There is a girl I knew in middle school, and I now attend high school with. She is extremely pretty. So pretty you’d think she was photoshopped if you saw a picture of her.
She is always dressed well and in the latest style, has a good body, is a Drama Club Officer, has many lovely close friends, gets good grades, has a loving mom and dad who are every bit as nice and good-looking as her. She seemed so well-adjusted, never overly emotional or crying in an embarrassing way. She goes on ski trips to Canada and family visiting trips to Italy, where she plans to live when she is an adult. She can sing and act and draw beautiful things, and has a sweet voice that people like to listen to. In other words, she is seemingly perfect.
In middle school I resented her. I wouldn’t say hate, but surely disliked. She was so pretty, and has so many friends, and was so good at drawing, and was always talking about taking trips to Italy, that I just felt envy. Why couldn’t I be that perfect? Why did she have to be so great and have such an awesome life?
When I got to high school, I was not looking forward to spending more years feeling jealous of her. We had an acting class together. The teacher (who is a wonderful man and I deeply respect) decided to have an icebreaker activity called ‘personal monologues’.
For eight minutes, timed, you would get up in front of the class, sit in the ‘hot seat’, and talk about yourself. It could be anything. Introduce yourself, tell the class about yourhobbies, likes, dislikes, your past, your plans for the future, your pets, your family, etc.
All mundane and easy things, except for the one catch. In addition to all these normal things about yourself, you have to share one ‘hot coal’. Something serious about yourself. It could be anything ‘beneath the surface’, like a struggle with depression, with an abusive family, with bullying, with being poor, anything like that. The teacher warned us that if we said anything about us currently being in danger, he would have to report it. Other than that, it would not leave this group of people.
Perfect Girl got up in front of the class to do hers. I wondered idly what her hot coal would be. It doesn’t really seem like she would have one, I remember thinking to myself.
She began with all the surface stuff, like ‘hello, i’m so-and-so, I was born there, I’m a sophomore here, this is my pets, these are my hobbies, my parents are so-and-so, etc”. Then she started talking about her ‘hot coal’.
She talked hesitatingly about always struggling with her body image, and always feeling anxious and inferior. The reason she put so much effort into her clothes and makeup was not vanity, it was insecurity. She wished she was skinnier like her friends. She wished she could talk to people better. She hated herself, she said. Suddenly she was crying, and got down from the chair.
After class I told her what I wrote here, and apologized for being so shallow that I judged her without ever really getting to know her. She teared up again and hugged me.
Nobody is perfect, no matter how much they seem like it. Everyone has struggles, everyone has a past, everyone lies awake at night worrying about things, everyone ugly-cries now and then. Some people are just better at seeming like they’re perfect, that’s all.