I think I'm pretty.

This is a statement I have never said aloud. I have never written it, until now. I tend to disagree with others when they use that adjective to describe me, partially because I dislike many of the people it generally applies to. I rarely even think it.

Regardless of this, I think I'm pretty – by my own standards, at least.

I am not rail-thin, nor am I attractively "curvy." I do not have long, gorgeous, shining hair (or a short, fun, spunky 'do.) I do not have extraordinarily beautiful eyes, or perfect cheekbones, or a classifiable nose, or a (insert stereotypical word like "sensuous" or "luscious" here, both of which remind me of overripe fruit) mouth. Or perfect skin. Or perfect anything, for that matter. Oh, and I don't wear makeup.

I am...moderately pudgy. A little overweight, I guess you'd say. I weigh in at around a hundred and eighty pounds, roughly double what many of my classmates (some of whom go to the gym before school) weigh. I'm a little self-conscious about wearing stuff that's too revealing for this reason, which is partially why I'm such a strong advocate of the dress code, which prohibits that sort of thing.

My hair is not particularly interesting. It only has a style at the beginning of the school year, when I actually get it cut; I usually lose interest by October and just let it do what it wants. It's brown, fluffy, moderately wavy, reaches my shoulder blades. And I have bangs, which are also pretty nondescript.

My eyes are unusual at best. They're a vague sort of bluish-gray, though they tend to reflect what I'm wearing and turn a rather pretty translucent green when I cry. The top-left third of my left one is an orangey-brown, which most people don't notice unless I point it out. I wear glasses, which I mess with a lot when I'm nervous and which are perpetually dirty. I refuse to get contacts; I like my geeky glasses, thank you very much.

My nose is vaguely cute but not particularly noticeable. My lips are often chapped, quite ordinary. I will say I am somewhat proud of my smile; a year and a half of braces, plus meticulous dental hygiene, helped with that. My skin is okay; relatively clear, compared to most teenagers. Referred to fondly as "pasty," though when I'm feeling optimistic I might call it "alabaster" or something ridiculous like that.

Summarily, I'm pretty average. But I'm not ugly, or crooked, or homely. I am not particularly interesting or unusual or striking and therefore am not beautiful, but, most days, I grant myself "pretty."

Most of my classmates have perfect, straight, shiny hair; no glasses; perfect skin; weigh between eighty-five and a hundred and ten pounds; and wear clothes worth at least twice what I pay for my non-designer threads. They are all very...perfect. On various sports teams, Future Trophy Wives of America, that sort of thing. During my freshman and sophomore years, I was told frequently, "gee, you'd be so pretty if only you'd lose weight/dress better/wear makeup/straighten your hair/highlight your hair/get contacts/etc." My response was usually something like "Thank you, but have you ever wondered if maybe I don't want to be pretty?"

Which, to them, seemed like such an unthinkable question. Beauty is everything!

No. It's not.

I'd rather my hands be covered in oil paint than perfectly manicured. I'd rather spend my time reading or painting or writing than at the gym. I'd rather be squishy enough for my boyfriend to cuddle than a size two.

But I've realized that by the time you're a junior in four AP classes, it stops mattering. You stop being the Pretties (divided into the Jock Pretties and Smart Pretties and Pretties Who Will Inherit Real Estate Dynasties and so on) and the Weird/Ugly People (art geeks, band geeks, techies, etc.) Being smart becomes more important than being pretty. You can just be the Smart AP Kids who can sit down and discuss politics or Hemingway or whatever else. It stops mattering who you are outside of class, who your friends are, what you drive. You check it at the door. You're more likely to discuss what you have in common than what you don't. You can even say "hi" in the halls or call each other for homework help. You might not eat lunch together or go to the same country club or gush about last night's The OC (though you might have to gush just a little about Grey's Anatomy), but that's okay. Because now, for some reason, there are more important things than what clique you belong to. It's no longer weird for one of the former Pretties to say "I like your necklace" as opposed to "What homeless person did you steal that sweater from?"

I think being pretty has more to do with accepting your place, where you belong, than anything. If you're rich and can afford $70 eyeshadow, bully for you. Great. If you're an art geek like me who's more likely to wear an oversized sweatshirt reading "Make Art, Not War" than a Polo, that's okay too. It's when you're trying so hard to be a label that you look like a poser and a dork.

I know that any day of the week, my boyfriend would kiss me and tell me I'm beautiful, because in his eyes, I am. Which is great, even when I don't agree. (We all have bad hair days, you know. Or bad face days.)

I'mcontent with knowing I can stand up in front of people who, two years ago, would have treated me like a science experiment to poke and prod and cut apart and cut down and know that their smiles are no longer fake, their compliments no longer sarcastic. I can stand in front of them, smile at each one, and still look in the mirror at the end of the day and say:

"I'm pretty."