Somebody recently asked me about the first time I knew I was pretty. It was a weird question, because pretty is such an empty thing to feel. Although, I knew what the question meant. It meant: growing up in America, where there’s a lot of emphasis on female physical beauty, tell me about your first experience feeling like you measured up to that standard.
I went to high school in Richmond, California, which, if you know anything about the Bay Area, you know is a really fucked up city. More fucked up than Oakland, and I spent four years bussing in and out of that city to attend the high school over on 23rd street. Sure, in high school, one’s fragile mental state can be laced with the poison of physical inadequacy, feeling ugly, not being very well dressed, having too many pimples on your face. We’ve all been there. It’s a shared experience, really, feeling like a high school ugly duckling, and few people are able to evade that experience.
The thing about being made to feel attractive by another human being is that it means more when it comes from an older, more experienced man. Sure, the boys in my high school might have found me to be acceptable in terms of my appearance, but the validation of an older gentleman – well, high school girls love that kind of shit, which is probably why older gentlemen tend to do the ungentlemanly thing and fuck underage high school girls.
All traumatic experiences aside, walking from my high school to the bus stop everyday was generally a dull experience, but I remember the first time a drug dealer rolled up to me and said something that caught my attention. I was naive back then, clearly, if I let myself talk to some guy in a car on the way to the bus stop. There’s something about sixteen that is so vulnerable and so stupid, which was older men see in a sixteen year old girl.
“Hey, you’re pretty,” he said, keeping his car apace with my walking.
“Wanna go for a ride?”
“No, I’m catching the bus, but thanks though.”
“Where you going?”
“Taking the bus can’t be all that fun.”
“I like it.”
“Let me take you for a ride.”
“Well, you’re hella fine, girl. You should come kick it with my homies sometime. We’re hella fun.”
“What do you guys do?”
“You know, party and shit. Here, take my number.” He handed me a piece of paper with his number on it. “Let me know if you ever need anything. You know, party favors or shit.”
My drug fiend little sixteen year old ears immediately perked up, because if there’s anything that older men know that sixteen year old girls like, it’s plates full of cocaine. In fact, that was what me and my friends had recently started getting into: waffling around warehouse parties with our flasks full of vodka and our noses full of drugs. If I hadn’t been interested in him earlier, then I was certainly interested in him then. Our drug connects were pretty shaky at that point, so I turned and asked, “What kind of party favors?”
“Oh, you know, coke, meth, ice, ecstasy. Whatever you want, baby.”
I took his number. My friends and I had already been through various harrowing experiences buying drugs from dealers that seemed even shadier than this guy in a Cutlass on San Pablo in Richmond.
“Okay, well, thanks, nice to meet you.”
“K, baby, you hit me up, okay?”
“Okay!” I scooted on over to the bus stop. With the golden number of some Richmond drug dealer in my hand, and I lost it shortly thereafter, but I guess a teenage girl’s need for drugs can never be underestimated. Because in the face of getting a free bag of coke, that was how I felt for the first time: pretty. And that’s the dangerous thing about being a woman in America: the price of being pretty is often too high to pay.