Q. I wish to comment on your recent column about guiding the pretty child.

I am 36 and not a parent, but I know what the terrible pain being super-homely is all about, and I believe you should have stressed character and personality more than you did.

All my junior and high school years were total hell because of constant rejection, cruel teasing and vilification at the hands of my peers. I was labeled every bad name in the book, including "ugliest girl in the school." Nothing I did made me look better -- I was simply put together like someone's hound dog.

(Please understand this is a sound-off letter about mental pain.)

Ugly and homely people are treated more cruelly than any other minorities in our society. In a world where beauty, youth and sexual desirability are held up as most important (if they are female), it is impossible to be accepted and loved if you are physically zilch.

I still get nasty stares, laughs and comments from some men, and on top of that, I don't look so young anymore. I am lucky to have a husband (and parents) who accept me as I am.

Beauty is a blessing and a great boon in this world, but for those unfortunates who were cursed instead of blessed, the emotional pain can be devastating.

Please stress the importance of parental love and acceptance of a homely and rejected child. That child needs every ounce of love, caring and positive feedback she can get.

A. Your points are well-taken and poignant.

The values and strengths within a person are what make her beautiful, not the face her genes gave her.

Any parent would be derelict to let a child grow up thinking that looks matter more than anything else.

Families have a hard time instilling this perspective when society places such a special emphasis on beauty, particularly for girls and women. This is nothing new, but today there's more power in that punch since we're surrounded by television, movies and magazines that use only the glamorous to represent everyday life. Our daughters grow up thinking they're supposed to be as sexy as a model in Playboy and as skinny as one in Vogue. If ever there was a mixed message, this is it.

Parents counter these lopsided standards when they set their own more sensible ones and live by them, without apology or demurrer. In practical terms, they do it when they compliment their child (and others) on their strengths and achievements -- in the arts, academics, sports -- from the earliest age, and when they expose their children to a career that will make them rely on their talents, skills and a strong work ethic.

The woman (or the man) who grows up thinking beauty is her only asset may experience lifelong emptiness inside and fear as well, for she'll think there will be nothing left when she loses it.

This is not to minimize your pain. The homely child has a true handicap, and it's the hardest one for parents to handle for a very simple reason: To them, their child is beautiful and always will be, even when they know their child isn't beautiful to others.

This contrast of opinions can make it all the harder on the child, until she becomes afraid to reach out to others. In time it becomes easy for her to blame the outside world for all the pain within.

You're in a certain danger of that now and with much less validity.

The fact is this: For a person who is supposed to be "physically zilch," you are loved, by your own reckoning, by your parents and husband. Many "beautiful" women would wish they were so blessed.

It's time to put away the thoughts of a child, as you once put away the toys of your childhood. As little as you esteem your looks, you love yourself enough to attract others. Beauty is reflected in relationships far more than a looking glass.