Cafeterias and being beautiful

A boy looked at me today.

Fork in one hand and a glass of lemonade in the other, I turned to my friend to make a joke and saw him, 20 feet across the crowded dining commons, sitting at a table with his friends, looking at me.

He is not a stranger. We have had a conversation or two, laughed together at dinner tables among mutual friends. But his interest was foreign to me. His gaze was a new thing entirely.

Boys ogle, drool, eyeball, gawk, and leer quite often. It’s not uncommon for me to encounter a man who is quite rude in his glances, who thinks he has a right to play games with me in his mind. But it’s not often that I meet a man who simply looks. Who might study rather than undress. And who isn’t so afraid of me that he would not dare meet my eyes for fear of feeling something he would prefer not to discover.

When did I become a dangling treat for a dog? When did I become so provocative that most “modest” men would rather glance away when I walk by then simply look? When did I become the problem?

I met his gaze, and he did not flinch. His reaction told me that he knew he had nothing to hide. Instead, he met my eyes, unwavering. And suddenly I felt bashful, looking at him.

His eyes did not want what he could not have. He did not make me feel like I was standing naked in front of him. They said I see you. I notice you. You matter to me, right now. Out of the crowd of girls in this room, some more stylish or having a better hair day or any other excuse you might choose for me to look elsewhere, I am looking at you. You are the one that held my attention.

Something tight loosened inside of me, and I sat up straighter, ran my fingers through my hair, and turned back to the table. I continued my conversation, but a piece of me shifted. For the first time in longer than I realized, I remembered that I was beautiful.

All because a boy in the cafeteria didn’t let me forget.

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