Most of us have had a season in our lives that we would refer to as our awkward looking – or flat out – ugly stage. Some of us are so fortunate enough to have hard evidence- school pictures, year books, family albums and home videos – to show for it. My artifacts have survived- relocating from house to house, places where dust bunnies and moths call home- attics, basements, and storages – and even the eight months of Chicago weather when they were in the trunk of my car.
Years ago, my mom graciously and lovingly put together an album that contained all my childhood and teenage pictures. I take pleasure in browsing through the pictures of my younger years. But, when I get to my preteen years I cringe. I flip through the album quickly, until I arrive at a more pleasant time- my late teen years.
During my preteen years, I was without a doubt an ugly duckling.
I had tight, kinky curly hair that I had no idea how to control or style. I usually wore my hair in a ponytail. It looked like a poodle’s tail- a puffy, fuzzy ball. My curly bangs were short; consequently my hair stood right up, like the rooster’s comb.
I had a slight overbite, and my teeth were too big for my skeleton looking face.
I had atrocious, big glasses.
I was super, super skinny. I barely weighed 90 pounds.
Back in the 80s, skinniness wasn’t the style. Models like, Cindy Crawford, Claudia Schiffer, and Kathy Ireland actually had meat on their bones.
To make matters worse, I am Puerto Rican.
Like most Puerto Rican homes, skinniness wasn’t admired or praised. A couple of my nicknames were Flaca (skinny) and Bones. My family members were notorious in assigning nicknames- Gorda (fat), Duno, Hincha (pale face)- to one another. This certainly will be a good story for another time.
I was so skinny, my abuela (grandmother), Francesca used to joke how my knee caps were bigger than my thighs.
I remember going to the doctor’s office with my mom and her practically begging the doctor to prescribe me a weight gain pill.
Back then, in middle school, girls all around me were blossoming into flowers, while I remained a plain stem.
In school, the boys were downright cruel towards me. They had their own set of nicknames for me…
They confirmed it – I was an ugly duckling!
For two years, I endured the torment. Hoping that one day, my time would come – I would blossom.
And then it happened.
The summer of my sophomore year, I had my famous epic transformation. Like in the movies- “She’s All That” and “She’s Out of Control.”
I was no longer the sad, skinny stem.
I became the beautiful rose- I finally lived up to my name- Rosabel.
By no means am I suggesting that I was gorgeous, but I felt pretty. I finally felt like singing… “I feel pretty, oh so pretty. I feel pretty and witty and bright.”
During my junior year in high school, my English teacher told me, “You are a born leader. You are smart and liked by your peers. If you play your cards right, you are going to go far in life.”
At that time, that was by far the best compliment I had ever received. For a good portion of my school years, all I wanted was to be acknowledged and accepted.
Besides feeling like an absolute ugly duckling in middle school, I also struggled to learn how to read in my early years. The blog post “A Struggling Student, A Blind Teacher, and the Master’s Hand” tells that story.
And finally, there I was being labeled as smart, pretty, and well- liked. That conversation was a pivotal moment in my life.
It was during my third year in college at DePaul University I decided to step into a leadership role and make a positive impact.
At the time, DePaul University didn’t have a Latina Sorority. Actually, it didn’t have a recognized Latino organization on campus.
I decided I wanted to bring a Latina oriented sorority to DePaul. But, I didn’t want to join a sorority that emphasized the typical superficial things – prettiness, popularity, or partying – unfortunately, this does exist.
My desire was to bring a sorority that would challenge Latina women to excel in their academics, encourage them to embrace and sustain their heritage, and most importantly, develop beautiful relationships that would transcend beyond college years.
And so, I became a Noble Founder of Gamma Phi Omega- the first Latina oriented sorority at DePaul University. To my pleasant surprise the sorority symbol was- a swan.
Almost twenty years later, Gamma Phi Omega is still at DePaul University. And it is with great pride, that they are still embracing the principles I had envisioned.
For years, I allowed others to negatively label and define me, because I didn’t know any better.
Today, I see things differently.
I am beautiful, and it has nothing to do with what I see in the mirror.
It has everything to do with my Lord and Savior and His work in my life.
My worth comes from Him- my creator.
And so, I am able to accept, love, and appreciate who I am from the inside out, because of who I belong to- my God!
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.
But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?”