I was, from about the time that appearance mattered (about middle school) up until I got into the kink scene, an ugly kid. Not three-eyes-ugly, but there were some things going against me: I've been fat since I was a baby, I had no idea how to dress myself, I have really weird hair, I hit puberty relatively late, and I'd skipped so many grades I was three years younger than everyone in my class. So when I got to high school, everyone else was in hot pink belly shirts and long blond ponytails and had breasts, and I was in an XXL denim shirt with hair like a tumbleweed and two years away from even a trainer bra.
I didn't get laid in high school. (Admittedly I was fifteen when I graduated. But still, when you're twelve years old and people tell you that you're unfuckable, you don't have the perspective to go "duh, I'm a child." I was devastated.) I had a brief, clandestine, and extremely chaste thing with another girl at the absolute bottom of the social ladder and I graduated.
And now, with the gift of hindsight and the much larger gift of never having to relive those days, I'm kind of glad. Being an ugly kid taught me a lot. Things like:
I am horny.
Duh, right? But never really going through the "boys will want you now" phase means that I got to experience my own horniness as a thing completely separate from male desire. Being sexually frustrated for years on end is no fun, but it teaches you to appreciate the realness of your own sex drive like nothing else. How could I buy into crap about "girls only put out for money/emotional stuff/social status" when my own vagina was going nuts with the desire just to get some goddamn cock already?
I can make the first move.
I did eventually get laid, at age 15, which may not sound like "eventually" to you, but for me it was the culmination of an absolute lifetime of frustration. I didn't do it by sitting around looking pretty and waiting for a boy to approach me. I had a crush on a male friend and I came on to him pretty hard. Even after we were sexual, having intercourse was my decision and something that I planned. I bought the condoms and I started out on top of him. The fact that boys weren't showing up at my doorstep with Boyfriend Applications didn't mean I had to hide in a hole; I just had to bypass this whole bullshit "boys approach, girls consent" protocol and go out there to work out some handshake deals with some sexy boys.
I am more than my looks.
So I wasn't pretty, or even socially acceptable, in high school. That didn't mean that I didn't exist. I had friends--"loser" friends, sure, but friends I loved absolutely dearly--my academic achievements were frankly amazing, and I generally had a full life that I was reasonably successful at. I didn't spend my time not-getting-laid but had a hell of a lot else to occupy myself with. I spent a summer before I'd even been kissed planting trees in clearcuts in the Cascades. I had never touched a penis when I got a 1580 (out of 1600) on the SAT. While I did feel down about not being sexy, I had a self-worth that had nothing to do with sex.
Sexy has nothing to do with sex.
When I started having sex, I was not appreciably hotter than I'd been before. Puberty had left me with small mismatched breasts and that was about it; I still had the body of a very small refrigerator with an untrimmed bush on top. And the sex was fucking amazing. Turns out that I can come from vaginal penetration just the way they claim women can't. Maybe "can come" is understating it. I can come fast, hard, and loud, over and over again. I wasn't sexy and my boyfriend wasn't sexy, but the actual sex we had was fantastic. I don't know if the sex bikini models have is good or not, but I don't think it could be much better.
When people give you shit, it's not because you deserve it, it's because they're shit-givers.
In high school, I got bullied a lot. People would openly make fun of me in the hallways. They'd chuck stuff at me from their cars when I was walking home. I have vivid memories of two guys in my freshman math class loudly discussing the money they'd pay to fuck various girls, then ending it on "Holly? Twelve cents." (Realizing how many things are fucked-up about that story is like one of those "count the triangles" pictures.) People spit in my food, they Sharpied my clothes, they threw trash in my hair, and at one point a group of kids actually threatened to set me on fire.
Then I got to college, and the relief was amazing. People in general didn't necessarily like me, but they were decent. Being unpopular meant that you didn't get invited to parties, not that you got passed love notes with "ha ha just kidding you are an ugly pig" inside. I realized this wasn't because I was better-looking or more "confident" or whatever. It was because college students are adults and they don't do that shit.
I didn't report most of the things that happened to me in high school because I was embarrassed to. I felt like any adult I told would respond with some polite version of either "and you just let them do this and didn't say anything?" or "well, things like this are going to keep happening until you get some confidence and learn to fit in better." It was only when the bullying stopped that I realized it wasn't about me. It wasn't the universe at large meting out things I had earned. It was just a bunch of fucked-up little assholes.
Some of those same kids also shot several pet bunnies and cats in my neighborhood. I'm glad I at least had the perspective not to react with "wow, those bunnies must have really sucked."
It gets better.
This isn't the Ugly Duckling story. I have a little bit more style and social skills now, but I'm no swan. I never did grow nice tits. I never did lose the weight. I didn't even get my hair under control. But nonetheless I grew up. And although I don't think I got pretty, I got to feeling pretty. I became first unafraid to wear normal clothes (i.e., the correct size instead of XXL, colors and designs other than "please don't notice me"), then unafraid to be naked when the situation called for it. I stopped trying to hide my belly during sex. I stopped apologizing for my appearance. I started expecting people to treat me decently.
For the longest time, I had this fantasy that I'd be beautiful someday. That I was just in my "awkward stage" and then one of these years I'd really get my shit together and lose 80 pounds and my hair would be straight and long and blonde and my face would be all lips and eyelashes and cheekbones. I was just a weirdo right now, but around 25 I'd have lots of friends and be married and own a house and maybe be pregnant and I'd have a good job as vice-president of something.
Well... I have lots of friends. Besides that, no, not so much. No conventionality, no perfect fitting in, not much conventional "success," and definitely no rapid settling-down into suburban placidity. I didn't get the life I wanted.
I got something way better.