I would share a prom photo with you, but there is no evidence on the internet. No, all the evidence of my pale, plucked, teenage body are hidden in a box upstate.
Let me draw you a picture.
It was early June, 2002. I was 17. I was bloated, greasy, awkward and bitter. In that sense, I was just like every other teenage girl. I liked to think I was different.
I was eating Taco Bell every Tuesday with my friends, performing some gastrointestinal torture that resembled an extravagant taco-eating contest. Because that’s what most teenage girls do. Gorge themselves on weekly taco binges. Perfectly normal. I had been thin, but my high school habits had broken me. I was lumpy and in denial. It must have been the senior seventeen. It must have been all the tacos, chicken nuggets, ice cream and chicken nuggets.
Then there were the cigarettes. I picked up smoking in a fit of angry inferiority when I was a camp counselor. The youngest of the bunch, I thought inhaling Camel Lights would get me in good with the handsome lifeguards. I am embarrassed to admit that it worked, which is probably why it took me so long to quit. By the end of senior year, I was smoking half a pack a day. My hair, hands, and breath always reeked of smoke. I was in desperate need of whitestrips.
Shall we move on from the disgusting health habits to my face? Let’s. Between the tacos and the smoking, there was no question that my skin was a mess. Blackheads ripped through my t-zone, and my chin was covered in hormonal, cystic acne. I hadn’t quite figured out how to apply makeup appropriately. I was incredibly pale, and most chalky power sat on top of my skin, flaking off my cheeks in pasty-colored patches. The blush somehow missed my cheekbones and ended up closing in on my eyeliner, which was heavy black. My eyeshadow of choice was bright purple.
As senior prom approached, I prepared myself for the day that would define my high school career. My friends and I booked a limo, secured prom dates, arranged after parties, dumped our prom dates, made hair appointments, and found new prom dates.
I searched far and wide for a prom dress that would define my personality. Quirky, I told myself, with an air of intelligence and allure. Something with confidence. Something tight and strapless, to define my burgeoning chest. Something… neon teal. Yes. Hot, electric, blindingly neon teal. It took me months to find the perfect dress, and I blew $300 on one of the tackiest evening gowns ever sold in the Variazioni at the mall.
Next up, hair and makeup.
Makeup was easy — I coated my face with Cover Girl liquid and smeared purple eyeshadow on my lids. Because nothing compliments neon teal like bright purple. It was a natural combination for, say, a cold blind stripper.
The hair was even worse.
A group of us went to a hair salon across the street from the Wendy’s drive-thru. My friends and I sat in a pretty little row of salon chairs, reading old issues of Cosmo and staring at ourselves in floor to ceiling mirrors. The rest of the girls got up-dos, but I loved my long, red hair. I wanted part of it up, but the rest of it in what I called a half up-do. The woman at the chair nodded, like she knew what I was talking about. She worked diligently on my half up-do with a pic comb and a can of hairspray. When she took my cape off with a final whoosh, my friends giggled. I fell face-first into the floor to ceiling mirror.
The hairdresser had fashioned three sloppy, hair-sprayed buns along the crown of my head.
So there it is. There’s the sight of me at 17 — blemished, insecure as fuck, with an ugly row of sticky buns across my scalp. Snug in my mal-fitting neon teal dress and yellow teeth, wobbly Camel Light in hand, I was the picture of teenage awkwardness.
And those pictures, like that ugly Variazioni gown, will never again see the light of day.