Beauty or the Bro?
He kept calling me bro.
Hanging with a group of friends that night, he did handshakes with me like I was just the guy at the bar instead of the enveloping hugs that I used to get from him, the ones I love from my friends. This boy with black hair and the smattering of chest hair over his casually buttoned shirt was looking at me with wide eyes from across the table and buying me beer. I was wearing a long black maxi dress with red lipstick across my mouth. I thought I looked pretty. Yet I was a bro.
I had a crush on him for as long as I had known him. I had talked to him at parties and made casual conversation. The pheromones I was giving off must have been vibrant, because two girls came up to us a month ago and asked us how long we had been together. I stammered, because I didn’t want to say we were just friends, because I was trying not to close the door on the chance we could be more. Later when he asked me what my type was, I was very tempted to say, “You. Half-naked, in my bed. That’s my type. Bro.”
As the night ended and he drove me to my car, he grabbed my hand first before the hug and sped away as soon as I shut the door. As I drove home, my dejected face was at the same time accepting. I was used to being cast in this role of bro. My height, unfiltered mouth, devil-may-care attitude and ability to go beyond the superficial has made me an unusual creature in Los Angeles. I love makeup, wearing dresses and being flirty, but I also love drinking beer and showing off my brain. And as a result, I’m often cast as the bro: The chick who’s cool enough to talk about anything and not care, but you would never date because… well, G-d forbid.
Turning down Venice Boulevard on my way home, it reminded me of several weeks before as I watched as a so-called guy friend of mine seemed to hang out with me to try to get his paws on my friends. Girls who were shorter. Thinner. Prettier. Less flighty. Less loud. Less open. And certainly not insufferable know-it-alls like me. Needless to say, his friendship with me as a woman to get a woman didn’t do any favors for my ego, and as soon as I set him up and it didn’t work, he was gone.
Grumpy as I settled into bed that night, I messaged one of my guy friends about it who was online, asking if I had the “bro” look. He said no and then complained about dating too — an ironic statement, since he had been dating one of my friends up until recently. He then asked me to come over and “hang out” sometime, which in his language meant come over and do stuff to him. Angrily, I snapped at him and shut off my electronics for the evening.
I woke up in the morning, the heat of the day already killing me. I passed by the mirror, naked. My brown hair was disheveled and my body seemingly drooping into a strange fat vortex. I have lost plenty of weight in recent years, at my smallest probably since college, but it doesn’t stop the onset of those days where you feel like you can take over the world with your size. I frowned and jumped in the shower, soaping up my body and feeling less for the wear. Wrapping my fluffy purple towel, I looked in the mirror and asked myself why such a gorgeous boy would want a slob like this girl. It wasn’t like boys were actually asking me out (although my friends argue that’s an overall thing). But I was cool, so guys wanted to still hang out with me. Just as a bro. Or because they wanted something from me, like sex or to date my friends.
It made me question everything about my life as it currently stood, from relationships to career and my family. Am I simply too ugly for someone to love me? Where is my life going? Should I change something, maybe go back to school or find a new path? Did I really want to stay in Los Angeles, where I could never compete with the insane amount of superficiality and shallowness that travels this town faster than coke addict hearing a rumor of snorting in the bathroom?
I thought about that bro boy as I went on my Facebook and watched a TED talk with a makeup artist. Her voice seemed to soothe me as she mused on beauty and how none of us as women think that we are. That is, except if we were ill or dying and really just couldn’t afford to care about things like that anymore.
Illness. My mother came straight to the surface of my mind. My mother, who now has no hair and doesn’t wear makeup anymore. I remember watching her prepare herself at her vanity while I was growing up, brushing on her gray eye shadow and combing those fine wisps of silver hair. At one point, I was sitting at her kitchen table and she somehow found a gray hair in my brown mane. She wistfully grinned. “You’re graying like me. I started getting gray hairs around your age,” she cooed. “And in the same places too. Except your hair’s wavy. Like Nony’s.”
When I think of my Nony, my grandmother, I think of her as an incredibly beautiful woman. She wasn’t traditionally pretty by any means, and if you ever asked her, she always wanted to be a blonde and skinnier than a size 14. But her joy was infectious, her smile bringing brightness into every room she ever occupied. It took over her entire face and crinkled her eyes, making them twinkle and her very skin glow. Just like mine does whenever I grin from ear to ear. Nony was not a standard beauty, but to her husband and everyone around her, she was breathtaking.
That boy I was crushing on may see a bro, but under all these layers, I now see my beauty. It’s different from physical perfection; it’s recognition, understanding and a sense of peace. If he couldn’t see me as beautiful, he also couldn’t see all the people I love who I think are beautiful too, and that’s really his loss and not mine. Somewhere under all this muck that is dating and the insanity therein is someone who wouldn’t see me as the “bro,” but see the light within that draws people in. It took me years to love this light, and sometimes I stumble when I’m feeling hurt and rejected. But then I remember to put on a giant Nony smile, and tell myself that for every one boy who doesn’t want me romantically, I get ten times more joy from the world around me. In turn, I start feeling blessed again and continue marching on to my own drum.
Too bad he can’t see all that beauty behind the bro.