On being ugly
This past July, I took a trip up to Northern Wisconsin with a group of my close friends from college. I committed to two things in Wisconsin: deleting all of the social media apps from my phone and not washing my hair. This went okay. Five days without Twitter is maybe the healthiest choice I made all year. Not washing my hair made it sort of gross, but also very big and curly.
My skin got really bad in Wisconsin. For the first time in years, I had a nasty breakout, zits everywhere. I blamed it on my lack of personal hygiene on the trip. I was barely washing my face, mostly swimming in the lake every day. I somehow connected it to not washing my hair. It would turn out fine. It’d clear up back home, I figured.
It never did, though. I suffered continuous breakouts — awful cystic acne on my jawline, shoulders. It bled, it oozed. I hated it. I bought foundation and concealer for the first time since high school. I felt bad and awful about myself, and I was vocal about it too, because I’m vocal about everything. In September, I tried going on some topical medications and antibiotics. I had an allergic reaction to one of the prescribed cleansers, and my face burned — turning swollen, bright pink — during work one day. I melted down for four minutes in the bathroom and then went back to work.
I went on accutane in November and it’s going all right. It is a lifestyle change. I have a routine. I have four different kinds of lotion I use. Accutane has sucked all of the moisture out of my eyes, and now I get eye strain. I have to alternate between pairs of glasses, like I teach collegiate history. I use gel eye drops before bed. Sometimes I use a compress. “My compress” — me. Over Christmas, the corners of my lips tore and now I can’t open my mouth all the way. That’s a real thing. It hasn’t healed yet because I keep opening my mouth too wide to eat sandwiches. That’s a real thing too. I have a giant cystic zit on my right cheek right now. I’ve had it for two days. “This oughta go away before New Year’s,” I thought, foolishly. It’s still here, but I guess we have 14 hours left in the day.
I think I gained 12 pounds in 2015. Maybe 10. It fluctuates. It’s harder to tell if the weight gain is noticeable, but I think it is. Did you notice? I forget which standup has a joke about how nice it is to lose and gain weight when you’re already a little chubby, because you’re pretty much chubby forever. No one notices anything unless you cut your hair (we’ll get there). I don’t know if that’s true. I haven’t asked people if they’ve noticed until now. I have a little gut. I was furious about this for four months and now I’m laughing. My gut! Unbelievable.
In May, I stopped scooping ice cream. This probably has something to do with the weight gain. Customers always thought I was being facetious or annoying when I told them I didn’t gain weight from working full-time at an ice cream shop. I can be facetious or annoying about lots of things, but usually not my weight. The truth is that I lost a lot of weight in food service. I was constantly moving and on my feet. Food service is energizing; an office job — no matter how rewarding — is draining. You don’t move all day but somehow you’re exhausted? Stupid, honestly. Sometimes I think about getting a standing desk, but, like, come on.
I ripped two articles of clothing this year because of my weight gain. Things that fit but don’t any longer. Or maybe it’s because all clothes are cheaply made. Could be either. One was a dress and the other was a pair of black jeans. I bought a new dress. I bought new jeans. I cried a little over the dress, if we’re being honest, because I thought I looked nice in it, and now I couldn’t get the zipper over my ribcage and in trying to do so, it broke. There are, like, literally thousands of dresses, if not millions. A thing worth remembering, I think, in 2016.
I started buying men’s shirts this past year. They fit in the chest, in the shoulders. I’m bigger, a little broader, than I’ve been in the past. They’re also fun. They’re so fun. There’s a world of shirts that are fun and I’m only really discovering them now. I’m also exclusively buying men’s sweaters too. Have you put on a women’s sweater lately? They don’t make any sense. They bunch under the arms. They’re meant to fall off the shoulder, end just above the waist. I look stupid in them. My shoulders are too wide for a shirt to fall off of. “Oops, I caught ya,” is my impression of my shoulders not letting the neck slide off in a demure way. I have never been demure and never will be. I went through a bunch of deeply discounted men’s plaids while shopping the other day. Gender is a spectrum: I gained 12 pounds but I’m a men’s extra small.
I cut off all my hair!!! Can you fucking believe it? 8 or 9 inches of my hair that everyone, and almost truly everyone, said, “please don’t cut.” But I did it, and it’s fine. These days it’s a weird length and I mostly have no idea what’s going on with it, but that’s fine. We also don’t have any idea if there are aliens or not, so, you know, whatever.
It’s weird to write all of this down and not have it feel like a string of complaints. I don’t know how to say it’s not complaining when it so clearly reads like complaining. It’s not, though, and you have to promise you trust me on this. You trust me on other things, so trust me on this. It’s just what it was like to live in my body this year.
I had a running bit about becoming hot this year (which is hilarious if only because last year was probably the year I actually became hot, if any year, and I didn’t even mention it once last year). I don’t really know how it started. It was a standup joke, probably, where I referred to myself as “conventionally attractive” and didn’t expand on it. Sometimes it got a laugh and sometimes it didn’t. Like many things that start in standup, it bled into my personal life. I’d respond to comments about my appearance with, “well, I’m very good-looking.” It became a flirt. What didn’t become a flirt, though, this past year? Let’s be real.
It’s funny, mostly, that we’re in an Age of Everything Is Very Beautiful when I’m super ugly some days and that’s just how it is. Stuff doesn’t fit right, my hair looks weird, my face is bleeding. I’m fine. There are other days. There’s always like some kind of chorus of little no’s every time you say something bad about yourself — aloud, online, whatever. It’s okay! I would so much rather say something aloud about my chubby arms than internalize it until it becomes bottled up, until I’m pulling at the skin alone in my room at 2am trying to figure out what my body is. I love talking about my acne at this point. My face is bleeding sometimes! It’s bleeding. The part of my body that is supposed to keep the blood inside it is rupturing, visibly, on my fucking face. To not acknowledge it is doing something very weird that I don’t want to partake in.
If you read my writing this year, maybe you see me as a more social, romantic person than I am. Again: it’s funny. I wrote an essay I’m really proud of that’ll come out early next year where I talk about dating and flirting and intimacy. (You know me.) You’ll read it — and I hope you like it! — and you’ll picture me on this bizarre and lovely romantic adventure, but please consider the other side of that: the five months I spent in coffee shops till 1am, trying to capture this experience and frame it in a certain way. There’s always the ugly side. I met someone from Twitter this past summer and they said something like, “don’t you always tweet about kissing?” and I could have shrieked, “it’s a persona!” You hear about the romantic weekend away from home in the way I want you to hear it. You hear about the crush Facebook group in the way I want you to hear it. You don’t hear the story where I’m alone at 4am, crawling into my roommate’s bed with her, reeling at an off-handed comment made to me by some guy who left my apartment at 3:55am, uninterested in spending the night. Maybe I’ll learn a way to tell that one this next year.
This October I went to a bachelor party. I had this group of friends from high school and we’d all play this computer game, Age Of Empires, together. We’d do this for hours in my buddy’s basement. Hours! All night, sometimes! I was the final piece of this little group of friends. They needed one more player, and two of them knew me and knew I could play the computer game. I was a year younger than them, and I was also the only girl. I was invited to play with them, but they were hesitant. They’d tease me––never anything serious––but I’d occasionally pipe up with a dumb aside and there’d be a chorus of “shut up, Fran.”
Anyway, the guy who would host these in his parents’ basement got married this past October. I’m not not friends with the now-wife of my friend, but if there was any dispute to whose “side” of the wedding I was on, it was the groom’s. So there I was, once again both the youngest person and the only girl, at his bachelor party. We rented a cabin, and we spent a whole weekend playing cards, biking, eating, drinking, chain-smoking and hot-tubbing. It was so fun. It discredits many other good experiences this past year to say it was the best weekend of my year, but I really think it was the best weekend of my year. I will repeat myself now: it was so fun.
There were two parallel incidences on the trip in which my participation in the bachelor party weekend was called out. The first of which was when we went to go rent bikes.
“Ten of you?” the guy at the counter asked. “The bachelor party?”
“Yeah,” we said.
He eyed me. “There’s a girl.”
Similarly, we were playing catch (imagine me playing catch!) out in the front yard when the guy we rented the cabin from came by. He chatted with us for a few minutes before––
“Isn’t this supposed to be a bachelor party?”
“Yeah,” we said.
He eyed me. “You brought a girl on accident.”
In both scenarios there was a beat of silence and then: “And?”
“It’s Fran,” someone else said.
“Yeah, we know we brought a girl,” someone else said.
There’s something really nice about that feeling of a group acknowledging you’re meant to be somewhere. I wasn’t there to be funny or to be hot or to be fun or to be useful, or any of the reasons I feel like I’m usually asked to be in a certain place at a certain time. The groom kept pulling me to the side throughout the weekend and telling me how happy he was I decided to be there. I had never thought to miss it. It was my friend’s wedding! It was my friend’s bachelor party! But they had worried, I guess, that I would feel uncomfortable because I was a girl. I grew up with them. I’d known these guys for a decade. The bachelor party was the least I felt like a girl this whole year, and not just because it was a “bachelor” party and we “played poker” and “grilled” or whatever. There’s that anxiety-inducing thought process that often comes with being a woman where you question why you are (or in some cases, are not) some place — namely, you question if it’s because you’re a woman. This had absolutely nothing to do with that. The reason I was there was because I was invited. That was it.
The second night of the bachelor party I got my period. I laughed to myself because imagine being the only girl at a bachelor party and getting your period. It is objectively funny. I hope this is the only time I write about my period on the internet, but it is a pretty good time to have written about it. I was dressed down––baggy plaid shirt, baggy jeans, no make-up, scroungy hat––and now I was getting my period. I was just gross. I felt like a very gross person, but there was a game of Werewolf to get back to, so I did that.
“Where’d you go?” one of them asked as we set up the game for another round.
“Bathroom,” I told him, and then: “I got my period. On the bachelor party. I got my period here. I’m the girl.”
There was a beat of silence and then: “Shut up, Fran.”
Here’s a picture of me as I am on the last day of 2015.