Growing up, I was a scruffy, dungaree-wearing kid with frizzy hair, a stern squint, and a goofy smile. was i pretty Absolutely not, but I didn’t know and more importantly I didn’t care.
My carefree days were filled with imaginary games with my siblings: My sister and I spent a summer working on our mock stables, mucking out and grooming ponies named after our favorite candies.
Fortunately, even as my teenagers stalked me, I was unaware of my appearance. I had mousy hair that I occasionally dyed purple, thick bangs that my mother lovingly trimmed, and colorful braces on my oversized teeth. My looks just didn’t matter.
But that all changed in 1997, the year I turned 17. First there was painful surgery to correct my strabismus. Then my braces were ripped off. The greasy, curly bangs went too, as the hairstylist gave me stylish fresh blonde waves.
I remember arriving at a friend’s party where the shocked looks on her parents’ faces said it all. Where was Becca, the sweet nerd, and who was this Barbie in her place?
Rebecca Wilcox, pictured on holiday in 1993 aged 13, said she was happily unaware of her looks as a teenager and sported bangs and suspenders
This sudden transformation, “growing into the way you look,” is the subject of a new Amazon series called The Summer I Turned Pretty, which follows a 15-year-old girl coming of age.
But this charming tale doesn’t really capture the shock of finding yourself in a different body. Because it is rarely the story of an ugly duckling that sheds its dirty feathers and glides into the world as a graceful swan. Confidence has its price.
At first it amazed me. I remember on a geography field trip at Cromer Beach in Norfolk when the boy I was working with tried to grope me and then cried when I told him I just wanted to be a research partner.
My best friend would be mad at me if I misunderstood my newfound influence on the opposite sex. One night when a boy asked for my number, I gave him my lab partner’s number as well, thinking he wanted a study appointment.
I was stunned when my boyfriend slapped me on the shoulder and muttered that his ambitions were more lustful than studious. Couldn’t I see that I was imaginative now?
Then the penny dropped. It was like being given an all-access ticket after being held on the sidelines. I started putting on my makeup. Baggy jeans were replaced by shift dresses, crop tops, and shorts short enough to show the under curve of my butt.
My parents were appalled. I remember a father calling me “prison bait” to his son. I liked it then, but now I shudder to recall it.
Gradually, I became obsessed with my looks and the benefits that came with it. I no longer had to queue at nightclubs or buy drinks. I took to the dance floor in a tiny dress and was quickly invited to the exclusive “Bigspender” tables for drinks before perhaps escaping the clutches of a smitten Marquis at the end of the night.
Rebecca, pictured with a friend in New York in 2000, became obsessed with her looks and lost a lot of weight because she felt she had to work harder to stay beautiful
With attention came growing paranoia: if my looks sparked this interest, what would happen if I lost it?
I thought I had to work harder to stay pretty which led to stupid behavior.
I’ve lost a lot of weight. I was on the M&M diet, which included smoking too many cigarettes, drinking black coffee, and having one of six chocolate M&Ms a day when I was sick. I don’t recommend it.
I had to look perfect when I went out, which took hours. As my youth, blonde hair, and bare skin resonated more and more, I worried that it was going to stop and that no one would like me anymore.
I’ve also attracted terrible men. Nice men hardly approach the girls dancing in the spotlight. Those who came to me wanted a status symbol, not a real person, on their arm and encouraged me to take diet pills, stay out late, and ignore worried calls from friends and family.
One night I stayed out partying so late I was locked out of our rented vacation home.
My friends called me when they left but I ignored them. When I returned I found the gates closed — the only way in was to scale the 12-foot barbed fence. I slept outside on a damp sun lounger.
I think I was going insane a little and I cringe when I remember it all. Can you believe that I once licked the floor in an Egyptian hotel to make me have a stomach problem and look slim in my bikini? No, me neither.
Rebecca, who was on holiday in the south of France with a friend in 1998, said she attracts “terrible men” and said she had to look perfect when going out
During my freshman year, my mother, Esther Rantzen, remembers coming to visit. She and Dad watched in amusement and disbelief as I “poured” myself into a tiny gold dress, sprinkling glittering powder on my shoulders, then were horrified when I got a round of applause as I arrived at the party.
Mum worried about the burden I had caused by not allowing myself to be the scruffy, happy young girl I used to be.
“You just turned the corner,” she says now.
Alongside my spiral into self-obsession, my family’s health was in crisis. My older sister Miriam had ME, a devastating and misunderstood condition that left her often bedridden or in a wheelchair.
On rare days I wheeled her around or sat next to her in her darkened room. Those were the days I felt most faithful. I wish I would have done that more often.
My father’s health also deteriorated due to heart disease and he died when I was almost 21 years old. In my distress, I gave up all limitations and puffed myself up from a size 6 to a 14.
It has helped me stop thinking about my looks. I remember returning to college for the fall semester and a guy I had previously flirted with approached me. I thought he was going to give me his condolences but he just said, ‘What happened to you?’
Luckily, perspective had taught me that the problem was his attitude, not my weight gain.
She said her story and sudden transformation has echoes of an upcoming Amazon Prime series called The Summer I Turned Pretty, which is pictured
Since then, 20 years, two wonderful children, a decade of sleep deprivation and a life of sun damage, I’ve lost even more of the look I once held so dear.
Joan Collins said, “The problem with beauty is that it’s like being born rich and getting poorer.”
That was true for me in terms of influence and attraction, but not happiness. In the process of losing my looks, I’ve become the real me – and hopefully a nicer person.
A few years ago, on one of those rare kid-free nights, I went to a club with some girlfriends and realized that I was completely invisible to everyone. The bouncers almost refused me entry, I was pushed aside on the dance floor and overlooked by the bartenders.
None of this upset me. I didn’t have to suck in my stomach or control my hair and makeup. I didn’t care. I could just let go and dance with my friends.
Miriam recently told me a story about my “beautiful” days. I wore a tiny sequin top to a party with neon pink skin-tight satin pants. When I saw a man staring at me, I blew him a kiss and wiggled my sequins.
A girl turned to Miriam and said, ‘I don’t like your sister.’
Miriam replied: “Neither do I, at the moment, but she’s not really like that. Underneath it all, she’s very cute.” I hope I’m the person she thought I could be now.