I'm ugly right now. What can I do?
January 14, 2013 8:58 PM   Subscribe

I have a bad (short and growing out) haircut, and I've been having the worst acne breakout of my life for the past 5 months. I feel very unattractive. I'm now under the care of a great dermatologist, and I'm searching for a new stylist. In the meantime, I don't feel like myself. How can I get back on track?

I've been doing yoga, work is really great, and school has started for me, which means I'm definitely busy doing loads of positive things. However, every social situation brings me dread. I've nearly perfected covering up my acne about as much as one can, but it's never perfect (you can essentially tell that I'm covering up acne) and I worry that I'm just making the acne worse by always covering it. Not to mention that I'm trying to grow out my hair and cut it as little as possible, but it looks like utter crap without heat styling and I just want my hair to go back to being pretty and healthy again. I don't feel like myself getting dressed, always worried about looking too masculine or like I either have makeup piled on or that my face is just so horrifying and disgusting.

And of course, I can't imagine wanting to be with me. I feel guilty because I feel unattractive and have no doubt that my husband isn't loving what's going on either. And I don't dare talk about how unattractive I feel, not because we don't communicate (we do!), but because I honestly can't believe that he would disagree. Yes, he knows I'm struggling with the acne and the hair, but I can't make him feel guilty for not acting like I'm super sexy right now.

For now, my strategy is to focus on kicking ass at work, school and yoga. However, even when I'm talking to one of my colleagues or friends, I can't help but feel like they are just staring at my flaws and not taking me seriously (not that I have to be attractive to be taken seriously, but that I just feel like I must look gross and distracting). I'd love to just not exist to my friends and coworkers until it all gets "better", but that's not an option. And to be honest, I'm not the hottest chick to begin with, but as a late-twenties woman, I was actually finally pretty happy with the way I looked... six months ago. But now, it's all shit. My whole perception of myself and my self-esteem is warped and broken.

My question(s): how can I focus away from this? I need a "nose to the grindstone" solution for this, but I just don't see one. (Though, thus far it's been to try my best to be attractive in every other way I can.) Do I need tough love? Should I find a therapist? Have you been through this and has it gotten better? Do you have practical solutions for dealing with awkward hair and/or acne? I'll take anything. Please help.
posted by your mom's a sock puppet to Grab Bag (25 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I felt like this when I had the worst. Haircut. Of. My. Life. The one that made me cry. I went 25 years of my life without crying over my hair. This one made me cry. And the only way for it to get better was to wait for it to grow out.

I spent more time on my hair every day for about 2 months that I normally do in a week. And I was still self-conscious about it, but I didn't let it stop me. I socialized and dated and even had a fling during that time. And seriously, I'm fairly sure nobody else noticed anything going on with my hair, definitely not in proportion with how much I thought about it.
posted by DoubleLune at 9:06 PM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

We usually see our own flaws about 1,000 times more than anyone else. Your husband and friends probably just see you. Possibly you with an unfortunate haircut, but they know what you look like and a change in hair isn't going to change their perceptions of you as a person. Same goes for acne. They may feel bad that you're having bad breakouts, but it's not as if you're suddenly hideous.

Are hats/hair accessories options? Are there other "prettying up" things you could do just for yourself? New outfits? I think this is something you can definitely get through (especially the hair...hair grows), so focus on the fact that it's temporary and most likely doesn't affect how others see you as much as you think it does.
posted by xingcat at 9:27 PM on January 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

Download Mindfulness In Plain English and start a regular practice, like yesterday.

There is no need to keep telling yourself any of those lies.
posted by flabdablet at 9:29 PM on January 14, 2013 [8 favorites]

Your husband and friends probably just see you. Possibly you with an unfortunate haircut

I've known lots of people who've gotten unfortunate haircuts, but after I've seen them once or twice I start to get used to it and it doesn't look so bad. The newness of it catches the attention, but like anything novel it eventually just becomes part of the scenery.

If you don't look your best with short hair, try on different earrings until you find some that flatter your face. What you are missing is having something along the sides of your face softening things up, and you might find that dangly earrings do the trick.

As for the acne, don't try to cover it with heavy makeup, as you've found that isn't a great look either. Best to wear a light foundation (if your dermatologist is ok with) and a light dusting of translucent powder. The goal being to reduce the angry, red look of the acne so it doesn't stand out so much. Then maybe a little blush and lipstick, so there is something on your face that is pinker than the acne, which will then be less noticeable. And maybe some eye makeup if you're comfortable with that. You're not going to look like "flawless skin" but your features will stand out more than the acne and will draw people's attention away from your skin.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 9:52 PM on January 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

I am a pro at dealing with Awkward Hair. I think pretty much 90% of the time I have what other women would call Awkward Hair, but I turn it into an opportunity to have Weirdly Awesome Hair. Styling products are your friend here. Find yourself a good stylist who can help you learn how to rock your hair, cowlicks and weird growths and all. If anything, right now is the time to have that kind of hair because funky asymmetrical random cuts are super popular.

Another idea is to experiment with eye makeup. You don't have to go all beauty queen, but just having some fun eyeshadow, a little liner and mascara can make a huge difference in toeing the line between Awkward Hair and I Meant To Look This Way. Check out Too Faced and Urban Decay for fun eye looks that won't make you feel like you're piling on crap.
posted by joan_holloway at 9:56 PM on January 14, 2013 [4 favorites]

I'm reading Self-Compassion, which I found via this comment from chickenmagazine (there's an excerpt linked in the comment). It is doing wonders toward reducing my self-loathing. (Plus, so much cheaper than therapy.)

Mineral makeup covers my acne a million times better than a liquid or cream concealer.

Seconding joan_holloway that bad hair and weird, amazing hair are often indistinguishable.
posted by purpleclover at 10:07 PM on January 14, 2013

When I have a bad haircut, I go as wacky as possible with brush-on hair colors, spiky pomades, etc., because I'd rather look weird than awkward. But this may not be possible if you work in a corporate environment.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:12 PM on January 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

I am the Queen of Awkward Hair, and have a million flaws that I'm positive make me the ugliest, most repulsive person on the planet. (Fat! No sense of style! The aforementioned hair, which is crazy thin!)

When the self-consciousness about all that stuff threatens to overwhelm me, I ask myself this: how much time do I spend thinking about, or even noticing, the flaws of the people around me? The answer is, I don't, at all. I figure that's probably about as much time as the people around me spend noticing my flaws -- that is, they don't. I mean, I notice new haircuts and such, of course, but I honestly can't think of a time when I've looked at a coworker or friend and focused on, say, some acne or misbehaving hair. Nobody sees your flaws as clearly as you do.
posted by sarcasticah at 10:46 PM on January 14, 2013 [7 favorites]

I just feel like your late twenties are a great time to get comfortable with the fact that there are things about your body that you won't be able to control all the time. You can do your best - e.g. medical help or styling yourself to your best advantage - but we're all going to be withered crones with white hair one day, ya know? So why not practice accepting the loss of some of your physical beauty, especially while it's relatively temporary.
posted by pink_gorilla at 11:17 PM on January 14, 2013

I think all the ladies on earth feel your pain on this. I have had a couple of truly tragic haircuts and I went through a period where my acne was so bad that I literally just couldn't see how it would ever stop. I too found a derm and I've got my skin under control, but I sympathize. Once an acquaintance finally told me they felt bad for me, which was like...KILL ME NOW! Your pity is worse than the acne.

Some tips:

Try not to skimp on grooming and nice clothes whenever possible. Do your hair as best you can. Do weekly conditioning treatments, good shampoo...anything to try to improve it's condition and encourage growth without breakage. Try to be as polished as possible day to day. Settling for a dumpy outfit will exacerbate feeling negative about yourself.

Follow the rules that feel silly about your skin. Don't over wash or scrub, minimize touching, no picking and wash your makeup off before you sleep. No skipping, ever. It's tempting when you feel helpless about your skin to over or under do it, but don't.

Think of the skin care and hair care as prepping for the future.

Most importantly, keep in mind that this is ALL TEMPORARY. Your hair will grow back. You will solve your acne problem. I know it feels far away but your hair and skin will probably be at least manageable in 3 to 6 months if you diligently take care of both of them. That's really not so bad.

Also, I don't know what foundation and powder you are using, but I found revlon colorstay was about as good as I ever got in terms of coverage that didn't make me feel like a clown. I also like benefit concealers. Not too cakey.

Hopefully some of that helps! I'm sorry you're having a hard time.
posted by amycup at 11:19 PM on January 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

Are you asking for hair and makeup help, or mental health coping strategies? I can't tell. (This is a clarification question , not snark. )

You do sound like you could use a therapist. Being this focused on temporary superficial flaws sounds like a symptom of a bigger problem.

Also: go to a new stylist who will cut your hair so that it doesn't look so terrible while growing out. Then go to sephora/ a department store and get a makeup artist to teach you how to best deal with your skin, and to make you generally feel your best about your face.
posted by Kololo at 11:22 PM on January 14, 2013 [4 favorites]

People see hundreds of people every day who have worse than acne and bad haircuts, and those people generally fade into the background of their thoughts without much notice. The comment above about maybe people close to you will notice at first and then not care is spot on. The first time I see a friend who's gained weight or has acne or doesn't look their best in whatever way, I maybe register it for a second and stop caring. Then it doesn't even register when I see them again. You're in your late 20s so hopefully your peer group has grown out of rating everyone's appearance; people who do that tend to be insecure about their own appearance and most grow out of it by then. Don't judge yourself like you're 15 and judging other people. People look bleh sometimes, it happens. Anyone who thinks less of you for it -- including you! -- is not someone you should let influence your self worth.

I would be very surprised if your husband really thought you looked hideous and didn't just wish you had your confidence back. When I feel like I look bad my husband just feels sad that I don't want to have sex, or that I'm moping around, or I don't want to leave the house, etc. It concerns me that you are so upset about your appearance you can't even discuss it with your husband, though -- especially with the reasoning that you just know he thinks you're so ugly he won't want to fake being nice. Either your husband is shallow and maybe a jerk (acne and a bad haircut sucks, but I don't think it would make most people do an about-face on their opinion of their spouse's appearance) or, more likely, you have more serious self-esteem problems than it may seem to you on the surface. You say you felt good before when you looked good so it may not seem like a therapy-worthy issue, but consider that your sense of well-being is tied to your appearance, and that issue may have been covered up until now because you always managed to keep your appearance above some theshold. I'm not saying it's weird or wrong to feel self-conscious in your position; it's common. I am saying that I've been there before, and I don't think it's healthy if you are having these thoughts about your husband, are unwilling to talk about it, and seem convinced other people care much about your appearance. One day you're going to look worse than you do now, for whatever reason, and you will not want to feel worse than you do now. At least consider therapy or some form of introspection where the solution isn't something external. You can do both as you adjust, but ideally you'd want to get to a point where you can look sorta crappy without cratering your self-esteem.

One thing that helped me when I was younger was that I didn't want to be that frivolous a person. I didn't want to be the person where, if I were in some awful accident, all I could think about was how bad I would look in the hospital. That sort of thing. I would suggest, for example, that your friends are less likely to "not take [you] seriously" if you look bad than if they knew how important your appearance was to you. The kind of person people admire is one that can look bad and still have their priorities straight, not one who wants to fall off the earth until they're pretty again. Your friends want your company more than they want you pretty, so consider trying to be that kind of person for them.
posted by Nattie at 12:50 AM on January 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

Briefly, rather than address the bigger issue, I'll say that covering up your acne will not make it worse. One of the most frustrating things about having acne is being told that everything you could possibly do about it is wrong.

If your current concealing technique feels too heavy for you, try a thin layer of water based foundation, followed by concealer applied with a brush, followed by translucent powder brushed on with a kabuki brush.

I know that what you want is to look good with no makeup, but when I had to work to cover bad breakouts the thing that cheered me up was putting on eyeshadow, blush and lipstick as well. Then I felt like I hadn't gone through a whole laborious process just to look adequate.
posted by tel3path at 1:31 AM on January 15, 2013

Green concealer will cover the red from the acne, seriously! Then a light dusting of powder on top. Go easy on the makeup to draw attention away from your face and head, and concentrate on making sure you have a gorgeous, shiny manicure with nice hand acessories like rings or bracelets (not all at once!). Keep your facial hair well-groomed and experiment with hats, hairbands, headscarves, and updos (unless your hair is quite short you can put it up and even create the illusion of it being longer- check youtube for tutorials, search "short hair updos" or similar). Experiment with your parting and your bangs. If you're willing to drop about $100, you can get clip-in hair extensions. Make sure you're well dressed and groomed and smile a lot. Be happy to be around people and they'll think you're lovely.
posted by windykites at 3:51 AM on January 15, 2013

Some practical tips: if it works with your undertones, go for coral-based blushes and lipsticks, NOT reds. Also, figure out which colors (of clothing) make your skin tone really glow, and wear that close to your face, even if just in a scarf. It makes a huge difference. Doing yoga? You should be feeling better about your physical health, and figure....make sure you are wearing well-fitting clothes that flatter. (I wore amazing dresses and anything else with a defined waist and leggy profile when I was in the Mullet of Horror phase of a grow-out. That plus confidence meant I still had strangers telling me I was lovely, when objectively I certainly was not.) Also, yes to earrings and other accessories.

Also, do you feel that the homely people you know should feel as bad as you do, too?
posted by availablelight at 4:21 AM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

And one more, now that I can link: a finishing powder--applied lightly--is a pretty amazing optical illusion. I wear one over lightly tinted moisturizer and still look, well, finished, even though I don't have the best skin either. (I got it as a free sample--there may be less expensive ones that are just as good. You can also try-before-you-buy if you have a Sephora or similar in your area.)
posted by availablelight at 5:13 AM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Avoiding the conversation with your husband is doing two things - letting you work yourself up over what you imagine he might say, and preventing him from helping support you through this. Are you a mind reader? Do you really know what he would say, or are you projecting onto him things you are saying to yourself and using him as a(nother) stick to beat yourself with?

Here's a mental thought experiment - say you had a friend, or - better yet - a child who got a "terrible" haircut and a bad bout of acne. What would you say to this friend? Would you really tell her that she wasn't worthy of love because of the acne and hair? I bet not, so why are you saying it to yourself?

Honestly, I've been dealing with some similar themes as a late-20s married woman myself, and as soon as I solved one "issue" that my anxiety was focusing on, it would just find something new to fixate upon. Things that have helped me are:

* Mindfulness to change my warped thinking patterns (as linked above, Mindfulness in Plain English is a great resource), including the fact that nobody pays as much attention to me as I do, so the flaws I fixate on are barely noticeable and chalked up as something temporary

* Taking better care of my physical health with iron and vitamin D supplements (yay being an anemic woman of Scandinavian descent)

* Eating keto really levels me out and is a lifestyle change rather than a 'diet', and now I can actually feel the anxiety creeping back when I eat refined carbs (seldom)

* Specifically talking with my husband about my worries and fears. Before, the refrain was "he must think X" but no, I'm not really a mind reader and turns out he is a totally different person than me and doesn't think what I expect him to. Silly story - I was face-to-face with him telling him about some stressors, and he got an expression on his face that I interpreted as him judging me poorly. All of a sudden, he bursts out, "You're a triclops!" because he'd lined up my eyes perfectly so that I suddenly had a third imaginary one from where his two images overlapped. It helped a lot to break my mood and show me that I had no clue what goes on in his head.
posted by bookdragoness at 6:23 AM on January 15, 2013

Wear heels. Between now and the time your hair grows out, wear 2+ inches every day, even boots and day shoes.

I know this sounds trivial and silly compared to the recommendations of mindfulness etc above. I'm just saying what works for me. Wearing at least 2 inches makes so a stunning difference to my proportions, appearance, confidence and posture. I don't wear them every day, but it's a huge difference when i do.

Also: now is the time to get any interesting jewelry you've had your eye on. Probably nobody else cares about your hair, but you'll feel better when people are looking at you if your ears or neck are rocking something awesome.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:17 AM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Is it cold where you are? Dunno how your overall "look" is, but I pretty much have universally adopted the strategy of "bad hair day? what bad hair day? nobody here but us goofy-looking beanie hats." (but my look tends to be just this side of hipster lady, and it's freakin' freezing where I live, so, ymmv.)
posted by like_a_friend at 7:55 AM on January 15, 2013

Wear awesome shoes!

I feel so much better when I'm wearing cool boots or fun loafers.
posted by vespabelle at 8:45 AM on January 15, 2013

If you don't usually pluck your eyebrows, I'd spring for an eyebrow wax. That can make a huge positive difference in your appearance.
posted by bq at 8:49 AM on January 15, 2013

Are hats/hair accessories options? Are there other "prettying up" things you could do just for yourself?

When I have a bad haircut, I go as wacky as possible with brush-on hair colors, spiky pomades, etc., because I'd rather look weird than awkward. But this may not be possible if you work in a corporate environment.

(I wore amazing dresses and anything else with a defined waist and leggy profile when I was in the Mullet of Horror phase of a grow-out. That plus confidence meant I still had strangers telling me I was lovely, when objectively I certainly was not.) Also, yes to earrings and other accessories.

Also: now is the time to get any interesting jewelry you've had your eye on. Probably nobody else cares about your hair, but you'll feel better when people are looking at you if your ears or neck are rocking something awesome.

Wear awesome shoes!

If you don't usually pluck your eyebrows, I'd spring for an eyebrow wax. That can make a huge positive difference in your appearance.

Thanks so much for all the wonderful ideas! (I didn't quote them all, but they were all great.) This is precisely what I needed. I've definitely been paying attention to making sure I'm well-groomed otherwise, and definitely find that it's helping ease the pain. I did go back to getting my brows waxed professionally for the first time in years (eerily good suggestion, btw!). And I did just buy a ton of ultra-feminine jewelry from J. Crew. :D I've also always wanted to try hair chalking, so that's next on the list!

It's also true that I don't think about other people in this way. That's an excellent reminder.

I don't think I have deep issues here. I just want to feel like myself again, and I don't right now. I have talked to my husband about these problems and how much I think they suck, but I'm not going to blather on and on about how unattractive I feel right now. I'm a "fake it 'till you make it" person, and I don't think asking his opinion would matter anyway. I need to get back to loving the way I look right now and feeling confident first. I don't appreciate being labeled "a frivolous person" because of it.
posted by your mom's a sock puppet at 11:05 AM on January 15, 2013

I started dating my boyfriend, who I'm just so totally in love with and who is objectively a babe, when I had a short choppy DIY haircut that I gave myself with cheap scissors while I was trying to grow out a pixie cut, and while I didn't wear makeup, and was generally not interested in maintaining a polished, feminine appearance. I'm not like a super hottie, and I'm kind of blonde and pale and washed out without makeup. But, I wore cute dresses, boots, "adorkable" glasses, did my hair in tiny indie-girl pigtails and clipped it up with bobby pins a lot, and pursued styles that I, personally, liked. My boyfriend just told me the other day that when we were friends he was super attracted to my confidence and cool.

This is something I've been thinking about while I watch Girls, too. Lena Dunham is supposed to look like an average woman and the show makes a pretty uncommon statement about the fact that average girls with non-hourglass figures have sex with (cute!) guys too and that their confidence works 1000x better for them than unhappily chasing after an unattainable beauty ideal. If at all possible I'd try to click off the part of your brain that wants to look like a male-oriented magazine (whatever portion of your brain that might be) and click on the part that thinks about style from a female/you-oriented perspective.

I know that even when I'm going for a kind of quirky, indie look, I still like to feel a little feminine, and I will second and third the fact that heels and eye makeup (and blush) do that for me 9 times out of 10.
posted by stoneandstar at 11:27 AM on January 15, 2013

Ok so you have identified your issues: awkward hair and acne, now deal with those things!
What can you do about your hair? Get a cut in a shape that flatters your face shape, whatever its length (do some research) or get extensions! They can be really beautiful and enhance your looks. I had a really weird bob-growing out phase and I wish I had gotten extensions and saved myself from the self esteem destroying bad hair days.

What can you do about your skin? Dermatologist, check. Clean up your diet! Drink water! Sleep! Use fewer ingredients on your skin! Watch youtube videos about covering up acne, some ladies on there are absolute pros.

Other things you can do to make yourself feel extra swagtastic: perfume, buying new clothes, smiling, wearing lipstick. Do research and put effort in the other areas of your appearance. Look at it in a positive way, this bad haircut has motivated you to improve parts of your appearance you may otherwise have neglected. It is unlikely that you will magically start feeling beautiful if you don't change what you do, so do research, make changes, be active! Attack these gremlins that are telling you you aren't pretty enough and destroy any evidence they have to rely on!

In the meantime, be gentle with yourself! Even if it feels like denial at first, tell yourself that you look beautiful (conventionally or otherwise). Out loud, on paper, in your head... Tell yoursel you are beautiful because it's true! There are about a gazillion ways to look beautiful, and you fit at least one category already. Pamper yourself, and maybe now is the time to learn how to move more gracefully, act like a beautiful woman and smile a lot and if all else fails, remember that when you stop caring what people think about you, you'll realize how rarely they ever do.
posted by dinosaurprincess at 2:33 PM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also, pull your hair back and put on dangly earrings. The 'yes my hair is a mess, but look everyone, lego earrings' diversion tactic.
posted by kjs4 at 2:40 PM on January 15, 2013

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