Skin Deep 

I learned at a relatively early age
how to deflect criticism with carefully planned ease,

how to hide my truest flaws

with self-effacing humor,

how to shrink the space my spirit and body

take up with apologies.


They were lessons learned out of necessity,

and unfortunately,

I am still trying to unlearn them,

sometimes daily.


But when you dodge punches

and rocks on the playground,

when you sprint between classes

so they can’t catch you

in the hall to pinch you in places

where the bruises won’t be seen,

when you have to walk around all day

in sweaty gym clothes

because you’re terrified to change

and risk being pulverized

and humiliated,


you learn quickly how to become invisible.


And I grew up, but I never

forgot what it meant to be hated

for being different.


And I learned to hide my flaws.


These memories all hit me today

when a tear-streaked girl came

down the hall and told me that she had to talk to me.


I expected a sad personal tale,

but instead, she said:

“Ms. Sanders, I didn’t know what to do.

In my last class some girls were talking bad

about you, and I tried to defend you

and they told me to take my opinion

and shove it,

but they said you were fat,

and that your new haircut is awful,

and that your body is ugly,

and that you should shower more because you always look greasy!

And I’m sorry because I couldn’t stop them!”


I wrapped my arms around her in a quick hug and told her

that it was okay,

that signing up to teach teenagers sometimes

means being hated, that she didn’t have to defend me.

I told her not to worry, that I didn’t care what they had said. She seemed relieved,

and I sent her on her way.


And as she left, I wanted to weep.


Not for myself.


Not for me, because now I praise God

for every rock that ever hit me

and for every blow I received,

because it taught me to refuse to seek

my identity from something as feeble

and misguided

as another human being.


It taught me to find myself

in something other than what other people

believed about me,

to look in the mirror

and not see an ugly freak,

but someone beautiful because she had passion,

strong because of her soft heart,

steadfast because of her beliefs.


So I didn’t want to cry for myself.


I wanted to cry for those girls,

so sure, at sixteen,

that they can categorize the world

into the labels they learned

before they could even speak.


Those precious girls

have only learned what the world has taught

them to see,

and they have already mastered

the horrible Art of Comparison,

wielding their knife-tipped makeup brushes

and smiling falsely with their whitened teeth.


And I wanted to weep because I love them.


I love them so much

that I want more than this for them.
I want them to understand that humanity

was never created for competition.

We were never meant to stand on stages

and be called the Misses of Anything

except Love, and Compassion, and Kindness,

and Strength, and Bravery.


Our very hearts pump hesitant blood

into our impossible veins

so that we can love each other

with a ferocity that can only be called human.


And I wanted to weep because I wish I could

hold each one of those soul-beautiful girls

by their gorgeous cheeks,

stare into their eyes,

and really show them

how to See.


But I know it’s a lesson that only time can teach.

And so I will wait

as the world rolls on,

until they are old enough to understand

what people really mean when they say

that beauty is only skin deep.
-Jessi 2016


One thought on “Skin Deep 

  1. Good, good, good.
    I have learned that some people can be brutally honest – but misguided.
    I don’t think they mean to be “bad”, but sometimes it hurts just the same.
    You are so good with words that those who read you know exactly what you are saying.
    Keep up the good work.

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