Tell An 11-Year-Old They’re Beautiful

In my oh-so dramatically turbulent teenaged years, I had a mild obsession with the word ‘beautiful’.

Or rather, I should clarify, I had a mild obsession with maybe one day, if I was lucky, someone would refer to me as being ‘beautiful’.

‘beauty is’ on my chest at 17

I’ve recently been delving into all corners of my mind trying to pull out all of the things that I have forgotten to remember. (As a creative writing exercise, of course.)

There is one girl, let’s call her Suzie, she must be about 10 or 11. She and her mother/aunt/older sister were regulars at Fran’s (a 50’s style 24 hour diner I used to work at). This girl was overweight. By the standards that doctors give for healthy and average weight frames for girls her height and age, she was in the red zone. Every time she came into the diner, she and her chaperone would have just finished swimming at the ‘Y’. I know this because she told me this, right before she ordered the usual burger and fries along side the king size chocolate milkshake’s that are one of the trademarks at Fran’s (they also acted as the bane of my existence for the year and a half I worked there).

Suzie, at least once every meal she ate at the diner, would stare up at me from the table and tell me how pretty she thought I was.

Not once did I ever tell Suzie how beautiful she was.

Perhaps I was struck by the honesty that tends to spill forth from children’s lips. Perhaps, amidst so many other people, bathing in the florescent lights and pop rock, I did not think that I would be able to be sincere enough that she would believe me. Perhaps I was thinking about how differently my life would have gone had some complete stranger that I thought was ‘pretty’ told me that she thought I was beautiful when I was 11.

To recap what being 11 is like: I had just begun to discover the correlation with how greasy my hair was or how tight-fitting my clothes were to my social worth in popularity. Even with secretly starting to shave my legs, wearing training bras, and wearing 5-inch hooker shoes and a skimpy little dress to my grade 6 graduation, I was by no means ‘cool’. I liked every single boy, but was convinced, due to my low level in the social food chain, that not a single boy was looking at me.

No one told me I was beautiful until I was 15.

To be fair, in my own mind, I hadn’t reached any sort of impeccable beauty standard. I was not lithe and athletic. I was not the sort of voluptuous that stopped cars or caught the eyes of men. Had I recognized that I had a waist and what the wonders of a proper bra could do, I would have had a very different high-school experience. But alas.

The first person to use the word ‘beautiful’ in reference to me (that wasn’t a doting relative) was a 17-year-old boy who was unknowingly hitting a homerun with this word that oh-so nonchalantly escaped his lips.

I idolized him. Over the month that I had known him at camp I had continued to feed my brain whatever little detail I could about the delightfulness of his movie-star self: his unwashed, dark curls that bounced just below his eyebrows, the aviator sunglasses that didn’t quite sit right on his nose, but made him seem contradictingly law-enforcing and law-breaking all at once, the puss-filled pimples that were begging to be popped and loved – oh the character an uneven complexion aroused from my brain, the misunderstood loner who was just hit by a bad bunch of teen-genes.

We even had a few moments of utter ecstatical adoration for each other: catching each others eyes across the room. Slightly grazing shoulders. Being paired up in some form of tag game. Had known how to masturbate at this age, I would’ve been going at it everyday in the shower with the thoughts of him that were, by the minute, dissolving whatever else I had absorbed in my short time on Earth.

The real story came about when I officially returned to camp as a counselor instead of a ‘counselor in training’ (apparently, as long as you are paying to be there, you are still, technically, a camper, despite the title change – it was also at this point that I discovered how nun-tight they are about preventing camper-counselor relationships. I quickly realized how many of my male counselors avoided me in the years at my camp due to my exorbitantly obvious crushes on them…).

The day I returned, there was an instant click of a switch and some rather painfully obvious forms of universal signs presented themselves in front of us: on the ride to camp I was squished into the seat beside him. With our legs touching, he hands me the fortune he broke free of his recently consumed Chinese desert: You will find happiness beside you. If the truck had not been full of my other people I likely would’ve jumped him then and there – had I known how to kiss.

Because no one told me I was beautiful, I did as any normal teenager who hasn’t yet read a plethora of novels would do: I based my looks off magazine, TV and my peers. How this worked for my brain and self-confidence was that every time I looked up into a mirror I saw the hugeness of my forehead, the lankiness of my hair, the braces, the thin lips, the belly that cascaded in the lumps and bumps of a rolling hillside, the lack of booty and the uncompromising, thick, dark pubic hair. Not to mention two boulders attached to my chest that would roll out of any contraption you could buy at LaSenza.

To be quite frank, when this teenage camp-crush whispered “Morning, beautiful” into my ear right after we had done the Morning Freshie (a tortuous experiment enforced by the camp leader whose genius mind figured stampeding into a freezing cold Northern lake at 7 AM would be a great way to not only wake kids up, but keep their hygiene level at a decent level of stink), I didn’t believe him. In my normal state of being, I knew I was nothing shiny to gaze upon, but at the break of dawn, in a tight, unflattering bathing suit, after I had doused my body in sub-arctic lake water… Go fuck yourself.

But nonetheless, a shiver of endorphins and dopamine ran up and down my spine that sent myself the message that I was living out the dream in that moment. The rest of my life would likely go to shit at that point, because the boy I had a gynormous crush on was telling me I was beautiful – and this would be the climax of my lifes story.

beauty. in a nutshell.

But this was not the case. As you can tell by the picture above, I would grow to be an insanely beautiful lady, with the class and grace of a child raised in the company of royalty and strict nannies.

I’m not saying that no good evolved of my childhood ugly ducklingness. Instead of just assuming boys would be interested in me, I ordered books like ‘The Art of Seduction” off the internets and studied about non-monogamy. Which was a hoot in its own way. But, if someone had told me, if someone in their 20’s with a funky haircut, a neat tattoo, someone who wore Doc Martens and black eyeliner, or some babely chick had looked at me and told me without flinching, “You are so beautiful” … the heartbreaking, self-hatred I had formed for my body at the age 11, may have diminished some.

When you were 11, and a complete stranger of a young woman told you they thought you were beautiful, how would it have effected you?

2 thoughts on “Tell An 11-Year-Old They’re Beautiful

  1. I’m still mulling this one over. My first thought was that, maybe it’s part of being 11 to be insecure about your looks; maybe telling your girl she’s beautiful won’t make her believe it. But then I think, I remember being told how smart I was, and believing I was smart- and when I look at my old report cards, my marks aren’t exceptional – maybe the fact that I heard it often meant I bought it. I had an aunt who clearly saw me as “the smart one” and my sister (the one who’s not on facebook) as “the pretty one”, although we’re both smart (You’ll notice that I’m not owning the pretty part!) But we were also raised quite explicitly not to value appearance high among all the qualities we could possess. Independence of thought, an inquisitive mind, kindness and consideration, honesty, a love of reading and learning, logic were what was desirable. That was what I aspired to. If someone had told me in Junior High that I was beautiful, I would have been suspicious. Despite being raised in an anti-fashion, appearance-downplaying home, I knew what beautiful was supposed to look like, and it wasn’t me. If I had believed it, and if that had converted into believing myself to be beautiful, would it have affected me or the person I would become? I honestly don’t know, but I rather fear that it might have made me more self-centred, and more shallow – in short, more concerned with appearances. But that may just be me.

  2. I love it! My mom was great about telling us we were beautiful up until we were about 9 or 10 and then a friend of hers told her to stop it because she would fill our heads with ideas of being too pretty. Our egos would then explode. I don’t know. I think there’s some reasoning to that, but you can never give too much love and support to a teenager in my opinion.
    Kudos.

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