The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Stop telling me I’m ‘beautiful.’ I’m ugly. It’s fine.

My appearance doesn't define me.

Oly Studio pearl round mirror (Courtesy of <a href="">Candelabra</a> )

If you’re alive and online, you’ve seen the Dove “Real Beauty” ads, where people react to being called beautiful. They smile, break into tears and hug. These campaigns are meant to make me (and all women) feel good in their own skin. But while I love a good compliment, it doesn’t work on me.

I’m ugly, and I know it.

In case you think I’m kidding, let me make something perfectly plain: I’m not an idiot, my vision is fine. I know my thighs are too big, my face too undefined, that almost every part of me could use some work. I know that people see that. I’m not saying I don’t take pride in my appearance, but true physical beauty is a kind of social currency I cannot redeem.

This makes things harder, and not just in love and relationships. Random guys on dating apps have matched with me only to let me know how hideous I am. When I was young, I was the girl guys asked out as a joke, “She’s All That” style. More than once, a man has told me I’m “ugly as f—.”

I’ve had to work harder at friendships with the opposite sex because I don’t come in a pretty package. I struggle to keep people’s attention at parties and I find I’m more easily ignored in professional situations, even when I’ve got something to say. I’ve had people explain to me how I can improve my skin and diets I should try.

I am blessed to be friends with some amazing and strikingly beautiful women. They are generous and kind and when I’ve spoken on this subject before, they’re devastated. But when we go out together, I’m treated by men like an obstacle to get around. Sometimes, guys walks away from me mid-conversation to talk to a better-looking girl. When I write pieces on this subject or even allude to having an opinion online, anonymous Twitter trolls tell me I wouldn’t be so unattractive if I didn’t dye my hair, got a good chemical peel and stopped “eating Oreo’s more than vegetables.”

I’m not the only one to experience this. Attractive waiters earn more tips. Beautiful people get more job interviews, get promoted more quickly and make more money than their unattractive counterparts. They’re even seen as more “morally upright.” Studies have even shown a bias in juries when the defendant is attractive. 

This is why the ad campaigns that tell everyone they’re beautiful are so dangerous. They link beauty with worthiness and kindness, doing nothing for the people thrust into the world knowing that simply isn’t true.

Instead, we should teach people, especially women, that their beauty doesn’t define them. We need to teach them that their worth comes from much more than their appearance. We need to stop shopping the narrative that everyone is beautiful (or could be, if they did x, y, z). We need to lift women up to be competitive workers, voracious learners and empathetic people. No matter what they look like.

This is a hard lesson to learn. It only sunk in for me when a well-meaning, drunk friend told me, “it’s crazy you don’t have guys crawling all over you just because of what you look like.” At first I smiled a pained smile, like I always do when people point out my appearance. But, it hit me: It is crazy. I know I’m worthy. I might not be beautiful, but that’s only one good quality among many. Playing with my appearance became fun again and I began to do things because I liked them, not for other people. I can’t ignore the effects it can have on me professionally and financially, but I can take away its power to hurt me mentally.

I am a good and loyal friend. I have found love not only romantically, but in my life, in the little things, in my career. I know the perfect ratio of butter to milk in mac and cheese. I am not mean to people on the Internet. I have good things about myself that people have to work to see. Getting through my appearance is just an extra wrapping that people need to get through to the present that is me.