She’s the kind of woman that has the characteristics I covet: Bouncy personality, great people skills, and most importantly – normally proportioned legs that actually fit into a pair of knee-high boots. I imagine she never has fat days, and I’d bet my 401(k) pittance that she’s never had a fat month or (most definitely) a fat year. She’s the kind of woman who, upon meeting her, makes me feel like I’m riding one of those 200mph Japanese bullet trains back in time: With a wheeze of the hydraulic brakes, I’m dumped off in the year 1972, smack in the middle of my Sophomore year. I look down and note that I’m also fully outfitted in my old wardrobe of mismatched insecurities, body image issues and terminal shyness. Walking to school each morning, I’m often passed by cars of Pretty Girls who are being driven to school by their cool boyfriends. With my books clasped to my chest, I dip my head down so as not to be recognized. It will be years before I realize that instead of sticking out like the sore thumb of a loser I was, my walks of shame to and from school probably never even registered in their pretty brains.
At school, I trudge from locker to class until the dreaded noon hour. High school lunch period is a miniature recreation of India’s caste system and its unwritten rules dictate which table I’m allowed to sit at. We’re not exactly untouchables, but we’re definitely not A-list Pretty Girls either. What do they find to talk about that makes them throw their pretty heads back, laughter trilling from their perfectly lipsticked mouths? These girls are a mystery and we accept the cultural hegemony that they exert over us – not yet aware that come Graduation Day (or as I like to refer to it: The Great Equalizer), their power over us will disappear – as if by magic – and all that’ll be left is a faint scar that will ache only when a set of specific circumstances align themselves perfectly upon our grown-up psyches.
After high school, I teach myself how not to be shy, and over these past few decades I gained confidence and what I like to think of as a healthy level of self-esteem. But once in awhile a Pretty Girl will cause that faint scar to ache and I come face-to-face with my much-younger, shy awkward self. This happened to me just recently as a matter of fact. I meet her and Wham! I immediately felt years of therapy and hours of reciting affirmations while sitting at my dressing table (trying not to obsessively stare at my pooch of belly fat because that’s really not going to help me “erase my negative self script”) circling the drainpipe of my existence. It’s such an uncomfortable thing, this feeling of being thrown back in time. So, to ward off those icky knee-jerk past-life forays to Insecure Adolescent World, I draw myself up to my full sixty-inch height (enhanced, of course, with 2-inch heels – don’t leave home without them!), smile sincerely, hold out my hand and greet her like she’s a long-lost, A-list lunch table soul sister. I telepathically channel “See? I’m just like you!” via my confident handshake and wonder if she buys my ruse.
I look at this perky woman and it’s sooo obvious she never had to sit at the Loser Table during lunch or trudge to school during a fall windstorm – and then have to spend most of 1st period trying to fix her hair in the girl’s bathroom with a cheesy pocket comb. No, this girl obviously had all the perks: A boyfriend with a car, cool friends, and a full complement of Yardley Slicker lipgloss. I wonder what it’s like for her to wake up in the morning, throw on something cute and walk around in the world as if she owns it. . I, myself, will never be able to leave the house without donning several outfits in order to find the perfect combination that won’t make me look too fat or too short.
I guess some of us were just born to sit at the popular table, while some of us will never be able to wear knee-high boots. The real trick is not to board that bullet train to the past if we can help it. So once again, I park myself in front of the dressing table mirror and recite the following over and over: “Hello, so nice to meet you. I’m just like you!” Eventually, the Pretty Girl who lives inside of me emerges.
And then she smiles.