What To Do When You’re The Ugly Friend

A text from my baby sister recently broke my heart. She asked, “Do you think I’m attractive? Would someone pass by and think I’m pretty?” It turns out her feelings of inferiority were fueled by being constantly compared to a “more beautiful” friend.

Unfortunately, I can relate all too well. Tiffany was my more beautiful friend when we were 15. Tall, curvy, light-skinned, and fun to be around, she effortlessly attracted male attention wherever we went. Meanwhile, I struggled to understand why I didn’t receive the same treatment. The men who did approach me only sought my help in impressing Tiffany. It became painfully clear that I just wasn’t their type. This confirmation that I would never be anyone’s dream girl was disheartening, but I reassured myself that it didn’t matter. I didn’t need the burden of beauty or male attention. I could be interesting, humorous, intelligent, and spontaneous.

In the years that followed, I encountered other Tiffanys—stunning girls who brought joy to my life but overshadowed me in terms of physical beauty. I found myself fending off creepy guys, protecting them from potentially spiked drinks, and listening to endless praises about their gorgeousness. To distract myself from this insecurity, I stayed interesting, ambitious, busy, and stubborn. My life was full, and I refused to dwell on my perceived unattractiveness.

Recently, my therapist identified this mindset as a trauma response. She explained that actively avoiding thoughts about my own attractiveness and the politics surrounding it can be just as harmful as fixating on the negatives. Beauty and its complexities are deeply personal. The beauty standards set by figures like the Kardashians, unattainable in their racist and classist nature, have played a significant role in shaping my perception of myself as a dark-skinned Black woman. In predominantly white contexts, like my university years, the problem only intensified.

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One of the most damaging aspects of considering yourself unattractive is that no amount of affirmation from others can save you. I felt too ashamed to bring up my insecurities with my friends because their protests would be biased and empty, or worse, they might agree and confirm my secondary status. Even when a guy I was seeing told me I was beautiful every day, I resented it. I refused to rewrite the role I had cast myself in. I was Miranda Hobbes—where my personality had to win them over before they could see me as sexy. Now that I know better and am working toward self-acceptance, I feel sad for my younger self and every girl who believed that they couldn’t be beautiful.

When I spoke to my sister recently, she seemed better. I hope her sad text was just a momentary setback and not the beginning of a long journey of pain and self-doubt. I hope she won’t waste as much time on it as I have. And I hope that in a year, I will have healed even more and be able to accept, and maybe even enjoy, a compliment. Wish me luck.

Written by Lauryn Mwale

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