She was the kind of girl who was basically invisible – so invisible in fact that when she told me later that we’d been in three classes together in Junior High, I promise I couldn’t conjure up a single memory of it to save my life. You couldn’t possibly describe her as beautiful, at least not back then. As if her thin mousy brown hair and heavy dark brows weren’t bad enough, she also wore these thick glasses that made her eyes look so huge it was sort of like walking up to one of those wavy mirrors in a funhouse. Did she wear braces? I honestly don’t know – she never opened her mouth. But then, that’s often how it is with invisible girls.
All of that changed, seemingly overnight. You see, in the town where I grew up, the ninth graders attended their own school, which is exactly where kids that age belong – on a distant planet all by themselves. And so it was that on the first day of school my freshman year, my dad drove me to the parking lot where I was to catch the bus. Somewhat nervously I boarded the big yellow vehicle parked at the curb and was immediately met with the familiar faces of my former classmates. I found a spot and sat down just before the driver shifted into gear, but before he could even begin backing up to leave, someone shouted, "Wait! There’s one more kid coming!” And sure enough there was.
All eyes followed the station wagon that pulled up beside the bus. At first nobody recognized the lovely girl who emerged. She wore a straight sleeveless madras plaid shift that was oh-so-Cheryl Tiegs – short enough to accentuate her slender legs (clad in fishnet stockings of course) but just barely long enough to pass the school’s strict hemline code. Deftly applied eyeliner artfully traced the base of her thick dark lashes, and the coy way she casually swept a windblown lock of long, lustrous silky dark hair from her tanned bare shoulders sent a chill through the hearts of the girls, and sent the guys’ eyeballs shooting right out of their sockets. Who was this astonishing creature?
We held our collective breaths as she boarded the bus and turned to face us. Holy Cow! It was Pamela! Perfect figure, pearly white teeth, clear skin, exquisitely manicured nails and that hair! Watching her make her way to a seat, we must’ve looked like a bunch of slack-jawed yokels ogling a movie star on Rodeo Drive. None of us could believe this was the same girl that only three months earlier had been so plain and ordinary that she literally blended into the lockers at our old school.
Of course the thing that caught my attention most was not so much her appearance, but the way she carried herself. You never saw such flawless posture in your life! I halfway expected her to balance her notebook on top of her head, just to prove she could do it. And when she sat down she even crossed her legs at the ankle! Can you imagine?
Over the next few weeks and months, Pamela and I became very good friends and somewhere along the way she let me in on the secret of her amazing transformation. Apparently what happened was that on the last day of eighth grade she stood in front of her mirror at home, and firmly resolved to remake herself into someone beautiful. For her it would be the summer of deliberate, intentional improvement. For starters, using Seventeen Magazine as her guide, she ditched the thick glasses in favor of contact lenses, plucked her heavy brows, and bought a fake hairpiece (back then it was called a "fall”) to cover her mousy tresses. Next she enrolled in a "charm course” offered by a lady at her church, where she learned how to stand and walk and sit like a lady.
But unlike most girls, Pamela’s master plan was bigger than that. Not satisfied with simply perfecting the way she looked, she was equally determined to become a lovelier person, and she did it by developing poise, confidence, thoughtfulness, and graciousness – qualities that ended up truly setting her apart from everybody else.
Believe it or not, that was more than forty years ago, and those are the traits that still define her today. Isn’t it remarkable? I mean, all she did was give herself a makeover, yet because she started from the inside out, this once-invisible, totally forgettable girl ultimately became the most unforgettable person I know.