When I was in junior high (that is what we called middle school in small-town America) I had a huge crush on a boy who seemed like an unattainable celebrity, even then. He was tan, fit and had the kind of dreamy hair boys illustrated on the cover of The Baby-Sitters’ Club series would envy. Friends of mine dated him, and for that, they were heroes.
His older brother was in the same class as my cheerleading sister, three years our senior. In a high school of 400 kids, everyone knows everyone. So we were friends the way chubby girls who read too much are friends with boys ― which is to say more like golden retrievers then actual human women.
I was the non-threatening, unsexualized, funny girl who was supposed to leave the room at parties so that my more attractive friends could fool around. I wasn’t a monster yet... but I was me.
At 13, I was built thick with dark hair and a max height of 5’2”. I was into the outdoors and dressed mostly out of the L.L. Bean catalogue school of inspo. It looked about as flattering as you can imagine. I never, ever thought of myself as sexy or pretty. I wanted to be, but in the high school play, I was cast as the family dog (literally). Point is, I was not a girl on the cover of The Baby-Sitters’ Club. I did not run my hands through wavy boy hair.
One time this crush of mine fixed a necklace I was wearing in a computer lab. He stood behind me, gentle hands on my nape as he repaired the latch. I sat frozen. My whole 13-year-old idiot body shook internally. I didn’t know people could do that to each other. Having felt the hormonal shock, I fell hard for this boy who was so nice to a golden retriever like me. (Little did I know at the time, a pretty breed of dog was too high a bar to set for myself.)
I never dared tell him, or anyone. The moment was mine to hold close. So later that year at a party, when he was waiting for his brother to pick him up, I felt lucky to be sitting next to him while we waited for our separate rides. We chatted. I pined. Then my ride came. My sister walked in with a smile and a very fashionable peacoat. He shook his head and laughed to himself behind her.
(You should know, my older sister was perfect in my eyes. She was thin, blonde and smart as hell. So I got his awe, but didn’t get what was so funny?)
She headed out back to the car, and before I grabbed my coat, I made the mistake of asking him why he was laughing.
“Oh, you know. I was looking at Katie and you. Well, you know, the nickname... Your nickname.”
“What?” (I didn’t know I had a nickname.)
At this the boy balked a little. He was self aware enough to realize that he had walked in to something uncomfortable. I put on my coolest we’re-just-buddies! voice and told him it was okay to tell me.
“We call you the Friendly Beast. You are so nice and funny and everyone likes you... But your sister is, well, your sister ― and you’re you.”
I didn’t cry or say anything back. I just laughed. I was well-trained in my role. This is what the boy I liked thought of me. This was what his whole pack of boys called me. I swallowed air and smiled. That was the first night I ever cried myself to sleep over how I looked.
“Friendly Beast” has always been in the background of my life ― the label that explained why every unrequited romance didn’t work out. Of course boys didn’t want me; I wasn’t even human. I was something else. All through my teens and well into my twenties this was a part of me.
That nickname became my identity. I wish I could say it was some amazing fuck you to teenage boys who called their girlfriend’s bestie a beast ― but it was more of an escape. I embraced it as armor and understood what I was to men: a werewolf. Not a woman, and not quite a monster. I fell in love with werewolves. I had nearly fifty movies in my collection and read horror fiction as therapy. When I drew myself, I was a werewolf. If people saw me as a friendly beast, then that was exactly what they would get. It was easier to give into the role than fight it.
Genes from a Slovak mother and pan-Germanic father made me short, but strong. This was my only vanity. When other girls had trouble picking up bags of dog food, I felt like a superhero ― not breaking a sweat carrying a fifty-pound bag over each shoulder. In my mind, I was a beast. I was the cinematic daughter of Simba from the Lion King and William Wallace from Braveheart. Those were my weirdo teen idols. They were strong, leaders, animals. So was I.
Now I’m in my thirties. I’m still a beast, but I don’t cry about it anymore. What once made me feel manly and monstrous in the worst ways is now held with a sense of pride. This werewolf ran a 5K yesterday in 16 degree weather for the hell of it. I felt the pain in my thighs while doing farm chores this morning and welcomed it like an old friend. Instead of taking a day to heal, I ran some more (14 degrees today!) and did A LOT of pushups after ― just to feel that howl inside.
I love being strong.
I love that a hundred pushups is cake.
I love that I don’t flinch working with a ton of draft horse or worry about throwing hay bales all day.
The teenager who used to wish so so hard she would look like Rachael on F.R.I.E.N.D.S some day... well, now that bitch owns a pair of yellow wolf contact lenses. I wear them and mean it.
I am still only 5’2” and weigh around 186 pounds. Even when I was training for the half marathon last summer and running 40-50 miles a week, I never weighed less than 178. At that weight and height, an 8/10 capri is my go-to jean size, though some bitchier critics online think that is a lie. (Listen, my body is a mystery to me, too, but I really am mostly muscle). My waist is 33” and my arms are 15” flexed. Grrrrrrr, baby.
My body is thick, but that no longer makes me feel less than more conventionally attractive women. I don’t want to be a tall blonde. I want to be the most kick-ass version of me. Which is why I run long races, earned my black belt, ride horses, shoot archery, hunt and train hawks and run a farm alone on a side of a mountain. It takes a part-wolf to do all that.
I still deal with the same body issues so many women deal with, but as an adult, I am proud of what the Friendly Beast has accomplished. I have no idea what happened to that boy. I honestly don’t care. But I hope if he has daughters, he raises them to value their own gifts, whatever they might be. Not everyone gets to be an L.L. Bean model or even look good in a fleece vest ― but we all have something to offer, something to be proud of.
Some of us are a little too feral to make most people comfortable. Some of us are born gorgeous. Some of us get to grow up touching wavy hair. Some of us are Friendly Beasts who would’ve killed for Golden Retriever status at their lowest points. Life has a lot of possibilities. What I do know is I no longer doubt there’s a person out there who will find me beautiful, as is. I know because one already does.