02/17/2015 05:13 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

To the Jerk From My Summer Job


To the jerk from my summer job,

Last year, you and I were coworkers. We weren't extremely close, but we were acquainted enough to schedule a lunch outing on one of our days off. We both love that place at the edge of town -- good food, cheap prices. We made nice conversation at work, so why not?

I remember I was in a rush that morning. I was probably completing tasks for my work-from-home internship or finishing up homework for my summer classes (I was a busy gal), and I recall jumping in the shower and throwing on an old sweatshirt -- one of my favorites, soft and cozy -- and then heading out.

When I got there, you were already seated at a table. And the first thing you said to me was, "Wow, you look like crap today."

I didn't have any makeup on. My hair was still a little wet from the shower, and probably starting to frizz because of the summer air. I was pale, despite the month, because I swore off tanning when I was in high school (skin cancer runs in my family.) And showers wash me out (literally), so I know I looked even paler than usual. I have mild acne, my cheeks are naturally red and dark circles rule my under-eye region, but I didn't have time to cake my face with concealer, like I typically do.

So yes, I know I didn't look like the most sparkling version of myself. But before I could interject, you went on to say, "You're, like, a one out of five right now."

I sat there for a second, stunned. My menu was open; I had been thinking about eggs and hash browns (it's never too late in the day for those.) But suddenly, rather than eating, I wanted to punch you in the face and get the hell out of there.

Instead, I sat calmly (why, I'll never know) and asked, "Are you joking right now?"

You said no. You said I genuinely looked bad, but if it made me feel better, one out of five is the equivalent of two out of 10. Maybe you were trying to be funny. Maybe your idea of humor is demeaning women and damaging confidence and enforcing harmful gender norms.

You didn't have any makeup on. You have acne, too, and you're overweight. Your lip looks constantly swollen and your voice is nasally. I didn't say anything, though, because that's not my style. Besides, men don't have to take care of themselves the way women do. For us, it's our duty, our life obligation, to look flawless every time we have to face another human. If we don't, people will wonder if we're feeling under the weather or if we stayed up late last night drinking or if we're going through a breakup. Because that's society.

The worst part? I stayed. I ordered my meal and I ate it and only then did I leave. When I went home, I asked my mom if I looked awful without makeup. I asked her to give me an honest answer. She told me that I, honestly, was beautiful.

I didn't believe her, though. For weeks, I thought about what you said and I worried about what I looked like. To this day, eight months later, I remember your cutting words with the kind of clarity as though you had said it yesterday.

But since then, I've come to understand that you're just a jerk from my summer job. Probably unhappy, and too stupid to realize the depth of your damaging words.

I hope one day someone teaches you how to treat women, whether they be friends, girlfriends, relatives, coworkers. Probably no one will ever point out your flaws the way you did mine, and that's okay. I know who you are, and so do you.

I don't wear much makeup these days. I like the feel of my skin when it's bare; I take good care of it. I like that I can rub my eyes whenever I want, and my lashes don't get tangled when they're not caked with mascara. My hair gets frizzy sometimes, especially when it rains. I still have mild acne and scars from years of picking, when it used to be a lot worse. My cheeks are perpetually red, and my under-eye area dark. And it's okay.

The world can see me as I am. I am raw, I am exposed, and society can take it all in. Go ahead and assess. Maybe I'm a one out of five. In my book, I'm a 10 out of 10.

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