Why the Word ‘Pretty’ Frightens Me
There are some moments in life that are forever ingrained in your memories. First kiss, first day of school, first romance, first heartbreak, first paycheck, first home. The list of firsts goes on and on. My first humiliation is one that I can never get out of my head.
Middle school was a tumultuous time. I truly hated ages 11 to 13. My prepubescent years were quite a burden to bear and somehow moments in my adulthood force me to relive moments of the past that I’d like to forget. There’s one bully and one public shaming that is a recurring theme in my life.
In 7th grade, there was a boy (who will forever remain nameless) that I had a huge crush on. He was in the cool crowd, and I was just perceived as that “weird black girl in love with N’Sync“. Early on my black classmates made it a point to ridicule me for my music choices. I had an obsession with the five white guys and the other kids that looked like me just didn’t seem to get it. Whatevz. Naturally, I gravitated to the Caucasian girls who were N’Sync fanatics with a large disdain for Backstreet Boys, because honestly, truly you couldn’t straddle the fence in those days. As I performed the N’Sync dance moves in the hallways, raved in class about their new music video about to drop on TRL, or listened to their CD during our free period, the teasing became more and more noticeable.
Not quite uncomfortable, but almost there.
So back to the boy I liked. He was a year older, in the 8th grade. By this point, I am 12 years old wearing a B-cup bra. And when I say B-cup, I mean the girls were bulging. I weighed about 180 and had the body of a 20-something. The shit was crazy. To hide my huge hips and cover my bulging breasts, I was that girl who wore long coats all day, every day. And I was going through some strange evolution with my hair, not to mention my hating ass acne. Life was the struggle, or so it appeared. In class, I would scribble his name on notes, participate in those silly tests to determine if he’d be my husband or simply just daydream that one day he’d be mine. I can’t quite recall how he found out about my fascination with him, however he made it clear that the feeling was far from mutual.
In fact, he made a verbal announcement.
One day, I remember walking into the cafeteria, like normal for lunch. I was alone, headed to the lunch line then all of a sudden I hear this obnoxiously loud voice shout, “EWWWW!”. My head whipped around to see where it was coming from, and it was the boy that I liked. Surely, he was not talking about me?
Exclusive image of me looking among the crowd.
Then he said the words that I will never forget. “Ewwww! Look ya’ll, it’s Mighty Joe Young!”. The majority of the cafeteria laughed to my face as I ran out of the door.
Here’s a character reenactment.
For those of you who don’t know, my last name is Young. I go by Girl Tyler on Twitter and Instagram, on Facebook my profile is under Tyler MyCale.
This is “Mighty Joe Young”, a Disney movie from 1998.
Apparently, he saw a correlation. For the next 15 years of my life, I firmly believed that the public received me as a gorilla.
By 8th grade, I weighed exactly 200 lbs. By 11th grade, I slimmed down significantly yet my problem with acne seemed to become my own worst enemy.
Even with a smaller body, I feared as though everyone saw me with some facial deformity. It took me years before I would realize that I had a self-esteem issue rooted in something I couldn’t change…the opinions of others. After middle school, I never saw the boy again, but I would encounter more like him. While their commentary about me wouldn’t be as harsh, they found many flaws with my body.
I was made to believe that I had the brains and lacked the beauty.
Once college rolled around, I accumulated another set of issues. I won’t unpack them here today. After I stumbled out of undergrad in fragments of a person who was never really whole, I stepped on the scale to a whopping 250 lbs. How did I get here? Everyone gained the freshman 15, and I gained the equivalent of a 3rd grader in weight. Food was my outlet. I felt safe being fat because it was expected of me. Once I began sweating and shit while getting dressed, then gasping for air running to the train in the mornings in my commute at my first job, enough was enough. I had to do something.
I lost 70lbs.
Quite the evolution from middle school.
By 2013, I went back home to visit for the weekend and ran into a former classmate at the mall.
I told her hello and she looked at me like this:
A good 10 years had passed since we last spoke, so I was not surprised that she did not recognize me. In response to her dumbfounded reaction to my presence, I said, “It’s me, Tyler Young. We went to elementary school together.” She responds in awe, “Omg. Tyler? You’re…You’re, pretty?”
I didn’t know what to make of it, so I gave her a hug, briefly caught up and exited the store. I called my best friend and told her about the occurrence. She laughed and did not believe me. She thought I was exaggerating.
The next day, my BFF and I went downtown for drinks and on our way out of a bar, I ran into another classmate. Once we crossed paths immediately I say with excitement, “Hey!” and she goes, “Omg, Tyler! How are you? You are so pretty now!”.
Shit was wild. This happened a few more times with various past classmates. And each time, I grew more and more confused. My best friend, who did not know me as a child, was there for many of the interactions.
I text her today about it:
A few more years passed by and I felt a shift in my attitude. I loved my new body, however, my acne became increasingly worse. Nothing seemed to work. When I looked in the mirror, I saw what the boy saw. I would go months at a time avoiding the mirror. Once I began wearing makeup, I tried to hide behind it to ease the pain from years before. At this point, I would stare in the mirror for extended periods of time, piling on tons of concealer and foundation with the intent of hiding any imperfections others could easily spot.
By age 26, I was promoted at work, becoming an on-air contributor for a segment. This is when my self-esteem really shifted to a lower gear. I couldn’t even watch myself on TV. My voice made me cringe. I feared my zits were apparent on screen. Paranoia settled in. I had convinced myself that I was undesirable on the air. I couldn’t get out of my own head. On Saturday, I ran into a viewer who recognized me at the mall with her daughter and she told me how much she loved seeing my beautiful brown skin on TV. I managed a smile, but never said “thank you” because I had never heard such a compliment nor emotionally equipped to receive it.
My brain would only accept what the boy from 7th told me was true…even if more than a decade had passed.
The following year, I left my job to pursue other TV ambitions and within the first-month people were telling me about the glow of my skin. No one had ever used “glow” and Tyler’s skin in the same sentence before. Once I began to cut down on some of the negativity in my life, change up my eating habits and eliminate stress, my acne cleared up.
On the left is me in 2013 and the right is today.
Hello 2016 glo up. Within the last year, my confidence slowly climbed to the level where it needed to be but I had to see it for myself.
I’ve started working with professional makeup artists and it blows my mind each time I hear “the shape of your eyes are gorgeous”, or “I wish my skin was an even tone like yours” and even “your hair is so soft to the touch.” I have to catch myself because a.) I damn near have a panic attack when someone refers to me as “pretty” and b.) my mind immediately reverts to the time when I was told otherwise.
I eventually learned to say thank you, but with an exception. I’d say “thank you, but my skin is so oily” and “thank you but I hate my acne scars”. An older makeup artist told me, “I wish you could see what I see.”
Even on first dates, I expected men to say the things that I’d heard about my looks in the past. I couldn’t get the cafeteria incident out of my head. It’s like I expected people to say mean things about me.
When you’ve been emotionally paralyzed by moments from childhood perils, it’s kind of hard to accept positivity later in life. It is hard to accept compliments when you’re too busy analyzing every reason why it has to be a lie. I think with most women, we are groomed to come up with an excuse for compliments. Because, if not, thinking more of yourself than people expect you to be will equate to arrogance. Only exude enough confidence to a point where no one else feels uncomfortable. If you appear to be bigger than them, shame on you. People are fickle.
I’ve come to realize that this is total bull. The weight of public criticism is too heavy to lift. I’ve nearly broken my back carrying it around for so many years. The pressure wasn’t exactly coming from external factors, sometimes it came from within.
A former mentor of mine once told me, “Tyler, you let people define you. Why do you let people and things alter your mood?” For the longest, I actually believed that I was immune to the thoughts and opinions of others. In my conscious mind, I would shrug off criticisms, and at night go home and internalize them. At some time or another, we all do. It’s easy to believe what you’ve always been told, and for me, it was that I
am was ugly. I cannot believe I actually typed that.
My 10-year high school reunion was last month. I posted a side by side of my senior photo and one from the reunion.
The photo really warms my heart, not because of my physical growth. This photo makes me appreciate the woman I’ve become and lay to rest the girl who cried over people who never saw her true value. There are countless young girls and even women who succumb to suicide over the mean and vicious comments of others. It’s sickening. Luckily, I saved myself from destruction. I recently met a young girl who told me about the boys who pick on her at school and I told her the Mighty Joe Young story, reassuring her that if I could survive an idiot boy, surely she could too. And to the boy who said such nasty things about me, you did me the greatest favor I couldn’t see at the time. This one occurrence made me tough for the things that my young mind didn’t see coming. Through it all, I never broke. You get no credit, only a shoutout for being yourself. True beauty comes when you allow yourself to be unbreakable. Now, I feel free to be pretty.
This piece originally appeared on GirlTyler.com