managed to glide straight through adolescence without ever being anything less than beautiful. Even in those peak gawky years of thirteen and fourteen, she was gorgeous: long slender limbs, olive skin, and somehow perfectly in proportion when the rest of us were widening and lengthening in all sorts of weird hormonal ways. In my senior year of high school, I became close with a girl who went by the nickname Malibu Barbie. She was the kind of California girl that 1960s boy bands wrote songs about: straight blonde hair, big blue eyes, a body that made the boys from our brother school lose the power of speech. I was not so physically fortunate. Rather than skipping over the gawky teen years, I seemed to have been served an extra helping. I was pale, freckled, with hair that couldn’t choose between frizzy and greasy and so went with both at once. My body swung almost immediately from rectangular and stunted from gymnastics to pudgy and stretch-marked from an exchange to France, where Australian women do get fat.

I was the ugly friend. I loved those young women dearly, and I tried my very best not to envy how beautiful they were. But standing next to them I imagined that I looked like Paul Giamatti standing next to Charlize Theron.

Years later, my bad habit persists. When I graduated from college a few years ago, I was delighted and comforted to be setting out into the “real” world with a handful of wonderful girlfriends. They were smart and kind and generous and supportive, and I felt so lucky to have found them. They were also all gorgeous. I was fine looking, and I had a few features I particularly liked, but these women, good god, these women! Today, they remain my closest friends, and they also remain knockouts. When you get the four of them together it’s like a United Colours of Benetton ad: everyone is a different ethnicity but they’re all citizens of the Republic of Hotopia. Next to them, I often feel like an exchange student from Meh-xico. Regardless of how I actually look, when we all sit down to eat a meal together, in my head I’m always the odd one out, a moth in a rabble of butterflies.

You can read the whole thing here.

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