I'm ugly, now what?
April 12, 2012 5:39 PM   Subscribe

I'm ugly. How do I proceed?

I'm 20, female, and legitimately unattractive. My nose is huge and bumpy, my eyes and lips are disproportionate (huge eyes, small but fat lips), and much of my skin is covered in stretch marks from growing way too fast when I was 13. I've never had a boyfriend. I take an absolutely terrible picture; one of my eyebrows is noticeably higher than the other, and all in all, I'm just not very pleasant to look at.

I wear fashionable clothes and take very good care of my hair and skin. My teeth are straight and white. None of this really helps me out, though.

I feel really bad about myself. I don't know how to put it without sounding corny, but it hurts to look at myself in the mirror. I want to date and have sex and be 20, and my appearance is really interfering with it. I can't afford therapy.

So, how do I get over my ugliness and live a happy, full life? I can't summon the courage to make an OKCupid profile because I'm so unphotogenic. I am always the ugly friend. This is all just so frustrating and it's making me hate myself and question everything else about myself, like my intelligence and my humor and every other micro-flaw.

I'm trying to turn this into a cohesive question; sorry if it's just a mess. I suppose what I'm really getting at is how ugly people find dates and become comfortable with their appearance.

Thank you.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (130 answers total) 149 users marked this as a favorite
Some of the most beautiful people on the outside are the most horrible, wretched, unforgiving, mean, nasty, poop starting, angry, jealous, backstabbing, mind game playing, non caring and not even remotely interested in anyone other than their selves kind of people - why would you even consider yourself to not be attractive? When beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Beauty is what you make yourself to be, beautiful inside, mentally, in the heart, giving, kind, friendly, helps other people, interested in others lives and worries and pains and traumas, giving in the community, a hero to someone you don't even know like being a big brother or sister, being a friend to someone who has less than you, being a person that you know you can be proud of.

So what is on the outside, really is superficial, if what you have on the inside nixes out all the the outer beauty.

Be someone that you admire, and there you will find inner peace and the beauty you will see in your heart which matters more than any picture.
posted by shekittymeows at 5:47 PM on April 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

Okay, I don't know what you look like, but here's something to chew on:

When I was in college, I had a good friend. When I first met her, my thought was...oh, she is so unfortunate looking. Objectively, she was....ugly.

Once you got to know her, and I am dead dog serious-you forgot that. As in, truly forgot it.

She had boyfriends, in fact she got married, to a not bad looking guy. As far as I know they are still together and that was decades ago.

You say you are well groomed and I believe you. If you take care of yourself, and it sounds like you do, and you are a genuinely nice person, who takes interest in those around you, and who does interesting things...if you are that person? Your objective appearance will not matter nearly as much as the prevailing Culture will try to tell you. True, you might not be hit on by shallow people, but that's not a bug, that's a feature.

I advise you skip looking at popular magazines and at ads and at much of commercial media for awhile. Because that crap makes us all feel ugly.

And, we ain't.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:48 PM on April 12, 2012 [151 favorites]

I want to date and have sex and be 20, and my appearance is really interfering with it.

Not true! Your attitude towards your appearance is interfering with it. You need some self-confidence, girl!

Guess what? Most people aren't "hot", or "legitimately attractive" - but lots of people are illegitimately attractive to other people. There are tonnes of ugly people all over the world dating, and banging, and whatever right now. Heck I don't know why my partner finds me attractive some times, I just have to shrug and put it down to my blinding charisma and towering intellect...

But seriously, the things you value - or don't value - in yourself are not necessarily the things that others will value, or not. I internet-diagnose this as a case of low-esteem, not low-appearance. Find those things that make you feel powerful - maybe you're a great chess-player, or hornblower - and do more of em. Revel in that feeling of competency, skill, power, and general excellence, try to extend that feeling further and further outside the periods when you're doing it.

I leave you with that famous philosophical treatise, "I'm Ugly".

I'm ugly, I'm ugly as sin,
But beautiful's out, ugly's in.
If you're ugly like me, you're in good company.
There are millions of us who are ugly.

posted by smoke at 5:51 PM on April 12, 2012 [18 favorites]

"A man does not insist on physical beauty in a woman who builds up his morale. After a while he realizes that she is beautiful -- he just hadn't noticed it at first." --Robert Heinlein

Despite all the brainwashing that we males are subjected to, the above holds true.
posted by bricoleur at 5:57 PM on April 12, 2012 [40 favorites]

Surely there is one part of you that you think is beautiful. Do you have perfect hair? Gorgeous hands? Lovely irises? Flawless skin? Hot curves?

Mentally you should focus on showing off the part of you that you think is beautiful. Then let your personality handle the rest.

Also, make lots of friends. Once they get to know you they will see your internal beauty and not worry about the superficial stuff.
posted by keeo at 5:58 PM on April 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm not even going to argue with you about being "ugly" even if I disagree with that whole idea... I will just take what you say as given.

I have known many women over the years who have been "ugly" in the sense that you're talking about it. When I say that I feel like I am perpetuating something I don't agree with, but it's true that I know some people that most of society would consider to be "ugly," not even average but actually ugly. Here is my honest description of what a few of them did.

-One of them developed an underwear-model body. Like a strikingly "wow" kind of body, super athletic, tan, perfect makeup, perfect hair, perfect clothes. She also goes for guys who are very average Joe themselves but very impressed by that kind of body. She is always in a relationship. Always.

-One of them didn't do anything to change her looks, and has an average body, but is super outgoing, upbeat, fun to be around, and very successful careerwise. She does dress really really well. But she is not an insecure person at all. It's hard to describe her personality, she just has great social skills and is very fun without coming off as overbearing or sleazy or a party girl. She dates super attractive, super successful guys.

-One of them also didn't do anything to change her looks, isn't particularly outgoing and doesn't dress particularly well. She also dated all the time though and is now engaged. I think with her it is mainly that she went for rather nerdy guys who she was very compatible with on a personality level. All of the guys she dated were very into her. The guy she is engaged to is incredibly nerdy and his social skills are not great, but he's rather attractive and very nice.

-One of them just dates men and women who society would regard as very unattractive. But she likes them a lot and they like her too.
posted by cairdeas at 6:01 PM on April 12, 2012 [75 favorites]

I suppose what I'm really getting at is how ugly people find dates and become comfortable with their appearance.

Smile. Make eye contact. Say hello to people first and call them by name. You may not believe it, but it's absolutely true that an "ugly" woman who smiles is much much more attractive than a "beautiful" woman who doesn't. Once you realize this is the case, becoming comfortable with your appearance will follow shortly.
posted by Right On Red at 6:08 PM on April 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

I'm in your same position but considerably older. Here's what I wish to god someone had told me when I was 20. You don't have to agree but I wish I'd known this.

1. If there's anything plastic surgery will do, get it done NOW. Not right this minute, but say, after graduating if you're in college. Do it while you're on your parents insurance, while you can save up the money, while you don't have to worry about work and career quite as much so you can afford a few weeks/months not working and recovering, while you're at the age to heal faster and worry less, while you have friends/family around to help you out, while you still have time to reap the benefits. I don't mean crazy tacky reality TV type surgery. But a bumpy nose, etc. can be fixed.

2. You talk about your face, but not your body, so I assume that's OK. But if you have any dissatisfaction with your body, that's easier changed at your age. So if losing weight or toning up will make you look better, do it. It only gets harder later, and a good body will make up for a less than good face, to some degree. A good foundation here will be easier to maintain later, as well. Don't, to use a phrase I hate, "let yourself go."

3. If you don't do 1 and 2 (or even if you do) make sure to develop the rest of yourself, the non-looks part. You sound kind and intelligent already, but I mean seriously work the hell out of being the intellectual, fashionable, nerdy, academic, whatever kind of person you are that's not about the physical features you were born with. I was under some delusion that I'd someday turn pretty just because I deserved it, so despite being smart and funny, I never really worked on that part. You have to work harder than other girls who are prettier. Is that fair? No, it's not fair at all, it's horrible. But it's true. If you're ugly, or disabled, or born into poverty, or anything else that puts you at a disadvantage in our society, you have to work even harder at everything else.

20 probably feels so old to you, it did to me. But it's so, so young. You have so much time now. Don't think about what your friends or other 20 year olds have done that you haven't, just think about what you can do from here.

And don't hate yourself! You can hate how you look, and work to change that OR to not care about it, while completely loving who you are.
posted by ocksay_uppetpay at 6:14 PM on April 12, 2012 [24 favorites]

You say you are well groomed and I believe you. If you take care of yourself, and it sounds like you do, and you are a genuinely nice person, who takes interest in those around you, and who does interesting things...if you are that person? Your objective appearance will not matter nearly as much as the prevailing Culture will try to tell you. True, you might not be hit on by shallow people, but that's not a bug, that's a feature.

I cannot emphasize this enough. Presentation matters a lot for judging your attractiveness. Especially confidence.

But more importantly, be bold and ask people out and/or hit on them. You're 20, so starting next year (if you're in the U.S.) you can start going to clubs/bars, where it is easier (IMHO) to hit on people than at house parties.

If you are in college, I think that you might want to stop by the campus counseling center to talk to someone about your self-image. You are fortunate in that you have a university infrastructure and a flexible schedule. Start working on this now rather than a few years from now when you have an 8-6 job and have to worry about health insurance payments.
posted by k8t at 6:15 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

The idea that it is necessary to show your face in your profile picture on OkCupid is actually a myth: people who have interesting photographs get just as many messages as people who have face shots. Check out the photos in that example (scroll to Myth 4, which is the one I'm talking about) -- a far away shot of someone in the desert, someone's ear, a dude scuba diving... so your OkCupid shot doesn't have to be a picture of your face, if you're not comfortable with that. It will still get you messages, which lead to dates.

But there's a bigger issue here. I'm sorry that you don't think you're pretty. That's a really crummy spot to be in. One thing that helps me is to think about the truth: when I'm 60 or 70 I am just not going to be attractive anymore. By the time I hit 80 or 90 I'm just going to look like a bag of skin and bones. That's how it works. Beauty fades.

I've spent a lot of time beating myself up for my appearance (I seriously think this is just something that women do, which is really unfortunate) and I'll tell you: I realize that I was a lot prettier when I was 18 and 24 than I am now at 29. I wish I had appreciated the way I looked then because as I age it's starting to show. The warped part of it is that I still beat myself up about the way I look, even though I know I'm going to look worse in 5 years than I do now. It's vicious.

Your appearance is just not worth your energy. Sure, make sure that your clothes are clean and that you shower regularly and that you don't have spinach in your teeth, but beyond that? Your body and your face are not what make you you. Your brain is what makes you a special person who people will want to date and be friends with and have sex with.

Also? You don't need more than one mirror in your house. That mirror should be used to make sure you don't have anything in your teeth or sleep left in your eyes or for plucking your eyebrows if you so desire. Don't spend time looking in the mirror beyond a quick check to make sure you don't look unkempt/dirty before you leave the house.

Speaking of eyebrows you can get yours done professionally, which might help for your particular problem. There are a lot of really skilled professionals who can help you make your eyebrows look more even. But that is seriously not at all necessary. If it's going to make you feel bad, don't do it.

On a final note: confidence really is highly correlated with attractiveness. Work on your posture. Be confident in yourself. That will help you go a long way in two directions: one, it improves your appearance, but two, and much more importantly, faking confidence until you make yourself actually confident will result in you being more confident, which is a huge win. Cultivate your special talents and become an awesome person on the inside, because that builds your confidence in yourself, which really shows on the outside.
posted by k8lin at 6:15 PM on April 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

Ditto what smoke says about your attitude towards your appearance being the problem --- maybe you're no beauty queen, but guess what? Most of us aren't! (I myself have had a lifelong acne problem; my skin isn't as bad as Edward James Olmos', but it's close enough..... it makes him look rugged, but on a female?!? Yuck.)

Did you read about that woman in Britain last week or so, who was insisting that all women everywhere hate her, and are jealous of her "extreme beauty"? Yeah, right. I'm willing to bet the actual problem, the REAL reason why she has no female friends, is that ridiculous attitude of hers: 'none of you are good enough to be MY friends!' Boy, talk about a shallow bimbo....
posted by easily confused at 6:16 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

George Eliot (a woman for those who don't know) was famously unattractive. After having dinner with her, Henry James wrote in a letter to his father:
She had a low forehead, a dull grey eye, a vast pendulous nose, a huge mouth full of uneven teeth and a chin and jawbone 'qui n'en finissent pas'... Now in this vast ugliness resides a most powerful beauty which, in a very few minutes, steals forth and charms the mind, so that you end, as I ended, in falling in love with her. Yes, behold me in love with this great horse-faced bluestocking.
posted by alms at 6:18 PM on April 12, 2012 [110 favorites]

Good god, please don't take anyone's advice here; no one here knows what the hell you look like, and I bet you most of these people aren't the 20 year old guys you'd like to screw.

No bullshit: want to know why you're ugly and what to do to fix it?

You need to start asking strangers. Not your parents; not that one close guy friend who you feel you can trust; people who you don't fucking know and will never see again.

Seriously. We (you, me, everyone) all judge people constantly, based on appearance alone. So, next time you're at the mall, walking down the street, whatever -- and you see a good looking guy (not someone who you think might be interested in you; someone way, way out of your league), ask them flat our why they think you're unattractive.

"Excuse me, I'm having some self-confidence problems with my appearance, and I'm wondering if you can help me..."

Just like that. Tell them to be harsh, but to be honest -- tell them to judge the shit out of you. It will probably suck, but if it doesn't hurt, you're getting nowhere.
posted by lobbyist at 6:19 PM on April 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

(I'm going to take what you say about your appearance at face value here, just for the sake of giving you an answer that might feel comfortable to you right now.)

See a stylist who can teach you how to accentuate the features that you think are attractive and de-emphasize the features that you think are flaws. Asymmetric eyebrows are one of the easiest facial assymmetries to correct. Unusually large eyes can be turned into an attention-getting plus with the right styling (makeup, if you like to wear makeup; eyebrow-shaping and hairstyle choice if you prefer not to wear makeup).

If you feel like you're looking your best, you're going to be more confident. Some of the world's most glamorous women have not been conventionally beautiful, or even with symmetrical features. Wallis, Duchess of Windsor, was a woman for whom her husband gave up the throne of England: she looked basically like the cartoon character Olive Oyl in 3-D, but her style and charm made her as magnetic as any of the age's great beauties.

In the present day, there are actors like Rossy de Palma, who looks like a Picasso stepped out of its frame with her asymmetric face, protruding eyes, and receding chin. You might be familiar with de Palma from the movies of Pedro Almodovar, to whom she is a muse; again, her charisma and screen presence, despite the unusual planes of her face, make her a compelling figure to watch. Off-screen, she has led the usual glamorous movie-star life and has the reputation of being a lovely and funny person who has a devoted circle of friends.

There's a concept in French called "la belle-laide" (literally, "the beautiful-ugly woman") which refers to a woman who, though her features don't correspond to the standards currently seen as conventional beauty, is charming and compelling and sexy. Coco Chanel was often described as a "belle-laide".

Who stands out more in a crowd, Katherine Heigl or Anjelica Huston? Who's more memorable? Symmetry and chocolate-box beauty are only one way of being attractive.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:19 PM on April 12, 2012 [37 favorites]

Parenthetically, your question is nakedly honest, and that in itself is beautiful.
posted by Short Attention Sp at 6:23 PM on April 12, 2012 [37 favorites]

I'm a bit ambivalent about the following suggestion because a) it may not be true for you, and b) it relies on societal beauty standards, which are bullshit. But.

When I was 20 I was really unfortunate-looking. My body was an ungainly lump, my skin was ugly, and my face was a combination of features pretty far outside the societal ideal. I was maybe a 3-4, in those awful 1-10 teenage boy rating systems.

That turned out just to be youth- you're still growing and changing, at 20. Puberty's mostly over, but your facial features haven't quite arranged themselves into their ultimate configuration. I'm 24 now, and every year I have got closer to the societal beauty standard- now I'm maybe a 6-7. All my facial features just needed a couple of years to mature fully, and now my nose doesn't look so large and out of place, and my eyes seem to be set better, and my jawline is firmer. It's hard to describe but my face has actually changed substantially, for the better. And the last slipping out of puberty helped regularise my body weight and my skin problems too.

So, think of yourself as a work in progress? Maybe your features are just waiting to rearrange themselves.
posted by pickingupsticks at 6:24 PM on April 12, 2012 [6 favorites]

My best friend's face is half paralyzed and she hates taking photographs because she says that her mouth is crooked, one eye is shaped slightly differently and her nose is crooked too.

But, I tell her that she is beautiful because that's true. I don't see any of these things. I don't see her as the girl with the crooked nose. I see her as a beautiful person with a unique face, but my face is unique too. All of us are unique both externally and internally (intrinsic factors).

Someone can be absolutely gorgeous, handsome, hot, whatever. But, if they have a personality that is unattractive then chances are that you won't view them as attractive.

You take good care of yourself. You seem like a kind person with a lot to offer in relationships. Your looks may not be jaw dropping, but you don't want jaw dropping looks. People will judge you for this and make you feel uncomfortable a lot of times.

I don't believe in the notion of "ugly" people as others have stated. But, based on your wording, "ugly" people find dates by faking confidence and continuously putting themselves out there because beauty is in the eye of the beholder and someone is bound to like them if they keep trying. Or, gradually developing friendships into relationships.
posted by livinglearning at 6:24 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Totally seconding cairdeas. I have seen all of the scenarios she described.
posted by soundguy99 at 6:26 PM on April 12, 2012

Also, I think it was Eddie Van Halen who said "I don't get the ones I want, I get the ones that want me."

What he was saying was that even though he was a rich rock star who had lots of women throwing themselves at him that wouldn't make an ounce of difference to a woman who was just not interested. He could not just go out and get any woman he was into. He had to pick from among the ones that came to him.

We all have to do that. That's why I disagree that you should go out and ask a bunch of random 20 year old guys to critique you. They would find something to critique about you if you were a supermodel or, I don't know, Princess Jasmine. Yes, there are definitely ways you can change your appearance if you want to. But nobody is going to attract everyone. Nobody can make everyone happy. However there are plenty of people out there who would be into you as you are, no matter what you look like I can guarantee that for a fact. So make sure to consider the ones who want you.
posted by cairdeas at 6:27 PM on April 12, 2012 [32 favorites]

So, next time you're at the mall, walking down the street, whatever -- and you see a good looking guy (not someone who you think might be interested in you; someone way, way out of your league), ask them flat our why they think you're unattractive.

Uh, I highly question the efficacy of this. If a stranger walked up to me and demanded I tell her why she was ugly, I would probably run away.
posted by threeants at 6:30 PM on April 12, 2012 [69 favorites]

This is kind of a Catch-22, but here's the one thing you need to burn into the inside of your brain and remember every moment of every day. Ready?

Healthy self-confidence makes anyone attractive.

Whatever your physical deficits are, as long as you have a positive, outgoing, cheerful attitude, I guarantee you will find someone who finds you attractive. It may take a while, and you have to keep on weathering the storm, so to speak. (The trick is getting that self-confidence by the bootstrap method, hence the Catch-22.)
posted by zardoz at 6:31 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm going to say that if you suffer from self esteem issues or are uncomfortable, I would NOT ask some random hot guy on the street why you're ugly as lobbyist suggests. That shit will eat a hole in your head if you get depressed easily.
posted by Issithe at 6:34 PM on April 12, 2012 [38 favorites]

Plenty of ugly, fat, weird looking people manage to get significant others every day.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:35 PM on April 12, 2012 [20 favorites]

I think you will become more comfortable with your appearance as you get older. This may not be helpful now, but I found it to be true. At 20 years old I thought my nose was big and bulbous. Now, at age 39, I like it and it fits my face. I started to accept my nose at age 25 - 28. The longer you live with your face, the more you will come to love it, or at the least accept it. I think I grew into my face. I think I am more attractive at 39 thn I was at 20.

These are random thoughts, and may not be helpful, but I will throw them out there:

1. Have you seen the movie, Walking and Talking? Kevin Corrigan has a part and he is cast as the ugly guy. In one scene in the movie he learns that his date considers him ugly. He (the character and Kevin Corrigan the person) is not conventionally attractive but I find him very appealing. In this particular role his character is confident, honest, kind, and friendly. There is something about him. I find him very sexy. He is a good actor and comes across as very confident. If you can practice some confidence, and work on accepting and appreciating your face, I think you will be successful at scoring some dates.

2. Just because you are attractive does not mean people will want to date you. I would consider myself above average in the looks department. At twenty I really didn't have a lot of guys approaching me. I was never asked out in high school. I was "pretty" but never had any guys my age after me. The guys that were after me were older or losers but that is another story. I had a couple boyfriends post high-school. I think I lucked into boyfriends. I wasn't approachable. I never thought I was attractive enough and my self-esteem sucked. My behavior and body language repelled instead of lured. If I were more friendly, open, and confident I would have had more dates. Practice liking yourself and being open, kind, and compassionate toward others. . You must.

3. They say the French are so beautiful because they walk around thinking and behaving as if they are the most beautiful creatures. (Yes I am stereotyping and romanticizing). Behave as if. What do you have to lose?

My friends who date French women assure me the pretty young things are actually racked with insecurities. But you’d never know it looking at them. French women ooze sex appeal. It’s in the way they walk, the way they talk, and the way they hold their wine glasses. They think, “I’m beautiful,” and it radiates outwards, causing others to look at and admire them which, in turn, makes them feel beautiful—a brilliant cycle if there ever was one.

4. Work on your confidence by reaching goals and doing what you love. Look outward. You will have a better outlook when you concentrate on others, have as much fun as possible.

5. You might find this book helpful: The Beauty of Different. I have not read it but I have heard much about it.

6. Know that there are many people out there who would like to date you. Know that there are many people who do not. That is true with any person. If you are a conventional beauty, or a Plain Jane, there will be people who will and will not find you attractive. There is so much contentment in acceptance. What other people feel or think is none of your business and out of your control.
posted by Fairchild at 6:39 PM on April 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

From a MeFite who would prefer to remain anonymous:
My wife is ugly. She knows it and I know it, but we've never talked about it. It's that hard. Until I met her, fell in love with her, and married her, I never really understood what a burden ugliness is, especially for a woman.

I've never told her that she's beautiful, something that I just said automatically and spontaneously to so many girlfriends. In a candid sad moment once she told me that no one told her she was beautiful on our wedding day. When we watch movies and someone tells a woman how beautiful she is I cringe inside, because it is a reminder of how huge and every present this myth of beauty is. It's what every woman is told she is supposed to be pretty much from the day she's born, and my wife just isn't that. She fails it utterly, and there are just constant reminders of it.

So that's all very depressing, but I'm telling you this because I did fall in love with her and I did marry her, and we're very happy together, and we have two beautiful children (there's that word again, sorry). And in case it matters, I'm not ugly myself. I've been told that I'm attractive, and I went to a good college and have been reasonably successful in life. So I don't think she had to trade down to find someone to marry her. I didn't either, that's the thing.

I'm writing this because all these other people are responding kind of telling you not to worry about it, but I'm not sure they really understand how hard it is for a woman to be ugly, with uneven droopy eyes and uneven lips and bad skin and the rest. It's hard and I feel for you. But I also wanted to write to assure that there's still hope, and there's still love out there for you. There was and is for my wife, so I know there can be for you too.
posted by jessamyn at 6:39 PM on April 12, 2012 [334 favorites]

A couple of different things:

1) Regarding you being ugly. I am perfectly willing to accept that you may be ugly; however the things you mention are not usually the things that people find impossible to overlook. Bumpy noses, unsymmetric eyebrows, small lips -- these are all things that the right person could find irresistible. Honestly, you say that you take good care of yourself with respect to your hair and skin; are you overweight? If not, I'll bet you're way more attractive than you're giving yourself credit for. For the record, I have stretch marks in all sorts of places -- I've never had a person I slept with mention them negatively. My current boyfriend loves stroking them and tells me my skin is beautiful, even when to my eye it's objectively not beautiful, even ugly.

2) Ok, suppose you really are ugly, say less than a 3 on this horrible ten point scale people talk about. Honestly, really, truly, it matters surprisingly little. At 20 it probably matters more than it will ever again. When I was 17, I was more than 70 lbs overweight(!), didn't have great skin -- pimples and hyperpigmentation. Yet I still had a wonderful, brilliant boyfriend who I still think about fondly -- we went out for 2 years before I broke up with him. Honestly this wasn't some sort of crazy outlier -- I see people fall for all sorts of people all the time. It's really hard to predict who will become infatuated with you and who you will become infatuated by. I'll grant you that if you were model-pretty with blonde hair and a thin but busty figure you'd get a lot more male attention. But honestly you don't need constant male attention -- you just need a few people every now and then who think you're amazing in every way -- and you can find that no matter how you look.
posted by peacheater at 6:41 PM on April 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

Be a legitimately good person, to the planet, to all the animals, and to the people you meet. Then it doesn't matter what you look like.
posted by tumid dahlia at 6:44 PM on April 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

One other thing to remember is that everyone knows women can be attracted to ugly men because Hollywood and the music industry uphold that all the time. I think most heterosexual women can think of ugly male celebrities they find really hot (Alan Rickman anyone?) But I think we forget that the reverse is true too because Hollywood doesn't allow that to be seen. It's very rare that allow "ugly" women so be seen in a sexy and desirable way. So we forget that it's actually quite common in real life. Sometimes I think it is actually more common for men to be attracted to an "ugly" woman, even though I think men are much less likely to admit it and more likely to be outwardly critical of female looks because of Hollywood.
posted by cairdeas at 6:50 PM on April 12, 2012 [26 favorites]

So, how do I get over my ugliness and live a happy, full life?

You can not wait for X to happen to have a happy life. You have to decide you're going to lead a happy life and go ahead and do it.

I know, I know, this advice like bullshit, you just want to be able to look in the mirror and be happy with what you see or at least have boyfriend look over your shoulder. The point is not to wait around for something to happen and make things all better and perfect. Live your life and don't your fears top you.

I know it's absolutely hard. You don't want to hear shit about how you're beautiful inside or look better with age or whatever feel good crap are spewing. You just want the goddamn problem fixed and are probably willing to do just about anything to get it done.

I think you need to figure out what you have that works for you. Great personality? Work it. Sharp wit? Work it. You need to be realistic. Hanging out with models isn't going to do you any good.

Practical tip: find social groups that are less judgmental. A geek subgroup, be it comics, gaming or music might be the social spot you need.

As to therapy, if you like you can contact the mods via the contact form at the bottom of this page and tell them your general location. More than likely Mefites can help you find a therapist who works on a sliding scale.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:53 PM on April 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

I agree with everyone who says you are probably much cuter than you think you are -- we are always hardest on ourselves. And of course, it IS better to be a nice, good person than to be a beautiful one.

That being said: if you really want a nose job or whatever, I don't think there is anything wrong with getting one. I think a lot of people think, "I just need to come to terms with my nose that I hate and be noble about it," when, seriously if you hate your nose and you can afford it -- do something about it! A dear friend of mine had the bump removed from her nose and it was amazing. Her doctor ONLY removed the bump, so she still had her long, broad nose. She looked like herself, still, but just a little bit better ( although I liked her original nose too). PLEASE understand, I am ABSOLUTELY not saying you NEED plastic surgery. I am just saying that if you legitimately and sincerely want a different nose on your face, it's not a sin to get one.

-One of them developed an underwear-model body.

Don't ever underestimate the power of having a great haircut and a really, really good body. You may not be able to control your face, but your body is a different story in many cases. It's hard work, but it may help your confidence (not to mention that working out will help you feel better all over, mentally and physically). Hot bod + good hair is a powerful, powerful combination.

Obviously, these are highly practical and some might say shallow suggestions. But you are NOT doomed to look the way you look right now forever if you don't want to. You really are not. (But, again, I bet you are much cuter than you think you are.)

It may also make you feel better to know that I look way better at 35 than I did at 20. AND one of my eyebrows is higher than the other. I love it. I think it makes me -- and probably you, too -- look sassy. (And NO ONE IN MY LIFE has ever noticed this but me.)
posted by Countess Sandwich at 6:55 PM on April 12, 2012 [12 favorites]

Self-confidence, charm, and dressing well (not what's fashionable, dressing to your own body shape and personality). Being different in some way - and having confidence in that - will often attract a whole host of people who admire that quality and will find that deeply sexy. Have some kind of skill or ability that gives you something to talk about and a reason for others to talk to you, get to know you, and see you beyond your looks. Be kind and empathetic.

All of that will put you light-years ahead of most people.

You're 20, you don't need an OKCupid profile - get some hobbies, make some friends, grow your confidence, connect with people that way.

Plus - most women have stretch marks. You need some girlfriends who you can talk to about this kind of stuff openly and who can show you that the photoshopped life doesn't actually exist.

I also look better at 30 than I ever have at any other time in my entire life.
posted by mleigh at 7:01 PM on April 12, 2012 [5 favorites]

I feel your pain. I've struggled with this problem my whole life (I'm 28 now). I'd like to say it gets better but it doesn't really.

When you're an ugly woman you feel it every time you open a magazine or turn on the tv, every time a guy hits on a friend of yours and ignores you, every time asinine people rip into a woman's looks and you wonder what they secretly think of you, every time you forget yourself for a moment and feel attraction to someone who is "out of your league" (I hate that term). What's worse is the more you push yourself out there the more you're bombarded with those daily reminders. The only way I've ever been able to cope is to do my best to ignore this aspect of society and work on other parts of myself, but it doesn't completely work. You always feel it to a degree. It's like this fog that hangs over everything, always there.

If I were you, if I were 20 again, I'd save up money and get plastic surgery, honest to god. I know that's taboo advice but I have seen PS give objectively unattractive people huge boosts in confidence. You just have to do your research and find some excellent doctors and make sure you get the right things done.

Once you've done that it will be easier for you to work out and put time into your grooming, because you won't feel like you're polishing a body that you're ashamed of.
posted by timsneezed at 7:03 PM on April 12, 2012 [7 favorites]

You might be interested in reading Dan Ariely's book, The Upside of Irrationality. He is a behavioral economist who has written two fascinating books. In his recent book, he talks about how he dealt with his physical appearance as he was severely burned in an accident as a teenager. He explored how people value beauty and other characteristics and I found it quite insightful. It's generally a positive take on how society functions in this realm.

Personally, I think physical beauty is only one facet of attractiveness. It happens to be the most obvious, but other attributes such as being kind, funny, sincere and generous all combine into making a person attractive.

I remember reading a discussion in a book by a journalist called Malcom Muggeridge). He was discussing how certain famous religious people he met had a powerful presence, despite their physical appearances being unremarkable. He talked about how a photographer told him that after the mid-20's or so, that people's internal character manifests itself in a way that influences how we perceive the person. Sort of a rambling way of saying that the internal person becomes more pronounced as we become older, which I have always found to be a fascinating idea.
posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 7:05 PM on April 12, 2012 [13 favorites]

I think there are two possibilities here. One, that you are actually find looking, totally average, but very self-conscious and full of self-loathing. That's pretty common, especially in young women because there's so much pressure to be unrealistically gorgeous at that age. Two, that you are, in fact, kinda ugly.

If it's the first, you probably will be able to get over it as you grow into your body. I believed all through my teen years that I was enormously fat and had a huge gigantic hideous nose. Looking back, I realize that I was tiny--literally tiny, 5 ft tall, 95 lbs--but had a totally warped sense of self. As for my nose, I swear to god it's my favourite feature now.

However, I am going to take you at your word as others have done. I love the generosity of your honesty and the anonymous MeFite's. In this case, I want to boost what St. Alia of the Bunnies says with a story of my own.

About twelve years ago, I was working for a non-profit, and part of my job was giving workshops at a social justice "school." At the first sessions I taught, I was introduced to one of the other facilitators over lunch. Sally was ugly. Shockingly ugly. I remember actually being taken aback that they would let someone that unattractive teach. (I was such an asshole!) I've told this story before, and I always hesitate to describe Sally because I'm afraid of insulting someone hearing the story. But you have to trust that she's not the kind of person who is just mildly unattractive, she is honestly attention-gettingly ugly. She was also a really sloppy eater, which didn't add to the picture.

Over the course of the week, though, as I got to know her, I became accustomed to how she looked. Over the months, I grew to like her very very much, and what's more, to see how much the students and other facilitators adored her. She's punishingly smart, has a sharp dry sense of humour, great politics and is incredibly kind. It sounds so cliché, but I really find her totally lovely to look at now. She's just Sally. The way her face looks isn't alien to me anymore, it's warm and friendly and comfortable. And what's more, I've also seen people meet her, and recognized the look on their faces and what it means, and then subsequently see them get over it, too.

I don't want to pretend that beauty isn't a huge boon in our culture. I understand what people are saying when they don't want to legitimize the concept of ugly, but, let's be honest--we know it when we see it, even if we don't think it's just or right. As one of the fairly average looking people, I know what it's like to not be one of the beautiful ones. I can only imagine what it would like to truly physically unattractive. But I do want you to encourage to build on the parts of yourself that you like. Keep up the good grooming and snazzy dressing. Develop your intellect, learn some useful and interesting skills. Make a lot of friends. Honestly, nothing makes a person more attractive than seeing other people like them. I think I warmed up to Sally a lot quicker when I saw how people loved her; it made me realize I was a totally superficial jerk and it opened my eyes to her great qualities.
posted by looli at 7:09 PM on April 12, 2012 [5 favorites]

Dance classes might be a fun way to feel more at home in your body - they will help you learn grace and poise, you'll get yourself a sexy walk, and enjoy the feeling of being yourself.

also, big eyes and small full lips sound awesome, a lot of women spend buckets of cash on makeup and injections to get that look!
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 7:09 PM on April 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

Based on your question, you want to be conventionally prettier.

These traits are conventionally pretty - large eyes, plump lips

Noses are quite subjective. They are also quite amenable to surgery. I don't recommend it, actually, but if you choose to have a nose job, avoid too perky a nose. It can look odd on your face.

You may have stretch marks on your body, but probably not your face. In any case, a dermatologist may be able to make some suggestions.

You can probably even up your eyebrows with brow pencil, applied well.

I've known some people who were unattractive. If they're healthy and in good physical condition they can go either way. Martin Clunes is not very attractive in Doc Martin, and rather attractive in other roles. One woman I know is average-looking, but absolutely presents herself as stunning, and people accept it. She doesn't photograph well, because she's typical-looking. Another woman is really pretty, looking quite a lot like Amy Irving, but she presents herself as plain, though in pictures she's quite pretty, even without trying. Bette Midler isn't conventionally pretty, but she's divine, talented, authentic, wonderful and loved.

What can you do? Learn great posture, maybe even take dance lessons. Take a Dale Carnegie course, to learn how to talk to people. Wear great underwear - it makes you feel sexier, prettier, and badly fitting bras can make anybody look worse. Due to your lack of confidence, you may be wearing your hair and makeup in ways that don't suit you. Some women wear their hair short or long, or get a perm, or straightened, or have a bad color because their Mom always said they looked bad one way or the other. Take pictures of yourself with different hair styles, different makeup (including none), and go to an aesthetician at a dept. store makeup counter, and get a makeover. You don't have to buy gobs of makeup; if you like it, buy 1 or 2 things, and take pictures so you can replicate it with affordable products. Go to a different hair stylist, try some new looks.

I'll bet there are several people in this thread you could send pictures to, to get an honest opinion. You're welcome to send me a picture; my email's in my profile. You can probably present yourself as cuter. Most of all, you can develop yourself as a person, and that develops confidence, and confidence is sexy. Being your best self is more about who you are that what you look like. But at 20, it's hard to see past your opinion of your looks.
posted by theora55 at 7:14 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

The stretch marks will matter less as you get older because a) they fade with time and b) eventually basically everyone will have them (either from fluctuating weight or from pregnancy). I have a lot of friends who go to great lengths to hide the stretch marks and my attitude is, why bother? I'm a 30-something mother of two, is there anyone in the universe who thinks I DON'T have stretch marks? And honestly, I don't think anybody has ever noticed them.

I'm another person who was still growing into my face at 20. I look a lot more "finished" and harmonious now than I did then; I look at pictures from then and my face is a lot less balanced and still sort-of teenager-awkward-looking. My chin was weirdly long and pointy (I just looked at a picture! WEIRDLY pointy!) and my nose was out of balance to my face and I still hadn't learned to manage my hair very well so I looked like Alice from Dilbert all the time and my whole face was swallowed up by my eyebrows. I eventually grew into my chin and my nose and my eyebrows too. (You can click on my profile to see my eyebrows. They are majestic.)

I also went to high school in a place where most of the girls were from a particular ethnic group and I was from a different one, so I spent my teenaged years wildly out of step with my peers in terms of physical maturity, body type, etc., and that was really hard, and it gave me a distorted vision of my body for quite a while.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:14 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd recommend reading Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy or Ann Patchett's memoir of their friendship for a model of living life full of gusto despite disfigurement. It's not all sunshine and roses, but it's interesting and brutally honest.
posted by looli at 7:17 PM on April 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

This answers are great. I just want to put out the possibility as others have mentioned too, that you don't actually sound ugly from your description of yourself. "Big eyes, and a small, fat mouth"? actually, that's the definition of what is beautiful in east asian cultures.

I love the answers about inner beauty overcoming outward ugliness, but be aware that you may not actually be objectively ugly,at all. You may be beautiful.
posted by bearette at 7:18 PM on April 12, 2012

Be elegant. It's the best kind of sexy.
posted by 4ster at 7:21 PM on April 12, 2012 [5 favorites]

I'm going to take your word as true, though I suspect you're much cuter than you think. But if not, I've dated girls like you, back in my dating days. Sometimes it would start out with me not being attracted to them at all, but they were any combination of the following: So much fun to be around you didn't want to go home, incredibly interesting to talk to, well-dressed, confident, aggressive, willing to go after what they wanted (sometimes including me), well-read, they were good planners and served as the hub of a social group, they knew where all the cool stuff was in the city so you always wanted to hang out with them, and so on and so forth. Maybe I didn't fall for them right away, but they were cool to hang around or really fun or intelligent and interesting or they had the grace and presence to command the room...they had something about themselves that made them awesome, they knew it, and they projected that confidence.

And honey, if we're at the point where I'm seeing stretchmarks, it's the last thing I care about.

Something else to remember. Think of all the fetishes and kinks and "types" out there. Whatever you are and whatever you're into, someone is into it and someone would be delighted with you in their life.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:25 PM on April 12, 2012 [11 favorites]

Go take a look at my MeFi profile. See that picture? It's landed me more than a few dates on OKCupid. You'd never guess from looking at that picture that I'm an obese woman with horrible, horrible skin.

Why not?

Because I paid professionals to do my make-up and then photograph me in good light from angles that benefited me.

It was expensive, but if you have the money, treat yourself. Check out Groupon and other daily deal type sites for your city -- photographers often run specials for personal portrait shoots for relatively little money.

Just knowing that I am the person in those pictures makes me feel a little bit better about myself. It doesn't change my weight or my skin problems, but it reminds me that I am not just my weight and skin problems.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:25 PM on April 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

It seems likely that you're just being hard on yourself .

Either way, I think it's good advice to focus on the things you are good at and interested in. Being good at shit makes you feel confident, being confident makes it easier to talk to guys, and if you can talk to guys (I'm assuming you are as awkward and nervous as I was at 20) you will find that some of them want to do more with you than just chatting. And that brings a whole new element to your confidence.

Here's some advice from The Divine Miss M.

There's also a wonderful bit in Margaret Cho's "Beautiful" in which she says that she's always wanted to be beautiful and has decided to just claim it for herself. "I'm coming out as beautiful," she says. I love that.
posted by bunderful at 7:28 PM on April 12, 2012 [6 favorites]

They say the French are so beautiful because they walk around thinking and behaving as if they are the most beautiful creatures. (Yes I am stereotyping and romanticizing). Behave as if. What do you have to lose?

I once had a mad crush on a girl who was ugly. Long nose, thin lips, receding chin, fucked-up teeth, a cloud of fine frizzy dark hair the texture of cotton candy.... really not very attractive at all.

I though she was ugly when I met her, but she was charming and flirty and fun, and before I knew it I was completely smitten.

Thing is, I don't think she had a clue how unattractive she was. She flirted with men and women as confidently as any cute girl, as if it were only natural that they would be charmed by her. You just very quickly forgot that she wasn't pretty because she was so feminine and flirtatious.

She regularly had a boyfriend when I knew her, and has since gotten married and had kids. I still have a picture of her that I run across every once in a while, and I can't believe I ever had a crush on her. She's just not a good looking girl at all. But she's done ok for herself, and it's all because she never let her looks affect her confidence in her own sex appeal.

Fake it if you have to, and people will respond, and pretty soon you won't have to fake it any more.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 7:31 PM on April 12, 2012 [5 favorites]

A few a long the way have admitted to me that they wonder how it is that I have had a number of truly lovely men in my life (I'm 37; no one has ever asked me on the street if they could paint me).

You can't see brains and wit and interest across a room. I gave myself permission to cross the room.
posted by rumposinc at 7:32 PM on April 12, 2012 [61 favorites]

i am curious as to whether you think you're ugly because of photos of yourself. it's okay and completely understandable not to be photogenic but it's taken me a long time to realize that just because i'm not photogenic DOES NOT mean i'm ugly! and it also means that my very ethnic nose doesn't actually look as bad as it does in photos and that my smile just simply does not translate well. i think it's hard to accept your beauty when you can find immediate flaws with photos but photos aren't actually a real reflection of you. they can't capture all of the personality you spice your face with.

however, if you simply can never look in the mirror and see any positive aspects, then i will sincerely address your question without trying to justify some external attractiveness that may not be there.

first off, what helped me get out of feeling ugly is not using the word ugly. it's alright to know that you don't fit the construct of socially attractive but you're not ugly. you know who/what's ugly? rapists, abusers, shallow people, a person who lacks empathy or thinks less of others, etc.

also, i would develop a certain signature with your style and you will literally transform. for me, it's my owl necklace and a couple of bracelets with a lot of personal meaning for me. wearing these are my armor against the world and pretty much my "fuck you, i take ownership of me and you can't hurt this property." notice, i wasn't even talking about clothes but just picking a few symbols and always having them on your person can really make a difference in your demeanor.

on the external front, i would suggest trying different haircuts and styles, just to wake up your head that you can still influence as to how you look. also, make-up.

but back to the internal side, which is what you're really talking about. what helped me to finally stop feeling ugly is to realize that if i just converted the intensity of feeling ugly to the intensity of making other people feel beautiful by being accepted and taken an interest in, that i would be happy. i know that might sound cliche or idealistic but the less critical i've become of other people's looks and the more i realize "wow, that girl is really striking because her face is asymmetric", the more i can look at myself in the mirror and actually say, "thank god, i look different."

this is so hard to do and i really just want to applaud you for even just asking this question as this is a really raw and honest thing to admit. i hope you can find some solace in the advice given.
posted by thischarmingirl at 7:32 PM on April 12, 2012 [7 favorites]

At a certain point in friendship, and in budding romantic interest, both beauty and ugliness recede in importance. They really do.
posted by gauche at 7:36 PM on April 12, 2012 [14 favorites]

This sounds simplistic, but my grandmother always said: if you ACT pretty, then you ARE pretty. Seriously. Try it. People remember kindness more than they do your looks over time; all those 20-year-olds you're "competing with" in your head will get less attractive as they age... as we all do, usually. The playing field evens out a bit once we're all past that college stage of life and have injuries, children, self-abuse, etc. written on our faces and bodies.

Also: More people around you feel unattractive than you probably think.

But listen, if you don't believe me that you can be more than what you look like - go ask a blind person if you're ugly. Not everyone sees what you do in the mirror.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 7:41 PM on April 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

As some people above have pointed out, it's entirely possible that you haven't quite yet grown into your looks. A lot of people look their best in their twenties, but some people look much better at 30, 40, 50, or even 60 or 70, when the looks of the conventionally pretty have completely disappeared into ordinary middle age.

I also don't believe in "ugly." When I'm out in public--on a bus, for example--I like to look at other people's faces. I live in a college town, so there are plenty of conventionally good-looking young men and women, but they're just not particularly interesting, so I tend to pass over them quickly and focus on people with faces that are interesting and have character. To me, these people are attractive partly because of their very flaws and facial quirks that set them apart from the rest. From your description, I'm betting you would be one of these people.

You can do something about the stretchmarks, I'll bet. See a dermatologist for recommendations on treatment. And I certainly don't think timsneezed is terrible for suggesting plastic surgery someday if there's some feature of yours that you absolutely hate and strongly feel that surgery would improve and change your life for the better. Nothing wrong with that at all. Just make sure that whatever is done *is* an improvement and doesn't damage the aesthetic integrity of your face.

That you mention that your eyes are too big is interesting. Large eyes are actually one of the things that make a face attractive--it makes a face childlike and evokes the kind of subconscious feelings of tenderness that people have for small children (mammalian infants of all kinds are born with disproportionately large eyes for this reason). So, right there, you have a feature that's definitely a strength.

I have seen a handful of stunningly perfect women in my lifetime who possess a kind of unearthly, pre-Raphaelite beauty that would put the rest of us to shame, but they really are very, very rare. However, there are plenty of beautiful people, and they are, paradoxically, unlikely to be pretty. It's the difference between a majestic, snow-covered peak and a small, neatly-cultivated rose garden. One is merely pretty; the other is sublime. I don't know how I can state this any more clearly.
posted by tully_monster at 7:47 PM on April 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

Attraction and looks aren't quite the same thing.

I met a girl I thought was attractive, but actually it was her confidence and good naturedness winning me over. Probably also her sharp dressing. My friend saw a picture of her later and went, "What the hell were you thinking?????" and then I realised she actually had really bad teeth, all crooked and yellow, and flat nose and weird eyes. I didn't know what to say to that, except to smile foolishly and keep my mouth shut.
posted by xdvesper at 7:48 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Let's say there really is something wrong with you. (Which I really, really don't believe there is. This is coming from someone plain and pudgy, with weird teeth and a loud voice and acne and TERRIBLE fashion sense. And I am still hot stuff, mmkay?)

What happens when you get something "fixed"? You'll still be the same person inside. You'll take a while to grow into the "improved" way you look, but you'll never lose that feeling inside of what it's like to feel ashamed of your looks.

If you don't deal with what you have inside, you'll keep looking for external things to change -- any sort of key that could unlock a happy life. But eventually you'll just have to give up on that. You can tell yourself all you want that you're not popular or lovable or whatever because you're ugly. I am here to tell you that that's BS, and that's an excuse. You'll never find the key to happiness. And really, that's actually a freeing thought. The only way to go is up.

You need to tell yourself the truth: that you are lovable, and interesting, and deserving of happiness, and capable of standing on your own two feet. Forget about looks. Unless you really OWN who you are, no amount of so-called beauty will help you.

I don't care if it takes faking it until you make it ("act pretty to be pretty," like unicorn on the cob says). Say good things about yourself, be good to yourself, and don't take shit from anybody.
posted by Madamina at 7:52 PM on April 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

It's not your job to be a decorative object. You're not required to be "attractive." You don't have to apologize or compensate for your "ugliness" by being extra-smiley, or helpful, or confident. Just be your own damn self.

Live as if appearance were irrelevant. With enough practice, it will become almost true, as it should be. Be interested in and attracted to whoever interests and attracts you, and expect the same from others. This will have the great benefit of weeding out a lot of shallow people as potential partners.

No matter what you look like, you have as much right to a happy life as every other human alive. If anyone wants to look at something pretty, they can go to a museum. If someone doesn't like the way you look, they can look at something else.

Don't limit yourself by only expressing interest in people who are also "unattractive." Doing that would mean that you'd be participating in the whole bogus and destructive scheme of judging people's worth by their appearance.
posted by Corvid at 8:00 PM on April 12, 2012 [63 favorites]

First, I want to say that this must be very difficult for you and you have my empathy. When I was 20, I had buck teeth, crossed eyes, a mole under my nose, glasses and a series of bad haircuts. The only people who have called me beautiful have been female relatives and friends.

That said, in my 20s I had a conventionally sexy body that caused men to be attracted to me anyway (stretch marks and all) and had flings and a long marriage that was based on love. I am (and was, and assume you are too), smart, funny and kind.

So here's some things: sometimes I threw myself at guys and had one night stands (and while the sex was sometimes good) I usually felt used later. So avoid that. You are a real person and deserve to be treated that way.

My best flings/relationships usually came from people who knew me as a friend first. They got used to my appearance and my other qualities attracted them.

But here is the kicker, when I look back at photos of myself in my teens and 20s, while not pretty or beautiful, I was cute and attractive and no amount of people telling me this could have convinced me. So given this is a possibility for you, try faking it - just for yourself. To give yourself confidence, learn to believe that being young and healthy and pleasant is surprisingly attractive all by itself and try to let go of the cindarella dream.

I am another person you can send a picture to for a reasonable assessment.
posted by b33j at 8:09 PM on April 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

Here's an anecdote for you (keeping in mind that the plural of anecdote isn't anecdata).

I know a woman who doesn't fit the conventional definitions of beauty. She's a little on the rubenesque (sp?) side, her teeth are messed up (so are mine), she dresses kinda frumpy, and she's got mild case of strabismus (plus her glasses are thick enough I can't tell which eye is off kilter).

But you know what? She is a warm & inviting person, and very affectionate. Truth be told? If she hadn't explicitly told me she's not looking for a relationship right now, I'd have asked her out long ago (and I'm fairly shy & socially awkward). She's just a wonderfully awesome person and I'm very glad to be friends with her. If she ever gave indications of wanting more than that, I'd be totally down with that. I also know four other guys who would go out with her if she gave signs of interest.

You know what else? I know a woman that is legitimately super model level hot. She could spend a month hiking the Appalachian Trail with no showers, and at the end, she'd still be top 1% gorgeous. Thing is, she's also in a shitty life situation. She's stuck in a loveless marriage, and the only reason why she stayed with the guy is he got her preggers. To top it off, her daughter has some rare medical condition where there's a problem with her spinal cord or some such, and has lots of horribly expensive doctor bills. To top it off, she's in a dead end job that she stays in simply for the health insurance (hubby is self-employed) in an office environment where sexism is prevalent.

TL:DR - it's possible to be (conventionally) unattractive & still have guys want you, and life can still suck if you're conventionally attractive.
posted by AMSBoethius at 8:29 PM on April 12, 2012 [7 favorites]

What Cairdeas said, first and foremost. Many men are relatively unconcerned for the physical appearance of their romantic partners. They aren't depicted in movies and TV often (although its an out-and-out trope of "30 Rock" for some reason) but in reality they are commonplace, and they're just as likely to be educated, successful, reliable, and good looking, etc., as men for whom looks are important.

And, also, cosmetic surgery. People who gladly take everything else science has given us to make our lives easier and pleasanter reject or overlook cosmetic surgery out of a weird ideology. No one on MeFi would say, "depression is natural, don't take an SSRI" but they'll say effectively the same thing about nose jobs or tummy tucks. People LOVE their cosmetic surgery. It can be so good that people get addicted to it, for heck's sake.
posted by MattD at 8:29 PM on April 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

Someone above said it doesn't get better, but I want to dispute that. I'm not an ugly woman, but I am an average-faced fat woman, so I've experienced what it feels like to be a teenager and to be unattractive, and to be 20 and unattractive. I'm 25 now, and I look almost exactly the same as I did when I was 20, but something else has changed: the people around me aren't 20 anymore, either. I'm out in the adult world, and I interact with people of all ages, and it makes a huge difference.

Young men in their late teens and early 20s may focus more on dating conventionally hot girls, because they're also concerned about what their friends think about the looks of their girlfriends. But as the good ones among those boys age, they start to not care so much about keeping up appearances of a certain kind. Maybe they like fat girls, and they happily date fat girls; maybe they like quirky looking girls, and they date quirky, conventionally ugly girls. Or maybe they just really click with you, and they will happily date you.

20 year olds are, to generalise, the most shallow people you will ever interact with. Age will help. For now, enjoy being 20 and single. (Trust me, I know it feels crappy, but you will look back on it fondly in a mere 5 years. That's not long at all.)
posted by snorkmaiden at 8:36 PM on April 12, 2012 [11 favorites]

I think you first need to work on liking yourself - and I say that as someone who knows what it's like to be unacceptable to oneself.

I had a relentless acne problem when I was 20 - just when most people were getting over their high school acne, mine got worse! I was so insecure that I wouldn't even go without makeup around my friends (so forget relationships...I dated some but the idea of someone seeing me w/o makeup was too much for me) It was absolutely crushing. Even worse, I considered myself to be potentially attractive, but the acne completely ruined it. It consumed me.

I also saw other people with bad acne who had significant others and wondered why I couldn't accept myself enough to allow myself to allow someone else to accept me for who I am.

Do you ever play with makeup? A little makeup can do wonders to bring out the positive aspects of your face like your eyes. Do you get your eyebrows done? That can make a huge difference. Do you get regular haircuts, etc? At 20 I started getting trendy haircuts and (sometimes) crazy highlights. I was kind of known for my edgy style and that is what I was going for...anything to take attention away from my skin.

One important thing to note is that I think attractiveness is more about how we carry ourselves and what we do with what we have. It sounds like you take pretty good care of yourself in that respect.
posted by fromageball at 8:45 PM on April 12, 2012

I could have written all ocksay_uppetpay's entry, she's said what I would say and saved me the trouble.

I don't know whether you'd have Asian eyebrow threading places where you live. Seek one out if you can. Where I live, women of every colour and age go to these places and the women who do the work – quickly, deftly and for very cheap – know how to sort out your brows for you. Alas, it doesn't last, but it's a great little boost.
posted by zadcat at 9:01 PM on April 12, 2012

So much—SO MUCH—of attractiveness is how you carry yourself. It makes all the difference in the world. With confidence, with style, etc. Find clothes that fit you well and aren't uncomfortable. It's hard when people say "learn to love yourself" when you don't. The way to start is to respect yourself, and act like you deserve that respect. That is what is attractive.
posted by Jon_Evil at 9:01 PM on April 12, 2012

I'm with St. Alia of the Bunnies here (2nd answer from the top). I knew a girl in grad school who at first, struck me as unfortunate-looking. She had really terrible skin--pimples on top of other pimples--and was kind of pudgy and had limp, lackluster hair. But she was a completely lovely person: smart, a great listener, good sense of humor. She was the person all the younger grad students went to for life and academic advice.

It was so nice to talk to her that, as St. Alia said, you just forgot your first impression of her looks.

And she had a (I thought) very cute boyfriend. They met on craigslist, and he was her first online date. They're now married.
posted by pompelmo at 9:21 PM on April 12, 2012

1. You're not ugly.

1.1. External appearance is just an unspoken opening, as is a sports car or nice apartment, nothing more.

2. Although it may seem vain, there's nothing wrong with taking steps to nudge your appearance along where you may find a little happiness. You say you take good care of your skin, and this is no doubt true. But there's also different regimens to try - toner, face peels, microabrasion, different hair techniques. You may already be doing these things, and they are nothing to feel bad about should you wanna try different things, however narcissistic they may strike you.

3. Find clubs/events/happenings around town where people that share your interests congregate: art nights, "clean up the beach/river" eco events, trivia night. Sign up to meetup.com and explore.

4. We can't choose our parents, and we can't choose biological inclinations toward one body type over the other. But, you can play your strengths to your advantage - and, especially in social outings, when you find people of common interests you will be loved and welcomed.

5. When you have a list of things you know you excel at - reading books, film knowledge, how to hula hoop - when you walk in a room, remember these things like a bullet-point list. These are what make you unique, and wonderful, and you can walk into any bar or gallery or event and know these are the things that allow you to be better than whatever you think other people's minds are filled with.

6. And, that's just the thing - what you think people are thinking is not usually the case - but, if you never open up and make your case known, no one will no either.

7. Know the things that you love, and carry around the wonderful things that you excel in like a badge - and when you open up to people, believe it or not they truly will want to be with you.

8. The next event you go to, maybe even this weekend, when you open up and let people get to know your loves and desires, the room will be filled with beauty. And you'll be there with angel wings, right in the middle of it.
posted by four panels at 9:38 PM on April 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

The way you've asked your question is beautiful. You sound strong and honest and like someone I would like to get to know.

I have a friend who got a nose job. I'm not saying that's what you should do, or god forbid, even what you need to do. I'm just saying that before I knew her, I felt very strongly that categorically, all plastic surgery was fake and terrible and "cheating". Now I'm not so sure. I think her changed perception of herself after the surgery did much more than whatever the surgery objectively changed, but whatever happened, I do know that she is happier for it.

You have so many choices at your command - hair styles, makeup, surgery, glasses - for altering your facial appearance, and it's your face! Whatever you choose to do is your own call, please keep that in mind every single day!
posted by estlin at 10:07 PM on April 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

Being attractive or unattractive has very little to do with being loved, loving, and having satisfying relationships. A stunningly beautiful friend of mine has a terrible track record with men, and much less attractive friend always has men falling over themselves to be with her. Attractive people definitely get more initial attention, but beyond that, it's a crap shot. Love is a crapshot, frankly, and at least you won't get people who are attracted to an idea of who you are based on what you look like, but who don't really like you or see you as a person.

If you're on OkCupid, pick a picture of you doing something for your profile picture. I have a very friend who's honestly pretty funny looking - but she's dated, had boyfriends, flings, etc. - and her profile picture was a very cool picture of her doing a very cool activity. Her face wasn't that visible, but her general awesomeness came through the photo. And message guys! Most guys are psyched when a girl takes the initiative.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 12:04 AM on April 13, 2012

Pamela was one of the most unattractive women I've ever seen. And one of the most attractive. She was born deformed, some goddamned disease had twisted her up inside her mother and continued twisting her ribcage throughout her life, finally twisted the life from her lungs completely, two years ago February. I don't remember how many operations she'd had, to unlock her hands from being clenched claws, to unlock her arms, her feet so she could walk, her legs.

There was no way around her looks, it was a defining part of her life -- heads turned, lots of double-takes, lots of people looking closely but doing so as unobtrusively as they could; imagine a lifetime of that. Pamela was put together "differently" is what she called it; it was like someone said above, it was like Picasso had put her together on a day he was very, very dissociative.

But here's the thing, and in this lay much of what got us together, then held us close -- I'm broken up inside, every bit as broken as Pamela was outside. We were both of us all scarred up, both of us put together "differently." You ever listen to that John Lennon song "Crippled Inside" off the record Imagine, did you ever pay attention to the lyrics? That's me. And I can hide that, for a while, a short while, but as Mr. Lennon told us bravely "One thing you can't hide / is when you're crippled inside."

I have reason to be extraordinarily grateful that Pamela's legs were not clenched by the time we met. Her hands, too, for that matter. Love with her was so goddamn intense, yet so sweet -- she couldn't hide, and for once I didn't have to try to, not that I ever could. I got to call her beautiful, and mean it with all my heart, and maybe it wasn't fact but I've never said anything more true, not ever.

I took a job here in Austin, she finished grad school in Houston, took a job in Galveston. We did long distance, then the torrid weekends thing, with varied lovers spaced between, then the friendship/love thing. She got deep in my heart and she's still there, a gem, a pearl, a fine beauty.

Keep heart, OP. This thing isn't always easy, even for people for whom it maybe looks easy.* Keep your heart open; you'll appreciate the love when it shows. It's going to.

Good luck.
*Every man is a suffering-machine and a happiness-machine combined. The two functions work together harmoniously, with a fine and delicate precision, on the give-and-take principle. For every happiness turned out in the one department the other stands ready to modify it with a sorrow or a pain--maybe a dozen.
Samuel Clemons
aka Mark Twain
- The Mysterious Stranger

posted by dancestoblue at 12:41 AM on April 13, 2012 [34 favorites]

"So, next time you're at the mall, walking down the street, whatever -- and you see a good looking guy (not someone who you think might be interested in you;
someone way, way out of your league), ask them flat our why they think you're unattractive."

Don't do this. You may think it's a way to get accurate results, but it's not, because it's an inherently unattractive thing to do. It's not attractive to point out your flaws, worse to ask someone else to. Just doing this will skew your results. And that's assuming that any of the people you'd ask would give you their unexpurgated opinion, which is unlikely.
posted by tel3path at 1:08 AM on April 13, 2012 [21 favorites]

May I suggest you buy, hide under your mattress, and read *The Art of Seduction*? Yes, yes, it's an evil book, but evil is as evil does. If you did the things exactly as described in the book they could easily become outright abusive and/or manipulative, but if played fairly[1] and with a very light hand - great fun.

There are a couple of chapters on appearance that say much the same as has been said here, with the crucial difference that, since the book is written from a standpoint of near-total cynicism, it's the truth untainted by sentimentalism or any desire to spare your feelings.

Seriously go get the book now, now. Never let anyone see you reading it. Be careful always to work it from a place of authenticity, never pretension.

[1] fairly - on the assumption that others' feelings are as raw and tender and deserving of careful handling as your own, or (if you are a psychopath or otherwise insensitive person) very much more so. Also, people HATE to be manipulated, but they LOVE to be enchanted.
posted by tel3path at 1:31 AM on April 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

Another anecdote about a friend of mine who when I first met her, honestly, I thought she was strange looking. But very quickly I realized how stupid and irrelevant those thoughts were because she is SO AWESOME. Let me list you some of her awesomeness:

- She has travelled to a bajillion places, climbed kilimanjaro, lived in a few different countries: thus has amazing stories and experiences to share and talk about. She makes grand plans and follows through with them.

- So super smart and SO FUNNY she has me consistently crying from laughter: she is just completely unashamed with whatever comes out of her mouth and she's definitely that girl who says what everyone is thinking but says it so charmingly and honestly you can't help but love her for it. Half the catchphrases I have imported to the UK have been unashamedly stolen from her.

- completely Fearless to just Be Herself: This. It's just so admirable. I wish I could be more like her in this way.

She got married a couple of years ago, after turning down her tall, blonde, Scandanavian looking husband several times and I can completely understand the spell he's fallen under and consider him very lucky indeed.
posted by like_neon at 2:04 AM on April 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

It's not your job to be a decorative object. Abso-effing-lutely. I wish I could favorite Corvid's comment a thousand times. Be the subject of your own life, not the object.

And you're probably not even unattractive. I used to think there was something wrong with me when I was your age. My nose was lumpy and weird, I had dark circles and hollows under my eyes, my cheekbones were non-existent, my forehead was too high, my chin too small, and on and on. I used to torture myself with these thoughts. The funny thing is, I look back now at pictures of myself then and I realize I was gorgeous. Now I'm wrinkly but happy, I have a wonderful partner, and I'm satisfied with my life, my looks, and who I am. But I do still kick myself sometimes for not appreciating what I had. Don't waste that time like I did.
posted by hazyjane at 3:02 AM on April 13, 2012 [7 favorites]

Poster, you've spilled your guts and people are invalidating you right and left, telling you you're not really ugly, and that your perception that looks matter greatly is wrong. I am angry on your behalf that this has largely been your response. You deserve honesty in return for an honest and straightforward post, not a bunch of feel-good wishful thinking.

It sucks being an ugly woman in this society. Most men care very, very much about women's looks, and for most 20-year-old men or thereabouts, that's just about all they care about in a dating partner. One cannot spend any time at all interacting with, listening to, or observing young men without coming to this absolutely inescapable conclusion.

One of the reasons that the "attitude/confidence is everything" lie is so damaging is that it then pins the responsibility on you if things don't go well in the dating realm. It is a virulent strain of Just World Theory, and it needs to be called what it is and argued against. People want to believe that the world is less chaotic than it is, and that we all have total control over what experiences we have. This isn't true. You don't. No amount of attitude adjustments or confidence-building can change the basics of the way dating works, or how incredibly important looks are to most men YES, you are going to have a harder time finding interested men than a woman who is conventionally attractive. And if you don't have dating experiences that are as good as more attractive women, that's not your fault and you shouldn't beat yourself up over it.

As a few other posters have said, some of the issues you mention can be helped by plastic surgery. The bumpy nose in particular stands out as a definite possible fix.

Also, although most men care greatly about the looks of a potential date, quite a few of them have one or two specific things they are fixated on. So if you have beautiful hair, for example, that may be what a given man sees, and he may gloss over the less attractive aspects of your appearance. To that end, play up anything that is attractive about you, and also consider "extremizing" some aspect of your appearance. For me, this has been always having long, long, beautiful hair. You might specialize in having long, long legs, always wearing heels and leg-lengthening short skirts.

It is possibly true that most men won't notice the difference in the heights of your eyebrows. At least not consciously, that they could list it specifically as a flaw. But as another poster said, a good eyebrow waxer or threader can help you with the height difference. Or, if funds do not permit, buy a good pair of tweezers and learn to use them expertly.

Makeup can do a lot, and most young women do a terrible job with it. I look back at some pictures from my late teens/early twenties and just cringe. If you can, get a lesson with a pro.

Be open to dating men who are also conventionally unattractive. This is a huge point. There are an unfortunate number of people out there, both men and women, who suffer because of their looks, but then they will not date someone else whom they initially find unattractive! Don't be one of those people. Use the experience of being an ugly woman in a harsh society to form compassion for, say, dweeby nerd guys who mumble from behind pocket protectors, or the poor neglected short guys who are so often passed over for the basketball players.
posted by parrot_person at 3:08 AM on April 13, 2012 [48 favorites]

As someone who just lost his job on the radio liked to say, more than one thing can be equally true.

I always remember my sister saying there has to be some physical attraction--because of the way she said "some," not because it was a revelation. Fair enough, though it's hard to imagine that you are utterly devoid of any vaguely attractive physical features.

I also think there's a helluva lot of truth to something in a column that was posted here, essentially, "Most half-way decent men just want a woman who'll be reasonably nice to them most of the time."
posted by ambient2 at 3:19 AM on April 13, 2012

How proficient are you with makeup?

It took me YEARS to learn how to apply makeup with skill, and only after I started looking at youtube videos...like dozens and dozens of youtubevideos (and blogs) that gave all kinds of different techniques for putting on makeup.

With makeup I have all kinds of guys hitting on me. (Without makeup, that number pretty much falls to zero. Haha!)

You can fix your crooked eyebrows with makeup. Or get them trimmed/plucked by a specialist. Eyebrows make a big difference.

Your nose can look a lot smaller if you wear foundation (like a smooth mineral foundation a la Bare Escentuals or Mac) that gives your face a nice even color throughout.

A little blush. And line the eyes correctly. Even if your hair is nice, you might need a more flattering haircut.

God, I wish I or others I know could meet you and help you with makeup. But without seeing you, I urge you to start experimenting with makeup and checking out the numerous blogs available. One thing I should note is that experimenting with makeup actually was an incredibly fun experience for me. It was very much like painting; it really challenges your artistic skills.

Find someone on youtube or on a blog that has a similar bone structure to you, and check out if they've got a tutorial.

Also, what really is difficult is your age. When you get older, unless you live in say, Los Angeles, your start thinking a heck of a lot less about how you look. (Or at least this is true for most women I know.) It is immensely freeing.

Until then, I can understand the pressure to feel attractive. I say don't throw in the towel just yet until you learn how to become skilled with makeup (and it does take time.) You might find out how fun it is to be able to paint your face when you want attention and then wipe it all off when you want to be left alone. :-)

Good luck.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 3:48 AM on April 13, 2012 [5 favorites]

You know how if you hear your voice played back you cringe because it doesnt sound like you to you? Well its the same with looking at your face in a mirror, humans tend to have an idealised mental image of their own face. It's no wonder that looking in the mirror or seeing a photo can come as a shock.

Nobody else can see this idealised image of yourself and arent comparing your actual face to your internal face. You will always be your worst critic by virtue of being human so its worth giving yourself a break now and again.

More: NY Times: Mirrors Don’t Lie. Mislead? Oh, Yes
posted by Ness at 3:57 AM on April 13, 2012

1. When you look at yourself in the mirror, you see features. When others look at you, they see a face that is the sum of its features, expressions and movement. So what you see as problem areas (such as your eyebrows) may not even exist to others. My own mother has always been embarrassed about her slightly wonky eyebrows. I was really taken aback when I discovered this because in all my life I'd never noticed. Incidentally, your description of what your lips sounds like what others call 'rosebud lips'.

2. That is not to say you shouldn't try to change your features if you wish. Get your eyebrows professionally threaded at least once and ask for advice on levelling them with pencil - if they're the wrong colour, you could consider a dye job as well. Afterwards you may be able to maintain them yourself but I think it's worth the expense. If you can afford it, go ahead and get that nose job. A cousin of mine who is beautiful by any conventional standard, had a bump in her nose. She got a nose job. I can tell you, no one probably noticed unless she told them, and plenty of people were disapproving, but she herself was so happy.

3. There is only so much you can do to change how you look. The only thing you can influence is how people see your appearance. For some, this means being ugly, but just being a wonderful person. For others, it means embracing that ugliness, and being memorable (purple hats etc). If you're at all interested and have the confidence, then, well, you're lucky. Beautiful people can't do eccentric as you can: don't be beautiful, be interesting. Or it just means being well turned out, which is what you're already doing - people aren't going to think 'oh there's an ugly person who's trying to look beautiful' because, newsflash, even beautiful people try to look beautiful. People will think 'wow, I love her hairstyle' or 'what a great look'.

4. Make use of the features you have. Forget whether you think they're objectively nice, think of how they relate to each other. You have big eyes? Fine, you don't like them, but say you like your nose less. Experiment with eye make up till you find something that both flatters them and takes away attention from the nose. Are your big eyes bulbous? Again, that's what makeup is for.

5. Finally, the dating problem. Given that you are self-conscious about your appearance, you can't magically develop the confidence and dazzle of George Eliot. Perhaps you could approach this the way people approach dating and finding friends in new cities: get involved in activities you enjoy. If you're absorbed enough that you forget your appearance, others will too. And guys in those activities will see you in a context where the superficial appearance of your face and body is not the point, your skill and love for miniature railways is.
posted by tavegyl at 4:05 AM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I am angry on your behalf that this has largely been your response. You deserve honesty in return for an honest and straightforward post, not a bunch of feel-good wishful thinking.

THIS. When someone sees your face for the first time and recoils in disappointment, that hurts a little. What hurts so much more is being told you don't really experience the world as you experience it, that it's all in your head, that your observations on your own life are invalid. And by people who have never lived as an ugly woman, but who believe everyone is beautiful (inside), or that everyone has at least one good feature, hey, your feet are nice! That, more than the way I look, always made me want to just give up and go back to bed.

Does it get better? In a way, yes. It's better to be older and away from the little group of people youth or school assigns to you. It's better to not care about getting into the right clubs or being cool. But it is not better to have never been kissed at 30 than to have never been kissed at 20. Sorry, it's just not. Nor is it better to be 30 and competing not only with prettier 30 year olds, but with a whole new crop of pretty 20 somethings too. That's why I wanted, with my answer above, to emphasize being proactive. It doesn't always GET better, but there are things you can MAKE better. There's so much you can do to change your situation, that I didn't see back then.

I remembered one other thing I wish someone had told me. If you live in a big city where beautiful people flock, move to a smallish city in an unfashionable area. If you live in a small town with people you've known all your life, move to a big city with more people. If you're the only brunette in a region of blondes, move to be with your "people." Or if you're a brunette in a sea of brunettes, move to a blonde country where your face will cease to matter compared to the blinding exoticism of your hair. The point is, what's considered attractive is not universal! When I was 20 I was tied to my (wonderful, but shallow) city, but there may have been other places where I would have been hot!
posted by ocksay_uppetpay at 5:21 AM on April 13, 2012 [20 favorites]

I'm going to take you at your word that you are ugly. It's hard to do so, honestly, because I've known so many people whose self-conceptions were just plain wrong. I mean, hell, at that age I was convinced I was somewhere between ugly and funny looking, and now when I look at old photos all I see is someone a little uncomfortable in his skin, no model but not painful to look at either. So I'll take you at your word, but do it knowing that mostly when I've heard people saying that, it isn't externally validated.

And, as so many people have said, one's appearance changes with time, sometimes for the better. I didn't meet my now-wife until much later, but I've seen photos of her at 20, and she wasn't all that hot, honestly. She had to grow into her face and body, and looks orders of magnitude better now than she did at that age. So there's that, too.

But even if you are indeed ugly, and you aren't going to magically start looking better with time, I'd suggest that it isn't the barrier to dating and sex and happiness that you are saying it is. All three of my immediate neighbors (to each side and across the street) are far from conventionally beautiful. I'm not going to list their faults, because that feels rude even in an anonymous setting like this, but believe me that they are not very good looking. Each of them has a husband who appears (as far as I can tell as a neighbor, of course) to love them, kids, etc.

Walk around a mall and look at couples, especially those in their 30s, 40s, and older. A lot of them aren't going to be on the front cover of a magazine or turn heads, you know? And yet, there they are, strolling along arm in arm. I'm not saying that beauty is something you just wish away, but that with time, in the real world, it's just one factor, and probably a lot less important than being willing to walk up to someone and say hello.

One of the interesting things to me about getting a bit older is that it is harder and harder all the time to figure out who is "hot." I can look at college students and assess hotness, no problem. But when I'm in a meeting with 20 people, ages from maybe 35 to 60, and look around the room, I can tell you who has a fascinating personality and who is a nice person, but it's much harder to rank people by attractiveness. I think you are at a really tough age for this, and honestly I think it gets better, or at least different, with time.
posted by Forktine at 5:30 AM on April 13, 2012

Here is the thing i can assure you of. After spending time with an ugly-on-the-outside person, one 'gets used' to their face and they no longer appear ugly. Its a weird phenomenon. In fact i was shocked to find myself attracted to someone that i remember i thought to be ugly on first meeting. So this is all to say your future spouse is likely to come from the pool of friends or coworkers who have gotten to spend decent amounts of time with you and then developed an attraction as they have gotten used to your face. You will probably not have a love at first site experience..which is fine bc it may actually help you weed out the more shallow types. As for casual sex there are plenty of guys who will be interested in mutual pleasure regardless of your looks..they just want to stick it in a warm body (have you SEEN how gross and ugly some hookers are???)
posted by TestamentToGrace at 5:30 AM on April 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

To be ugly, as a woman, is indeed a huge and unfortunate deal. That is in fact partially why you have so many people here saying, no, you're not ugly, you're getting it wrong! Because we like you, we like your honesty and your bravery and we don't want you to be condemned to the world of Being Ugly.

I'm going to take you at your word and accept that this is in fact a radically awful thing. I have a weird perspective on this: I have been unattractive enough to be mocked, and beautiful enough to get attention and all the little nice smoothnesses that a beautiful woman gets in the world. It is difficult to understand all the little things that smooth your way-or suddenly don't if you are unattractive.

What's important: first, change what you can. Personally, I've had laser hair removal and extensive brow reworking, dermatologist's treatment, and I paid someone else to figure out my makeup for me. Once they figured it out, I paid them to show me how to apply it. This was utterly transformative. Majorly, enormously transformative. Pay someone to do your eyebrows until you can figure out how to do it yourself. If you have a bulbous, bumpy nose, go ahead and have it fixed with plastic surgery. People are discouraging of using plastic surgery lightly, but it is groundbreaking if you have true issues. Be prepared for realistic expectations. Plastic surgery won't make you beautiful-but it might take you all the way to "plain", which is much more dealable than "ugly".

Secondly-Understand that you are dating in the wrong pool. Early twenties men are about as shallow as they are going to get-and love is not always the magic fix. When I was in my early twenties, someone said to me, while drunk, "I love you, but I am disgusted by X feature." It was terribly hurtful-that even someone who loved me desperately couldn't get past that. But as I've aged, and as, at the time, I started dating older guys, that was less of a thing. Even that same shallow guy came back when he was older, apologized for being a shallow idiot, said he still loved me and wanted to marry me. (I didn't, and found someone who was way nicer and never hurtful. But it is still illustrative of the age difference changes) Older guys are often less enamored by Pretty Young Things and also have more experience with a diverse pool of women. I'm not saying "settle", because a lot of these people have a lot to offer. Just suggesting you look for people who are less likely to be seeking perfection.
posted by corb at 6:04 AM on April 13, 2012 [13 favorites]

1. Confidence does way way more than you think for making yourself more appealing to others. Not conceit or braggery. Just a quiet, shoulders back, chest out, look people in the eye confidence. People who are that way and (this matters) don't adopt a self-depreciating sense of humour are good to go. For real.

2. I'm fat. I'm less fat than I used to be (I used to be 335lbs, now down to ~260lbs and dropping) but I'm still fat. Lots of jiggly bits and rolls and pudge and stretch marks. For a lot of people fat is way more unforgivable than ugly. There are a LOT more fat jokes out there than there are ugly jokes. Yet, I dated. Even at 335lbs I had boyfriends, usually fairly good looking ones. I also had one of my best male friends who is extremely attractive admit to me (years later) that he used to have a huge crush on me. He said my confidence and personality was extremely attractive and he really wished I had picked up on all the signs he had sent me (like asking me to kiss him... yes, I missed it. I thought he was kidding.) So again, confidence matters.

3. I'm in a LTR with a man I had known for years before we became a couple. He has commented/complained a couple times that most women over look him, that he isn't some mega hunk, and that he wasn't ever really picked up at a bar. However, he is charismatic and classy and hilarious and kind and loyal, and he has rarely NOT been in a relationship because of that. When I met him it took next to no time for my friend feelings to turn in to a lot more. I found myself lusting (and I mean LUSTING... sex dreams and fantasies and leering) after this very average guy. To me, he IS a mega hunk. Often I'll see him walk in to a room and I cannot BELIEVE how hot he looks and can't wait to get my hands on him. He is sexy and everything about him, even the things he probably doesn't like about himself, is attractive to me. I guess my point its that people's thoughts/feelings can transform a person. As his personality won me over, my perception of him changed. Just as a bad attitude and bitchy personality can make the prettiest person ugly, a great attitude and charismatic personality can transform an ugly person in to a total stunner.

4. You need to take a serious and eyes-wide-open look around. There are loads of people that many would consider ugly, and a huge percentage of them are in relationships. It is remarkable what isn't a dealbreaker to people. Sure, your appearance is going to make you undesirable to some, just as my weight has and did. But for others they won't see you the way you see yourself. Your character and personality and class will paint you in a totally different light.

Big hugs, though, from one not-conventionally-pretty girl to another. It can be frustrating but it isn't hopeless. Let your personality win them over, and for the love of god, don't decide FOR THEM that you aren't attractive. You need to feel and act as though just about everyone is "in your league", and then let them decide from there. Once I started doing that I got a hell of a lot more interest from people and I had people that I never would have thought would have been interested in me actually be interested.
posted by gwenlister at 6:16 AM on April 13, 2012 [8 favorites]

Consider when and where you are.

You're 20. You still have a lot of growing to do as a person, inside and perhaps outside as well. You're also surrounding by vapid, immature, drunk and horny people who have somewhat warped views of beauty and attractiveness. This will be fixed by growing older and naturally, this takes time.

Now, where are you? Are you in college or university? Where ever you may be, go somewhere else. Exoticism can go a long way to attract people and spark interest. If, for example, you're American, head to England for a semester or two. If you're Australian, go to America. A foreign accent is pretty much sexy all over the globe. Travel will also help you see that the rules of physical attractiveness vary greatly from one place to another.

Also, don't be that girl who will go out with anybody because she thinks she's ugly and the attention makes her feel pretty. You keep your standards damn high, girl, because you deserve nothing less than worship.
posted by mibo at 6:23 AM on April 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

I was an ugly teenager, a too-tall bony girl with bad acne and the fashion sense to match, and it wasn't until my early 20s that I grew into my looks a bit, so there's always a chance that you're in this category as well. When I was younger, I was very self-conscious of my looks. I was jealous of the pretty people and assumed that everything was easy for them (which is true in some ways). Then I moved to a country where I was considered beautiful. Guess what? It sucked! No one cared about ME, the real me, the person. People wanted to date me or be my friend because they thought I was pretty, not because they knew me and thought I was fun and hilarious and whatnot. I began to appreciate my ugly-duckling years- they certainly contributed to my personality, and my friends were my friends because they knew me as a person and genuinely liked that person. Once I was less hung-up on my own looks and insecurities (and my skin finally started to improve), I became attractive to the types of men whom I found attractive.
posted by emd3737 at 6:24 AM on April 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

Ugly is as ugly does..
Beauty is as beauty does. . .

It's all a matter of perception and once you get to know someone that person's inner beauty has a tendency to be much more important than the way they look on the outside.

I'm echoing a lot of what others have said here. Work on loving yourself. Build your self-worth, your confidence.. Do things that are good to you: exercise, eat well, hobbies, etc. Work on your smile and your perspective on life. I mean there are over a billion people who will go to bed starving tonight. There are millions of people who are abused by others. There are millions of people who don't even have a roof over their heads. There are millions of people who grow up with terrible birth defects because they don't have the money and/or healthcare system to fix even small birth defects.

You are 20 years old and have plenty of time to work on you. Take the time to work on you. I’m not talking about plastic surgery, make up, or other superficial alterations. I’m talking about working on your perspective on life. Look into yourself and find what you are passionate about, what makes you happy to be alive, what you think is your raison d’être. Are you in college? If so, what are you studying? Do you like what you're studying? Focus on that. Be passionate about that! To me, some of the most beautiful people in this world are those who are passionate about something they love.

I think that if you work on you, then you will find that you are beautiful. For those who do not think that you are beautiful, that’s their perspective, that’s their problem. It is true that it is a mind perspective change. Are they’re going to be setbacks in your quest for inner beauty? Absolutely. Do setback hurt? Yes. Will there be times when you want to be more “beautiful”? Yes. It is easy to write yourself off as ugly and get stuck in that mindset. What I am saying is break that mindset and work on building you as a person. You will find that you do have value and inner beauty.

Good luck.
posted by WestChester22 at 6:40 AM on April 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm a gentle but supremely honest, grown ass woman. I very rarely see a truly ugly person, but I can see things that can be tweaked to present a better overall appearnce. If you'd like, you can send me pic via the email in my profile.
posted by stormygrey at 6:47 AM on April 13, 2012

Honestly, it's all about the attitude. I am -- by pretty much all societal standards and by medical definition -- fat as hell. But let me tell you, when I slap on some heels and a hot dress like I did the other day, it make a massive difference in my overall attitude, and it comes out on the other side. I actually NOTICE myself walking differently, feeling differently than I do when I'm just schlumpfing around wearing whatever.

NEVER underestimate the importance of a killer haircut.

Hire an *experienced* stylist (read: older...she's been there and done that for years now) who works at a trendy-ish salon, and if you end up getting along, ask her for makeup and other recommendations. The last thing you want is some kid fresh out of beauty school.

My friend from high school who cuts my hair from time to time can flat out make me look *thin* if she puts blush and lipstick on me. I have no idea how she does it, she is magic. And most of the time, I could give a damn (this is also kind of key...), but when I need to look good, well, I know she has the skills.

Seriously, there may be 100 pounds more of me these days but I think I can work it a lot better now than I could when I was 20 and super insecure and all that. Those of us who have been there know it -- and I know it's hard for you to see the other side of things right now, but you will, some day, too. Best of luck to you!
posted by bitter-girl.com at 7:07 AM on April 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Think this is all a lot of platitudes, talking about how it's who you are and how you put yourself across that counts?

List your most-lusted-after movie and TV stars, musicians, dancers, whatever performers float your boat.

List your favorite models. (If you can think of any.)

Who's hottest?

Told you.

posted by tel3path at 7:46 AM on April 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

I suggest that you learn all you can about Elsie de Wolfe (1865- 1950). De Wolfe was an actress, socialite, author and revolutionary interior decorator (who counted the Duchess of Windsor among her clients). De Wolfe grew up hearing her mother call her ugly, and in truth, she did not have an especially attractive face. But she early realized that while beauty may be a gift of nature, if one is fit, well-groomed, and well-dressed, one can be attractive. So she worked those qualities. She was so well dressed that, though she wasn't much of an actress, fashion editors would come to her play performances and sketch what she was wearing. In 1935, when she was 70 years old, Paris experts declared her the best-dressed woman in the world. She was supremely fit all her life (back when women didn't work out!) and in her seventies could stand on her head, and walk on her hands. In 1926 at the age of 60 she made her entrance into a fancy dress ball dressed as a Moulin Rouse dancer and turning hand springs. And by the time she was an elderly lady her features had settled into prettiness.

Since I've mentioned the Duchess of Windsor, I may as well add that she was another not-beautiful woman who knew how to make the most of herself — with the result that a king gave up his kingdom for her.

Another person who is worth a look is Diana Vreeland. She wasn't great looking — I've read of her being called jolie-laide, which literally translated means "pretty ugly" and is a phrase used to describe someone who isn't conventionally attractive but has something about her that is undeniably and irresistibly attractive. But guess what — she was another woman who was so well-dressed and so fastidiously well-groomed that she presented as attractive. She became a legendary editor of Vogue and also the wife of an incredibly hot man who adored her, and of course she also made the best-dressed lists.

And this approach doesn't just work for a few exceptional people. I have a good friend who is no beauty, but she's done something similar. She is always fit and well-dressed and well-groomed and makes the most of her good points. She has lovely hands, for instance, and her fingernails are always perfectly manicured with coloured polish. She's in her forties now and has a very solid, long-lasting (open) relationship with a great guy and also runs happily around with countless other men having various amorous adventures.

So I suggest you take a leaf from de Wolfe's book and borrow her methods. And stop assessing yourself as ugly as though that's the be-all and end-all of your existence. I guarantee you that anyone worth having in your life will look at you as a whole person and and be attracted to you and decide how much they value you based on the total sum of what you are.
posted by orange swan at 8:28 AM on April 13, 2012 [10 favorites]

you sound like you look like me! seriously, except I broke my nose at 15 (which already had a huge bump in it in the first place) and also my eyes are differently shaped because of surgeries I had as a baby. my partner is objectively way more attractive than I am.

There's a lot of good advice upthread about working on your confidence. But your eyebrows? $15 paid to a decent salon for an eyebrow wax will fix that. You have big eyes and fat lips? People wear makeup to try and make themselves look like they have big eyes, they inject their lips with things to make them look fatter.

You probably have features that other people would be incredibly jealous of. Learn to play them up. If you like wearing makeup, that is a good way to do that. There's a lot of online tutorials, but the best way i've found is to just walk into a sephora or makeup counter and say you are looking for a new every day look and let them pick it out for you.

It's been my experience that being pretty doesn't get people as far as being interesting and charming does.
posted by inertia at 8:36 AM on April 13, 2012

I'm afraid I'm repeating things, but you hit a nerve with me and so here's a few things to add:

Make sure you're meeting daytime people and nighttime people, in terms of dating prospects. Some people get picked up a lot in clubs/bars and some of us do better at classes and clubs. You sound lovely and smart from your post (though I want to hug you!) and so maybe you're at your best socially when there's conversation involved, but please don't think I'm relegating you to daytime – frankly, maybe you've a super-hot ass and can thrive in clubs/bars by learning to dance, if you want it. Be open to everything.

Take up some of the offers above to offer you advice (privately) on photos – you've plenty already, but I'll offer too. There's ways of styling yourself that sell your best features and your character, not a costume but sort of pitching yourself with context, and that's hard to guess at. For instance, I know big-eyed people who suit particular vintage styles or archetypes REALLY well, and little nods at those (like a collar shape, jewellery, haircut, colour palette) allow them to evoke the interesting thing they're like, which makes them more attractive.

Learn to do make-up well. It needn't take long or look fake, but it can make such a huge difference. I only started shading my eyebrows this year – they've very light and just don't grow, and all my efforts with pencil were too harsh – and my whole face looks slimmer and handsome. Not world-class beautiful, but it sets off all of my features despite the change being almost imperceptible to anyone but me.

Being friendly, clean, groomed and dressed for your shape is part of the game for nearly everyone remotely attractive. No magic, but an improvement. If in doubt, go classic, neutral and natural, which reads as attractive, and move on when you're ready. Presentation is going to be part of guys you're finding attractive too, not all of whom can be underwear models. I agree so much with everything said about personality and the confidence in loving yourself – do the surface stuff too if it makes it easier to put yourself out in the world with confidence, but it's the confidence and not the eyeshadow that's going to be the beautiful, compelling, sexy part.

(Lots of normal, cute guys – especially past their mid-twenties – have stretch marks, incidentally. Some will hate yours, some will actually love them or find their sensitivity to touch appealing, and most will take them as just a given with human bodies.)

Lastly, kind of a departure: There's an Oblique Strategy that says "emphasise the flaws", and I guess a personal example is that I'm currently wearing skinny jeans instead of a previous habit of trying to hide my big ass or avoid being looked at by any humans ever at all, and even I can see that it's actually kind of attractive now. It might be a thing to consider playing with, even just as a creative exercise.
posted by carbide at 9:03 AM on April 13, 2012

I've always found it puzzling that a person, through no deliberate action or choice of their own, can bear so much scorn, contempt and judgment merely for being born ugly. The category of "ugly" has been tied to being "unworthy, less than" in almost the same way "fat" rarely fails to pair with "lazy". It's as though your very act of existing is a willful affront to good society. It's not okay to make fun of people or discriminate against people for genetic diseases but if by hereditary or cruel odds of nature should do a bad rendering, it's the ugly person's duty to bear insults and rejection. Make some positive lemonade with that ugly lemon face!

Fuck that. Live your life as if you are the most interesting, intelligent and charming person you know. Have kindness and humility, love all of who you are. If you don't, actively work on it. If you are as ugly as you say, you've probably had a lifetime of being in the anti-You club. You have a say in how you want to live your life. You can't do much about how people superficially see you, but you can influence how they feel about you and that is more powerful. You can have love and happiness -- thankfully that isn't genetically predetermined. It may look, feel or come differently, but that is true of everybody, beautiful or not.
posted by loquat at 9:03 AM on April 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Firm believer in plastic surgery and paying professionals to help with skin/brow/hair care. That said, I've recommended the Sartorialist site before for pictures of stylish men and women who are sometimes not beautiful in the conventional sense but very striking. Read the comments for each pic, they are very perceptive and dig deep into what makes the person stylish.

I think that as women, we can chose our look - you may not be beautiful, but you could be cute, striking, or stylish.
posted by TorontoSandy at 9:08 AM on April 13, 2012

I recommend a book called "The Triumph of Individual Style" - and you can brush up your art history while you read. It's a really fun book, I think quite hard to get hold of now, but you're going to love it.

For example, if you have large eyes and a small mouth - that takes you to the page "Faces with a combination of scale in their features". That, I think, would mean a combination of medium and small-scale details in your clothing: patterns, belt buckles, buttons and so forth.
posted by tel3path at 9:35 AM on April 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

Also, because I can't stop posting in this thread and because I really do believe that we have the music.
posted by ocksay_uppetpay at 10:17 AM on April 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Being ugly is not the issue, being ugly and wanting only beautiful dates/partners is the issue. If our expectations are unreal then we will be disappointed. I would strongly suggest you stop labeling yourself. Just as there is no one thing that is beautiful-you cant write down on paper what makes a person beautiful, no checklist, similiarly you cannot make a list of what makes someone ugly, there is no checklist. Develop respect for yourself and be proud of who you are. The rest is not important.
posted by pakora1 at 10:24 AM on April 13, 2012

Wait until you are 21 and old enough to hit the clubs. Until then, work on your physique, your smile, your laugh, your eye makeup, your wardrobe and your dance moves. If you act available (that don't mean easy either) and stay approachable (don't use tables as barriers), you will get your share of attention. Sure, some will come from fetishists, but they are easy to pick out and good for an expensive drink or two. When men see you talking to other men, your attraction level escalates. If you know a professional stripper, get her to help you out; they are experts at attracting men.
posted by Ardiril at 11:00 AM on April 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Please please please memail me...I want to help you!! I was you 5 years ago!!

I cannot stress this enough: find your individual style. Might I suggest veering toward the edgy, and away from the typical, as you are not a "typical" beauty. I found that once I stopped trying to fit myself into the "girl next door/Barbie/VS model" mold, and started choosing items of clothing and accessories that I wanted because I thought they were cool (and would typically be downright weird to the normals out there), and stopped caring what other people thought of my style of dress, that I started to get more and more compliments from complete strangers. And not just any strangers, fashionable strangers.

And my face is pretty busted, or so I used to think. I now know that I have truly androgynous face on an hourglass figure type body that used to feel so mismatched but that lends itself to a variety of the more edgy spectrum of styles.

A few years ago I took a job at a high end salon, and let the stylists teach me makeup application. I allowed a stylist to cut off most of my long long long hair in favor of an asymmetrical style where from one side I practically looked like a boy, thus embracing and rocking the androgyny. And gee wiz, the compliments from fancy strangers really started rolling in. I took a chance and made an OkCupid account with (well rehearsed and carefully selected from literally hundreds of crappy shots) photos of my newish more flattering style. I now have a kickass boyfriend I met on the site who has a giant beard because he hates his weak chin, and it is so not typical, but it looks good and he owns it.

Come to think of it, most of the stylists at the salon where I worked could technically be considered ugly, given only their facial features, but put together the tattoos and their crazy unique style and makeup and accessories and these people became downright gorgeous untouchable beings. I'm talking the most desirable straight guy who worked there had nasty disgusting teeth with a slight underbite, sallow skin riddled with pockmarks of acne past and deep set dark eyesockets, but goddamn if he didn't work it with a massive vampire bouffant and sick clothes. And had fine pieces of ass lining up around the block to get in his pants. This man has rotting teeth and managed to pull that off. His style gave him confidence, and glossed over his faults.

Because of the hand that genetics has dealt you, you will never be the "typical hot" type, unless you undergo lots of plastic surgery (which is totally fine, if you decide you want to go that route). Enhance your big eyes with eyeliner and well done shadow. Look up and study and practice youtube makeup tutorials (I like pixiwoo) until your hands fall off. Take a risk and wear a bold lipcolor. On the same token, experiment with crazy hairstyling techniques. Practice a victory roll until your hands fall off (I don't know what to do is not an excuse. Look up a tutorial and just DO it. Over and over if necessary. Practicepracticepractice. In most cases, you CAN do it). Want to spike your hair into a mohawk? Do it. Want to wear it pin straight with blunt bangs? Do it. For the love of all that is holy, find a good, fashionable, youngish hairstylist* and try anything and everything until you find what suits you, what you feel comfortable with, because if you're going to go bold, you must rock it.

Always remember that hair grows back. Don't be afraid to go short.

Take risks. Typically pretty people don't have the luxury of being able to look good being edgy.

You can most definitely find a style that suits you and makes your quirky features desirable and coveted.

Please please please memail me...I want to help you!! I was you 5 years ago!!

*Tips on finding your dream stylist: if you see a stranger with awesome hair, ask her where she gets it done, and by which stylist. If you are looking at reviews on a website, pinpoint those that say "I will never let anyone else touch my hair ever again". Bring pictures of styles and/or colors you like to your appointment. Before your new stylist begins cutting on the first appt., he/she should have AT LEAST a 15 minute talk with you beforehand; you should feel as if you are both on the same page. Let them give you suggestions and tweaks, run like hell if they start bossing you around, or make you feel badly for desiring a particular style - this is not ok. A stylists job is to make you look damn awsome and feel even better. You have the right as a customer to politely say "I'm sorry but I don't think this is going to work out." and walk away before the haircut.
posted by Gonestarfishing at 12:06 PM on April 13, 2012 [16 favorites]

First, I really, really doubt you look as bad as you say. I suspect a lot of this is poor self-esteem. Maybe you can find a sliding scale therapist or a therapist at school to help you with these self-esteem issues. But I know you don't want to hear that so I'll say this:

1. First, a lot of how you look is being confident and dressing your body well. I'd recommend watching the show What Not To Wear. They're very good at showing how to put an outfit together with accessories and make up etc. Once you watch a few shows (I think you can get them on line if you don't have cable), go to a thrift store or a bargain store like Ross or Filene's Basement and pick out clothes that fit your body well. This is going to take some time. You are going to need a lot of patience because many things won't look good off the rack (this has nothing to do with you. It's just that clothes are cookie cutter and human bodies aren't). Aim for five or six outfits that flatter you and make you feel good.

2. Start a work out and eating program. Maybe even try a group exercise program where you can meet other people. I think most people feel a lot better about their bodies when they exercise. You start realize that your body is this incredible thing that can run fast and be powerful. Then you stop feeling like it's just an object for other people to deride.

3. Try and realize that all of the men you actually want to date don't make looks their first priority. It wasn't until I met my husband that a light bulb went off in my head about this. He made me realize that nice guys (the kind you really want to date) aren't looking for super models. They want a girl that's funny and smart and flirty and sexy and confident. You can be all those things and not look like a supermodel. I know my husband well enough to know that when he was twenty if had met a girl who was funny and intelligent and wanted to have sex with him, he'd have been THRILLED. And it really wouldn't matter that much if she didn't look like the next miss usa. And there's plenty of men like that out there. You'll just have to trust me on this because I've got about 17 years of experience on you :)
posted by bananafish at 12:20 PM on April 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Half of guys, those primarily concerned with looks, aren't going to date you. You're going to run into them all the time; you *have* run into them all the time. Learn to ignore them, and especially learn to value yourself for reasons other than a random person's shallow opinion of you.
posted by talldean at 12:56 PM on April 13, 2012

Most of what I could say here is probably redundant given the amount of comments from others thus far, but if it helps to have another (anec)data point, count me as another one who despaired at age 20 of ever being non-hideous but who (much to my surprise) seems to be improving with age (I'm 33 now).

At your age I was fairly gawky with bad skin and frizzy, uneven hair. I thought my nose was huge, too (though I've since realized it isn't, despite being bigger than the Hollywood standard would call for). I was also a dateless virgin, and not for any religious or moral reasons. Nowadays I am both much more confident *and*, in my own estimation, a lot less awkward-looking, which I mainly attribute to having learned to work with what I have rather than trying to force-fit myself into some semblance of "conventional attractiveness".

For example, I've discovered to my delight that having certain "strong" features make it a heck of a lot easier to completely *own* bright blue or green or purple hair, if you're into that sort of thing (which I definitely am). I can wear ridiculous vintage polyester-paisley blouses and get compliments on then. Etc. Yes, attitude helps here, but there does seem to be something about having a less conventional face that lends itself very well to intense and less conventional fashions. In other words, you can probably totally rock stuff that would look garish on people with more muted or even features.

Another thing I've found has made a dramatic positive difference is finding the right pair of glasses. If you have perfect vision this obviously won't apply, but if you do require corrective lenses for any reason, I highly recommend going and trying on as many styles of frame as you can find. In my case I found that darker/heavier frames looked great on me, in part *because* of my longish and slightly bumpy nose.

Finally, while I still don't wear much in the way of makeup, by far the most amazing cosmetic discovery I've made over the past few years is compact powder. Seriously. One of the things I used to hate most in pictures of myself was the way my nose and forehead always seemed really shiny. I would bet you that the vast majority of people who "photograph well" are wearing powder. It can dramatically change the way light hits you and the way shadows fall across your face (as it tends to scatter light and stop it from concentrating on any one area). Of course it has to be the right shade -- looking orange won't help anyone's appearance, and if you're ghost-pale like I am, it can be hard to find brands that even go light enough to prevent this -- so you might have to experiment with different brands and whatnot. But it's definitely something I would highly recommend trying.
posted by aecorwin at 1:11 PM on April 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

I want to take you at your word about your level of attractiveness because obviously I have no idea what you look like but I just want to say-- I can't think of anyone I've ever met who had good skin, good teeth, good hygiene (including eyebrow shaping), good hair, good clothes, and a decent body who was strikingly unattractive. Lots of average-looking people, sure. But not actively unattractive people. So obviously I have no idea what you look like, but if you have all those bases covered it's hard for me to imagine it's as bad as you say.

Anyway, I'm kind of funny-looking, especially in photos (sidebar: film yourself sometime having a conversation or doing something active and watch the footage. I make a lot of weird facial expressions that come across crazy-looking freeze framed but don't look nearly so unattractive in motion), and okcupid has actually made me feel better about my appearance. It's made me realize that my looks are not the reason I'm always single (which kind of makes me feel shitty in some ways but uh, that's another story). It's been good for getting past a place of total insecurity about my looks which has been HUGE as far as dating goes. ymmv, but it seems like its worth a shot.
posted by geegollygosh at 1:52 PM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Looking only at what you said in your post, I think a consultation with an aesthetic plastic surgeon is in order. Many of the things you mention could be corrected, likely to your satisfaction, and no one else need ever know.

Others' opinions on your beauty or lack thereof; on the ethics or appropriateness of plastic surgery; and on your choices about how you would choose to look and how you would choose to behave; are much less relevant to your question so I have intentionally ignored them.
posted by Protocols of the Elders of Sockpuppetry at 3:02 PM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think you've gotten a lot of feel good and practical advice in this thread. I would like to suggest that in addition to taking all of that on board, you turn off your TV and throw out every magazine and open your eyes and look around you. The real world is filled with women batting well below average who are happily coupled up without compromise. The idea that you are not worthy of a partner and that your life will be hopeless unless you

Eleanor Roosevelt was not an attractive woman; FDR, who was quite the hottie in his day and something of a catch, married her against his mother's fierce objections. Sarah Jessica Parker is apparently the Unsexiest woman alive according to Frat Boy Mag, but she's had relationsips with some very tasty bedfellows and arguably did OK ending up with Matthew Broderick. Sandra Bernhard ain't what I'd call pretty but I find her very attractive for whatever reason. (Me: "Do you think Sandra Bernhard is ugly?" Husband: "No.") Apparently MAC digs her too.

So I think the answer to "Now what?" is stop assuming people will value you less because you are ugly. Magazines and advertisers are not who you are trying to date. And also, recognise that life will get better soon as your peer group ages up, hits the real world, and develops values and standards based on a completely different set of experiences than the insecure social pack hierarchies of highschool and college demand.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:11 PM on April 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

There is a lot of luck involved with dating and finding friends. The more you put yourself out there the more chance you have of finding people you really enjoy being with and help you feel better about yourself. But be careful. Don't waste time with people who clearly seem to make you feel worse, especially when it comes to sex. I have to suggest you try approaching the guy who seems to be a little insecure and less confident in himself, because I would have appreciated this so much when I was younger.

When I feel down, it can really help if I get out of my head and try to do something to help other people. I've done a lot of volunteering, and that has been a good place to meet nice people.

As others have commented on, there is probably a lot you can do to improve how you feel about your appearance, but I would start with the smaller things like working out, etc.
posted by Golden Eternity at 6:33 PM on April 13, 2012

In addition to what others have said about YouTube makeup tutorials (watch them all! Buy good makeup brushes and practice for an hour a day!), I would recommend getting into yoga and Pilates. This will give you a hot body and sexy posture, but more importantly it will utterly transform your relationship with your body and yourself and give you a lot more confidence. Seriously, I am the clumsiest, most awkward, self-conscious person ever, but when I was doing Pilates 3-5x/week, people were asking me if I was a ballet dancer. So Pilates is great for posture and overall slender sexiness, and yoga is great for toning, strength, balance, confidence and inner peace. Dance classes as others have suggested are also an awesome idea. And makeup can do more for you than you might imagine. So many hot girls (maybe even most) are just amazing with makeup! And it's a learnable skill.
posted by désoeuvrée at 7:52 PM on April 13, 2012

I am going to make a few observations from the perspective of being twice your age. One is that I went many years as an adult outside the paradigm of Facebook so at some point in my life all these people I never knew anything about or thought about at all for 20 years "looked me up". And you know, a very commonplace phenomenon is that homely people find somebody to love and boy, they seem really happy.

Two, I don't consider myself ugly (I don't consider myself particularly handsome but I guess I generally feel like I'm alright) so I can't claim to be able to walk in your shoes exactly. But: I am objectively short, particularly by the standards of the American Midwest where I've lived my whole life. And I know for a certain fact that there are a lot of women who would not consider dating me because of my height. I know I would have had a lot more prospects if I was 6 inches taller. That isn't some sort of paranoid fantasy, it is a well-documented fact. And yeah it is kind of trite but there is real truth to it: to a degree these realities that we have to deal with are just getting a lot of frankly shallow people out of the way. At the end of the day most of us don't want to date a lot of people, we want to date the right person. Your right person is going to have to be okay with the face you've got. A lot of people may not have to deal with this particular factor in what makes most people wrong for them, but everybody has to sort through a whole lot of people who are wrong to them to get to the ones that are right.

Third, I wrote a long while back about something I did when I was in my twenties when I tried to limit as much as possible my exposure to media images. Actual people are an incredibly funky looking and frequently homely lot and you can forget that if you mediate a lot because the media image of people is way the fuck off the mark and there is no question in my mind that it is becoming much, much more so over the years. It might help to do a media fast while you try to recalibrate your sense of self. Some of those "turn off the inner judge" exercises might not hurt either, just looking at yourself and talking objectively about what you see, not being dishonest or sugar coating, but also not judging. In general you need to work on turning off that inner dialogue and talking back to its aspects that tear you down.

Finally, as gently and kindly and understandingly as I can say it: at the moment it sounds like how you look isn't what is keeping you from getting dates. It's keeping you from even trying and that is a guarantee of failure. You gotta get out there, you have to go where people are, you have to chat up relative strangers, you have to take chances. Again, this is true for everyone and it's not easy for most. I'm not trying to be dismissive of what you have to deal with it but it's still what you have to do.
posted by nanojath at 8:03 PM on April 13, 2012 [6 favorites]

In addition to a media fast, one thing you can do to re-calibrate your sense of what people really look like is to spend some time in public swimming pool and locker room. Especially in the middle of the day in the middle of the week. The way women look on their way to and from the pool, and in and out of the shower and etc. is a good eye opener. People look so different stripped of their street armour.
posted by looli at 8:11 PM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Beauty is subjective. If you want to find a guy, you will. If you want to have sex, you will. But the worth you give yourself (or lack thereof) will be critical in determining how happy you are at the end of it all.

Regarding your description of yourself- yeah, real women look like that. We have pimples and stretch marks and cellulite (irrespective of our weight) and we will get more of all those and then some with the kind of things the female body goes through in a lifetime. So, I hate to break this dreadful news to you but you are pretty darn normal.

What probably gave you the wrong impression was the media you are exposed to (or expose yourself to!). If you are in the US, I highly recommend watching this. More here. This may change the way you view everything around you and how you let others view yourself.

Be proud of what you've got. (And grateful that all the parts are functioning.)
posted by xm at 11:18 AM on April 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

Poster: allow me to add my apologies that you've had to wade through so many condescending "beauty is subjective," "you're not ugly"-type answers. These people are well-meaning but I guess they can't be blamed for being clueless: unless you've lived life as an ugly woman you can't possibly get it.

I'm you, only 10 years from now. I'm 30, and objectively ugly. (If you've read much Nabokov, you'll see why I chose this username.) Men check their watches when they see me coming on the street. I don't get hit on or flirted with. I've never kissed anyone.

I wish I could say that people's reactions don't matter to me anymore, or it gets less lonely. It doesn't stop hurting.

But what I have been able to do is to care less. Yes: I am ugly. But people in my life value me for other things, and it hasn't stopped me from being lucky in other ways. Right now, I have an amazing job that's given me the opportunity to help change the world. I am not someone who brags or exaggerates: it is objectively fucking awesome.

Even if we can't be pretty and have doting significant others, we can have other things. You've got to believe that you can have them, though, even though you can't have some of the really basic things other people take for granted.

You're ugly, but that's not all you are.

All that said: I've never tried plastic surgery and have regretted it. I'd echo the recommendations that you look into it, if only to know what your options are.

Good luck, poster - I'm pulling for you, hard.
posted by hazelshade at 5:28 PM on April 14, 2012 [9 favorites]

Mod note: Folks, this question is now in MetaTalk, please stop criticizing other people's answers and take meta-level discussion there instead.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:42 AM on April 15, 2012

You know, men care far less about looks than you are told. I learned this first hand. I started a new job in a different part of a place I used to work at. About 4 months in, a new professor started. She had elephant mans disease.

What a flirt. She had me wrapped around her finger like that. Quickly I had it bad for her. Nerves an all that. Couldn't do anything about it. She was married. Had facial and limb deformities and was also slightly overweight. It took me a month to shake that crush.

Here's a practical suggestion--go on Amazon, and look up a book called Intimate Connections by Dr. David Burns. Read it. Do the exercises. Your love life will take off if you put consistent effort into the exercises and follow the book's advice to the letter.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:47 AM on April 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Having a really cool pair of glasses will forgive a multitude of sins. 100% serious.
posted by modernserf at 1:43 PM on April 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Radical suggestion: come hang out with people who are objectively uglier than you are.

One of the things the birthmarks community does that I really like is we share photos of ourselves with our birthmarks visible. There are people who haven't been able to go out without makeup - can't even show their uncovered face to their own children - and this sort of thing helps them feel less like freaks. AboutFace does similar things with folks with all kinds of facial differences. We're not actually freaks at all - we just don't fit into the stereotypes perpetuated by TV and magazines. It turns out that hardly anyone fits those stereotypes without airbrushing and hours of effort, but a lot of people get much closer than we can with a small amount of effort, so we feel like the odd men and women out.

Also, for various reasons I never did the makeup thing - so somewhat amusingly, even with my giant red replica of Africa covering the left half of my face, what I worry about are my unstraight teeth, hair that won't behave, and double chin. This really is mostly in your head, no matter what you look like. Really.
posted by SMPA at 3:13 PM on April 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

Oh, and also: you can totally afford therapy. There are sliding scales if you don't have insurance, and if your social life is highly constricted, you can probably come up with $25-50 a month to work on this. If you want to MeMail me I can probably find you something you can afford. It really does help, especially if you're convinced you can't do stuff because you're fundamentally not worthy - that's practically what therapy was invented for.
posted by SMPA at 5:53 PM on April 15, 2012

OP, I'm sure you've got plenty of answers to go on here (including my somewhat flippant-but-sincere one above - which in retrospect might not be as helpful as I'd hoped).

But if you sincerely believe that you're ugly and it's causing you physical, mental or emotional pain to look at yourself in the mirror as you say, there's another possibility nobody's brought up yet: You might actually be suffering from Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) without realizing it.

Unfortunately, Body Dysmorphic Disorder is a real mental illness listed in the DSM-4 (and the upcoming DSM-5) that's horribly under-reported by its sufferers (guesstimates say 1% of the population is affected; I've also read 13% of college-age women suffer from it, and 48% of those identified as having BDD have suicidal ideation related to their looks, so I'd rather err on the side of caution at this point). Contrary to the image the word "body" connotes in the disorder's description, according to studies listed by the NHS, the most frequent body areas of concern are the skin (73%), hair (56%), and nose (37%).

Here's a link to the BDD Workbook: Overcoming Body Dysmporphic Disorder and Ending Body Image Obsessions if you'd like to read more about this possibility, which includes a self-diagnostic test.

If you'd like to reach out to others who feel similarly about themselves about their looks, these forums might be helpful to you.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 11:54 AM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

confidence. it's all about confidence.
posted by anthropomorphic at 2:20 PM on April 16, 2012

All I can say is this: focus on those parts of you that are attractive, to accentuate them, and focus on those parts of you that you can control, such as your hygiene and habits and dress and ultimately how nicely you treat everyone else. Get passionate about things you can do in your life, and do a great job with them. Sooner or later, you'll meet other people like you -- taking you at your word, that would be "people who are ugly and know it" -- who live their lives and enjoy themselves, too, and perhaps you'll fall in love.

Good advice for everyone, really, no matter what their physical appearance.

But, but, but...I just can't shake the fact that all over, everywhere I look, I see people that I consider ugly -- guys and girls -- and I see them with dates, spouses, children. The world is full of all kinds, and there's room for all of them. So if you're right, and you're ugly, then hey, just accept it and focus on everything else...because people always care more about their appearance than other people care, and so you are ugliest to yourself (except for hurtful people who wander around pointing out everyone else's flaws, of course; to them, everyone is ugly in some way. Try to ignore them.)
posted by davejay at 4:21 PM on April 16, 2012

If I can make an unconventional suggestion, if you are truly ugly, and it's not a self image issue, might I suggest that you get into acting? Hollywood loves interesting looking people, and while I wouldn't expect to play a leading lady, you will probably get ahead of the conventionally beautiful actresses much more quickly because of your unusual looks. Bonus points, acting classes will give you a chance to boost your confidence. If you're too anxious to try acting classes, talk to your doctor about various medications that can help you with the anxiety. I just learned recently that a medication I'm taking for blood pressure is also used to help with performance and social anxiety, so there are many options in that arena.

But, I'm going to argue that you're not actually ugly. Without seeing a picture of you, I can't say for sure, but as someone with seriously deep confidence issues, I often see myself as ugly, even though I don't think I am objectively and have had many admirers. But I can't see myself as anything but ugly when I look in the mirror. Though at 35 that's gotten better, and looking back on myself in pictures when I was in my 20's, I look and go "damn, I was kind of smokin'". Part of my own self confidence issues come from my mother who has self confidence problems. Which she bestowed on me because I look like her. It's shitty, but I've gotten better with it.

It also doesn't help that I'm horribly unphotogenic. The majority of good pictures of myself were candid. I have a tendency to tuck my chin in when I smile, giving me horrible double and triple chins. I over smile, giving myself a huge gum line that's just gross. But in moments where I actually don't do that, I look pretty good. I hid a lot from the camera as a kid (due to those same self confidence issues) and I think I never learned how to take a good picture.

I found my soul mate young enough that I don't know much about online dating, but I personally wouldn't only go that route. Give it a go, sure, but also get involved in some community activities and clubs. Give yourself something interesting to do and some interesting people to bond with. You may find some perspective mates there, and if not, you'll at least find some interesting people, probably the type of people that are more likely to become lifelong friends than those you've met previously.

Finally, I'd consider therapy. You said you can't afford it, but I'd try to find a way. My biggest regret is that I didn't start therapy younger, and I'm realizing a lot of my baggage is due to issues from my youth that I never got over as well as I thought I did. As many people pointed out, there are numerous ugly people out there and most are quite successful finding mates, so even if you ARE ugly, that doesn't seem to be the real issue you're facing here (<-- which I'm not totally convinced of either.)
posted by [insert clever name here] at 12:47 AM on April 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm with St. Alia of the Bunnies and anthropomorphic here. You can easily trump beauty with any subset of confidence, personality, sense of humor, interests, being in shape.
posted by jeffburdges at 1:34 AM on April 17, 2012

Well, here are some practical suggestions that make the extremely ugly women I know quite attractive to men.

- be in your physically best shape possible. Take care of your body. Suggestion: Pick up out door sports, like skiing, rock-climbing, and try to take it to the most professional level possible, chose sports where you are admired for your skill and can "talk the talk". I know a very ugly Italian women (they exist!) who does alpine climbing, is fit and trim and she dates other climbers who love having a real partner in life and love.

- grow your hair long and invest time and money into taking care of your hair (brushings, highlights, frequent hairstylings, maybe have a regular hairdresser you would go to every week - I'm talking about a serious time/money investment). Suggestion: Try to always wear your hair long - around mid-back. This is extremely sexy to men, especially if that hair looks soft, fresh and long, that's hair that is begging to be touched. Corollary: do not wear your hair in tight hairstyles, nor use hardly any hairspray.

- modulate your voice. Don't ever screech nor ever use a shrill voice, or shrill laugh, or ever sound like fingernails dragged across the blackboard. Basically, voices in the lower registry are considered sexy. Another thing I noticed is that sexy women speak slower and lower.

- realize the power of clothes and a confident walk. Basically, look at the princesses from birth - many are objectively pretty ugly. They wear the best clothes, that fit them perfectly and they descend that carpeted grand staircase like, well, a queen. And all the world holds their breath. These ugly women are taught to act majestic. A lot is about holding your head even, always having a little smile playing on your face no matter what, speaking low and clearly, taking small medium sized steps, not being gawky.
This is now my personal opinion, but if you're in the States, I would recommend you stay away from whatever is trendy in American style clothing, slim jeans or hipster anything. Try to stand out from the crowd in terms of your clothes. (Then again if everyone around you is wearing pearls, then by all means go Lady Gaga) In my personal opinion, I would advice not to go with any trendy look - usually only very attractive women can pull off those MC hammer pants or whatever the industry dictates next - and instead go for a classic look. In terms of what you wear, make sure it looks comfortable, easy to slip off. Those weird Lady Gaga heels and costumes are a turn-off for most men. Become a striking women.

- try to improve your face as much as possible: eyebrow waxing, skin care, also remember to always wear blush and often use mascara and reapply them during the day. Advice: it's always better to look "natural" than coated in make-up. Don't wear layers of foundation, even if you think it covers your stretchmarks, it only accentuates them. To experiment with make-up, go to a Sephora or a department store and ask for a free make-up sitting. Do this like, 10 times. Everyone will doll you up differently, use the technique that you like the best. (Just from your description, I would suggest to accentuate the eyes with mascara+ eye-liner, add a deep blush below your cheekbones and leave the mouth without lipstick. You say your mouth is small with fat lips. In that case, always keep smiling - that will stretch your mouth, and be thankful you will never have those awful "thin lips" that people try to improve by injecting millions in their lips to make them bigger).

- invest in developing a hobby besides sports. Take up music, art, animal care, whatever to be an interesting person with depth. Volunteer, have some topic of conversation, show some interest in the world around you, some knowledge of what came before you, don't dumb yourself down. Have a sense of humor.

- last but not least, get a great great job in a great field. Be successful.

- smile privately to yourself, often.

In sum: look good, act well, be feminine, flirtatious, have a secret garden. live your professional life to the fullest.

(Btw, being age 20-25 sucks in this regards, I wouldn't want to live that period again. But this is a great time to develop those new sports, hobbies, good grooming manners and good reflexes that will last you a lifetime.)
posted by ruelle at 1:03 PM on April 17, 2012 [6 favorites]

If you start out ugly, you have nothing to lose by trying new looks, and you a whole different toolkit to work with than all the generic pretty people.

"The ugly may be beautiful but the pretty, never."

-Paul Gauguin
posted by hermitosis at 3:27 PM on April 17, 2012 [5 favorites]

Don't do this. You may think it's a way to get accurate results, but it's not, because it's an inherently unattractive thing to do. It's not attractive to point out your flaws, worse to ask someone else to. Just doing this will skew your results. And that's assuming that any of the people you'd ask would give you their unexpurgated opinion, which is unlikely.

It's also really unfair to the guy. I'm not super attractive but if I were and targeted for that kind of interview I'd feel horrible having to catalogue the visual flaws of a complete stranger and making them feel terrible.

The remainder of my answer is going to pragmatic, looking at how to accentuate the positives and minimize the negatives of your appearance, and also give a male perspective from a superficial viewpoint. After all, although everything people have said upthread about engaging personalities is true, at the same time being charismatic, engaging, etc. can be difficult for someone who isn't a natural at it (I speak from experience). So if you are a natural, you'll be able to do it and if you're not, it'll be pretty difficult. It might be as difficult to overcome your appearance using your personality than it would be to make some specific choices about just your appearance.

So onwards.

First of all, you may very well be ugly in the traditional sense. However, I do feel like the points you bring up -- particularly the stretch marks -- are things that women zero in on but men seriously don't notice. If you have a nice body with tons of stretch marks, I guarantee you will still get more attention than a girl with a not-as-nice body and no stretch marks.

I would strongly recommend against trying to be skinny as a way to be attractive. If you naturally have a narrow frame, so be it, but don't lose weight to become more attractive unless you're not a healthy weight. If you're naturally curvy, flaunt it. Men really like curvy women, despite what most magazines would have you believe.

Second of all, while dressing well can be important, sometimes I feel that when moderately attractive people dress in really nice clothes the contrast actually makes them look less attractive. You may pull off jeans and a faded t-shirt (depending on the context of course) better than a fancy dress. Similarly, while I'd definitely recommend some makeup for your photos, you may want to go try going without much makeup or with just some foundation to cover skin issues. I'd avoid accents like eyeliner, eyeshadow, or bright lipstick.

Work on your smile, making it friendly and come-hither-y. A small mouth is fine so long as you can make a decent smile with it. The straight teeth help. Work on being flirty. The ability to communicate desire -- without coming off as desperate -- is an incredible turn on to a guy. Making a guy feel that you want him (and specifically him, not just "some guy") can make him ignore a lot of things about you that you might have thought were obvious.

I have to admit I too wondered about the possibility of plastic surgery -- but honestly only because if you really are ugly, it's probably a structural thing that can actually be fairly easily fixed.

Go ahead and post that OkCupid profile. Then get a nice pair of professional pictures done along with a couple that feature your body profile if you think it's attractive enough. Then a few showing off the things you love to do. OkCupid is seriously a numbers game and men contact everyone. I know because my wife, who explicitly states she's not looking for anyone and is married, still gets a few messages every month from curious guys playing the numbers (me? I get none).

I'll add that I got started really late in all this; I didn't get around to fooling around or kissing until I was 20 or so but at a certain point of the year it just clicked for a while (and then I had a multi-year dry spell in my mid-20s). It may happen this way for you too. As others on the thread have pointed out, you definitely are still young.
posted by Deathalicious at 10:27 PM on April 17, 2012

Also statistically, I've heard that single women live longer than married women. So there's that. If you were an ugly man, you'd be out of luck -- single men die earlier than married men. Why women are so eager to get into a partnership that kills them sooner I'll never understand.

My point is that I know women who live full and vigorous lives while remaining single and I think being a woman here -- although it puts you in a worse situation in terms of expectations of attractiveness -- is an advantage in that it'll get easier and easier to feel good about everything else in your life other than men.
posted by Deathalicious at 10:33 PM on April 17, 2012

I've only skimmed the answers, but I'm guessing most of them will be saying something like 'it's okay to be ugly, it's what's inside that counts.'

The big secret is there's no such thing as ugly. It's all about what you do with what you've got. If you take a good look at iconic images of females such as movie stars, really pull it apart, you can see that it's all

a) hair and makeup
b) dressing for one's own unique body and personality
c) lighting

Simple as that.

In real life I would add

d) being comfortable in your own skin, and
e) not giving a f***

These are the things which will make you genuinely and enduringly attractive.

Sophia Loren is a perfect example - she had strong features and could have thought of herself as ugly too.

Invest in the best haircut your money can buy and dress for your body. Enjoy!
posted by inkypinky at 2:06 AM on April 22, 2012

Hey, chica!!
I, too, am 20 and I used to feel the same way you do about your looks. (I have a large nose but have always had a nice body as a result of my dance training, plump lips, thick hair, and an even skin tone.)

In high school, I was the archetypal ugly, unpopular, tomboyish, gamer girl in high school who struggled with self esteem issues for a really, really long time. It didn't help that my mother, a former beauty queen, constantly compared me to my pretty but vapid sister or casually say that there might've been a mix-up at the hospital because "no daughter of hers could be so hideous." (E.g., lotusmish: "Mother ji, I got an A+ on my Math test!" mother: "Who cares? No Indian boy would ever want to marry anyone as ugly as you." lotusmish sulks back to her room and reads a Victorian romance novel. #fml) As a result of my mother's nastiness, I lacked a lot of really basic social and attraction skills until I started college. Before then, I never wore makeup, I had to take the initiative to ask guys who'd been rejected by every other girl in school to school dances, I wasn't allowed to talk to boys unless my mother was supervising the conversation, I wasn't allowed to watch non-mother approved television shows, I was never asked out, and I actually didn't even know what sex was. (Or that there was more than one kind!)

Life basically sucked...until I moved out at 17, first to Chicago, then to Charlotte, then to a dozen or so cities afterwards. My self confidence improved tremendously once my mother was unable to constantly remind me that I wasn't, in fact, the ugliest girl in the universe. I was able to befriend both guys and girls in the dorm I was living in who liked me as I was; with their help, I eventually ditched my baggy clothes that hid my beautiful figure, learned how to apply lipgloss and eyeliner, and managed to straighten my hair the *proper* way. That, in addition to growing out my hair, helped me increase several 'points' overnight. Fast forward a year and I'm a freshman in college--with absolutely no kissing or dating experience whatsoever but some knowledge of how to dress and basic self-confidence. Several REALLY FREAKING HOT guys asked me out on REAL, LEGITIMATE dates...at a party school notorious for its noncommittal hookup culture. Though I ended up breaking things off with three of them because of different socioeconomic/political/religious backgrounds, it was nice to know that objectively popular guys found my confidence as attractive as the rest of me.

I felt really good about myself and my looks up until I decided to rush a sorority this past fall and was placed in a middle-tier house with "average" but somewhat slutty girls. The president basically pulled me aside and said that since I wasn't one of the prettier sophomore girls, I'd have to give my virginity to the highest fratboy bidder and/or a banana to ensure the reputation of the house. :'( I promptly left, reported her and the chapter to Nationals, started (obsessively) researching the anthropology of love, and discerning 1-10 beauty scale. (FWIW, the most two helpful books I've read are The Rules and Every Man Sees You Naked. I also learned a lot about seduction by taking political science classes, studying marketing, working for a few campaigns, running my side business, and studying Dale Carnegie, Simone de Beauvoir, Racine, Lao Tzu, the Torah, and Thomas Greene.)

At the end of the day, women are going to be judged for their looks instead of their brains. Non-gorgeous girls have to work a lot harder on their personality for other people to find them attractive and that alone is disheartening enough to make a non-gorgeous girl disenchanted, pessimistic, and depressed. I, for one, want to have my pick of the litter when it's time for me to get hitched and that is why I ultimately decided to ask my Dad to get me a rhinoplasty. (I'm getting a new nose in nine days!)

1) Eat a lot of papayas and drink a lot of water...it'll clear up your skin.
2) See a dermatologist for skincare recommendations. If you want, if you send me a picture of your skin via MeMail, I can ask my Dad to give you some free, unofficial medical advice. (FWIW he prescribed me Zithromax to clear up stress-induced acne.)
3) Visit an esthetician at the best (medi-)spa in your town and ask her for a deep cleansing facial, microdermabrasion session, and anything else she/he recommends. Use the products the dermatologist recommended in addition to whatever the esthetician recommends.
4) If you have a bit of cash to spare, I highly recommend getting any unwanted body hair lasered off permanently. I'm getting everything below my eyebrows done.
5) Go to your local Sephora or Mac booth and ask them for a makeover and beauty product recommendations. (FWIW I use over-the-counter Cetaphil facewash three times a day under Philip Thomas Roth SPF 30 moisturizer, a Clarins primer, and hypoallergenic Estee Lauder cosmetics. I also apply a LOT of lotion after I take a shower to ensure my skin will stay soft, supple, and wrinkle-free.
6) Go to a really expensive, high-end clothing store and ask for a personal stylist to give you clothes recommendations based on your body type. Once you have a better idea of the styles that will work well for you, go buy some basic clothes--a few plain tops and a few bottoms--that you can start implementing into your existing wardrobe. If your weight is an issue for you, don't buy too much in case you go down a few dress sizes.
7) See a stylist and do whatever you can about your hair, based on the state that it's in.
8) If you can afford it, get as much plastic surgery as you can afford. (Though my new nose is going to cost around $6K, the computer predicted pictures I've seen suggest that my life is going to change for the better very, very soon!)
9) Continue to work on self improvement: read, think, daydream, travel, get involved on campus, surround yourself with people smarter and more virtuous than you, learn about feminism, attend conferences, do academic research, get great grades, and discover spirituality. (Abandoning Hinduism and converting to Reform Judaism was the best thing that ever happened to me.)
10) Tell yourself everyday that you're a beautiful, fascinating creature and that YOU DON'T NEED A MAN OR SEX TO COMPLETE YOU. Once you've a) worked on your appearance, b) developed a healthy amount of self-esteem, c) discovered your interests, d) made a solid friend group, I double pinky promise that opportunities with guys will naturally present themselves.

YOU CAN DO IT!! MeMail me if you ever want to talk! :)

Hugs and oodles of sisterly love,
posted by lotusmish at 8:36 PM on April 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

Holy crap, lotusmish. That sorority--in fact, the whole sorority system--sounds absolutely vile. What are they, brothels for the fraternities or something?

I am married to a professor and live in a university town, and every so often during fall rush we see hundreds of girls walking around campus in little black dresses, stiletto heels, with straightened, ironed hair, mostly blonde, wearing EXACTLY the same makeup, all carrying these hideous totebags that look completely incongruous with their outfits. Maybe I've gotten the wrong impression, but it sounds as if they enforce absolute conformity in terms of looks and behavior, among other things. Completely toxic. If you don't mind my saying so, you're better off out of the Greek system altogether.

I hope the rhinoplasty goes well and that you feel better about your looks as a result. I know a young woman who is going to be gorgeous when she grows up, except for a birth defect that resulted in--among other things--a nose that has no cartilage in it. When she was very small, she had an adorable "button nose," but now that she's a teenager it's clear that it will need a bit of improvement when she has reached an adequate stage of development. Sometimes Nature just needs a little assistance.

I've read through this entire thread, and honestly, while I really don't wish to dismiss their concerns about their looks as trivial, I still think the OP and all the commenters saying that they, too, are objectively ugly need to find better friends and acquaintances with whom to surround themselves, people who are more capable of appreciating interesting looks and unconventional beauty. There's something seriously askew about our sense of ourselves, our bodies, and our notions of beauty.

For example, I think Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown law student who spoke out earlier this spring about reproductive health funding for graduate students and young professional women and whom Rush Limbaugh called a "slut," is actually very pretty in a serious, understated sort of way, and yet I saw an appalling number of nasty comments about her appearance (probably all made by dittoheads, but still). I've seen beautiful women slammed for weighing 150 pounds (even though they were by no means overweight and actually looked better than anorexic stick figures). I read somewhere recently that Simone de Beauvoir was not considered beautiful, and I would beg to differ. Much of one's beauty is in one's eyes and expression. A beautiful expression--thoughtful, kind, serene, passionate, intelligent--is part of one's overall beauty. Those supermodels with the ethereal faraway gazes? All brought to you by heroin.

I was never a head-turner myself--I never got dates in high school and in college was usually the homely girl brought along to set off the looks of my pretty roommates and floormates--but when I first walked into the classroom where I met my future husband, he said I was the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen and that he couldn't stop staring at me. (Of course, he was a tall, gangly, bespectacled, scruffy nerd, but I thought he was beautiful, too, especially his eyes, which were kind and serious and crinkled up at the corners when he smiled.) After all this time, despite the ravages of early middle age, he still thinks I'm beautiful. Now, in my high school senior picture, I can actually see what he meant.

OTOH, the woman I saw the other day in a checkout line dressed in purple with chalk-white skin, a blood-red mouth, fangs, and a cruelly-curving black brow over eyelids powdered in dark purple--OK, she wasn't just ugly, she was scary.
posted by tully_monster at 3:49 AM on May 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

Anonymous: A different haircut might change your facial looks. Would bangs balance your "huge" nose? Would smiling more show your nice teeth and distract form your small mouth?
There is a tendency to obsess about a certain feature.
I knew a woman who had a bumpy nose and passed it on to her daughters. As soon as they were old enough, she had a cosmetic surgeon perform a simple procedure that removed their bumps. You could look into that if your nose really bothers you. I ihave no idea if your insurance would cover.
posted by Cranberry at 1:06 PM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Hey, Anon, I figured after the metatalk debacle, you're definitely still reading this. Here's my story.

I am not, in fact, ugly. BUT I am the daughter of a classic beauty and I have a cleft lip and palate. So my whole face is a little bit messed up. A doctor can tell immediately what it is, but a bystander might think I'm just plain. All my life my mother gave me shit about this, not out of evil, but out of wanting me to have what she has. You should do this, you should do that. I get it, I understand the good intentions, I can forgive, but it sure did a number on me by the time I was 18 and out of the house. (Going on 35, and she's about stopped.)

The parts of me that do not look like my mother look like, surprise, my dad. He is not ugly, either, but comes from a long and ethnically pure line of German farmers. I look at pictures of long-deceased female relatives standing in front of houses, in front of horses, in fields, even (yes) in front of plows, and I say "wow! That's where the non-Mom, non-cleft-palate parts come from!" (Not my relatives, but the basic idea.)

My point? If I had been able to subscribe 100% to the hair/makeup/exercise thing in college, I could have railroaded the farmwife look into something more mainstream dateable. But I couldn't. I was can't-get-out-of-bed depressed and PLUS I had bad skin.

So what did I do? I dated as much as I could, I never said no to a cup of coffee, and got a little bit of experience in this, just a little bit. I had plenty of shy, relatively plain friends who WOULD get asked out and would say, "oh, no, he's too nerdy, I'm not attracted to him," blah, blah, blah. WTF? I said. Who are YOU? I would want to ask them. I went out anyway. Over the course of YEARS, I mean years, it got easier. Every date and every non-date. It's OK. Your dates are using you, too. This is a benign case of using. You are also helping THEM learn the ropes.

Then (after years of struggle) 3 things happened:

1) I got involved in a long-term sexual relationship. I always knew that the total package was my best feature, see farmwife gene pool, and now I had someone to confirm my suspicions.

2) My looks started to settle in, as described above by many others.

3) I eventually forgot most of what my mother told me, or pushed it to the back of my mind.

Though I am now in the fabled LTR, during the occasional intermission I have not had much of a problem, if you know what I mean. This is a good 10-15 years after age 20. Hang in there.
posted by skbw at 10:11 PM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have a friend who is quite unattractive. Really asymmetrical face. Birth defects evident. Physique the opposite of healthy-looking.

My friend has been happily married for, well, ever. And barely (if ever) dated before meeting Mr. UnattractiveFriend (who is, BTW, not ugly, not asymmetrical, and fairly athletic).

YOUR INNER VOICE IS A LYING HATER. You should develop a nicer inner voice. Start a new one that tells you nice things about yourself.


I'm serious.

posted by IAmBroom at 9:40 AM on June 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

I felt just like you at that age. I had tiny eyes, I was overweight (although I was much smaller than I am today, I thought I was hideously gross and fat), and hair that was the colour of dirty dishwater and just hung there. At school I was constantly being told how ugly I was and teased. I was the ugly best friend, I looked terrible in the fashionable clothes of the time, I had unpopular opinions and wouldn't play dumb, and at times I even wished I was a boy because I thought I'd be better looking. I would have traded all my intelligence and humour to be pretty so often. I'm glad I didn't.

At 20, I asked someone if I was beautiful and was told that I was striking. I decided I quite liked being striking - it was more fun. 'Beautiful' has quite a narrow definition, but striking can be anything you like. As others have said, learning how to use make-up and clothing to your advantage will help - I'm thinking about eccentric women like Vivienne Westwood or Anna Piaggi, women who use colour and dress and hats to force you to stare at them. At 17 I was pretty depressed and going through some drama at college, so I dyed my hair pillarbox red - if they were going to stare at me, give them something to stare at. And it lifted a weight off my shoulders. I'm not suggesting you turn yourself into a product, Andy Warhol style, but you can own the things about you that to you are so terrible, and work them to your advantage. (I wish I had big eyes.) I recently read a book called Wacky Chicks by Simon Doonan (I'd link but the internet is being weird) and it's full of examples of women who thought they were never going to be like the others and then decided to run with it.

And if that doesn't appeal? Watch an episode of the Jeremy Kyle show, or whichever talk show is popular where you are. You will see love triangles where women fight over frankly hideous men, and vice versa. 'Ugly' people get dates all the time, just as charmless and boring people do. Please don't think that, if someone asks you out, it's such a rare event that you have to say yes.
posted by mippy at 9:12 AM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I just found this again and wanted to add... Consider the French concept of jolie-laide, or "pretty-ugly." The most attractive people are those who are somewhat off-kilter in appearance and make it work. Sexy.
posted by inkypinky at 6:42 AM on June 21, 2012 [4 favorites]

Also worth adding--see this thought-provoking thread about guys checking women out. I'm here to tell you. As noted above, I am neither ugly nor a head-turner. BUT I do have the goods. I just don't show them off for many reasons. When I was your age I was very religious, think the Mennonites but Jewish edition, and now at 35 I am essentially a married woman on the margins of the same small-c conservatively dressed community.

When I go out of town, go get coffee or beer with platonic friends male and female, break out the tight clothes, sure I get attention. My packaging is night and day and the manifest male interest is, too. It's an experiment worth doing...maybe you don't have to try a headscarf, as I did for a while, but try it both ways and you may get some affirming results.
posted by skbw at 1:42 PM on June 23, 2012

Okay lets presume you are ugly. Done. There is frankly nothing much you can do drastically about it. Stop focusing on it and move on (beauty is a strange thing, just by making a small change in your hairstyle could change your appearance drastically and so on).

Focus on who you are, what you want to become, remove the focus from just you to the large world that you live in. There are so many possiblities for a young 20 something like you. Don't waste your time moping about your looks. If others have problems with it, let them. Get a life, focus on it, enjoy it and move on. The bigger questions to ask yourself is what you want this one life that you are given to turn out to be.
posted by pakora1 at 2:23 PM on September 30, 2012

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