In college I was known for wearing thrift store jeans and over-sized tee shirts. I smothered my insecurity in loose-fitting clothes and obvious sarcasm. Those around me, the few I tolerated, interpreted my indifference as attitude. However, they didn’t realize I suffered from a rare medical condition known as Resting Bitch Face, a disease described by unaccredited websites as a chronic expression of anger or disgust, which apparently made me unapproachable. While most who struggle with this affliction constantly reassure the public that it is just an uncontrollable feature of their personality, mine was a blessing. I was perfectly content being left alone. Well, not completely alone.
In fact, most of my post-pubescent existence was lacking a certain ceremonial rite of passage: having a boyfriend. I’d had one or two informal flings in my early teens, but I regretfully graduated high school with my virginity hanging over me like a Vegas marquee. I looked forward to college as an opportunity to find that life-altering love affair, or at least someone to fondle until the former arrived.
Freshman year went by without as much as a drunken kiss. I immersed myself in a theatre department whose male demographic was either gay or taken. To make matters worse, I was finally able to escape my first-semester roommate, who smelled like stale garbage, by moving in with someone who liked to study, which was great for my grade point average but not my dwindling social life.
Sophomore year gave me hope. The assembly line of dorm life dropped off a new group of girls on my floor and we immediately formed a tightknit social unit. Tab was the smart one; she belonged to almost every math and science club on campus. Regardless of her pajama ensemble and lack of hair-combing skills, she had a constant wave of interest from a range of suitors. Sometimes even two at once. Caitlin was the loyal one; she never missed a Sunday night of painting nails while watching her family drama programs on TV. She had also been dating the same boy since high school with every intention to spend the rest of their lives together. And then there was Vikki. She was the cool one. She was the cool one who had no idea how cool she really was. But boys certainly knew. They latched themselves to her like blood-sucking ticks. She had no interest in any of them, which, of course, made them want her even more.
And me? Who was I? Well, I didn’t exactly know. I could finish homework while watching Desperate Housewives with Cait, or I could hang out with Tab and her computer science friends in the study lounge. I could even survive a frat party with Vikki if she begged me enough, which is exactly what she did one Saturday night when I came home from rehearsal to find Caitlin had gone home for the weekend and Tab was at a chemistry BBQ.
I’d been to frat parties before. I’d been to frat parties, French parties and even theatre parties that never failed to include an ensemble rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody. While each party had its own agenda, they always ended the same: I left alone. I was well aware that my RBF and general hatred for most of the world’s population was not a turn on by any means. So on weekends I’d put aside the ripped pants and oversized shirts for a glittery tank top and way too much eyeshadow. I’m sure I looked as fake as I felt, but I wanted them to notice me the way they noticed Tab and Vikki and every other girl that warranted attention. Yes, it was a lie. I didn’t normally dress like that. I didn’t normally drink cheap beer and bob my head to indistinguishable sounds posing as rap music. They could get to know me later, though, after I’d lured them in with flashy colors and a plastic smile. But they never did. They never took the bait, and I was getting tired of sitting on the dock with my disappointment and a cheap pole.
Vikki persisted. She didn’t want to go to the party alone, and I knew exactly why. She’d been invited by a group of guys who all wanted a shot at winning her affection. And as much as she dreaded being the center of attention, I dreaded being the opposite. I knew it would be another night of wasting an hour trying to make myself “pretty” for an oblivious audience. And, yet, I finally succumbed to her frantic pleas. This time I didn’t put on any make up or gem-embellished clothes. In my own form of protest I wore my ink-stained Vans and a second-hand trench coat that was fraying in all the right places. I arrived at the party sufficiently armed with my usual apathy and my RBF in full flare.
Immediately, the small group of thirsty brothers surrounded Vikki, each one trying his hardest to be named the victor. She wasn’t budging and I was enjoying their failure. After one of the groupies made a non-descript, dim-witted compliment, I threw in a sarcastic comment that I usually kept hidden at these type of social engagements. Boys don’t like girls with an attitude. Something about sugar and spice, right? Well, I was definitely heavy on the cayenne.
After I shot down his flirtatious attempt with my snide remark, I rolled my eyes and shoved my hands deep into my pockets expecting the usual round of judgement. But, instead, something surprising and damn near miraculous happened. One of the more attractive admirers reached out his hand and said, “I’m sorry. What’s your name again?” I looked up to find him smiling. They all were. In fact, they were laughing. Apparently I was funny. Suddenly I was interesting. After that they made an effort to engage me in the conversation, and I kept them supplied with comedic, and somewhat crass, entertainment as Vikki slipped away, finally free from their verbal grasping.
I wasn’t interested in seeing them past the party, and I didn’t care if they had any interest in pursuing me. We were content just having a good time, and I was the catalyst for what turned into an overall enjoyable evening.
It felt groundbreaking. How could I have been so blind? So naïve? All this time I’d been primping for a role I was never meant to play. And then, there I was not even trying to muster a moment’s glance, and I was the dazzling emcee orchestrating this college party circus. And how did I do it? I wasn’t wearing any make-up. My breasts were well-hidden underneath my gutter clothes. It didn’t have anything to do with how I looked and everything to do with what I said. That didn’t stop me from showing off more cleavage than I was comfortable with in the future, and I’ll blame that on two decades of exposure to sexually driven media campaigns, but I had a new weapon in my flirtation arsenal: my sense of humor.
I could finally stop being jealous of Tab and Vikki and every other girl that effortlessly caught the eye of the cute guy by the drink machine. I just had to stop trying. I had to stop forcing myself into a mold reserved for girls who had no other choice and embrace this new identity. So I did. And you know what happened? Absolutely nothing. Sure, there was more kissing my senior year than the last decade of my life combined, but I still graduated college a virgin and an angry one at that.
Even though this revelation didn’t yield the results I was hoping for, I did take away one very important lesson. After years of over-obsessing about my appearance and craving attention for all the wrong reasons, I realized that the only way to feel confident and secure in my individuality was to find some uglier friends.
Kimberly currently teaches English at Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte, North Carolina. Previous work can be found on her website: www.kimberlyannsaunders.com.