Ugly by Matthew Newton

What is beauty? Webster’s dictionary defines it as “the quality or aggregate of qualities in a person or thing that gives pleasure to the senses or pleasurably exalts the mind or spirit.” Man, that book has it wrong. What does Webster know anyway?  Beauty is what I see in movies and on the cover of magazines. Beauty is what I see roaming the school halls everyday. No one cares about the mind. No guys care, at least not the important ones. What is beauty? I can define it in two words–

Not me.

How I admire these women who have everything. I am an overweight high school student. I get passed in the hallways and no one even notices I am there, unless they are walking around me. I am the unpopular fat girl with the heart of gold — there’s one in every teen movie. As far as my classmates are concerned, I don’t exist.

Kelly Kinsing is the most popular girl in school. Like most cheerleaders, she has blonde hair, perky breasts, and flat abs. The cool kids orbit around her celestial body. For all practical purposes, she is perfect. When I am done with my transformation, she will notice me. Everyone knows the story of the ugly duckling.

I will not remain a duck.

Today I look like a mess. I sit outside of Dairy Queen with my friend Josh. My only friend, Josh. He is the only person that seems to know I am alive. My obesity has overwhelmed me. I am wearing a gray shirt, complete with dark sweat rings under my armpits and under the places where the fat overlaps on my sides. I have a wide-bridged nose and brown hair with split ends.

If ugly had a name, it would be Vanessa.

Josh says I look good, but I know he is lying and just trying to make me feel better. I have heard the other kids call me Piggy. Someone even told me I smelled like the cafeteria dumpster. Josh is different. He has a brilliant smile and isn’t really popular, but he is my friend till the end. On a normal day like this, we go spend time with the elderly. I enjoy it, and so do they; it brings the old folks such joy to see us. They don’t judge on appearance like everyone else. I would go, but not today. I can’t make time today; this is when I start my diet. Josh says I don’t need to diet, and he says I am pretty the way I am; he says I have a good soul and that’s all that’s important. He must be reading Webster too. Josh doesn’t understand.

All the natural beauties have it easy; take it from me — someone who is working to be beautiful — it’s not as simple as they make it look. Within a few months I will have lost the weight that has cursed my body since I was a child. After that comes the recognition, then come the boys, and finally, the popularity that I yearn for. The natural beauties like Kelly Kinsing have it so easy. As do the models in Hollywood, but some of them take the lazy route. They resort to plastic surgery; these people are fake — one step closer to becoming a Barbie doll made of plastic. They are lifeless — a shell of society’s views on glamour. A Barbie doll — every girl’s dream, a model of sheer perfection. Surgery would be my last choice; if nothing else worked, I would admit I was a total failure and go under the knife. These people are desperate; I pity them. I choke on the demands that society places on the youth of America. Some might call me hopeless, but I am not. I am the once under-esteemed ugly duckling. I will rise up, and I will become the swan.

I will become the trend, duck anew.

I went to the drug store a week ago and bought some pills that tell me I am beautiful. They tell me I will lose weight if I continue taking them. They tell me I will have rock hard abs if I use their merchandise. “In just one month,” it says. “A new revolutionized product,” it says. “All natural,” it says. I say who has time for exercise in today’s world; medication is the way to the future.

One month goes by. I take my pills and cut down to only two meals per day. I have lost nine pounds. Today in the hall a guy came up and said hello. I didn’t get his name, but this is the first step; I am now visible. Josh tells me I look good too, and I don’t need to lose weight. He says I am everything he has always wanted; I am perfect just the way I am. I don’t need his pity. Inner-beauty is a joke. What does Webster know anyway? I turn my nose up and stomp away from Josh and his display of sympathy. Kelly passes me in the hall and doesn’t even glance in my direction. Apparently I have not changed enough, so I up the dosage on my pills — this way it works faster. She will take notice.

Another week goes by, and I shed six pounds. Josh touches my arm and tells me the reason I am so jittery is because my tablets are mainly caffeine and ginseng. He says that’s why my heart has been hurting lately. I jerk away. He says I need to see a doctor if I am going to continue. I say, “You’re just jealous,” and walk away. He calls after me and says he loves me.

Let him see how it feels to be rejected.

I lose another five pounds and the headaches start. Today in the lunchroom I sit near the cheerleaders. They laugh and joke; I eat a small helping of salad and a few croutons. Kelly looks over at me sitting there across from Josh and smiles. I smile back, my insides burst with excitement as I enter her orbit. My hands shake on occasion and I have a hard time concentrating, but cheerleaders and popular people need to be on their feet and active; they need to have lots of energy. I will fit in perfectly. Josh says he’s worried, he says we don’t hang out anymore, we don’t go visit the old people, he says I am changing. I smile and whisper, “I know.” I tell him I am above the duck, and he gives me a strange look as he leaves the table, and I toss back another pill.

Beauty in a bottle.

I lost another eight pounds; my body has never been leaner. I don’t eat much any more, maybe once, or, if I feel like splurging, twice a day. My diet is so much easier; I only eat vegetables — no meats, no legumes, and no rice. When I walk down the hall, people look at me and are awestruck. Kelly has begun talking to me and including me in her group of friends. We now weigh the same. I have never been more attractive, and my confidence is through the roof. Her friends — my friends — have begun asking me to hang out. I have been accepted.

I am now a swan.

I have never been in a clique before; this is wonderful. Kelly and I are becoming good friends, and we do everything together. I even style my hair to look like hers, and our fingernails are exact copies. We go on dates with guys together, and I call her two and three times a night; we chat for a while before she says her mom calls for her to do some chores. It seems like every time we talk, her mom wants her to do something else and she has to go. I never knew life could be this fulfilling. This past week I lost seven pounds. Along with taking my pills, I also cut a lot of liquids out of my diet; you know, water weight and all.

Weeks go by, and I begin to spot; my period has been acting weird. Along with that, I am having constant cramps, and the throbbing in my head never seems to let up. I go to the doctor; sitting on the examination table, I listen to the crackle of the sanitary paper under my butt. Waiting for him, I begin to read the posters on the wall: “Having trouble with obesity? Do you need help? Is your weight out of control? Plastic surgery is a healthy option.” I smile and feel bad for every failed actress who had to call that hotline for help. I feel sorry for every poor soul that resorted to liposuction or corrective surgery.

I look in the mirror, and the woman I see is different now; she looks older, slender, and more distinguished. She is a success, but there’s still room for improvement. I stare in the mirror and think of the poster — not a last resort, but maybe an open door, a pathway leading to greater things. Ever since I have been losing all this weight, my brow line and hairline seem to be getting further apart. When I make some money, I guess I could get a face-lift. I pull out my cell phone and call Kelly; she says she is busy and won’t be able to talk tonight, so I don’t need to call back.

What is taking the doctor so long? I shouldn’t have to wait; people like me shouldn’t have to wait. My hands tremble slightly for a minute but the shaking soon resides when the doctor arrives. He says, “Hello Vanessa,” and begins to examine me. He says I have lost a lot of weight. I tell him, “I know, isn’t it great?” He says, “Are you eating well?” I say, “Yes.”

“Three meals a day?”

“More or less,” I reply, looking around the room in all directions.

“You look like you’re having trouble staying still.” He noticed my leg shaking.

“Well, I do have trouble concentrating,” I respond. He smiles a large white-toothed smile and writes something down, a prescription no doubt, his daily bonus. He tells me he wants me to eat more carbohydrates and protein. He wants me to gain weight. On the way out, I say in a disgusted voice, “What if the duck just stuck his head under the water and never resurfaced? He would accomplish nothing. He would cease to be.” The doctor shook his head and looked disappointed. When I picked up my prescription, I noticed it was an anti-depressant. I am the overmedicated youth of America. It will be nice to stop the shaking; I think this prescription will do nicely.

Salvation in a bottle.

What if Barbie took an anti-depressant? A shattered mirror of stability; every pre-pubescent girl asking Mommy why Barbie looks so mellow. What if the image of the perfect woman needed medication?

Don’t we all?

I lost another 10 pounds last week. The next day at school I follow Kelly into the bathroom; she has been kind of irritated lately. I don’t blame her; she’s obviously jealous. When the pupil surpasses the master, it’s always a bad day. We stand next to the sink and look in the mirror together; she is still beautiful. Myself, though, words can’t describe. My cheekbones poke a little, and you can see my shoulder bones connecting to my clavicle. I look so defined. The only problem is my forehead seems a little wide; it’s my freaky brow line. I have decided I will get it fixed when I get the money. A few cuts on my forehead, some stitches, and a week to recover. Then I will be perfect. First the face-lift, then even more attention, then the fame; all models start somewhere.

Kelly has a nasty look on her face; she is looking at my reflection while primping her hair. “Don’t you think you’re taking it a little too far?” She says in a bitter tone.

“What?” I reply with an evil smile. Baiting the trap, ready to rub in my success.

“The whole anorexia thing. I can see your skeleton; it’s kinda gross.” My mouth drops open. That hurt. I don’t know what to say. I lift up my shirt; my ribcage shows through my skin. I look fine. The bitch is just jealous. I regain my confidence and smirk at her.

“You know you could never be what I am,” I say and take a handful of diet pills mixed with anti-depressants. Then I turn and walk into a hall full of people, toward the door.

I pass Josh and some fat girl; he waves at me, but I don’t acknowledge him. I pass another pudgy girl who looks at me, hoping I will notice, but I ignore her as well. Then I feel it — maybe a foot, I don’t know. It makes me trip; I land flat on my face in front of half the school. My shirt flies up over my head, everyone starts to laugh. Someone yells, “Look at the skeleton. I didn’t know it was Halloween already.” My bony spine pokes at my skin; you can see all the crevices in my ribcage. Everyone points and laughs. Grabbing my purse, I heave it onto my shoulder and hear a bottle of pills hit the ground. They rolled into a herd of students. “Diet pills,” someone yells. “Looks like Piggy wanted to lose some weight!” another kid chides. Tears begin to well; I am too good for this. I have never seen Barbie get humiliated. The swan never digresses back to the duck; everyone always lives happily ever after. I want my ending, the happily ever after I deserve! I see Kelly standing there, arms folded, smiling a big shit-eating grin. She says, “Serves you right.” Then I turn and run for the door.

A knife in the back is worse than a knife to the heart.

At home I run to the bathroom and stare into the mirror. How could they call me names? I am beautiful. It must be my brow line. There’s nothing I can do about that, yet. My eyes have bags under them, and my arms shake as I prop myself up over the sink. I take another handful of pills. Tears and mascara run down my cheeks. I punch the mirror, breaking it; large jagged shards of glass fall on the counter. My hand is bleeding.

The phone rings. I run to get it; it’s Josh. I tell him I hate everyone at school. He says I have changed; he says he doesn’t know me any more. Josh doesn’t understand. He doesn’t know what it’s like to be beautiful; he doesn’t know what it’s like to fit in. I walk the phone into the bathroom and look at the few pieces of glass still up on the wall; it makes my face look splintered — deformed. I ask him if it is my brow line, if that’s the problem. I know it is. He doesn’t answer; I take it that means yes. He says I need to go to the doctor about my problems. Sobbing, I yell, “I don’t need your sympathy! If you’re not going to help you can just go-” Then I hear it, the words resonate in my skull like cannon fire. All he says before he hangs up is, “You’re hideous.” I throw the phone against the wall, smashing it to pieces. Everything in my world shatters. I stagger around my house a bit; I am lightheaded and nauseous. He thinks I am hideous. It’s my brow line, I know it. What becomes of the swan? She fixes her problems, and she rises back to perfection.

Beauty isn’t always a pretty thing. It takes work.

I find some super glue and a stapler and stagger into the bathroom, my vision is beginning to blur. Grabbing a large shard of glass, I stare into the remaining bits of mirror. I have seen it a hundred times on TV. The glass hurts my forehead. Warm blood runs down my cheek and drips on the floor. I will make myself beautiful again, like the swan, like Barbie. I am an artist carving my masterpiece. Things are starting to go dark now; all I can hear is the laughter. Still sobbing, I collapse on the floor, bleeding and broken. My last thoughts betray me.

I am the duck.



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