Published on Page A13 of the October 7, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer
YOU know when proud parents go into a mock argument over who among their children took after their intelligence or lovable personality or nice physical attributes? “Sa akin yata nagmana ’yan” [“Of course, he/she took after me”], they would say.
I was the kid who excelled in school, so I used to hear that line from my parents whenever I brought home my report card or flashed gold medals or earned merit ribbons from a declamation contest or a science quiz bee. And it felt good.
But it felt different when I heard one of them say, “Kamukha mo siya” [“She looks like you”], and the other protested, “Hindi, mana siya sa ’yo.” [“No, she got her looks from you.”]
I overheard that exchange when, perhaps out of sheer boredom (or plain tactlessness), my parents started discussing who among their children were good-looking and who in particular looked like them. And sadly, I was the kid they were talking about when both of them jokingly denied any genetic responsibility for my less-than-dazzling looks. It seemed as if nobody wanted to be my “kamukha” (look-alike).
I heard those remarks when I was 13 years old, and that was when I came to realize that I was not beautiful. I struggled through my teen years up to my early 20s with a lot of hang-ups and insecurities, thinking I was smart but “fugly” (f---king ugly).
Now I am 28, and surprisingly, I turned out OK. Meaning I didn’t morph into a murderous sociopath (hurrah!) despite the many disparaging remarks that mercilessly crushed my self-esteem. Apparently I’m made of sterner stuff, though it took a while before knew I had it in me.
What’s a camera-shy girl to do when a photographer asks her, “Why do you hate to have your picture taken? ‘Hindi ka naman masyadong pangit’ [After all, you are not that ugly].” (I am quoting him verbatim.) Nasty.
What’s a nice, bright-eyed girl to do when, at the five-star hotel where she works, a snooty guest tells her, “Are you really working at the PR department? You don’t look like a glamorous PR person. You’re kinda more suited to desk jobs.” (I swear that is verbatim, too.) Nastier.
What’s a dark-skinned girl to do when her mother thoughtlessly remarks, upon seeing the new Nescafé commercial, “Ang pangit ni (name of model); ang itim pa niya” [“How ugly she is; and she is so dark”], little knowing that so many people had already told her daughter her “truly Filipina” looks and morena color reminded them of a younger (name of model). Nastiest.
What’s a girl to do? I took it all in. Cried a little. Wallowed in self-pity a little. Cursed a little. Sighed a little. Contemplated tearing out their hair or gouging out their eyes a little.
But I was generally OK. I comforted myself with the thought that, cliché though it may be, every girl is beautiful in her own unique, quirky way. It doesn’t matter how much a woman’s looks deviate from other people’s pre-conceived notions of physical beauty, because true beauty is so much more than rosy cheeks, perfect teeth, slender arms, not-a-strand-out-of-place hair, or flawless legs.
Again it is a cliché, but real beauty comes from within: essentially, what you get when you strip someone of her makeup, stylish clothes, snobbish job title, monthly salary, hunky boyfriend and what-have-you. It is what you get regardless of her age, complexion, body type, waistline, bra size or the shape of her nose. It is strength and resoluteness of spirit, integrity, compassion, passion, plus a lot of wit and good-natured humor. Beauty is moving with ease and confidence, being straightforward, making no excuses, enjoying life.
I’m still the same fugly girl, going by the conventional standards of beauty. No fairy godmother has come into my life and magically changed my looks. It was my attitude and outlook in life that changed. And that was when the magic kicked in.
I am what I am and I love what I see in the mirror every day. The ugly duckling has not turned into a beautiful swan, but it has become a full-grown, wiser duck.
People say true beauty radiates from within and that there’s a certain delicate beauty in minimalism and simplicity.
Because I grew up believing I was ugly, I found it uncomfortably amazing that someone actually described this duckling as someone “who looks so plain and so simple at first glance but has the unexpected beauty that creeps up and grows on you the longer you look at her -- ‘paganda nang paganda’ [growing more and more beautiful].” And that’s verbatim again.
To this day, my heart still skips a beat whenever I hear people tell me in all sincerity that I am simple but beautiful. The key word here is “sincerity,” and I can’t ask for more.
Crispy, 28, works in a government corporation as a communications specialist.
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