"Pretty. Cute. Flawless. Sexy."
These are comments that would float around in our wake as my friends and I pass by. No, I don't take pride in the mix of admiration and envy I hear in the girls' whispers. I don't relish the boys' enthrallment and longing. And it's not because I'm the picture of humility. It's simply because I know that the remarks are not directed at me.
I'm the Ugly Friend, see.
The thing is, I never considered myself ugly when I was growing up. I actually never gave a thought to stuff like that. I was the sort of kid who would be the first one to scale a tree on a dare or catch spiders to keep as pets. I was no daddy's princess, but I was my father's shadow. He would always boast that I take after him, and have my hair cut like a boy's and even give me his castoff shirts. My exasperated mother would stow the pastel-colored outfits she bought at the very back of the closet, wipe the dirt off my face, and tell me that my sister and I are the most beautiful girls in the world.
Of course I believed her. Then I would run off to catch a snake at the garden or go lie down with a pet dog's latest litter of puppies.
In school I would absentmindedly draw my heroes engaged in combat and scribble stories filled with enchanted castles and lurking monsters. Eventually, my heroes morphed into one shining knight in armor with very similar features to a former playmate. My stories turned into tales that my friends would pass around and giggle and get giddy over. And while all this was happening, the very same girls who would stuff their faces with Cheetos and blow bubbles into their sodas seemed to have transformed into carefully powdered, cherry-lipped young ladies who were baby cologned within an inch of their lives. And I was still stuck with my boy's cut that made me look like a pudgy Asian Orphan Annie.
Suddenly, being pretty and desirable mattered.
That was the time we discovered boys, and boys discovered us—or discovered my barkada is more like it. After all, I was practically invisible, eclipsed by my best friend's big, brown eyes, another BFF's slender figure, and yet another bestie's smooth, flawless skin.
Of course all this made me feel bad. I remember trying to catch a cute guy's attention, but he only had eyes for a friend. I tried to giggle daintily and flip my hair coquettishly, but a giggle is actually a chuckle if you have a voice as deep as mine, and my fingers only got stuck in my wiry, growing-out hair.
Oh no, you say worriedly, this is the time that she rushes to the CR and locks herself in a stall and tries her best to cry quietly, with guttural hiccups that could fool any female into thinking that she walked into the male's CR.
Er, no. That's not exactly what happened. In the first place, I never fancied myself as someone who would floor people with her looks or stun everyone with her fantastic figure. I don't give tinkling laughs or shy away from the menu offered to me by my date. In realizing this, it became clear that it's not just me who's disparate from the rest—all of us are actually different from one another. At first glance, people might see my barkada as one beautiful unit with me as the sore thumb sticking out. But upon getting to know us better, they would find out that this friend has a wicked sense of humor, and oh, that's the friend who's a whiz in just about everything. Becoming more conscious of this has made me aware that even if I don't fit into the conventional standards of beauty, I still have something unique to offer, something special that could interest and even fascinate other people. And this doesn't just apply to me, it's also true to my friends. It goes beyond beauty, you see.
Sure, there are still moments when bouts of insecurity attack. Like when we're all getting ready to have a fun night out and it's a breeze for them to glam up and slip into cute, little outfits while I try on one outfit after another and finally collapse in frustration and settle for my usual getup. But as we step out and heads swivel in admiration, I smile, assured of my own value, and feel damn proud of every single one of my best friends.