‘Ugly’ people can definitely grow on you. I know this for a fact. Conversely, I have known some really good-looking people whose entire appearance and appeal faded on better acquaintance.
Take Peter. He was not what anyone would call handsome or even particularly attractive. His hair was wiry and stuck out at odd angles. It looked as if it had not seen a brush or a comb for weeks on end.
He was also at that teenage stage where most days brought an avalanche of excess sebum to the hair follicles as well as to the skin. So he had this lank, wiry hair that was unkempt and mostly unclean and definitely not styled. His face at the point I knew him was not suffering too much from the oil that attacked his hair, so generally he wasn’t too spotty.
What was most prominent about him at first were his teeth. They were not buck exactly but they were there when he smiled and talked and laughed. You couldn’t not notice them. They weren’t very white either – more a kind of off-white, but not dirty.
He was a bit odd-looking would be about the kindest way of describing him. But because I didn’t find him attractive I could completely relax with him and that was where his appearance began to change. Peter was what people would call a character. His behaviour was off the wall and he expressed his feelings and emotions freely in whatever way came to mind. I never knew him to do anything wicked or mean, just eccentric. He was what you might call a free spirit and it showed in his dealings with everyone from fellow students to teachers. Everybody recognised Peter for what he was and he was liked for it. I think everyone envied his self-expression. Teachers smiled at his antics and students wanted to be able to adopt his carefree pose to their work and relationships. So, yes, this odd-looking boy of seventeen became for me a really attractive person.
I didn’t know how not to take things seriously and found it difficult to relax in the way he did with everyone. He seemed to be so comfortable with himself and with others while other teenagers, including myself, were angst-ridden about their image and relationships and the world and the bomb. A lot of us took ourselves seriously in that obnoxious way that only teenagers can – where they feel that adults really do not have a clue and do not care about the really important things. Adults become so caught up in a world that revolves around trivia like paying bills and feeding families and arranging holidays and planning for a new car and stuff that did not look at the GLOBAL issues.
Superior teenagers have got to be some of the most insufferable people on the planet. Peter wasn’t like that. Maybe that’s why the adults liked him as much as his peers. He could have a truly sensible conversation about all sorts of issues and speak from the heart with the ease of one not embarrassed to have real feelings and emotions. It may have been his family background that contributed to so much of who he was or it may have been just who he was born to be but I’m glad I knew him.
I’m older now and I find myself remembering him fondly for the kind of person he was and wondering how he had grown at such a young age into someone so unique and likeable when all around him were the usual teenagers that he really ought to have been trying to emulate because that’s what teenagers do. They follow a code – unwritten but perceived and forceful – that few dare break away from.
With teenagers of my own now I want to understand what made Peter the way he was because I would like it if my own offspring could be half the confident person he was at that tender age.