GeekMom Lisa’s Secret Origin: “Ugly In The Face”

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Image: Lisa Kay Tate

I had been wanting to add to wonderful list of GeekMoms’ origin stories for some time, but had been putting it off for fear I would say the wrong thing.

Let me offer this disclaimer to say in my story I am NOT:

  • Saying it’s okay to bully someone or to allow a bully to continue their hurtful behavior, once it has been discovered.
  • Hoping everyone has to go through being bullied in order to grow creatively. No one should have to hear nasty things.
  • Going to lecture anyone on positive “body image.” At least, that’s not my intent.

What this story is about is how I used my personal experience with bullies to propel me forward into not being afraid to embrace my own passions.

As far as my actually geeky origins, well I was “born this way.” We all were, actually. Everyone has heard the expressions “No child is born a racist” or “all children are artists.” I share this sentiment in terms of geekiness. All children are born geeky.

All children, from as young as they can remember, are born with a passionate love of everything that interests them. Have you ever announced to a young kid you’re going to Disneyland? Or to see a movie they want to see? Or have dessert? Most can’t contain their happiness. They “geek out.”

I was one of those geeky kids. I would get excited with every new Uncle Scrooge tale my father read me, kung fu kicked along with the cheesiest of Adam West Batman repeats, and spun around until I was dizzy just waiting for my Wonder Woman spark to catch on. I still think it will, I just haven’t figured out that nuance.

Now, tell your average non-geeky grown up the same things. The reaction is a lot more contained and reserved. Often so much so, you’re not sure if they are really happy. Somewhere along the line, many people have felt being visibly giddy about something (at least while they’re sober) is a sign of immaturity. Somewhere, many adults have forgotten how to stay passionately enthusiastic about their interests.

My “origin” is how I managed to remain this way, and it, literally, wasn’t pretty.

When I said earlier no one should have to hear nasty things, there is something we all need to realize. We can’t live in a bubble sheltering ourselves or our children from everything. I wish we could, but we can’t.

I was picked on by some of the “cooler kids” in grade school, but not any more than anyone else. It was in seventh and eighth grade it really began to hurt. I remember mentioning to a friend I was planning to take aerobics because I was always self-conscious of what I called my “hippy” build.

This one little starter gang-banger with enough makeup to provide Elvira Mistress of the Dark costuming for a year, walked by and yelled:

“That ain’t gonna help you, gal, you’re ugly in the face.”

My well-meaning friend looked at me, and said, “well, you do need to start taking better care of your appearance.”


I maintained proper hygiene (when many young teens didn’t). I combed my hair and made sure I didn’t stink. However, I felt dumpy no matter what I wore, and I also had a habit of walking on my toes when I was nervous. The latter my mom loved to point out to anyone and everyone, not realizing it wasn’t something I was proud of. Oh yes, and, I had freckles. All of these traits were the target of some side-barb or supposedly helpful “criticism” of some sort.

I tried to talk about this with my parents, but my mom told me it was because I wouldn’t smile. My dad just wouldn’t hear it. He dealt sometimes with bad things happening to their children by pretending they weren’t happening. They were great parents, but everyone has flaws. That was theirs.

It was the time one classmate asked me if I was born with some sort of deformity because of my “big butt” I decided I was so over this crap. If I’m naturally never going to please everyone with my appearance, who the hell am I trying to impress?

If no one liked my face, I would hide it behind interesting books and comics. I’d rather people notice what I was filling my head with instead of what features were on it. I listened to the music I wanted and watched the movies I liked. Saint Elmo’s Fire? Ick, no thanks. Full Metal Jacket? Oohh, let’s discuss!

I quit pretending I knew nothing about cars, since I was already “friend zoned” by most boys (No, your VW Beetle does NOT technically have a Porsche engine, idiot). I took up guitar and discovered I could become someone else through theater, visual arts and writing. I unfurled my artistic geek flag, and it is still flying today.

My first published work was at age 14 in, of all things Super Ford Magazine. I had written a cheesy poem about the 289 Engine as a gift for my dad, and he sent it to his favorite magazine without me knowing. They actually published it, with a graphic and all. I was embarrassed at the time, but also pretty thrilled. I realized the one time I was really proud of myself was when I saw my name in print. I knew, no matter what, I would never stop writing. Fiction. Features. Columns. Poems. Screenplays. Published or not, I loved getting words on paper.

Nothing to see here...except a really cool book. Image: Lisa Kay Tate
Nothing to see here…except a really cool book of Ogden Nash’s poetry. Image: Lisa Kay Tate

Now, I need to point out being continually picked on about my “ugly face” did create some wounds. As much as I don’t mind speaking in front of crowds or on camera, I have a bit of social anxiety. I have to physically build myself up before going to a social gathering. I hate mingling and talking to people because I feel they don’t really want me around. I often retreat to the bookshelf or music center to see what’s going on there. I don’t mind hosting parties — mostly Halloween where costumes are involved — because I keep myself busy.

I secretly delete many of the pictures I am in, because I don’t want my children to have to be embarrassed by their mother’s face, and completely resent people taking my picture. I’ve had one good picture taken of me a couple of years ago by my husband, which I use on some social media forums, but I’m starting to hate that one, too. I look in the mirror most mornings, almost in tears about how, now that I’m older, I never had a chance to be young and good-looking, like other men and women my age. I see a fat chin, baggy eyes, and an emergence of gray hair.

Most embarrassingly, I’m untrusting of anyone who says I’m not ugly. I quit listening to the “we’re all beautiful in our own way” saccharine garbage a long time ago, so don’t try it on me. I feel there must be something wrong with my husband for wanting to be with me, best friend or not. I don’t like going places with him sometimes because I don’t want him to have to be seen in public with me. I haven’t told him this, but he likely knows now. Also, I have never been able to even have romantic fantasies about my celebrity crushes, like most people say they do. I can’t shake the feeling in my heart the men I like, and they aren’t conventionally handsome themselves, believe me, would take one look at me and not bother to spit on me if I were on fire. That’s just how I feel, and I’ve come to terms with this.

I did contemplate “ending it,” a couple of times in college, but me still being here has more to do with my faith than anything else. That’s not part of this story.

These are the wounds I live with.

However, there were also some incredible benefits to what I endured.

I have developed a well-honed sense of humor. I might be the master of self-deprecation, but I love making people laugh. I excelled in physical comedy and pratfalls in theater while other girls wanted to be leading ladies. BORING! I waited tables at a comedy club for a year, just to talk with the comedians about their craft. I learned the better ones kept journals, and it only made me want to write even more. I got into radio and newspaper in college, and used to tell people I had a “face for radio and voice for print.” When I could make a person laugh, just by something I said or wrote, it was bliss.

I know how to talk with my daughters when typical “mean kids” problems arrive. I know to listen and to accept there are problems out there. I try to handle their worries with humor and empathy and feel (I hope) that my daughters have a good relationship with their mom. If making friends and coworkers laugh was a joy, being able to make my older daughter laugh when she’s down is beyond words. Plus, she’s not afraid to show up to school with a Manga or Star Wars binder, even if her classmates are into the emo teen idol of the week. Her science and English teachers have told me she is one of the best kids because she “is completely herself.” I love that.

By the way, both my daughters have Irish girl freckles like me, and they are beautiful in my opinion.

Mostly, I continued to hone what I was good at. I majored in a “fallback” degree, Animal Science and Veterinary Technology, but I pursued a job with a newspaper. I soon got out of hard journalism, despite winning some regional feature and columnist awards, because it was making me jaded towards the world. I’m one of those who got to see the ugly side of news media and realized it wasn’t for me. When my husband took a teaching job back in my hometown, I got on with a local arts and entertainment publication, where I am now news editor.

I never lost my geeky passions. About 20 years ago, I tried to syndicate a column called “The Fan Girl,” before that was even a word. Comic writer Geoff Johns and artist Darick Roberston were even amazing enough to answer some questions for me via email, so I could turn in some potential columns with my queries. I still have those very dated interviews. I got some polite “not enough audience” from everyone I sent it to. Now, fantastic venues like GeekMom and the ability to create blogs have made it easier to find like-minded geeky parents like myself. I feel thankful to be able to be a part of that world. Those syndicates missed out on an oncoming storm…big time!

In addition, since I wasn’t happy with my own “image,” I kept creating artwork. I even sold a weird little Henson-inspired creature in Santa Fe. This sounds cooler than it is, but I love telling people that. Don’t look at my face. Look at my words and pictures. That’s who I am.

I still don’t adhere to what “looks best on a woman my age.” I will continue to dye my hair, and shop for rockabilly dresses and Batman t-shirts. I might not like my face, but I love my geeky biker chick style. So do my girls, and that’s what matters.

My old rejected Fan Girl columns. Guess there's an audience out there, now, huh guys? Image: Lisa Kay Tate
My old rejected Fan Girl columns. Guess there’s an audience out there, now, huh guys? Image: Lisa Kay Tate

I realize bullying and rumors can cause some people such emotional pain, it has even led to suicide in cases. My heart breaks for those victims and their families. For me, however, it was a wake-up call saying I will never be the picture perfect image the world wants me to be, so why not remain the person I know best: Me.

I try to follow what Dr. Seuss said in his book Happy Birthday to You, “Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.”

Yes, I do have scars, but anyone who has ventured into the adventure of life is bound to amass a few. Where those ugly scars have healed is a layer of thicker armor, one that shines. I don’t like being in pictures, but I love creating them with words and paint.

So, to that first little jerky smart-mouth who thought is was cute or clever to pick on the shy girl with the audacity to come to school wearing freckles on her face instead of tween-appropriate makeup (which there really isn’t), I just have one thing to say:

Thank you.

Thank you for planting a seed of determination that, although took a while to germinate, made me realize there is much more to a person than what is seen on the surface.

Thank you for helping me bring out that inner passion for creative alchemy, and for chasing my face behind the shield of glorious books and needing-to-be-filled sketch pads.

Thank you for making me wish I was someone else because in my life I have created many other awesome beings, whether on stage or on the page.

And, thank you, Sunshine, for disappearing into the woodwork of unimportant anonymity, while I enjoy having people from all over tell me they have enjoyed something I’ve written or made. I know that sounds mean-spirited, but, at least, I’m not calling you “ugly.” You likely weren’t underneath that layer of paint. Just your words.

Now, as I sit here writing and enjoying the beautiful blue sky of the Southwest out my window, I know when I pick my daughters up later, we will share jokes and geeky anecdotes, play the “Mustangs and Minis” car game of our own creation, discuss current events and their relation to history, and hope “Shook Me All Night Long” comes on Sirius so they can sing it at the top of their lungs, I know I’ve already got something more beautiful than I ever thought I would have.

Am I “ugly in the face?” Sometimes I honestly think I am, and sometimes I am happy with how I present myself physically in public. Most of the time, I realize it doesn’t matter one bit, because inside where my imagination and intellect collide, I’m a freakin’ Venus.

I hate when someone is horrible to my children or to anyone’s children, and I hate that I had to hear those things I did as a teenager. Perhaps if I didn’t hear them I wouldn’t have to be writing about this part of my past.

However, perhaps, if I didn’t hear those things, I might not be writing at all.

Now, that’s a thought I find truly scary.

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6 thoughts on “GeekMom Lisa’s Secret Origin: “Ugly In The Face”

  1. This post resonates with me incredibly. I usually think I have one of those faces only a mother could love — I’m just as Irish-freckle-faced as you are, if not more because I have spent so much time outdoors. I have a crooked mouth and I can smile such that all you see are my gums (something I’m finally dealing with thanks to my part-time work). I have Roseanne Roseannadanna hair that I have tried to tame all my life. Much of the time I make myself too busy to care about such things. I’m grateful to my parents for never making my looks nearly as important as my developing my character and passion for learning. They emphasized hygiene over makeup. They emphasized classy, timeless choices in clothing over fads (I had a lot of LL Bean growing up, but didn’t want it at the time). As a teen, it did consume a lot of my brain cells. I look back on that time and think, “Why did I care so much?” I love your posts and I’m very happy you are part of the GeekMom family! <3

    1. Thank you Patricia. I love your happy smile and great posts. Thank you and everyone for reading.

  2. Wow, does this sound familiar. I’m moderately attractive, but I’ve always been overweight. All of my accomplishments mean nothing because I’m fat. I know it was a big failing in the eyes of my father, despite my stellar grades. And everyone thinks being fat is your own fault, so there’s that guilt to deal with. I’m often ashamed that my husband has to be seen with his fat wife and my son has to be seen with his fat mom. I’ll probably be on a diet til the day I die.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing with us. I appreciate you telling your story so others can not feel they are the only ones going through it.

  3. Lisa, I LOVE this post! I’m a bit behind on keeping up on GeekMom posts because of that annoying hospital thing, but today I finally got back. Yours was the first post I read all the way through. So many of us relate in so many ways, to your words. I was never directly called ‘ugly’ but growing up behind two perfect sisters (think farrah fawcett times two) who never wore the same fashionista outfit twice through all of their high school years, and it was very much implied that I was the plain one, the one that boys only talked to so they could forge a path to one (or both) of my sisters. I have found I’m much happier in adulthood. I’ve found the things that make me happy and fulfilled and have never gone through that midlife crisis thing I see my sisters struggling with. Thanks so much for writing this in depth, honest, and much needed post!

    GeekMom Judy

    1. Thank you so much Judy. Your posts are always an inspiration to me, and it is nice to be able to give, at least a little, of that back.

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