The Most Beautiful Girl in the Room…With Glasses

the author, channeling her inner Velma a few Halloweens ago

After typing the title, I realize I’ve put my punchline first — but then, I’m better at telling stories than jokes. So, here’s the tragicomic tale of the worst pick-up line anyone’s ever tried to use on me.

I went out dancing with a few friends one night in my twenties (this happened in the early 1990s, if you want to do the math). My friends had gone to the restroom. I stood by myself on the dimly-lit edge of the dance floor, when a guy approached and said, without any irony:

You’re the most beautiful girl in the room…with glasses.”

I’m not entirely sure I managed to keep a straight face as I replied, “I bet you say that to all the girls.”

I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he was just a nice guy who happened to be incredibly awkward.

As he swept me onto the dance floor to the strains of “I Will Always Love You,” I reconsidered. The way he pulled me in felt presumptuous. Too close, for a first dance. I received the distinct impression he expected me to swoon — as if, in ten suave words, he’d bestowed upon me some deep honor. Lucky me, bespectacled as I was, that he’d favored me with a dance.

When the song ended, I extricated myself and walked as fast as possible back to the safe circle of my friends. My would-be admirer pursued and asked me to dance again, at which point I turned him down cold (because this pivotal experience transformed my willingness to dance with anyone once, into being direct when I’m not interested).

As laughable as “the most beautiful girl in the room…with glasses” line is, what takes it from from merely pathetic to cringe-worthy is the rider tacked on the end. I’m embarrassed at the realization (in retrospect) that I’ve been guilty of using those same qualifiers in the back-handed praise I’ve given to other people and to myself.

Far too often I’ve complimented by comparison, because that’s how I’ve judged.

Perhaps it’s human nature to walk into a room (or a virtual space, such as social media) and without even thinking, do a status check:

Am I prettier or uglier?
Younger or older?
Thinner or fatter?
Smarter or dumber?
Richer or poorer?
More or less talented? Desirable? Popular? Literate? Funny? Educated? Traveled? Healthy? Successful? Stylish? Savvy? Emotionally stable?

I’m one small part of a larger culture in which our movies, magazines, music, and every other form of media seem obsessed with calling attention to differences, and shaming or mocking those who are perceived as “less than.”

Our default has become sizing each other up and then tearing each other down.

What does it say about us, collectively and individually, that how we view and express ourselves is so utterly derivative, divisive, and destructive? Clearly, we as human beings crave connection with each other—yet the act of comparing tears apart rather than reinforces those ties.

I’ve grappled with this question repeatedly over the past few years when I’ve caught myself doing the status check in the most unlikely situations. It’s insidious. It keeps me in a cycle where I avoid taking responsibility for my own issues by distracting myself with everyone else’s faults.

I loathe the way these comparisons make me feel about myself and about other people. Trapped in this mindset, I will always find someone else who seems to outshine me in any given area. Even worse, this construct sets up everyone’s worth as only being relative and based solely on what’s visible at the surface.

We are, each of us, so much more.

Two and a half years ago, as part of my recovery from an eating addiction, I consciously decided to give up the status check.

To choose compassion over comparison.

When I catch myself comparing, I gently notice, stop, and deliberately shift my attention elsewhere. Choosing to be compassionate takes practice, mindfulness. The bigger shift in my thinking will take time, years maybe, but I’m committed to making it happen. My sense of sanity and inner balance depend on it.

The good news (so far): as I’ve honestly admitted my flawed way of thinking, I’ve found the power to move forward and embrace a new, better way of thinking and acting. Already, I feel more patience and compassion for myself and the people I encounter, day to day.

So, in response to my erstwhile dance partner, let me state for the record:

The fact of being a beautiful woman in this room who wears glasses does not define me. My beauty relative to any other person does not define me.

I define who I am, and I allow others the same freedom.

And while I wish you well, sir, no thank you. I don’t care to dance.