Sunday, February 5, 2017

You Don't Have To Be Pretty

I was trolling through my old Pinterest boards last night looking for Valentines craft inspiration (one of these years I'll come up with something, right?) when I came across this Pin:

It jumped out because it was on my "Girly Grins" board - a place I normally reserve for funny cat pictures and watercolor tattoos.

So I clicked through to the article, and wow. I was unprepared. It was written over ten years ago by Erin McKean of A Dress A Day, and I recommend reading the whole thing (it's not long), but here's the bit that packed the biggest sucker punch for me:


You Don’t Have to Be Pretty.

You don’t owe prettiness to anyone. Not to your boyfriend/spouse/partner, not to your co-workers, especially not to random men on the street. You don’t owe it to your mother, you don’t owe it to your children, you don’t owe it to civilization in general.

Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked “female”.


McKean goes on to say there's nothing wrong with "pretty", of course, but how our emphasis should be on health and happiness. Click on over, give it a read. I'll wait.

Back? Cool.

Some thoughts:

In a world where every "empowering" pop song assures us that we're beautiful, and where expressing any dissatisfaction with our looks is seen as a cry for help or attention, I actually find it comforting to be told it's ok to NOT be pretty. That maybe looks can just be looks sometimes; a thing we have little control over, and that ultimately have no bearing on our true value.

I'll go even further, and say maybe it's ok if I don't think *I'm* pretty. And that maybe rushing to assure our friends and humanity in general that we're all beautiful is a bit, well, stupid. Insulting, even. How can we say a person we've never seen is beautiful? How can everyone be beautiful? And be warned: if you give me the "beautiful on the inside" speech, I WILL roll my eyes at you.

You know what's beautiful on the inside? Kindness. Courage. Empathy. Loyalty. Self-sacrifice. If those are the things we see in a person, if those are the things we mean, then shouldn't we use those words? Call out some specifics? Instead of reducing so many amazing qualities to something as trivial and fleeting as "beauty"?

Hey, I get it. This is one of those areas where we mean well, but we've been preconditioned to A) contradict anyone who says they're less-than-gorgeous, because B) we associate beauty with goodness. So she may not be beautiful, but she's a beautiful person. (I know, I know; I've said it, too!)

I would posit that in the process of trying to make people feel better like this, though, we're really enforcing the societal mandate that unattractiveness will not be tolerated. That of course you're pretty, because you have to be pretty.

But you guys, we don't have to be pretty. As McKean said, we don't owe prettiness to anyone. Not even ourselves.


I don't have any answers here, but I like these thoughts. I like being reminded that I don't owe chasing some impossible standard to the world. And I need reminding, because that's not how it feels, right? Right now I think I owe prettiness - or my best attempts at it - to every person who has to look at me. I feel like I should apologize for my face if I'm not wearing makeup, or for my clothes if I'm wearing something comfortable, or for my figure and weight, period.

Sometimes it's fun, the makeup and the clothes and the sparkly nail polish. But like everything, the fun fades when you have to.

So I don't know about you, but I get tired and resentful of the effort. Then I get tired and resentful of being told I'm beautiful just the way I am by commercials and songs and even my overly enthusiastic hubby, who has a knack for picking the worst possible times. If John would save it for when I'm tucked and plucked and actually feeling pretty, it'd be different. But noo-ooo. It's when my unibrow is coming in nicely and I'm propped up on my triple chins in a heap of frizz wearing cat-hair-covered yoga pants that John decides I need to be told I'm gorgeous. Which is sweet, but c'mon. If that's gorgeous, then somebody better bust out the heavenly chorus line when I brush my teeth and put on a bra, is all I'm saying.

 via


Again, no answers here, just thoughts. And I'm curious what you guys think. Do you struggle with "owing" prettiness to anyone, or do you enjoy the effort? Do you care what your favorite people look like? Where's the line between being true to ourselves and presenting a well-groomed, self-respecting image to the outside world? And most importantly, do you ever fantasize about a society where everyone wears pretty masks in public, or are turned into giant cats with lustrous fur coats that hide all their zits? (Asking for a friend.) (Who is me.)

Let's chat. Let's think some new thoughts.

And hey, for what it's worth, I don't care if you're pretty, because I know you're already something so much better: you're you. You are what matters, you are what lasts, and twenty or fifty or a hundred years from now, your impact on the people and world around you is what will be remembered. Not your good hair days, not your pore size or your waist size or your fashion sense. Just you

And you know what? That's pretty darn cool.

124 comments:

  1. I've had a kind of weird relationship with "pretty". I spent my childhood being a mousy, awkward, glasses-wearing girl, and I thought I'd turn into a mousy, awkward, glasses-wearing woman. Well, I'm still awkward, but that's more from social anxiety than anything else. Sometime around sixteen or seventeen, I somehow blossomed into being pretty. I learned how to make my hair curly instead of frizzy, I got contact lenses (though I realized about a year afterward that I look damn fine in glasses), and my face and figure became good distractions in the mirror rather than bad.

    But despite that, and despite knowing that I am aesthetically appealing, I still sometimes deal with the fact that I don't look perfect. I have mixed feelings about the hair on my legs, I get zits just before each period, and my upper arms still look flabby. The thing is, I know all of those are things I could fix if I wanted to: I could shave my legs, take better care of my skin, and work out. I just don't want to be bothered. I don't always like the way I look, but I like the way I am, and hopefully by the time I'm thirty I'll actually be content with that.

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  2. I need reminding that I don't have to be pretty too. I feel like nowadays when we're surrounded by unrealistic standards of beauty that it easy to catch myself looking in the mirror and trying to compare myself with that. I really truly don't care what my friends and loved ones look like, I just need to learn how to turn that perspective inwards sometimes.

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  3. I love that quote. I know people make assumptions based on appearance, which is why you don't go to job interviews in sweats, but mostly I don't care what other people think. I color my hair because I don't like the gray, but I don't consider anyone else when I pick the color. I realized recently when I saw an ad for a facial mask that I haven't cared or even thought about my pore size in ages. Maybe it's a byproduct of getting older, or maybe it's having two kids leaves me no time to care, but it's very freeing.

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    1. Amen to that. ��
      - Meg

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  4. Thank you for reminding me about that article. I've been a loyal reader of Erin's for over ten years and I remember reading that post. I had forgotten it though. It's such an important idea. I struggle with the same thing myself. I wanted to go into art or fashion design when I was younger and I get so much pleasure from seeing beautiful things. But I am not beautiful. I'm not even pretty. I can't even claim striking. There are days when it hurts to look in the mirror and not see beauty. So I just don't.

    It's a good reminder that I can be me and enjoy life and pretty clothes without worrying about whether the person in them is also "pretty." My husband is attracted to me and he's the only one that matters. (Although I totally get what you mean about men who try and tell you how beautiful you are at exactly the wrong time.)

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  5. In the same vein: "Cute." My step-daughter, while in high school just 3-4 years ago, had a tendency to call everyone "cute." Which resulted in me hearing it from others as well.

    Not everyone is cute. And I know that she meant (at times) demeanor, personality, etc, but she said "cute." Maybe the younger generation (along with the rest of us), needs a heavy dose of adjectives...

    Thanks for the post - I always find you very insightful!

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    1. I have a young friend who calls everyone sassy . . . what does that even mean. Not everyone or everything can be sassy.

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    2. Is she calling everyone sassy or "sessy"? There's a difference.

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  6. Bust out a chorus line when I put on a bra. Dean tooting. Lol I'm always cleaning up to go to the store, or to pick the kids up from school but it's not necessary. I mean that mom two cars over isn't going to care ( ok we are in a small town so she might if I look like I just rolled out of the chicken coop)

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    1. Probably going to care more if you smell like you just rolled out of the chicken coop. :)

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    2. In car line, maybe not, but thankfully I do send the kids on that duty on events and teacher conference days. XD (PS - Dean tooting? Thanks phone, thanks)

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  7. I hate being told I'm pretty. Not that it happens much, but I got it a lot when I lost 100 pounds, so now that I'm heavy again I don't want to hear it. My boyfriend will constantly tell me I'm pretty and sexy while I don't even want to show my body. I'd rather just never hear it then feel I need to change for everyone else. I'm busy enough to trying to keep sane. And when people make the comments they never realize that I lost the weight because of mental health drugs I was on, and that I gained weight because of different mental health drugs they put me on. Pretty is what you see, but it doesn't tell you who I am or how I am. Let's just ban the word

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    1. I went through something similar, though due to an undiagnosed thyroid condition. I felt, and still feel the same way. I know I probably won't ever be that weight again, have that confidence again so every time my husband tries to say something complimentary I just feel bitter. And of course he has no idea why I feel that way. So yes. It's time to ban "pretty".

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  8. I agree, though I think that the word "beauty" is kind of flexible.

    I can agree that everyone is beautiful because they are a person and their unique self and appearance is something to be appreciated. It's not total BS to say that. But that is a different meaning to the word than saying that Janelle Monae or Jennifer Lawrence is beautiful. That, of course, we can not all have.

    There was an episode of Cheers in the first season in which Coach's daughter, who is rather unattractive, comes to the bar with her lout of a boyfriend. Her father tries to tell her she deserves better and she tries to argue that this is the best she can hope for. "Look at me!" she insists. "Really look at me!" Coach gasps and says, "I never realized how much you look like your mother." She says, "Yes! And mom was....." After a long pause she continues, "not comfortable with her beauty." Through the eyes of love, people are beautiful and I think everyone does deserve that. But that doesn't mean they're going to get a modeling contract, because there is a societal standard that by definition few can meet.

    I had a friend who when people complimented her looks would say "That's just genetics. It has nothing to do with me."

    I recommend The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf. A lot of people are making a lot of money and encouraging women to spend a lot of time on their appearance. Not saying don't do it, but be aware, it is a for-profit industry. We do have to wear clothes in public. We don't have to wear makeup.

    Basically what I think is attractive and respected and worth pursuing is confidence. Be yourself and be proud of what you have to offer.

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    1. Thank you!
      Also, it stands to announce that your definition of beauty and my definition of beauty are completely different. and that's okay too.

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    2. I remember that episode of my Cheers so clearly, it played in my mind as you described it! Such a sweet moment.

      It's true the word "beauty" is flexible, though I wish it wasn't. I think we need different words for the different meanings, so we don't confuse the trivial with the meaningful. Til everyone else agrees & starts changing their words, though, we'll just have to keep discerning for ourselves - and yes, finding our own confidence!

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  9. My entire life I have been a "pretty if" girl. I have even had professionals tell me this. Most of it comes from my crooked teeth. I have spent years of hearing dental staff (who I thought were there to help you keep your teeth healthy) telling me I would be pretty if I got my teeth fixed. I think the worst part of it is that strangers just assume that being pretty is my ultimate goal in life. I tried to tell them that I was at peace with it. This is me and I have accepted it, why can't you? I guess they just could not believe that.

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  10. I like this perspective, and I think it's what I've always sort of believed. I wish I could remember it, though, when I feel judged or overlooked because of my looks. I'm mousy and never more than "cute".
    So quick story. My name means "pretty". When I was born, my grandmother told my parents that she hoped I'd be beautiful like my name. My dad, who thinks his mom is a bit shallow, told her he hoped I'd be plain so I wouldn't be vain. She was upset to the point of tears. I find the story amusing and like to joke that my dad "cursed" me, lol.
    But while I agree with what my dad was getting at, I do sometimes wish I were pretty. I've been overlooked many times because I don't have the pretty girl look. I don't feel pressured to be pretty, but I do really wish that others wouldn't judge based on looks and that looks weren't so important in our society.
    I think the best way to change that/ counteract that is by doing just what you said. I'm going to try harder to use other, more specific words to complement people based on their character, not looks.

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  11. I really try hard not to be smelly. But beyond that, fuck it. I also try hard not to be seen. Of course, it's lot easier because I am very happily married & am 70 years old. You get to a point in life when other people & their opinions stop mattering. It's quite wonderful.
    But be brave! Judge others by your values, not appearances. I still struggle with this one.

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    1. I would totally come out of my introverted world just to be your friend. You are AWESOME!

      Karla in CA

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  12. This!! I also feel this way about fat. I'm fat, it's not bad, it just is. Stop treating the word fat like a cussword.

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    1. Yes! When I came to terms with the word "fat", I got a lot of knee-jerk reactions from people when instead of saying "plump" or "overweight" I would describe myself as fat. Someone tried to convince me to say "I have fat, but I am not fat". No, I am fat, and that's OK.

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    2. Yes! I didn't mention it here because I thought I'd be repeating my Moobly post, but you might take a look, especially at the comments. Some really great discussions.

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  13. "Pretty" is very subjective. What one person finds pretty is different for another. I like to think of pretty as more of continuum - neither end is better than the other, it's just different. I can say that people with very different looks are both pretty, because they are. It's just a different definition. I struggle sometimes with the idea that I have to wear makeup, or straighten my hair, or wear the right things to feel like my best self. But in truth, it's just a different kind of pretty. And I'm okay with that.

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    1. THANK YOU!!
      "Be your own kind of beautiful"

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  14. Oddly enough, this popped up on my timeline feed today: Savannah Brown is a beautiful genius. "When I first learned that no one could ever love me more than me, a world of happiness previously unseen was discovered because somewhere along the line of aging and scrutiny and time, I was taught to despise myself.

    But I made sure I kept myself beautiful so someone would love me someday, so I could belong to someone someday, because that's the most important thing a little girl could ever want, right?

    I was 13 the first time I was embarrassed about my body, of course it might not be the last, and I remember stuffing my bra in the morning, tears stinging my eyes, hoping, praying to something that I could look beautiful enough today, braces and all, for the ruthless boys who mercilessly told me I was worthless because my boobs weren't big enough.

    And I would go home and put on a sweatshirt with my eyes closed, deny myself the right to be shown myself because I didn't dare want to insinuate beauty in regards to something so insulting as my body.

    But, I mean, we all end up with our heads between our knees because the only place we'll ever really feel safe is curled up inside skin we've been taught to hate by a society that shuns our awful confidence and feeds us our own flaws.

    And sometimes when I need to meet the me that loves me, I can't find her or remind her that the mirror is meant to be a curse so that I could find her in my mind, but when he or she shouts, "Let me out!" we're allowed to listen.

    But it's met by a chorus of conceited, egotistical narcissists. But since when was self-substitute a sin? Since when was loving who we are made an offense by morons that don't matter? Change this physicality and that one. Don't you dare shatter the illusion that you could ever be anything beyond paper-fine flesh and flashy teeth and fingernails. A code of accusations of not good enough, never good enough. Have you ever felt so numb that it hurts? Entertain me.

    You can't surrender to them. You've gotta remember that you're the only thing you'll ever truly have. And no, I don't mean your body. Because someday that will go bad no matter what you do. I mean you. I mean the way your bright eyes go wild when you smile and how your laugh is so melodic it's a song.

    I mean the way your creativity is a compass that leads you to what you love. And you don't need any miracle cream to keep your passions smooth, hair free, or diet pills to slim your kindness down. And when you start to drown in these petty expectations, you've gotta re-examine the miracle of your existence because you are worth so much more than your waistline. You are worth the beautiful thoughts you think and the daring dreams you dream, undone and drunk off alcohol of being.

    But sometimes we forget that because we live in a world where the media pulls us from the womb, nurses us, and teaches us our first words: skinny, pretty, skinny, pretty, girls, soft, quiet, pretty, boys, manly, muscles, pretty. But I don't care whether it's your gender, your looks, your weight, your skin, or where your love lies. None of that matters because standards don't define you.

    You don't live to meet the credentials established by a madman. You're a goddamned treasure whether you want to believe it or not. And maybe that's what everyone should start looking for."

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  15. Honestly, my line is hygene. I love my husband and children even when they literally stink, but as far as pretty/cute/handsome goes, I'm going to think or say that pretty much any time it occurs to me, which would be any time when your breath isn't trying to kill me :-). I'm guessing that's what John is doing when he compliments you in sweats, too. He looked over, thought "I love her so much. I am so glad she's here. She's beautiful." And then he just says that last bit. The people we love are beautiful, not (just) because they showered and put on foundational garments, but because we know them and find the whole person beautiful.

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  16. I love this beyond measure, particularly the line about prettiness not be rent you pay for occupying a space marked female (t-shirt pls!). For an even more intense take on this idea, I find myself going back again and again to this piece by Mia Mingus called "Moving Toward the Ugly," with it's haunting question "Where is the Ugly in you? What is it trying to teach you?" https://leavingevidence.wordpress.com/2011/08/22/moving-toward-the-ugly-a-politic-beyond-desirability/
    Thank you for posting this, Jen!

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  17. I like this post. I like to be able to say i'm not pretty all the time.

    But where is the line in between pretty and self-deprecating? And twisted (sorry lack of a better word) body image? Self-harm? I never struggled tooooo much with my body image and with the "pretty" standard (i'm almost 30 and don't really know how to wear make up and heels, and yet can feel beautiful on some days), but I see very pretty natural young girls fighting against their head and eyes that tell them they are ugly, too fat, etc., fighting with eating disorders, fighting with self-harm. I wish I would know how to help them. Maybe it is though by starting to tell our girls it's all right not to be pretty.

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    1. I worry about that line, too. I avoid mirrors and photos when I can, and I don't know how mentally healthy or unhealthy that is. I don't know what kind of message I'm sending to others by even admitting that. You're right, though; this is a huge issue with deep foundations, so we have to just start where we can.

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    2. Thank you for this blog post and fostering the community that bring these sorts of comments together. I used to avoid photos (and my husband is a photographer!) Then I realized (or try to intellectualize) that the candid pictures I was avoiding would not be judged for how I looked but would serve as memories to look back on someday. Reminders of family vacations and moments in our lives with friends and family. I never look back at family pictures and think about the size of my grandma's nose but instead how I miss spending my summers with her, and I try to remember that when the camera is pointed at me now. I mean, I don't think selfie sticks are in my future, but I am trying to think about what message my actions are sending my kids. Thank you again for creating a corner of the internet to respectfully ponder these things.

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  18. I have no problem saying I'm not very attractive. It's not that I'm not attractive, I'm just not all that good looking. I'm also fat which doesn't bother me either. But it really upsets other people when I say these things. They usually tell me I'm wrong, which is actually quite rude but doesn't bother me because I'm alive. And when you spent many years thinking about not being alive, then pretty just doesn't matter anymore. I've never been happier.

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  19. This is the number one reason I won't post pictures of myself on Facebook. I hate everyone jumping on the "You're so pretty/beautiful/hot/whatever" bandwagon. You're welcome to think I am, but if you know me at all, you'd know to describe me as fierce, loyal, considerate, mean, nitpicky, or uptight, because words like that describe who I am, not my outer packaging. And while I do think it's important to look our best (everyone in the 40's was beautiful, because even if you were ugly, dang, you looked good doing it), what you look like is not how you treat people, which is the only thing that matters.

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  20. I wasted so much time worrying about what other people would think about what I look like... I used to do full makeup every morning for work - concealer, foundation, blush, eye shadow, mascara, lipstick.... Then I realized that I didn't have anyone there that I was trying to impress with my looks. I also realized that I wanted to sleep in a little later. So now I wear a little foundation to even my skin out and mascara because I have invisible blonde eyelashes without it. Not for anyone else... but because I like how I look like that. And there are some days where I skip the foundation and just use a little concealer and powder... because who really cares? And I can honestly say - no one has ever said anything that leads me to believe they've even noticed the change... Do what makes you comfortable and happy :-)

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  21. I'm short. I'm heavy. I barely pluck my brows and only wear make up sometimes. I'm going gray and not trying to cover it. I'm over 40. This should be a death knell, right? It's not. Yesterday, while feeling particularly frumpy, a man asked me out to coffee. I declined because I'm married but I was flattered because he saw something attractive despite how I was feeling about myself. I will wear the heels and makeup when I'm visiting a client's site, when I need to make a power move, or when I feel like the event deserves that level of effort. Otherwise, my brains, my compassion and my quick smile need to carry the day because I'm not here to compete with anyone, including myself.

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  22. I think our problem is that we think everyone else cares/notices how we look. We think everyone is judging us. But if you think about your own mind - you notice the people you care about but rarely judge them for looks or weight. And people you don't know - you may notice but you know it doesn't matter what you think about them and they just flit through your space. You spend much more effort wondering what they are thinking about you. You feel insecure and judged - when in reality they are not paying much attention to you at all - they are too worried about what you are thinking about them. People really are egocentric and we need to embrace that - because it's pretty freeing to realize you are projecting your insecurities and no one else's opinion matters.

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  23. Shakepeare had the right idea in Sonnet 130-

    My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
    Coral is far more red than her lips' red;
    If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
    If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
    I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
    But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
    And in some perfumes is there more delight
    Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
    I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
    That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
    I grant I never saw a goddess go;
    My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground.
    And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
    As any she belied with false compare.

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    1. My favorite of all the sonnets. Thanks for copying it forth here Becky!

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  24. I think that we spend too much time projecting our insecurities on other people. We think random people are judging us - when in fact the human mind is very egocentric and they are not judging you for how you look, so much as worrying about what you think of them! Occasionally there are people who do judge you - and those are the kind of people you ignore and blow off anyway. Anyone who knows you and cares about you (ie the kind of people who really have an opinion you value) don't judge, they love you as you are - with or without makeup, and with spinach stuck in your teeth. They don't care. Just like you don't judge them about how they look in a bathing suit, or what their hair looks like today - you love them anyway.

    I wish i could remember this in my own mind - but most people are more worried about what you think about them, than they are thinking about you - good or bad. so we need to learn to just be happy with who we are because our opinions of ourselves are truly the only ones that matter. and we spend way too much energy beating ourselves up over standards that no one else is holding us to anyway!!!

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  25. After being told my whole life how fat I was and how no one would ever love me and how much do you weigh NOW by my very own mother, this past Monday I got a "you are no longer my daughter" letter from her. She has been passive aggressive my whole life and is not happy unless she and everyone around her is miserable. I have actually not spoken to her in almost 3 years, so this is almost a blessing to me. No longer will I have to be bothered with her and her nasty opinions of me. I have no idea what, if any, hopes and dreams she had for me were. All I know is that I have obviously not lived up to them as she looked at me with much disdain and judgement at what I thought were accomplishments. I will be 60 (and somebody please tell me howthehell THAT happened!) and I can finally say that this is me. Warts, fat and all. Either you like and accept me for that or move along. I can't help the way you feel about me, but I can ask you to not be a part of my life. I think after almost 60 years on this Earth, I deserve that much.

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  26. Well thanks a lot. You made me cry Jen. <3

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  27. I love this song and video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GXoZLPSw8U8&list=FLCSep2Byrm3cuLbY506h6RQ&index=9

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  28. I'm pretty sure I've read that article before, but it's a good one to revisit. I've had a very up and down relationship with my physical appearance over the years. I'm in a much better place than I used to be, but there are still days when I compare myself to some arbitrary standard of beauty and judge myself as lacking. Self acceptance is an ongoing process, especially since our bodies are always changing (aging, weight gain/loss, pregnancy, etc. etc.). I've felt very "at home" in my body during some seasons of my life while others have been a struggle.

    As a rather ironic side note, right below the last paragraph of the article where the author talks about pretty being tied up with youth, there appeared an advertisement for a makeup line promising to empower your skin to "look younger, longer." It would be funny if it weren't so sad.

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  29. In a similar vein, I wanted to share this post from another blogger I like:
    http://coldantlerfarm.blogspot.com/2017/01/part-wolf.html?m=1

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  30. Wow, this struck a nerve. My grandma was always very appearance-focused. Always made comments about my looks, my weight, etc. I always knew that wasn't the most important thing to her, but it seemed like it sometimes. She would talk to me about my cousin's wife who was pregnant, and the first thing she would say would be "she's so tiny! She's hardly gained any weight!" And it's hard not to take it personally because I'm anything but tiny. Always the first questions/remarks about looks, etc. Always. About everyone.
    I think I've always been more sensitive to comments about looks and prettiness, partly because of that.
    My mother in law lives with us, and does the same thing a lot. It grates on me. "Oh, so and so is a really sweet girl but she's not much to look at", "my daughter is the heaviest I've ever seen her", "boy, they really had to work hard to make him (referring to a science-guy character on children's tv show) not look like a dork. You can tell he's a dork in real life" etc. Also she will always make comments to my girls "oh, you're so pretty!" "That's so pretty" and on and on. I talked to her about it once, and her response to me was that, well, maybe the "pretty" comments bother me because of my experience and history, but it bothers her when I say "oh, you kids are crazy," because of her history and her father's mental illness. I don't think it's the same thing at all, but oh well. It also makes me wonder what she says to others about me "oh, my daughter in law is so sweet, but man she's gained a lot of weight in the past couple years" Ugh. I guess I just don't see the need to make comments about looks and weight at all.
    Anyway, this really resonated with me. Thank you for sharing.

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    1. My grandmother was similar to yours. It drove me crazy how she would comment on my hair and my clothes.

      I recently changed my facebook profile picture to a selfie that had been passed through some cool art filter. I really like the style and the goofy face I'm making. Both my mother and mother-in-law commented on how scary it looks. I didn't defend myself or take it down. I just ignored their comments, and I'm proud of myself for that.

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  31. I was raised that a fresh coat of lipstick could fix almost anything! There are days I enjoy doing all the "girlie" things before going out in public. Other days, not so much. Yet I feel that I owe it to myself - and not anyone else - to put my best foot forward when leaving the house.
    Pretty/beautiful/handsome/cute are terms we all have different interpretations for. To me it is what is on the inside that matters most. Yes, I am guilty of not seeing past the exterior shell of many people to get to what is inside, but I am trying.

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    1. Kyle, I think you nailed it. We are worth our best. And that best can be a continuum depending on what's going on in our lives. But when we give ourselves that -- that's when we are our own pretty and those are the days people see the pretty in us.

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    2. Well said Karyl. So many times our outward appearance is a reflection of what is happening inside. We all need to go easy on ourselves - and let's face it, we are often our own worst enemy - there are plenty of people out there in the "real world" that are all too willing to beat us up because they are miserable.

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  32. Wasn't the point of feminism that women are complete and inspirational regardless of how pretty they are? That seems very... lost, right now.

    I especially love the end of Erin's post:
    "Pretty, it’s sad to say, can have a shelf life. It’s so tied up with youth that, at some point (if you’re lucky), you’re going to have to graduate from pretty."

    I'm not even 30, I'm fit/thin, conventionally attractive, love my body, but I have like 8 gray hairs and sometimes my face gets tired and lined, so by media standards I'm freakin' haggard. NO - just like for guys my age, my real contributions have hardly begun.

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  33. At my 10 year high school reunion (I won't say when that actually occurred...) a boy who was kinda popular, a soccer player, came up to me and said, "I remember you! You were always the pretty smart girl. I mean, you were pretty, and you were smart!" And that resonated so much, that a somewhat popular guy would 1) remember me AT ALL and 2) think I was "pretty *and* smart". Of course it's important to hold true to ourselves, and looking back, I realize I was more "myself" in high school than I thought I was at the time, and people noticed. That feels good :)

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  34. I don't consider myself to be beautiful. My hair is always a mess no matter what I do so it ends up in a ponytail, I'm allergic to so many make ups aND perfumes that I don't actually own any, I'm tall and fat but don't have large tracts of land or nice curvy backside so I end up waring mostly jeans and T's from the men's section and the only thing that really bothers me is that my teeth arnt straight. Could never afford braces and now in my late 20's I still feel awkward about my smile. Some days I want to be beautiful but I think it wouldn't matter because I still would be self-conscious of my teeth. However I try really hard to remember not to let what others might think stop me from enjoYing moments full of smiles.

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  35. I struggle with this. I want to be valued for the way I make others feel, for my intelligence, and my talents. But I also want to look in the mirror and like the image I see. Honestly, without makeup, I could start rumors of the zombie apocalypse, just by being in public. I wish I could look at myself and like the natural me, but I can't. I don't think I can put all the blame on society, I have to realize it's my fault too. I just don't know how to get to the point where I don't care how I look at all.

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    1. I'm with you, Liz. As an art lover I surround myself with things that are beautiful and that make me smile, so looking in the mirror can be that much harder. I don't think we need to get to the point where we don't care at all; we just have to get to a point where we care about other things - more important things - MORE.

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    2. This resonated deeply with me Liz, especially your second sentence. While I like myself very much, and continue to work on any inner flaws, I wish that my looks were once again good enough that people would once again look me in the eye as I speak.

      I was nice and normal enough looking while growing up, that I enjoyed attention. But through the years I've had health problems, and had to go on corticosteroids, which made me gain 100 lb. Then my allergies worsened and I can barely wear any makeup, so my eyes are little piggy slits in the moonface caused by the Prednisone. I have dark acne scars which recur all the time with new zits. I too can't do perfumes or scented lotions, etc., due to health problems. And yet...I have a lot to say. I am outgoing and smart and kind and have a job where I can really make a difference. And yet...very few people will look me in the eye, or will stick around conversing long enough to discover my kindness or sense of humor. It makes it hard not to hate yourself, even with great self esteem. I guess all I can do is continue to work on my inner flaws, and to hope.

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  36. I fret with the whole "beautiful" tag and standard/expectation, and have all my adult life and in high school. (I'm 53, so that's...37ish years?) I want to be pretty (or even beautiful) and I resent like heck that I want that label. That it matters to me. And, quite honestly, that I never had it and never will. (My husband says it and means it, but he sees with the eyes of love, which is not a bad thing, but...) Which is just me saying I agree with you and at the same time I haven't found my way out of this maze in the past 37ish years. I hope you have a better chance than I did.

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  37. 1. Totally look up Definition Of Pretty by Kat Robichaud, it is basically the angry version of this sentiment and sometimes when I'm feeling punchy it fits my mood perfectly and makes me feel aaesome.
    2. I have spent so much of my life hating how I look and feel in my body (I blame my hyper religous upbringing but that's a different story suffice it to say that no matter what I did I never looked "appropriate".) But over the last year I have decided to shed everything about my appearance that stressed me out. Super oily skin with occasional breakouts? I stopped wearing make up. Frizzy hair that I could never get the hang of? I chopped it all off. Tired of how clothes fit on me? Ditched every article of clothing that I deemed "fidgety" and switched from underwire to sports bras. Stopped wearinf heels and flats because they hurt my feet. AND I AM SO HAPPY. I am 30 years old and I do not fuss with my looks AT ALL. And I have learned to love how I look without hardly any augmentation. I wear clothes that I like, find comfortable, AND cute. I only wear jewelry when I feel like it. It's been such an incredible relief for me, and my anxiety has calmed down a lot as well. I don't owe it to anyone to look any one way, and it's articles and songs like this that have really inspired me. Yay!

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  38. Here's the thing I've learned: Whether or not you are "pretty enough" has nothing to do with YOU. Its true that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The beholders gained their opinion of 'pretty' during their formative years. Some people like some types, and some people like other types better. It actually has nothing to do with you. Therefore, all you do is walk into a room, and somebody applies to you their pre-established opinion of what is pretty and what is not pretty. You can't change it. When you do your hair and makeup, you look EVEN better to those who already like your type anyway. It doesn't make haters change.
    If they think you are pretty, good for them! They get to enjoy something beautiful, the benefit is all theirs. There is no benefit to you. If they think you are ugly, bummer for them! The suffering is all theirs, not yours.
    And before you say, "but people treat you badly if you're ugly", that has to do with how they ACT, not who YOU are. It still says more about them then about you. There are many beautiful people who have been treated badly. It's not because you're ugly, it's because they're jerks. Once again; their problem, not yours.
    Being beautiful has never made a single person happy. I dare you, go up and ask somebody who YOU think is beautiful, if it has been the answer to their happiness. I guarantee they will say no if they are honest. They might even tell you why.
    A good summary statement is: Your beauty or lack of it is for everybody else's benefit or curse, not yours. Therefore let them judge you, more power to them. It has nothing to do with you. Do not base your happiness on it. Do not waste your breath or your brainpower or your time on it. Because those things DO bring a woman happiness--her words, brain, and where she spends her time. Don't throw away your happiness on someone else's problem. Your looks, good or bad, are a non-issue for YOUR happiness. Your looks have nothing to do with your worth.
    I don't like it when people preach that we're all sexy/beautiful no matter what, because that still places our worth...our WORTH...in the hands of someone else, only to benefit or please them, not you. To please them in a sexual way, no less. Not that we don't want sexually satisfying lives, but that we cannot be reduced to ONLY that; placed on this earth to please someone else's visual preferences? That's ridiculous, and a logical fallacy.
    People labeled as pretty can worry about how they look just as much as people labeled as ugly. Cast it off, girls! Go to the mirror, and look at yourself. I mean really look at yourself. Deep into your own eyes. It can be difficult in this society that tells you that what you see is not good enough. But do it until you can see the person behind the face. Do it everyday until you don't notice whether or not you're pretty enough. Until pretty becomes a non-issue. It's liberating! I've never felt so free, and so VALUABLE.

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    1. What a great perspective! You brought this analogy to mind (sorry if it seems silly): at Christmas I go all out decorating the *inside* of my house, top to bottom, and spend almost zero effort on the outside. (Neighbors are lucky if they get a door wreath.) That's because I spend all my time in here, and honestly don't care if others think I'm festive.

      We should be like that, right? Spending our time & effort on the inside parts that matter and that make US happy, and remembering our outsides only get the most fleeting glances from passersby, who honestly couldn't care less.

      Thanks, Mishqueen. I like the way you think.

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    2. That's a GREAT analogy! I love to decorate to, for ME. Yes, seek your own joy, not someone else's (well, close loved ones deserve some attention, but they will love you more for loving yourself and being as happy as possible).
      And for the record? I like the way you blog. Which means, I like the way you think, too. ;)

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  39. I'm considered pretty by Western standards. I'm short, but I've got the pale skin, the figure, the face shape...

    And I spent most of my 20s hating that. I didn't hate *myself*, but I hated the whole concept of being pretty. I hated the whole thing where I was judged worthy because I was born with the right DNA to fit in with whatever Hollywood was pushing out (and I'm an actress, so, whoo boy, was there some serious damage going on in my head). I hated that it attracted men who only wanted to be around me because I was the right image. (This may have led to extraordinarily poor choices in men.) I hated that many, many, MANY people simply stopped seeing me as a human, or bothering to care about my brain or my personality, because I was the right look... and then, when I wasn't a vapid, just-look-at-me, "sexy lamp", I was labeled all sorts of things. Bitch. Ice Queen. Weirdo. Dork. Snob. I still hate that. It's as if I can't be smart AND pretty. As if I should simply rest at this and not use my brain.

    I don't wear makeup unless I am on stage, or it's a super special occasion. I hate the feel of it on my skin. I don't like hiding my face. It took me years to be comfortable with myself. With the pain I've been through, the choices I've made, the battles I've won. I wear glasses. I like glasses. I like how they make me look closer to my own age, instead of an overly large 12 year old. I like how they are purple.

    But pretty? Eff pretty. Pretty happens because of an accident of DNA and societal standards. I got lucky. But my brain? I worked on that. I studied, and I went to school. I read constantly. I am always trying to make my brain better. I'm trying to be kinder, more ethical, more eco-friendly, more socially conscious. I'm trying to go to bed before 3AM (I'm not good at that one.) These are things I work at.

    Pretty just means creeps on the street and the internet think they are entitled to go after me. My brain intimidates and threatens them.

    I like my brain better.

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  40. Thanks for this Jen! As always, a fresh dose of insight and humor from you! This is such a wonderful reminder as I work on parenting our young daughter - be specific. I also think it helps that we don't have cable TV or get beauty magazines anymore so she isn't being constantly bombarded by those media messages at home but rather we can talk about it. One parenting book I read did caution about NOT telling your daughter they are beautiful, only be specific (some parenting advice will go to the extreme) because she will eventually hear it from someone else and at a certain age could make her vulnerable to strangers or that "cute" boy she desperately likes (who really only wants one thing). Hormones are a real mind jerk and make kids do crazy things, despite all the parenting we try to do sometimes their primal brain wins. But I digress! Thanks for some more food for thought as always!

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  41. i think love makes others pretty or beautiful or gorgeous. things i would have been self conscious about years ago are things those i who love me compliment me on or say they appreciate. love isn't blind, love enhances somehow.
    i believe john really does find your natural beauty gorgeous. you trust him, right? why would you think he would lie to you?

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  42. I think it was Iris Apfel who said "I would rather be interesting than pretty." Speaking as someone who was (and sill is) mistaken for a boy a lot (not because I am necessarily dressed in a masculine way, but because my face probably qualifies as "handsome" in the way that women used to be called that a hundred years ago or so), I have always struggled with this. Yesterday I was standing in line behind a very pretty woman and wondered, "I wonder how her life is different than mine?" And thought, I bet people don't take her seriously a lot of the time. I bet she worries about being attractive enough too. People always took me seiously. So I guess that's something. I'm in my 40s and I worry less these days about it, because I realize that most people really don't care. Really, they don't.

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  43. I've always prided myself on being a pretty low maintenance girl. And this worked well for me until my adolescent acne turned into adult acne and my hair gained a frizzy quality. So I struggle with being "pretty" now, more than I remember as a kid/teenager.
    But I try to remind myself that I've already caught my mate, and he loves me.
    the next challenge is to instill the right values of my daughter, and avoid calling her 'pretty' or 'beautiful' (and my little boy "handsome") all the time. Whenever my daughter catches me putting on make-up, putting a lot of work into my hair or making a special effort to dress up, I call it "Fancy." so "I want to feel fancy today, I'm going to put on make-up." "Oh daughter, with that twirly dress and headband you look so fancy!" I try to put the emphasis on how fun and confident the extra effort is, so as not to equate extra effort with beauty.

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  44. Before I read the article I was all ready to argue "But I *do* think everyone is beautiful", but after reading the article, I agree completely. No one should feel forced to be "pretty".

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  45. I care that I am happy and clean. Pretty is passing. Fun but passing.

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  46. I confess that the first thing I look at in a photo that I appear in is MEEEE. I don't care about others in the photo, or the occasion, just whether I remembered to face the camera so my cheeks don't look jowly, or if my stomach looks blobby. So thanks for this, both the Dress A Day post and your own words AND the picture of the cat which is me looking at myself when I get out of the shower! I have been working on acceptance of self and throwing off the chains of life-long weight and scale-checking, and allowing those two things to decide for me whether the day will be good or bad. I am 65, have felt LESS if the scale is not kind for FIFTY FREAKIN' YEARS, and I recommend to all, young and old, that you stop letting appearance rule your life. I'm not all the way there yet, and I do like looking pretty, but at last my self-hatred is waning. May it be so for us all.

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  47. Since I was overweight since the third grade, I did not realize that I had no shot at being pretty. I assumed that the weight was holding me back. In my mid-thirties after joining a weight loss program (the extremely well know one now majority owned by a celebrity) I lost 80 pounds, reaching a healthy weight. The program asked that if they could use me as a success story and a professional photographer came to take my photo. I felt so confident. Then the pictures came back and the disappointment set in. It was only then that I realized that I was not one of those fat girls that people assured, “but you have such a pretty face”. In fact, I had never received a compliment on my appearance in my entire life other than my clothes. Most of my life I had been invisible. When you are obese, people try not to acknowledge your presence (except for the few who tease or mock). Now plenty of people were noticing me and suddenly my appearance meant they could treat me horribly because I am not pretty. Seven years later and I am still struggling with this. In addition, I have put the weight back on. As I work to do the best for my health, it is a harder struggle to know my value as a human being regardless of my appearance.

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    1. Oof, sending hugs, Anon.

      I'm convinced that if all of us had that "one thing" fixed - the thing we think is our biggest problem visually - we'd immediately find a new one to replace it. That's what I tell myself when I start looking wistfully at plastic surgery sites - it's not going to fix what I want fixed. It's not going to make me happy.

      Only you can determine your value. Only you can decide you DO have worth - so much worth - beyond your appearance.

      Anyway, just wanted you to know you're never invisible here. I see you, I love you, this whole community loves you, and I know we can get through this minefield of life together.

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    2. So right. I struggle with acne, and I have often thought that if I could have one wish, I would get rid of it. But that wouldn't solve anything. I'd just find something new. If the zits bother me, than I should wash my face. If they bother people at my school, screw them.

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    3. I never deemed myself pretty. Was raised by my dad (great dad!), my mom was an absent mom who wouldn't take car of my brother and I when we she was with us, never learned how to do my hair, apply or wear make-up, wear high heels, walk pretty and other typical "pretty girl" stuff. I have been obese for half my life. I am now 37yo and weigh 100lbs too many... Tried to lose the weight the same way you did, but never managed to lose more than 30lbs. And I'd gain everything back. Never really felt good about myself. Even when my boyfriend says he thinks I'm pretty, I don't believe him. Until.... Until I had kids. They think I'm beautiful and I started to believe them. I see their faces lighting up when I look and smile at them. They come running to get hugs and say I'm comfortable! :-) They love me and I love them. And that's beauty! I'm beautiful because of what I do for them, how I love them, what they feel about me makes me feel good. Being physically pretty is not what's important. And, Jen will roll her eyes here :-), the important thing is to be a beautiful inside. I am beautiful for what I can do and be, not necessarily for what I look like.

      You are beautiful! You are capable! You are worth it! You are loved! Don't let others decide of your worth or your prettiness. Start building some confidence in yourself (I know, easier said than done!) Find stuff that makes you feel good and try to do at least one every day. Do good deeds for the ones in need! Start spreading joy, small gestures and it will slowly start to fill you up with a good, warm, fuzzy, friendly feeling. Big hugs!

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  48. I read this to my son and told him that I didn't think he was a shallow person, but I thought he should hear it. I wished I had known this when I was a young lady. I have only realized it in my 40s, and it has made me so much happier. It has also helped me be more compassionate to others. I'm trying to ratchet down the judgmental tendencies I have.

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  49. Years ago, I was admiring a painting while standing next to the elderly woman who painted it. She was sad because she was old and wrinkle, and she couldn't appreciate her own beauty (really, she was a beautiful old lady) or recognize the value of the years of service that the painting represented. I realized then that I needed to value other things in myself than looks (suddenly realizing that wrinkles were inevitable). Every time I notice myself looking puffy and saggy and wrinkled, I try to remember her (with love and sympathy for her and for me!). I want to be remembered as a person with character and talent and kindness and love. Pretty is such a small thing.

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  50. I think the old saying "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" is true. I also believe, as sung by Kenny Rogers in "The Coward of the County", that there's someone for everyone, is true. Some things and some people are attractive. We, as human beings, like to look at attractive things. That's why we grow flowers in our gardens, instead of thorns. But what kind of flowers? Everyone has their favorite type, based on how it looks, what color it is, and how it smells. I love blue flowers and pansies are my favorite, although they don't have much scent. Some people think thorns look really cool.
    As far as people go, I like to look at people that look good to me. I don't go for the "normal" definition of pretty. I prefer "interesting" looking. I prefer Steve Buscemi over Tom Cruise. Tom Cruise looks like a psychopath to me. He looks scary.
    What do I look like? I look like me. I don't know how to "do" my hair or makeup. I never learned. I had more important things to worry about at an age when most girls learn stuff like that. I shave my legs when I feel like it. I've never worn "fashionable" clothes, I wear what I like. I have about 6 pairs of pants that are exactly alike except for color, and I have 7 identical tee shirts that I wear day and night. I'm not a social person. I don't look in the mirror very often. I'm a mother of 6 children, grandmother to 12, and have been married for 33 years. What I look like is very, very low on my list of things to worry about.
    I often wonder why women dress like they do, and why certain fashions start. Do they dress like they do because they think it's what men like? Or do they like it themselves? Do men like the current fashions because it's what women are wearing or are women wearing it because they think it's what men like? Does anyone know?
    Do looks matter? Not really. The very first time I met my husband (to-be at the time) I wasn't impressed. He was not good looking to me. But the generous, kind, uncomplaining, gentle person he is shines out way stronger than his looks. And now that we've aged, I like the way he looks. I like the way older men look. Not that he's handsome in any conventional way, but I like the way he looks.
    It seems to me that a person should dress and look as they are comfortable doing. Makeup or not, hairstyle or not, latest fashions or not, what do I care what someone else thinks of me? I'm the one I live with 24 hours a day for every second of my life. And the way I look has little to no effect on my ability to live with myself.
    As for age, I've had people make replies to me about how old I am and I must be really out of it (whatever "it" is) with my unpopular opinions, and how old I must be because I've talked about having grandchildren. What I say to them is thank you, and all the luck in the world in reaching my age someday.

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  51. WOW. This is amazing. This is what good writing does! It flips the way you look at things and makes you actually SEE and ask questions. Nicely done.

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  52. This post came at the perfect time for me. My brain has been running the negative track for a while now, and lately it's been focused on my looks.

    I have been fighting for years to just love the me that I see in the mirror. I've never been described as pretty or beautiful by anyone other than my well-meaning husband. Even my own mother often described me as "plain yet loveable" like being plain was a bad thing. I've never been the kind to wear makeup, I abhor the way it feels on my face. I wear plain (not patterned) but bold colours most of the time because I dislike the patterns that most women's clothing comes in (floral in any kind is ick to me, polka dots are ok but not my thing, etc) and I can't wear the geeky shirts to work because they're not business casual. I am fat, have been most of my life, too.

    I'm working on losing weight, not for beauty, but for health reasons. I am growing out my hair from a pixie cut just because I want longer hair again. I've been debating colouring my hair, despite always saying I would NEVER do so. Why? Because I want to have fun colours like blue or purple, not because I want to cover anything up.

    But yet, every time I look in the mirror I still only see the flaws. Fat, facial hair, pimples, dry skin, scars. Just a couple of days ago, my mother pointed out quite a few of these flaws with some disdain to her voice, but I know it was because she saw herself reflected in me (she can be described much the same as me) and didn't like what she saw because of her own beauty standards.

    These flaws we see in the mirror? They're what make us, well, us! So I don't have a "perfect" complexion. Nothing will ever be perfect, since perfect is such an arbitrary word, no one defines it the same way as you.

    These scars? They show that I had a serious medical issue that required surgery and I overcame it, I survived, and I'm healthy again. They show that I've lived my life without worrying about cuts and scrapes leaving marks, only about how much fun I was having. Health, happiness, those are the only things that matter. Now to convince my brain of that. :)

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  53. One way I had been resisting the requirement to be 'pretty' is to leave my hair its natural color as it grayed. But now I have to find a job, and I started dying my hair, because I have to pretend I'm younger than I am (prettier, more acceptable) to get hired.

    What annoys me is that people keep telling me how they like my haircut, even though the style hasn't changed. I LIKED how it looked with the silver/gray mingled in. I want to go back to being who I am, and not have to pretend I'm a young woman with lower mileage.

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  54. Having a stunning Marilyn Monroe lookalike for a mother , when you look just look like your plain chubby little dad has been hard work all my life . I have been accused of being either a butch lesbian or a bad transgender down the years . My mother now in her 80s is still baffled by what popped out of her pristine womb 53 years ago .
    Im just me and im not revolted by what i see in the mirror , its just me, long grey hair, comedy boobs and acne , I cant stand the feel of makeup , i feel like i have a mask on , the most i manage is a bit of mascara and lippy for occasions. I dont try to hide , far from it , as i get older i just seem to get bolder ...lol

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  55. I've aged like a mofo since I had a kid. Sometimes it sort of startles me. But most of my life I have struggled to give an eff about what I look like. I have more important things to do, you know? I find it a little mind-boggling when people devote a lot of time to how they look. Isn't there something they would rather be doing?

    I used to enjoy dressing up from time to time, and I like clothes that make me happy for whatever reason, but the more sexist our society becomes, the less desire I have to wear anything but pants. (My mom has not worn a skirt to work since her boss referred to female lawyers as "skirts." That was what...the late 90s?) I do wear makeup to cover breakouts, but that's about it. Actually, that's pretty much my whole personal appearance philosophy: do the minimum necessary so I don't have to feel more self-conscious than absolutely necessary.

    But I'll be honest: if I weren't dead broke right now, I would do the Pinterest oil slick hair thingy. But that's only because it would look cool without any additional effort on my part :p

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  56. I remember reading that when it first came out. I try to keep the things she spoke about in mind day to day, but I still worry so much about how I look. Not enough, most times, to put on makeup or fuss too much. But the worrying about my appearance keeps me from doing so much! sometimes I like the way I look (most days, honestly) and sometimes I don't. I just try to remember that day years ago when my toddler son told me I was "pretty" because "I love him and take care of him, and I make him food..." and he just kept going. but not once did he mention how I "look". Leave it to the little ones...:)

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  57. I think you put your finger on why I like that Colbie Caillat song, "Try," so much, because she never says, "you're beautiful how you are." She just says, you don't have to try so hard, because what is important is that you like who you are.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GXoZLPSw8U8

    I enjoy dressing up and playing with makeup sometimes, and when I do it, I hope for a reaction. Most days, though, my hair is in a ponytail and I'm not wearing makeup. I have friends who do their makeup every day and look amazing, and I'm glad that works for them because I know it's personal expression for them, like a kind of everyday cosplay.

    I guess what I mostly want is, like the song says, to not feel like any of us HAS to "try." To see some of the ridiculous expectations relaxed so that girls don't feel like there's something wrong with them if they don't spend an hour contouring and getting the right "look" to be acceptable as a female in public. I'm just about done with "woman" being synonymous with "makeup and shiny things and sexiness." I feel like somehow the age of the "tomboy" came and left and we've become more trapped in ridiculous gender norms than ever.

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  58. Luckily I don't have this problem much. I wear comfy stuff on weekdays (t-shirt, wide skirt, a fleece if cold) and only "dress up" for weekends, when it is customary to look elegant and put an effort in. Even then I have plenty of comfy options, just more feminine/flattering etc.
    In fact some of my t-shirts feature robots and since I've never really found a good place to get women's robot shirts, I resort to buying them from the boy's sections (size 16 is fine). Blundstones all workweek in winter, a trekking sandal all work-week in summer, sneakers when it's neither...
    Works for me and my hubby does not complain :-D

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  59. I love this. I recently signed up to shave my head for fundraising for St Baldricks, something I've always wanted to do. I expected to get the reactions of "whoa, I can't believe you are doing this" and such but what I mostly got was assurance from others that I'd still be cute ... (which I've never been) and that I could wear scarves to look nice. At first it panicked me... but then I remembered I was excited to see my head shaved! Maybe it was something that I'd stick with.. who knows.. but my looks weren't anyone's concern but mine!

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  60. Jen, Yet again you've brought a group of people together to make the world a slightly better place. It's amazing the gift that you have for doing that. And for touching our lives. I've always been the tomboy who hides in the corner and avoids people, and it's nice to know that I'm not alone.

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  61. To me, everyone is beautiful. I wish the world could look through my eyes sometimes and see the beauty that I see as an artist. I once had a patient who was covered in fatty tumors all over his body and face and he had the most amazing eyes I had ever seen. When I gushed about them to him, he started crying and told me that I was the first person IN HIS LIFE who told him he was amazing, and that makes me INCREDIBLY sad for this world.

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    1. I forgot this! This is true- artists see beauty so differently. Best summary I've seen of this (warning- sketches of naked people): http://gingerhaze.tumblr.com/post/69004953782/i-was-talking-to-my-brother-about-womens

      I think more of us should try life drawing. :) Or life modelling! So we can just enjoy the bodies we have been given. They are amazing, even if they are broken in some way.

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  62. I am so with you on those “you are beautiful” memes, and messages from empowered women, and the P.C. habitual reply to someone questioning or disparaging their appearance. Especially online. You don’t know me. You don’t know if I am beautiful on the inside or on the outside. Saying that everyone is beautiful is just lip service. Maybe what you mean to say is that there is something to appreciate about everyone. And that is probably true, but putting a blanket term like “beautiful” on it and telling a stranger they are beautiful is so frustrating. The “Hey you, yes you. You are special and you are important and you are loved” messages also drive me up the wall. You have no idea who is reading that post you shared. It means nothing. Instead, say something meaningful and specific to someone you actually know, who will care and believe what you are saying. And make it about them. It will probably embarrass them, and they may not really believe you, but it will make them feel good.

    The subject of pretty is such a hard one for me. I have been very overweight my entire life. Nothing I have ever done has had any impact on my weight…it just keeps going up. In spite of that, I get complimented on my appearance fairly often. Generally speaking, I always add an unspoken “for such a fat girl” on the end of those compliments. They may not say it, but they are certainly thinking it. It is truly the most remarkable thing about me.
    So I try to be as invisible as possible. I rarely wear make-up or do much with my hair. My clothing choices are based on what is comfortable and what I can find that fits. I try to take up as little space as I can in the world. I don’t make eye contact with strangers and I don’t want anyone to look at me. When someone does look at me, I torture myself over all the mean and hurtful things they must be thinking about me and my weight. I stay in as much as possible, I use less traveled paths and I don’t go to parties or other social outings to protect myself.
    I guess I’ve reached a point in my life where I’ve completely given up on being pretty. I know I’ll never be skinny, or even not morbidly obese. And sure, wearing makeup and nail polish is fun and sometimes I enjoy it, but it’s certainly not a daily thing for me and I’m still not going to actually be pretty.

    And most of the time I am totally ok with that…or…I have accepted it, even if I don’t like it. But every once in a while, when I think too hard about certain things, it does bother me. No, I don’t owe pretty to anyone, but I guess i owe self-respect to myself? And I think I deserve to be loved, but no one else seems to think so. Keeping to myself and telling myself I am ok is the only way I’ve been able to survive this long.

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  63. I am so happy that we've found a place where this is now a topic of conversation- when I was in my teens and 20s, there was really no body-positive movement happening in the public eye. It makes me tear up to hear people saying that they are learning how to love themselves completely- without the input of the media or the 'male-gaze' or any other filter. This is how we're going to move forward- by looking at inner beauty, and appreciating each other for who we truly are!

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  64. Susanna Sharp-SchwackeFebruary 6, 2017 at 5:36 PM

    I gave up long ago even trying to be anything that resembles attractive. Then when my teeth literally started breaking out of my mouth and I couldn't (can't) afford dental work, I quit everything else. I dress for comfort, not for my ability to attract or please anyone. Does this mean I have a healthy relationship with myself? Hell to the no. I'm a mess. But, I don't play the pretty game. And if anyone tells me that I'm pretty or look nice, I instantly doubt their sanity. LOL

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  65. I also really dislike, resent even, the pushing down our throats that everyone is beautiful.We see it and read of it everywhere.
    I know I'm not beautiful. Don't try to convince me I'm not. And you better not try to make me feel bad about the fact I know I'm not beautiful! You will get an earful then. I am perfectly fine and happy with the fact I'm not beautiful. At this point in my life - at my age -- I DON'T CARE that I'm not beautiful. Beauty fades. My character, my personality, who I am as a person -- that lasts. That stays, through every year, every wrinkle, every roll. And it is far, far more important to me than anything on my outside.
    If you think you are beautiful -- you own it. You go for it. You run with that and hold it tight to yourself. Just don't try to force me to think the same way about myself.
    Maureen S

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  66. I was thinking about this the other day: I still find my hubby absolutely adorable and attractive even though he's now 17 years older and 70+ lbs heavier than when I met him. So why is it so so hard for me to think that he still finds ME adorable and attractive even though I'M 17 years older and 70+ lbs heavier? But we still geek out over the same things, and make each other laugh, and enjoy this life we've made together. And *that's* what I find most attractive about him. So I'm trying to keep those things in mind now when I'm feeling depressed about being a frumpy housewife who hasn't gotten to shower in 3 days.

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  67. My "not pretty" part was not my weight. In fact, I tend to think I chose to be on the heavy side to give people something else to "pick at" and not look too closely at my face. After right at 50 years, I'm not wearing concealer every single cotton-picking day. Let people wonder what "that place" is. And if they ask, I can now be honest with them - it's a very old cigarette burn scar. I can say it without crying, or breaking my long-ago promise not to "shame the family by talking about such things." Everybody that worried about that shame is dead now, and the shame is no longer mine to keep. The shame in fact, was never mine, but it took a lot of therapy to realize that.

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  68. I wish "pretty" didn't have such a hold over me. Over a lot of us! As a child I felt ugly, and was told I was by classmates. As a teenager and in my early twenties, though, I was pretty happy with my looks. I wasn't a supermodel, but I had nice hair, great skin, and a pretty smokin' body. I could turn a few heads, and I did, including my husband's. Sometime around after I had my second child, the weight didn't come right off. I had gained a lot. My skin wasn't so perfect anymore. I've struggled with how I feel about my looks ever since. My husband insists that he finds me beautiful and attractive, and he seems to, but deep down I think "How? How can he still love me when I look nothing like I looked before?" It's a before and after now. I know I'm fat because BEFORE I wasn't. I know I'm unattractive because BEFORE, I wasn't. I'm completely invisible to men now. In some ways, it's a huge relief, but sometimes it's like if you aren't a young attractive woman you just don't exist. I'm just a fat, frumpy mom with a trail of kids behind me. I have no idea how old I look to people anymore. I have such dark undereye circles that a social worker came to talk to me after I recently gave birth, and I could tell she thought I might have been punched. I was exhausted and in a dimly lit room, that's all.

    I have two daughters, and the oldest one is nine. She already says things like she hates wearing her hair in a ponytail because people will point out her "tiny" ears. It makes me furious. Why does it all have to start so early? I've tried not to give them the message that being pretty is somehow important, but it's kind of impossible to keep it at bay. Even if people tell them they're smart, they tell them they're pretty or cute first. They talk about their outfits before they talk about anything else. I've lamented about being overweight in front of them. Only a few times, but it was enough. I hate that I'm complicit in it. I wish I could make it all stop.

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  69. I have a complicated relationship with prettiness. I'm conventionally attractive, not in a gorgeous way, but in a "pretty" way. I hate being called pretty. I specifically hate when men call me pretty. I hate the idea that people value me more for my being conventionally attractive. It's not something I put any effort into most of the time. My everyday self is jeans, t-shirt, flannel, no makeup, glasses, uncombed hair, unshaven legs and pits. Sometimes I go to the effort of looking nice, but mostly not. It's a struggle between hating feeling like I have to shave my legs b/c society says so, and feeling awkward about wearing a cute dress with unshaven legs b/c somehow hairy legs aren't feminine enough.

    I hate being called pretty because there are so many more interesting things about me than a particular lucky quirk of genetics that means society accepts my face and body. But I also acknowledge that as someone who is conventionally attractive, I have the luxury of not caring about my appearance. Not caring doesn't mean I stop being pretty. And for people who aren't/don't think they are conventionally attractive, it may not be as easy to stop caring.

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  70. Even being told to "put my best foot forward" makes me wonder about what we're teaching ourselves. Is the best version of myself to present to society one where I necessarily have to have plucked stray hairs? Or wear a specific style of clothes? Or where I successfully use make up to cover up the things society deems "blemishes"? Or is putting my best food forward, dressing for my comfort, for my own confidence, dressing for the weather, for the situation, for my goals. Is it being true to myself and what I like whether that's sweats and ponytails, high heels and pencil skits, flowy skirts and tank tops, no make up, heavy makeup, or the most glamourous masquerade mask the world has ever seen? Is it stepping out into the world with my best attitude, ready to offer kindness and acceptance and understanding to those I meet? Yes, I think that last is putting my best foot forward.

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  71. What I've noticed is that most women don't think of themselves as pretty, or if they do, they don't admit it. Even when they are clearly very pretty. It just seems like BS to me. Either they're lying or deluded. So I'm admitting it: I have pretty days.

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  72. Thank god you don't HAVE to be pretty. Because I was, I was damn pretty until about ten years ago when my ex husband destroyed my self esteem and 100% succeeded in fucking up the rest of my life. I'm ugly, I'm old, I'm useless and I troll the internet and read people's happy life stories to make myself feel like a human. The things people say (and do) to you do actually change the way you physically look. When your heart and your soul die it shows in your face, your skin, your body. He essentially killed me without committing actual murder.

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    1. Oh, Karen, this hurt my heart to read. I'm so, so sorry that your ex did that to you and very glad that he is an ex. No one deserves to be treated that way. You are not useless. Please be kind and patient and forgiving with yourself. I wish I could give you a hug, if that was okay with you.

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  73. Why is putting make up on and wearing fancy clothes putting your best foot forward? But only for women. I would say being clean and neat is all that is required for best foot. If one wants to color their hair, draw on their face, put on special clothes that is going above and beyond. I am a 6ft tall woman who eventually realized in high school that no matter how hard i tried to fit in, i was always going to stand out. I occasionally wear makeup, have acne at 40 still, color my hair for my own entertainment, wear what's comfortable and not falling apart. We should all be comfy being ourselves and consider everything else decorations.

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  74. I'm still at a place in my journey where I feel I'm succeeding as life when I'm as pretty as possible. I also associate it with good mental health- I'm putting on makeup, standing up straight, and smiling, so I'm probably not suicidal. I feel like I'm locked-out of a big swath of prettiness because I'm plus-size, but I want all the prettiness (and the power/social cache that comes with it) I can get, so I work on it in other ways.

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  75. i read a post, god only knows where now (probably tumblr) that has stuck with me.
    it went something like this:

    "why is it that without makeup, people ask if i'm sick or something? men w/o makeup are rugged and handsome and omg.

    because society hasn't told us that men need makeup to look healthy or attractive. it only tells that to girls."

    and that stuck with me.

    i'm not pretty, and i never have been. i was cute as a little girl, but puberty started for me in 3rd grade. i was the first girl in my class to have boobs. i wore teen-sized clothes in 5th grade, because i was and still am a big girl, and they fit.
    i have struggled with the idea that i'm not pretty because i can't do makeup to save my life, because i have never been less than a size 10, because even when i was fit, i was still "plus sized".

    that exchange comes to mind whenever i'm feeling ugly, or when i'm feeling bad about having to buy size 18 pants or that the only bras that fit are $40 at jcpenny, and they're NOT CUTE dammit, because apparently someone my size isn't allowed to have cute undies. >:/

    it reminds me that dammit, i'm not pretty, but i'm happy most of the time, and i'm funny, and i'm healthy, and dammit, i may be FAT, but i know how to dress my shape now, and i get compliments all the damn time. i may be bigger than some fashion designer thinks i should be, but my friends and coworkers think i'm cute, and you know what? SO DO I.

    and hey, i can do make up on other people really well, and i'm getting better at it on myself (facepainting is hard!:0 ), and just because my bra doesn't have lace on it doesn't mean it's not hot frickin' pink, thank you. because hot pink makes me happy, even if no one but me sees it. :D

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  76. Good stuff, your words, the words you found and all the wonderful comments here.

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  77. I have just spent two weeks with my aunt, who is in her 80s. While helping her clear out some of her clothes collection to make her closet safer, I have been reminded of the incident with my cousin.
    Roughly 30 years ago my cousin was rollerblading and broke her arm. Her husband had a staff meeting that he couldn't get out of(he really tried) so he called my aunt to ask her to take her daughter to the ER. My aunt agreed to do that as soon as she was dressed. It took an hour for her to get ready to take her daughter to the ER. She had to do her hair, choose an outfit, do her makeup, oops she got makeup on the shirt so change shirts, shirt no longer goes with the pants so change those, redo makeup because it no longer goes with the outfit. All this to go to the hospital. Mind you, all the times I took someone to the ER, I threw on whatever was available and booked it to ER. I have gone in jeans, a pajama top and a sweatshirt on a number of occasions.
    She still does that. When we went to church, it was choose an outfit, choose a wig, and do her makeup.

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    1. You must remember though, it was a VERY different time 80 years ago. Women were expected to be "presentable". Now it's a non-issue. But the "old-timers" still believe in that way of life.

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  78. Thank you Jen! I think you might enjoy reading How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran - it's a hilarious take on feminist issues. For non-British readers some of the references to growing up in 1980s Wolverhampton might not make much sense and the language is very blue but it's a great read.

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  79. I bought a pair of jeans on the internet (I'm tall, so I need to order special lengths) from a brand that I've been ok with before. They fit fine, but on the inside, they're lined with "affirmations". So each time I pull them up or down (for example, to visit the restroom), the shout at me: you are beautiful! you are sexy! you are...

    In my head, I can't help shouting back: You don't know me! Kiss my a$$!

    But I didn't know it would bug me when they first arrived. And now that I've worn them I can't get my money back. Also, it's really hard to find jeans that fit, so for now I just kind of laugh and continue on.

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  80. I have lots to say about this. And I will try and keep it short.
    My ex and I went rounds because he continuously called me beautiful, when I felt nothing short of unexceptional. And I would ask him, continuously, to stop because it made me feel uncomfortable. He said something to me that triggered: "Just because you can't see it, doesn't mean I can't." He genuinely thought I was beautiful. He told me even on my dark days he still saw the light in my smile... and after a while I started to believe it.

    So, I'm sorry that you don't like the word "beautiful", but to me, you are all works of art. And just like in a museum, not everyone finds the same piece of art worthy. But those who do are willing to spend the money to display it in their homes.

    We are all works of art. Some are just underappreciated.


    beau·ti·ful.

    ADJECTIVE

    1.pleasing the senses or mind aesthetically:

    2•of a very high standard; excellent:


    aes-thet-ics

    noun, ( used with a singular verb)

    1. the branch of philosophy dealing with such notions as the beautiful, the ugly, the sublime, the comic, etc., as applicable to the fine arts, with a view to establishing the meaning and validity of critical judgments concerning works of art, and the principles underlying or justifying such judgments.

    2. the study of the mind and emotions in relation to the sense of beauty.

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  81. A trans woman acquaintance of mine was complaining about some rude comments she heard on the bus. She was rather fired up with the idea that those men were trans-phobic haters. She was somewhat shocked when we told her it was just that she looked like a not too attractive middle aged woman. Those guys had no idea she was trans. She only then really understood what most women go through all of their lives.
    Also, Dustin Hoffman has a great video clip of him describing his reaction to how he loooked in Toosie. (If you don't know the movie, he plays a man who dresses in drag to get an acting job) when he was told that he was as beautiful as the studio could make him, he realized that he had been ignoring many good people because they weren't "pretty" enough. He cries.

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    1. THIS. I've had this conversation with all five of my trans female friends. They all think it's a trans issue and are amazed when it's just a normal woman thing. Because trans women still get to be raised with male privilege.

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  82. As my mom always said, "People would worry less about what others thought of them, if they knew how seldom they did." When I was in my teens, I thought there was a huge spotlight trained on me all the time and that everyone I knew was scrutinizing every detail of my skin, weight, clothes, etc. As I got older, I (thankfully) became less self-absorbed as I became more involved with others. I remember turning 30 and looking in the mirror and realizing THIS is how I looked--I wasn't going to get "prettier when you're an adult." And I'm OK looking--just average. Now I'm in my 50s, and I had a wake up call about a year ago, when my husband said he felt that I had stopped trying to "look attractive for him"--but what he really meant was that I was so unhealthy! I took his words to heart and I've lost weight, but more important than that I have gotten more active, much stronger physically and mentally, less narrowly focused on work (and only work), made time again for others, and taken some time to focus on healing from loss of some people I had been close to who had died. I didn't realize how insular and unimaginative I had become over time. I smile more now, and that makes me "pretty" (even though I'm really just average, believe me). I am not focused on "pretty" but more focused on healthy and living NOW instead of in some distant time that will never happen. Wow, this was hard to write. Anyway, maybe I'm just saying that "pretty" IS a state of mind? That what makes people "attractive" is the fact that they live in the present and think of others?

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  83. I make a delineation between "pretty" and "beautiful". I will never be pretty, but I can certainly be beautiful. For me, and how I see my friends and associates use the terms, pretty is about the superficial sparklies. Beautiful, on the other hand, is about the ineffable qualities that make one's heart go all aflutter. Pretty wouldn't happen in sweats with frizzy hair, fuzzy teeth, pimples, and a ratty t-shirt. Beautiful most certainly can. I'd much rather be beautiful and I betcha dollars to donuts that's what John is seeing in you.

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  84. I've been saying this for a long time. Let's actually y'know embrace and accept each other for who we are then trying to just pretend everyone is what we want everyone to be.

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  85. I met you and John once in a Jo-Ann Fabrics. We talked for a few minutes. I saw the way John looks at you, I'm pretty sure he always thinks you're beautiful

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  86. When I was pregnant, I waited until about 12 weeks to announce to my classroom's parents that I'd be leaving before the end of the year. I was already showing (triplets). One mom said she was so surprised, and I joked, "what you didn't notice this belly??" She calmly said, "oh, I never pay attention to other people's bodies." That has always stuck with me and I strive to be like her!

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    1. Yes! My mom trained me not to notice because it's rude (according to the old manners), so I honestly can't tell if someone puts on weight.

      Several years ago, I told discussed this with a couple of older friends. One confirmed it's rude, but another commented that women need encouragement if they lose weight. I disagree, and frankly I can't restructure the way I view others, as it would distract too much from what I want to focus on...

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  87. I seriously love the article's subject matter and your thoughts. I've often thought very similar things. But people get really uncomfortable when you honestly say things about yourself and you say anything about being unattractive. People are conditioned to see it as a cry for help that they have to refute to make you "feel better" or they think you just want attention or are fishing for compliments. I've quit verbalizing these types of thoughts for that reason. But honestly, if I don't feel pretty or whatever, so what? It is crazy how people think the adjective "ugly" is the worst thing you can be. I won't lie and say I don't like to feel pretty or be told that occasionally, but I do think our society, our insecure friends, our young ones, we all need to be reassured that "pretty" isn't even close to being the most important thing about us. Thanks for sharing.

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  88. OK, coming late to this party but I SO know what you mean about the badly timed husband compliments. Please, stop telling me I'm beautiful or hot or whatever when I'm just me. Great, you appreciate my genetics. Thanks? Try complimenting me when I've put some effort into it. That I'll take the compliment for because it's something I've done. I've mentioned this to friends before and they all think I'm crazy. They love being complimented any and all the time. I hate it. It makes me totally uncomfortable - unless it's for something I've actually accomplished.

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  89. I don't know if you're a Miss Manners fan, but if you're not, I recommend you checking out one of her compilations from the public library (I expect you can download an e-book copy these days). It's worth it.

    If you are, you know that "pretty" is the price we pay for giving up "respectable" and "decent." It was an objective, if somewhat arbitrary, general consensus on acceptable public dress. It covered things like not wearing colors for a year after the death of a (close) loved one so that everyone could treat you appropriately. There were also fairly strict rules about commenting on personal appearance (a big no-no) unless it was helpful and immediately correctible (you have spinach caught in your teeth) or the basic rules had been violated. If played within the bounds, you went scott-free.

    The downside of course is that it's a trade on personal expression and sometimes comfort. And no-one is giving you kudos and plaudits for your wonderfully creative sartorial self-expression. There's no free lunch in this life. We traded a general (if limited) pattern anyone could reasonably meet (especially with the industrial revolution and inexpensive clothing), for a free-for-all, wear what you like.

    But people judge. We like it when they judge us thumbs up for being cute and creative and attractive. We don't like it as much when they judge us thumbs down - condemn us - for being unattractive, inappropriate, badly-coordinated, etc. Being born with attractive features as a man or a woman is really lucky, and it stinks to be born without them. Adding a whole new layer of choices to something you can't control just compounds the problem. As women, we're living in the worst of both worlds: Men still have the old "uniform" rules they can fall back on, so private "ugh. So ugly." feelings aren't compounded by dress choice (if they want). Women have what nature bequeathed us AND our creative choices.

    But we made this bed for ourselves. Well, I didn't. But I'm was an old-fogey when I was 15.

    I really love that you're a non-stop advocate for charity and kindness. But you're fighting all of human nature AND a decision to trade fashion creativity for fashion conformity.

    naturam expellas furca tamen usque recurret

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  90. I enjoy a good "girly dressup" type day as much as anyone else, but most of the time all I'm aiming for is "can't tell how greasy my hair is" and "can still see the colour of my shirt through the cat hair". And we can't control what genetics made us look like, so why worry about that? Maybe its because social interaction is a strain, but I don't generally care what other people think of my looks; I'm the person who doesn't always use a hand mirror when cutting my own hair, because if I can't see the back anyway then I don't care what it looks like. I'm going to dress for myself, and sometimes that is "pretty", but just as often it is "fierce" or "wacky", and none are more or less valid if they make me feel good about myself.

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  91. I felt the need to add this today:

    I read this the day you posted it, which was just a few days before I began substitute teaching. While I'm not one to worry that much about people's opinions, I do know that kids of all ages can be awful. And not only awful, but not careful to keep it quiet. If they don't like you, every flaw you have is going to be noticed. My first week I worked with nothing but Jr. High kids. They can be brutal---especially to subs.

    But I'm stronger than my appearance. Sure, I'm fat. Sure, I have a gap in my teeth (which I've always loved), and of course by their estimation, I'm old, 44. When I got up in front of them, I reminded myself I didn't owe them my looks. As an adult in a position of power, I owed them my attention, my kindness, and my understanding.

    Do you know that made the complete difference in my approach and thus, my comfort level? I realized I wasn't scared of these kids and the mean things they could say, because I owed them nothing more than my presence, and I was prepared to tell them as much. But so far I haven't had to, because my strengths shone just that much brighter and I've heard time and time again not about my flaws, but that I'm their favorite sub of all time.

    Great praise from this lot, indeed, and I don't know that it would have been as easy if I hadn't read this first.

    Thank you.

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