The year was 1998. The setting: a dreaded end-of-year junior high school dance. I was a painfully awkward 13 year-old with braces, stringy hair down to my waist and glasses that were way too big for my face. My limbs were skinny and gangly, so I compensated by wearing shirts three sizes too large. It was bad. Like the “before” version of Anne Hathaway in Princess Diaries.
I know it wasn’t just me….middle school is a torturous experience for everyone. But the dances were an especially condensed, sardine can of humiliation. I was standing with a flock of fellow wallflowers when one of the popular girls walked up. To talk to me. And for once, she wasn’t looking for homework help! Unheard of.
“Hey Chelsea,” she said casually, cheerfully. “Willie told me he wants to dance with you. Do you want to dance with him?”
I looked across the room at Willie, who was chattering with a bunch of his basketball buddies. It didn’t seem to matter or even occur to anyone in the school that our district’s sports programs were among the worst in the state and that we hadn’t medaled or placed or won anything since about 1989. Willie and his gang were athletes. And that made them cool. It confused me, but I wasn’t one to judge and I frankly would’ve danced with a leper to end the awkward wall-milling. I told the girl I’d gladly dance with Willie, and she excitedly skipped off to report to his cohort.
Willie waited until a slow song began and made his approach, flanked by a couple forwards and point guards. “I hear you want to dance with me,” he grinned.
“Sure, that would be nice,” I nodded.
He looked side to side and smiles spread among his group, as he stepped up invasively close to my face. “Well I don’t want to dance with you.” A couple snickers broke out around me as he continued, “I would never dance with you.”
I was stunned, embarassed, baffled. Mostly I was confused about why he continued to stand there, staring at me as if waiting for some reaction. What did he expect? Tears? A slap in the face, perhaps? “Well, okay,” I shrugged. His group seemed disappointed with my lack of reaction, but quickly resumed their back-slapping and walked away triumphantly.
It crushed me…and I didn’t even like the guy. I couldn’t wrap my head around why someone would do something that terrible. Was I so repulsive that people had to go out of their way to reject me? I actually had nightmares about it, replaying the scene in my head for days.
Don’t worry…there is a delayed happy ending to this story! In true Princess Diaries-style, I ultimately got the last laugh. Willie’s mean-spirited actions actually motivated me to take a good hard look at myself, my image and my self esteem. I wasn’t comfortable with my body and was unhappy constantly feeling out of place. I didn’t want to change to fit anyone else’s standards (or to impress that assclown), but I did want to feel confident in my own skin. That summer I ditched the braces, lost the glasses, chopped my hair, bought some clothes that actually fit, and – miraculously – grew boobs. Ahh, boobs.
And in case you’re wondering, I didn’t dance with Willie at any of the other dances.
I would never dance with him.