*This is a work of nonfiction based on actual events I experienced firsthand; used with permission.
I've never forgotten it; I've never gotten over it.
It's funny how a single moment can shake your confidence forever.
I grew up in a tightly knit community. My family knew all the owners of the local mom-and-pop shops, the bakery, the dry cleaners, and the candy store.
The "candy store" was more like today's convenience store. Sure, its dominant feature was the long glass case that featured loose penny candy kids bought with their spare chance on the walk home from school, but the store also sold staples such as milk, eggs, and lottery scratch tickets.
Kids went there for the candy and malt ice cream. Parents went there for newspapers and canned ravioli. There was something for everyone.
Growing up a block away from the candy store meant I knew the owner since I was a baby. She watched me grow up, but that didn't give her the right to comment on my changing appearance once I hit puberty.
One of my features, in particular, caught the woman's attention: my acne.
"Tracey has pimples," she said one day as I entered the store, and then she smirked.
There was no need for her to mention my pimples. I was acutely aware of them every second of the day. There was also no need for her to refer to me in the third person since we were the only two people in the store.
"Don't you ever wash your face?" she asked.
She said I was ugly, and that no one would ever want to date me. I was so embarrassed and ashamed. I felt like a total outcast.
I mumbled a response, unable to form the words I really wanted to say.
Why would a grown woman shame a young teen for having acne? Today, decades later, it still makes no sense to me. I've never forgotten the cruelty of her words or the way they made me feel when she spoke them.
I think of her every time I look in the mirror and a woman with a pimple on her face looks back.
Lest you think it was an isolated incident. She also commented on my purchases, my weight, and my outfits on separate occasions, and her comments were never compliments, only criticisms.
I know I would never speak that way to anyone, woman or child. It simply wasn't her role as a shopkeeper to comment on my complexion.
Nonetheless, I will not let her stop me from living my life. No matter what she says, I know that there are plenty of people out there who would love to date me, acne and all.
To the woman who shamed me: thank you. Thank you for making me realize that I'm strong enough to handle anything life throws my way. Thank you for giving me a reason to laugh at myself. And thank you for reminding me I'm beautiful, no matter what.
Has anything like this ever happened to you? Comments are open.