Welcome to Unwritten's part of the worldwide A-Z Blog Challenge!! Every day in April (except Sundays), we'll have a new post related to the letters of the alphabet from A-Z. Our theme here on Unwritten is "I Will Survive". I hope these stories will inspire and uplift you. Comments are VERY appreciated!
U is for Ugly Girl
If I'd had one dollar for the number of creative nicknames my classmates came up with for me, I'd have been a millionaire by now. My typical school day would look something like this-
6 AM- Wake up, brush teeth, wonder what new names I'd get called that day.
8 AM- School assembly. Stand at the back of the line, by virtue of being the tallest girl in class. Pull and chew at my pigtail.
9 AM- Trip over two desks as I make my way to mine, by virtue of being the most awkward girl in class.
12 PM- Lunch. Sit hunched and alone in a corner, wondering why no one wanted to be friends with me.
2 PM- Bus ride. Again alone, trying not to cry as people laugh and make jokes.
Repeat the process for a year. It's kind of like being stuck in a particularly unpleasant Groundhog Day loop.
It's worthwhile mentioning here that all this happened when I was in the fifth grade. I'd just moved to Delhi, India's capital. For a girl like me who'd been brought up in a conservative southern household, Delhi made no sense. Apparently it's not cool to wear your hair in two pigtails, or to have your skirt pulled down to your knees, or to be the teacher's pet and get the highest marks. It's not cool to have read Shakespeare before having seen the latest movie at the multiplex.
I was a dancer. Scratch that, I am a dancer. I'm trained in the classical art form of Bharatnatyam. I'd won medals and was regularly praised. But now, I learned that if you don't hip-hop, you don't fit in.
I tried it. I enrolled in a hip-hop class. But then I learned something that devastated me more. If you're even slightly overweight, no amount of hip-hop will make you fit in.
I cried buckets of tears. I wrote dark stories. I didn't want to be the ugly girl. I didn't want to be the source of amusement to cruel boys when the teacher's back was turned. I thought there was nothing I could do.
And this is where the story of my life takes a sudden U-turn. I don’t know exactly how, but I reached a point where I realized that I needed to stop going down this dark emotional roller-coaster I'd embarked upon. I was going to get off the ride anyway, one way or another. I could make the choice to leave myself, and have my dignity intact. Or I could be thrown off, and admit that my inner demons had won.
I made my choice.
I finally opened up to my parents. I told them how the bullying got to me. I told them how the teasing had knocked down my dreams of being a worthwhile, inspiring girl. I wondered if they'd change my school, confront my teachers about the bullying, or (even though it's nearly unheard of) take me to a therapist.
One out of three isn't really bad a guess, is it?
My parents came to school. They fought and made sure that the teachers got to know about what was really going on inside the classroom door. But they didn't make me switch schools. And they definitely didn’t think I needed counselling. They wanted me to learn to confront my problems myself, and learn how to beat them.
In the summer of '08, I enrolled in karate classes. I joined an art camp, a swimming class and a journalism workshop. These ventures made me realize how much more there is to life than being labelled the ugly girl with the glasses. I learned to broaden my outlook and accept who I was. I didn’t need to conform to the dictates of a society which was itself in chaos.
I couldn't control my eyesight, but I could start reading in better ventilated places so as not to worsen it. (A little more news on that front- I undergo eyesight corrective surgery next year, after I turn 18). I could give the excuse of genetics, or I could try to keep fit with regular exercise. I couldn't control what others thought of me, but I could control what I thought of myself.
I realized that I thought of myself as someone worthy, talented, and inspiring. I am a dreamer. I am a fighter. I have something to offer the world. Slowly, the stories I wrote began turning into something more uplifting. (Almost to the point where almost nothing I write has too much sadness anymore. I write for escape, and it shows.)
And by the time sixth grade came around, I no longer sat down and took the 'ugly girl' taunts. Because I'm not ugly. Not at all. I ignored them and went on my way. I reached out to people, and I began to make friends. Slowly but surely, throughout the year people began to see beyond the skirts and the belts. They saw through the pimples and the awkwardness. And I began seeing myself in a new light, along with them,
Six years down the line, I'm a karate black belt. I play the piano, I take part in tennis and swimming tournaments. And I write. I've won prizes for my essays and poems. I'm an avid debater. I'm still the teacher's pet, but that's fine. I haven't gone back to dancing yet, but it's on the cards. That's mainly because I find myself with too much to do and too little time. (This post is a perfect example- I’m so late in submitting it.)
Most importantly, I've begun to make friends. I moved away from Delhi a few years ago, but this time the move didn't affect me as much. I learned that life is what we make it. I wouldn't change a thing about me, no matter how 'ugly' that new red scarf is. I'm happy, and those who can't accept that my life is busy and fulfilling have no place in it anyway.
Is high school different? In some ways, yes. I graduate next year. So far, I've learnt that there are still shallow people who like you based on what you wear and who you hang out with. But there are also people who talk to you because they think that poem you wrote was special; that the fact that you both like the same TV shows is cool; that because you listen and are there for them it means that they need to be there for you. There are smart, incredible people who want to change the world for the better. Starting now.
There are so many people I owe this metamorphosis to. I’ve graduated from a shy caterpillar to a butterfly ready to take on the world. No one comments on my appearance any more. I’m proud to think that by changing the way I thought about myself, I was able to change the way others thought about me as well.
You can't tell me I'm not beautiful. My seven-year old brother told me just the other night- 'Priya, you're so wonderful. Some day, I want to be just like you.'
Priya Rao, also known in cyberland as MistyFalls, is a 16 year old girl whose one wish is to be able to drown in chocolates all year long. She’s been reading since she was three, writing since the last two years, and been dreaming of Chocoland since- forever, really. She’s taken part in, and won, writing challenges such as two NaNoWriMos, one Camp NaNo, one Script Frenzy, and so on. An avid debater and (seemingly) naïve, she wants to become a lawyer and make a difference in the world. Piano enthusiast, practitioner of karate, youth debates- she has many varied interests. She lives in Hyderabad, India, with her parents and an adorably fluffy animal who’s also known as her 7 year old brother, future boxing champ.