I had never been told to be pretty, until now. I sat in the Principal’s office waiting for my mother to be called.
Up to this point I had blood on my elbows from falling forward as I ran too fast down the sidewalk; I had bumps on my head resulting from five concussions before the age of nine from climbing walls and riding bikes too fast; I had grass in my hair from playing tag and blisters on my feet from jump rope competitions.
As I waited in the office, the elementary school secretary looked at me and said, “Donna, pretty is as pretty does.”
I wasn’t totally sure what that meant, but I believe she was talking about the fact that I had just clobbered a boy over the head with my baton when he tried to take it from me.
Then “Pretty is as Pretty Does” grew like the Blob . . .
Next thing I know, I’m 12 years-old when an older boy in our church said, “Donna, you’re getting a nice figure already. You need to show it off.” That day, I felt a sense of power I had never had before. I didn’t realize that power was reliant upon someone else’s perception of me.
Suddenly, instead of playing softball, I started showing up at church games in tight jeans and a midriff.
A few years later, I walked through my fashionable high school in Hayward, California, wearing my sister’s hand-me-down dress.
A group of football players surrounded by cheerleaders spotted me, and one yelled, “Hey, I want that girl in her micro-mini Sunday dress.” I felt momentarily lifted until they burst into laughter.
When I was just sixteen, I walked out of a restaurant and a young man said, “Hey, want a ride home?” I blushed at his open flirtation. Unfortunately, that was followed by, “Then call a cab.”
I learned that my self-esteem was being placed in the hands of young teenage boys. . . not a very hospitable place for it to reside.
At Wake Forest University, fraternity boys would sit on the brick wall outside the Post Office and rate girls as they walked to check their mail with cards numbered from one to ten. SInce my roommate and I were not big on fashion and refused to get dressed-up to check our mailbox, we rarely got close to an eight.
We grew to hate that walk to the mailbox.
Then we realized what we were worth . . .
One day, Debbie and I looked at each other, fed up with the guys on the wall. We figured out what time they usually got there, and beat them to it.
We brought our own ranking cards, and held them up as the boys went by. I was amazed at how uncomfortable this made them – they didn’t laugh or joke around. They got angry. They shoved each other. They called us derogatory names.
“Doesn’t feel so good, does it?” we asked. They scoffed at us, but stopped making eye contact. We didn’t see the guys on the wall the rest of the year.
My roommate and I laughed about that moment.
She went on to be a surgeon. I become a writer and a speaker.
I stopped obsessing about my outward appearance. Instead, I focused on doing good work and loving those around me.
I figured those who judged me had constructed a wall built by their insecurities.
In my mind, I tore down that wall, and walked rank-free through my next thirty years.