On Beauty and Loving Yourself

There’s a question my father asked me at my wedding that stuck with me, that may have been the wisest, most eye-opening thing he’s ever said to me, which was this: Does he know you’re pretty? You are pretty, but does he know that?

It surprised me. What was he getting at? Of course my husband knew I was pretty… Why was my dad always acting surprised by my attractiveness? Just because I was an ugly kid? Did he just forget what I looked like until he saw me? It seemed like every time we all got together he’d go on and on about how pretty I was, Look at your sister and how pretty she is, he’d say to my sisters. To be fair, I did shave my head when I was 18 and I wore possibly the ugliest, grungiest thrift store clothes I could find that I was certain made me the coolest girl around. But somehow I had become The Pretty One. Sherry got to be the smart, genius one, Tracy was the sweet, angelic one, but me? The Pretty One. No personality, no humor, no brain, no thought in her head, no opinion of her own. And it’s bullshit putting that label on my sisters, because they’re beautiful and always have been.

But my dad’s question left me with a nagging feeling. It occurred to me that no, my husband did not think I was “pretty.” Or rather, he took me for granted. He was not concerned about me being at 12-step support group meetings every night and at social events with my new friends. For whatever reason. He didn’t initiate sex and rarely wanted to in the last couple of years of our relationship, though to be fair that’s not that uncommon in the end of a broken relationship. I did wonder if he was gay at one point though. What healthy 35-year-old male doesn’t want to have sex? What partner never has any problem with their spouse being gone all of the time? Maybe one who’s having an affair, or who’s hiding an addiction. I don’t know. Him.

There’s this pop song that comes on at work which goes like this:

I loathe this song. This is my first time watching the video—I had a feeling the singers were young, but my Lord. Boys. Little boys.

Since no one else in the music industry bothered to enlighten these young fellows, I will take the liberty myself now, plain and simple. An insecure woman (or anyone) is not what you want to attract. What did these boys’ parents teach them? Son, get out there and find a pretty girl who thinks she’s ugly. Here’s what I say to that: No one, “pretty” or “ugly” should hide behind their appearance. No one should go into any space and think, I’m not attractive enough for anyone here to like me or pay attention to me so I’ll just pretend I’m not here, or apologize for my existence. If you walk into a space like you own it, smile at people and talk to them like they’re your friend, most of them will respond in a positive way. The ones who don’t aren’t worth your time—those people are miserable and want to bring everyone else down, but you don’t have to allow them bring you down.

As I mentioned, I was an ugly child, with dinosaur teeth, telescope-lens glasses, and a short hairdo that looked suitable for someone’s grandmother. My mom encouraged independence so we dressed ourselves, which meant my clothes didn’t match, and a Kool-Aid stained Smurfs t-shirt was often in order. When I was in fifth grade, I got contact lenses, and grew my hair shoulder-length, and lo and behold, the boys started to notice me. In sixth grade the two cutest boys in the class who I’d pined over for years finally got around to asking me to be their girlfriend, after having been the boyfriends of all the prettiest girls in the class (I was their last choice) in that note-passing “Do you like me? Check yes or no,” way that they did, and I became their girlfriend, one at a time, before promptly being dumped by each of them for prettier girls who had boobs. At the time I was just grateful to be paid attention to, but if I could go back in time, here’s what I’d say, You didn’t like me last year (or the year before, or the year before) when you called me a nerd and a four-eyed witch, so don’t be trying to come around now, buddy boy.

Steven used to say to me, on occasion, “You don’t know that you’re pretty.”

Let me tell you something, Mister. Newsflash. I know that I’m pretty. I’ve seen pictures. I have a mirror. (Not that I look like a million dollars when I get out of bed in the morning.) I got the memo, in fifth grade when the boys suddenly noticed me after I got contact lenses. Maybe I am what my first husband called a “classic beauty,” whatever that means, or maybe someone who’s girl-next-door-pretty, both of which seem boring to me, but I can’t complain. I wouldn’t go so far as to say a beauty, not a supermodel, but possibly, on occasion, the prettiest girl in the… room. Or one of them. I could be a part-time model, like for JCPenney, but I’d have to keep my normal job. And again, I cannot complain about that one bit.

I’m not sure what category I fall under, and it doesn’t matter. There are so many advantages that come with having what society deems as an attractive appearance. Most people are nicer to you, though a few are meaner, or will avoid you.

There are also a few drawbacks. I know that when I, for example, see a beautiful woman, who everyone’s going gaga over, well let’s just say I don’t try to become her bestie (but it’s my goal to stop acting that way). I’ve been in situations where people treat her as though she’s a precious museum relic while I’m invisible, and I’ve been in situations where I was treated like the museum relic to my invisible friend, and that does not fill me with joy either.

But here’s what’s important: is your partner attracted to you? To who you are as a person? Do they see your inner beauty? Do they know you are a beautiful, precious soul, not to be taken for granted, a unique individual who cannot be replaced? When someone dies, you realize how irreplaceable each of us is—I did, anyway. It happened when my friend died, when my co-worker died, and obviously when my mother died. We each bring something unique to the world.

There’s something about a person’s personality that can make them more attractive. The same person can look unattractive given an unappealing personality. [Spoiler alert on “Orphan Black,” so don’t read the rest of this paragraph if you don’t want to know.] Sarah in “Orphan Black” is far prettier and sexier than Beth, but she’s played by the same person. Two different personalities. Helena is unattractive as hell. Again, same person. They are all Tatiana Maslany. The soccer mom? So far, in season one, not that appealing to me. Paul falls for Sarah—he was not into Beth, who he’d dated for years.

This is why online dating didn’t work for me. Chemistry cannot be picked up or manufactured from a computer screen or photo and questionnaire. Not for me.

One might not have necessarily looked at a picture of Steven and said, Wow, now there’s a hottie for you. But to me he was handsome, masculine, and the most beautiful person in my world. But he’d go on and on about how ugly and overweight he felt. At the same time he’d tell me how his ex-wife looked just like Jessica Simpson, how gorgeous she was, with big boobs, big eyes, tall, and skinny. For the record, I think it’s boring to look like a Barbie doll. Not that I didn’t love Barbie like so many other American girls growing up, aspiring to be just like her, squeezing my feet into foot-binding heels in my 20s and 30s. That’s who we’re supposed to look like, right?


The other thing about physical beauty is that it’s temporary. I could be in an accident at any time, like the time I practically ripped my face off in a bicycling accident, and it did leave a small scar on my chin that I’m proud of. I know another woman who has a big scar on her face, and she’s no less gorgeous, and in fact, to me, looks like a badass. My 93-year-old grandmother likes to brag about how pretty she is, and how pretty she was when she was young, but let’s be real. Our culture doesn’t plaster the faces or bodies of elderly people—certainly not women—on the covers of magazines. American culture does not glamorize Betty White for her physical beauty. As a side note, my mom never talked about how beautiful she was, but I don’t think that meant she thought she was ugly. It’s just not the most important thing in the world, and it says nothing about a person’s character.

And if Steven was drawn to me for my insecurity, well, that’s not the kind of man I want to attract. Like attracts like. Confidence is sexy. Standing up for yourself is attractive. Speaking your mind, using your voice, being yourself. That’s what makes a person beautiful.

So there you go. That’s my two cents on beauty.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite Meghan Trainor songs. My favorite lyric is, “I won’t be no stick figure silicone Barbie doll / So if that’s what you’re into then go ahead and move along.”

Now. If I could just take this newfound confidence with me into the workplace (not at the grocery store because I own that place), but in my next career as a nutritionist.




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