I am not sure when it first occurred to me.
It might have been on a trip to Knott's Berry Farm. I was around 13 years old, standing in line for one of the rides. My younger brother, Spencer, was standing with me. I remember there were two high-school girls behind us. The kind of girls I wanted to be. The kinds of girls who wake up, shower, put their glossy straight hair in a ponytail, and bounce out the door; no makeup, flawless skin, long eyelashes, bodies made for roller skating on The Strand. One of them said to the other, "LOOK AT HER SKIN, WHAT DO YOU THINK THAT IS?! THAT'S GROOOOSS!" It took me a minute, and then I realized they were talking about me. I can't quite describe the feeling. It was somewhere between humiliation, fear, and self-loathing, all complemented with utter despair.
I figured: if they are thinking that, everyone is. And what's worse, they didn't know the half of my grossness. God. There was so much more. All they could see were the scars on the back of my legs. They couldn't see the huge scar resembling a topographical map of the Fiji Islands under my arm. They couldn't see the blistered puffy scars along my bikini line. They couldn't see the stripes on my rib cage. Shit. They didn't see my conical teeth! And most likely they didn't see the giant bald spot on the back of my head. Because for sure they would have whispered loudly about that too.
(I have a genetic disorder. Best part: it was a spontaneous mutation. Which means I am so talented, my body managed to self-mutate its genetic code. It wasn't inherited. I am the lucky one and the only one in my family. It's extremely rare, and because of that, I was misdiagnosed quite a few times. According to my mother, she was told by one doctor when I was a baby not to touch me. Awesome. Here is your bundle of joy you have waited nine months for, BUT no touchy.)
A hot pain washed over me.
I honestly felt like my life was over.
I was officially gross.
Not my outfit. Not my hairstyle. Me. I, Jenna Lyons, was gross.
I was screwed.
I never really saw myself the same way again. I eradicated the word "gross" from my vocabulary. The mere sound of GROOOOSS bounced around my brain like a foamy piece of rotten fruit. I told no one what had happened. I started wearing long sleeves and pants every day in the hot California sun. I stopped smiling. And when I couldn't help myself, I covered my mouth in shame.
I am not sure what the exact timeline was, but somewhere after that, I slipped into depression. I guess that's what you call it when someone cries on the bathroom floor for no apparent reason, sleeps all day after school, and spends endless hours studying every inch of Vogue and Mademoiselle, desperately trying to imagine what those girls' lives were like: what kind of things did people say about them? Did boys like them? Were they popular? I dreamed of what it would be like to wake up beautiful, only to realize that was a pipe dream. That led to dreaming up ways to go to sleep myself. And not wake up.
As I became aware I was different, so did the other kids in my school. I soon found myself the one last picked for the dodgeball team. The LAST girl picked at cotillion. As if cotillion isn't bad enough. I was the butt of jokes in social studies.
But seventh grade was an odd turning point. I took a home-economics class. Profound life changes can happen in home ec. Believe me, that statement sounds just as ridiculous to me as it does to you.
What happened was I learned to sew.
In addition to my grossness, I was also five foot eleven by seventh grade and super skinny. There were no "talls" available in size zero back then. Shorts were out of the question. Skirts were always too short. I had to buy size-ten pants in order for them to be long enough.