Waiting, waiting to feel attractive...
June 26, 2013 4:15 PM   Subscribe

I'm a female in my very early twenties. I feel like I've been waiting for my entire life to "become" attractive, and this kind of thinking is becoming a drag.

I'm not completely repulsive, and I'm not overweight (BMI-wise, I'm actually on the lower end of normal), but I have never felt physically attractive in my life. (Personality-wise, I think I am okay.)

I've always had flat, thin, and relatively little hair. I have had persistent acne and severe hyperpigmentation; I've experimented with a bunch of products but have had almost no results. I don't know what my body type is (perhaps straight/slight hourglass), but I do wish that my proportions were different. My face is plain and perhaps mildly unpleasantly shaped. I'm not unfit but I guess there is room for improvement.

On top of that, I'm a very low-maintenance person-- I was always too busy with school and lab research to care much. I couldn't be bothered to get contact lenses (my prescription is also too high to get contacts anyway at this point), and I don't do makeup (don't have much desire to either). I can be picky about what clothing I wear because I place a high priority on comfort and tend to prefer plainer styles and colors. If I feel like an article of clothing is unflattering on me, I'll almost never wear said article of clothing. I'm also a student so I exclusively purchase clearance and sale items and don't have money to revamp my entire wardrobe in one fell swoop.

I was not made fun of for my appearance as a child, but my parents would make off-hand comments about my appearance/weight/dress that I would sometimes take personally. I suppose there is a part of me that relates social popularity with physical attractiveness as well, and it will probably not surprise you to read that I'm very introverted.

Anyway, for years I've told myself that eventually-- perhaps after my acne goes away, or perhaps when I'm not so stressed with life, or perhaps when I lose 5 pounds-- I'll become more attractive. I don't think being more attractive will make specific things about my life better, but I do think that it could give me more confidence and energy overall. But I feel like I'm waiting for this future that will never come. This doesn't interfere with my daily function, and all in all it seems like my concerns are just average dissatisfactions that almost everybody experiences at one point or another. Still, I think that it's counterproductive to keep on thinking, "when I'm prettier..."

What suggestions do you have for me? I would appreciate both immediate actions I can take as well as some perspective on this.
posted by gemutlichkeit to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (48 answers total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
Hopefully my answer is not cliche. But "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder." I think there are some people who like the low key look and find it more attractive than the movie star look. I know I felt not too attractive for a while until I met my fiance. I do not do make up and I pretty much wear jeans and a tshirt type outfits. I am also overweight...like 200lb+ but he finds me attractive and makes me feel that way. It just shows to me that some people will find me unattractive and to other people I would be their exact type and the most attractive thing in the world.

So rather than waiting to be attractive, you may find that someone already finds you super attractive and loves your style and look!

If you are looking for traditional prettiness then I think you already have tried many things or choose not to use makeup and other stuff. Not sure what else you can do to make yourself your own ideal type. It will be constant work to use makeup and tone your body.
posted by Jaelma24 at 4:25 PM on June 26, 2013

I believe grooming actually outweighs whatever "natural" beauty someone is born with. Learning how to work with what you've got is important, even when you don't have the money to buy whatever you want. Waiting isn't going to get you anything. "Action is good fortune" is my motto. So go to Sephora, get the sales person there to give you advice (you don't have to spend a ton of cash), go to Nordstrom or another big store and get a proper bra fitting, and then have the personal shopper help you figure out what looks good on you. You don't have to buy stuff, but this way you can see why boot cut pants work or don't on your body. Same with glasses.
And yes, you will probably meet someone who thinks you're amazing right as you are, but I think the confidence you gain from learning how to present yourself is very important. Being "too busy" is a way to avoid dealing with all this, but I think everyone should invest the time to learn how to make yourself look the way you want to look.
posted by Ideefixe at 4:38 PM on June 26, 2013 [21 favorites]

Don't wait. Do.

Read over some of the advice of the awesome but now-gone devymetal here and here.

When I was a graduate student, I took advantage of the flexible schedule and on-campus gym to exercise a lot. Do that. Cardio as many days as you can fit in with weights 3-4 days a week. Combine with drinking a lot of water-- helps for the skin. Not wearing contacts is ok, but get a pair of high fashion frames. They don't need to be that expensive (warby parker and their competitors make some great looking frames), but don't be afraid of spending a lot of money on them-- you wear them every day, and they are what people will notice on your face.

Sales and clearances for clothing are great, but also spend some time at fashionable consignment shops where you can get nice, well-fitting clothes at below-clearance prices.
posted by deanc at 4:45 PM on June 26, 2013 [5 favorites]

You're right, you won't become attractive by waiting! You need to decide what "attractive" means to you. When you look at other people who you consider attractive, what is it that makes them attractive? Is it their dress style? Their confidence? Their hair? If you look at them critically, you may realise that the shape of their face is not inherently attractive, but that instead they have a haircut that suits it, they wear clothes that suit their body shape, and their personality shines through. Learn what suits you, and dress to flatter yourself. You don't need to be super-fit or a particular shape to be attractive. You need to feel confident in yourself and your clothes.
posted by Joh at 4:48 PM on June 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

At the risk of sounding trite: A small percentage of people win the genetic lottery and are born with physical features that our culture/their culture hail as attractive: great cheekbones, awesome hair, large breasts, a magnificent chin, dimples, smooth skin, a great ass, perfect teeth, whatever. Good for them. For the rest of us, it's 70% confidence, 15% grooming, and 15% fashion. And "fashion" mostly means just not looking horrible -- clothes that fit, aren't (terribly) dated, don't scream "yard sale", and aren't in colors or patterns that clash.

If you have a particular physical feature that makes you self-conscious, such as acne, then you may want to see a dermatologist and treat that for your own confidence and peace of mind. Case in point: For years, my mother was terribly self-conscious of her teeth not being perfect. A few years ago, she got adult braces and went through the whole rigamarole our teenage son is dealing with now. I don't think it changed her appearance much, but it definitely put her more at ease with herself, and now when she smiles she's not afraid to flash a big grin. So it was a huge win in that respect -- she made a change to her physical appearance that made her more confident, and she's now able to share that confidence in her smile. Win/win.

Similarly, if you are self-conscious about your clothes being frumpy, make an effort to find a few tops, pants, or shoes that are both comfortable and a bit more attractive. It doesn't have to be an outfit suitable for a dinner party or a red carpet entrance, but even something as simple as a nice pair of shoes or a shirt that's a little dressier can make you feel better about how you look. There's a talisman effect to dressing up a bit, and it doesn't take a lot to make one feel better/less self-conscious about how one looks.

I don't think any of the above is groundbreaking, but maybe there's a nugget or two in there that might be helpful. Feel good about yourself!
posted by mosk at 4:50 PM on June 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: In my early twenties I felt the same way. I wasn't particularly concerned with it, but I just felt that when I finally grew up I'd be beautiful. As I got older and grew into my body more, I did indeed become more attractive than I was as a teenager and early twenty-something. But even though I grew into a body that's attractive by most mainstream measures, I've never aspired to look feminine or sexy, I wear makeup twice a decade (or so), last shaved my legs in 2006, and sometimes my sweetheart teases me for dressing like a longshoreman. Still, I always assumed that someday--when I was really, finally a grownup--I'd be a bombshell in that woman-in-the-movies way. What hubris, right? (Yes, right.) But also, why on earth would anyone expect a thing like that if they weren't getting their hair "done" (whatever that means), or making an effort to wear flatteringly feminine clothes and makeup (etc)? Because I think that's what we're taught to expect out of femininity: a catwalk-self who finally emerges, under duress of plucked eyebrows and hundreds of hours at the gym and dieting and whatnot, as the contemporary ur-woman. But those women don't exist, except in a miraculous country inhabited only by fashion photographers. What will happen is that you'll become more beautiful as you get older and grow into your body, are more confident, and have a more well-defined sense of style. But your expectations of yourself will become more realistic, too, and you may realize that the self you envisioned wasn't actually you.
posted by tapir-whorf at 4:51 PM on June 26, 2013 [16 favorites]

I'm someone who's been overweight pretty much as soon as I got to my pre-teens, but I will admit that I'm objectively quite acceptably attractive - so growing up, I got the, 'if only you were thinner, you would be so pretty', kind of comments, which is a different strain than yours. But it did also leave me with that feeling of waiting, that one day, when I'm thinner, when I'm more attractive, things will happen.

I'm in my early 30s now, and I'm still overweight. But I've stopped waiting. I must applaud your question, because it does show a sense of initiative and proactiveness. I still haven't been in a relationship, but that's also because a combination of many things and also luck. The thing about your question is that the entire concept is catch-22 - your confidence will give you validation and that increases your attractiveness, which feeds your confidence and so on.

So, where do you start? You'll probably revisit this concept in the future, but decide what kind of 'attractive person' do you want to be. Traditionally femme or a bit more utilitarian, for example (physically). Has there been any activity you've been holding off because you perceive a lack of attractiveness in yourself? Find backup in your friends for company (or not!) and just do it. I took up community theatre 3 years ago despite my closest friends having no interest, because I can't just depend on them, if this is my interest. Do interesting things, and I mean things interesting to you. Your (the general you) interests is the thing that gives you a spark, and that spark makes you attractive. That 'twinkle in your eye'? That's the secret to even those people see as plain.

So that's internally. And really, the most important part to seal the deal, so to speak. Anyone can fall into a relationship, if you try hard enough, just about anybody is the right body. But a fulfilling one would take someone with spirit, so build that spirit. Hopefully you'll be on a journey to be a person that others want to be with. And maybe with that new-found confidence you could reexamine your life and realise there were interested people in your past, that you overlooked. ;) (I don't mean then that you've missed out, but to demonstrate clearly you were attractive and has always been attractive)

Now physically, there's a number of things you've mentioned that can be addressed. As you're a student, take advantage of any student discounts on prescriptions etc. Go see a dermatologist, if you've not already. If your acne and hyperpigmentation is as severe as you say, there is no point experimenting alone. Shop at vintage and secondhand stores for clothes, and go online for discounted clothing as well; read up What Not To Wear, for example, for tips for dressing for your body type. Makeup - good makeup brands or departments like Sephora would have makeup artists who would be more than happy to recommend you a look that you can use either daily or on special occassions.

The physical stuff I suppose is the one you can begin the soonest but the internal stuff is, like I said, what really and truly counts to last.
posted by cendawanita at 4:51 PM on June 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems like you think it's not worth putting in the time to "fix yourself up" because you currently don't meet some "prettiness" baseline. You mention not having money, high priority on comfort, etc. but I think those are all excuses - plenty of people have similar circumstances and still find a way to put in effort towards being the best they can be.

And that's actually the key - I think there's little we can do about being traditionally pretty (short of massive plastic surgery), but there's plenty we can do about being the most attractive version of us.

So, my advice:
1. Figure out what you physically like about you, then find things (clothing, makeup) that play those features up.
2. Figure out what items make you feel attractive and why (blue shadow makes my eyes pop! this dress shows off my waist!), then look for similar items that you can afford.
posted by Sakura3210 at 4:52 PM on June 26, 2013 [7 favorites]

For me, cutting my (hard to style) hair very short and going with a more masculine presentation was the beginning of feeling attractive. I don't think it was primarily a gender identity thing for me--I identify as female and I don't think I was ever uncomfortable because of the gendered-ness of skirts or dresses. But geeze, something like dapper masculine clothing just feels so much easier than heels and trying to do makeup and all of the crunchy/greasy Product I had to put in my long hair to make it not frizzy.

Your mileage may vary, of course, but I kind of stumbled onto this unexpectedly.
posted by needs more cowbell at 4:58 PM on June 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

One other note - I would advise against using other people to determine what you should aspire to attractiveness-wise. I suspect this causes many people's body issues ("she's so tall, how beautiful; I'll never be that tall, so I'll never be that beautiful"). Focus on you - what makes you feel good about yourself.
posted by Sakura3210 at 4:59 PM on June 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Here is the thing. People don't just MAGICALLY become more attractive, in general. Sure, sometimes people "grow into" their looks, but the vast majority of people who are unhappy about their appearance do stuff to make themselves more attractive (whatever they believe that to be). My hair is very gray, and I hate that and think it looks bad on me, so I dye it. I started getting small lines and wrinkles, so I went to the dermatologist and got Retin-A and it has made a huge difference in my skin quality. I know I look better at a certain weight, so I watch what I eat and I exercise to stay in that basic range. If you truly think you'll be happier with yourself if you lose 5 pounds...then lose the 5 pounds. That's entirely, 100% within your control.

In fact, I'd argue that 95% of people you know who've shown up after summer vacation, for example, looking better than they did before have done something proactive to make that improvement. Those of us with less than fabulous hair are going to need to futz with it more than others. A good haircut makes a huge difference (and a really good one will grow out well, so you don't need to spend the money that often). (So do well-groomed brows, which you can have done once and then keep up yourself.) See a dermatologist about your skin concerns (even student health may be able to help). All this stuff can be improved. And basically EVERYONE IN THE WORLD, even actress and models, gets help with SOMETHING cosmetic. You have to make it happen for yourself if you want it to happen!

Being proactive about this stuff is way better than waiting for something to happen to you when it comes to making yourself happier. And in my experience, it's a domino effect. I got a great haircut so I don't worry as much about my shitty hair, which makes me happier in general, which improves my quality of life across the board.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 4:59 PM on June 26, 2013 [4 favorites]

So, I realize that you're not fat, but I think you might benefit from reading The Fantasy of Being Thin, which is a really perceptive essay about the ways in which people put off living and enjoying their lives because they believe that if they can just get to a certain standard of physical appearance, all the things they want in life will be easier or better. It seems as though you're suffering under a similar belief, that once your appearance changes, other things in your life will sort of fall into place in a way that they haven't yet in your current body. Well, that's not true. If there are things you want to do in your life, you have to do them yourself, and it might be hard, and changing your appearance won't do much, if anything, to change how hard or easy those things are.

Secondly, for what it's worth, I have never loved my looks more than when I'm working out hard and regularly. Even when my appearance doesn't change a single bit, I feel more energetic and happier and stronger and more confident. And even when my appearance is exactly the same, I feel better looking, as though somehow I and the rest of the world can see that I am accomplishing things and that they are proud and envious of me for being so awesome. It's worth a try.
posted by decathecting at 5:02 PM on June 26, 2013 [5 favorites]

I have had persistent acne and severe hyperpigmentation; I've experimented with a bunch of products but have had almost no results.

For this specific piece, I really recommend seeing a dermatologist. I did, and my skin has never been better. No drugstore product ever made the least bit of difference.

For the thin hair: splurge on a really amazing stylist. For glasses, order a bunch of interesting cheap glasses from zennioptical or something and see what suits you.
posted by showbiz_liz at 5:06 PM on June 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

The way I see it, we're all works in progress, and when we finally feel good about ourselves or "attractive", it has less to do with actual standards achieved and more to do with an acceptance of what we have and being comfortable with that. You can try to make the most of what you have by, say, upping your makeup game, but what draws people in will ultimately be your personality, your compassion, your wit, your kindness.

I spent much of my early twenties in a similar mental state. I take quite a bit of care with my physical appearance now, but to be perfectly honest, it does not makes a whit of a difference to my friends and significant other, whose opinions matter the most to me. My clothing and beauty rituals are for myself, but objectively, they do not make me so exponentially beautiful that my social life changes. In fact, I rather shudder at the idea of attracting the attention of random strangers. I think it's great fun to be perfumed and painted, but if you don't care for it right now, don't force it. Dressing well and wearing makeup may make you look better by other people's standards or even your own, but they're really just bandaid measures.
posted by peripathetic at 5:07 PM on June 26, 2013

As a plain woman I definitely sympathize. A couple of concepts that have helped keep me from utter despair about my looks/attractiveness:

Jolie laide: Actually focusing on physical features considered conventionally UNattractive and using it as your trademark of sorts. This requires a great deal of self-confidence, however (I still haven't managed to pull it off).

In the same vein, I once read a biography of the actress Sarah Bernhardt, in which a whole litany of people who had known her/seen her perform talked about how mesmerizing she was, how when she was in the room you couldn't take your eyes off her. Assuming she must have been a dish I flipped over to the photos. In her pictures she looks, well, pretty ordinary. But to hear her described you would think she was one of the great beauties of the day.

It was her talent and her personality that made her so magnetic. Her insuperable belief in her own attractiveness didn't hurt, either. Cultivate your many qualities (I know you have them!) and you can pull off the same thing.
posted by orrnyereg at 5:17 PM on June 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

Such mind-blowingly good commentary here. My mind is blown!

I just wanted to + the notion of prioritizing a regular physical activity, even 10 minutes a day or 20 mins a few times a week. The gym, yoga, walk, bikeride, handball, whatever will ground you physically and create a little space around the intellectual pursuits and your anxious emotions. You wont worry so much about where you rank in the pretty, because you will feel more YOU: strong, capable, beautiful. Best.
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 5:30 PM on June 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

Oh man, I feel you. I had similar issues with my appearance up until my early twenties (hell, I would describe myself physically almost exactly how you did) and I think folks above have given you lots of great advice so far - in particular, being proactive is absolutely the key. I think you'll find that just the act of making changes in your life to help yourself (with your appearance or anything else), even if they might feel SUPER WEIRD and uncomfortable at first, will go a long way in making you feel more confident in yourself. And that's what makes people so beautiful anyway, isn't it?
Just anecdotally, I can tell you that the thing that absolutely changed everything for me was getting contacts when I was 23. The whole thing you said about "I might as well not try to get them because my prescription is too high anyway" - I thought the same thing about mine (hurray -10.5!) and it wasn't true. It was a weird experience to get rid of my crazy thick glasses for the first time and finally see my face clearly, but the fact that I felt just a little bit more attractive afterwards was a huge revelation. I did a thing, all by myself, even though it was scary and strange, and felt better afterward! What else could I apply this to? (Also, bonus: peripheral vision for the first time ever = amazing)
So, just try something! Anything. Maybe a visit to the dermatologist, or a fancy splurgey haircut just once, or trying on a shirt you never would've considered before because you didn't think you could pull it off. Feeling like you're taking care of yourself, and trying new things instead of making excuses about why you shouldn't, can help a whole lot.
posted by DeadliestQuack at 5:40 PM on June 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

Get some 2.5% PanOxyl if you can find it, or some 5% Quinoderm if you can't.

Morning AND night, after washing, put this on (avoiding hairline and eyebrows) and leave it untouched for at least 30 minutes each time.

If it is too drying, then *after* washing but *before* zit cream, glop on some Cetaphil Daily Advance Ultra Hydrating Lotion and leave it for 15 minutes.

Please try to make time for this, I'll be surprised if you don't see a substantial improvement. Update or even MeMail me after two months. You need to give each new acne treatment two months to see if it's doing anything. You may need a combination of treatments - each one doing its bit to improve things - and this is a good start. I'm not suggesting it will fix everything, but it might break the back of it.

Or not, because skin treatments are idiosyncratic. But if it really doesn't do a thing after two months, instead of despairing, try a dermatologist (even if it does help, try a dermatologist) as it will be cheaper than trial and error.

Obviously, IANAD and my advice is completely worthless, but try it. Acne makes you feel yukky, I know.
posted by tel3path at 6:00 PM on June 26, 2013

Check out movie (and, uh, porn stars) with and without makeup shots
posted by Jacen at 6:08 PM on June 26, 2013

I think it's Stage Makeup (not suggesting to buy) had a story of an touring theatrical group that lost their ingenue star for some reason. They had to go on and settled for giving the role to the dowdy comic character actress, low and behold once made up and in costume she was prettier than the original.

Not suggesting theatrical makeup but it's the whole package. Find some events that are ritzy that will encourage really dressing up.

Try a few cool hats, maybe a scarf.

Get to a dermatologist.

Skip the porn stars, ew.
posted by sammyo at 6:40 PM on June 26, 2013

Three words: The Rules Revisited.
posted by lotusmish at 7:01 PM on June 26, 2013

I am also plain and look young (not as in, oh wow, you look young for your age, but as in, oh wow, YOU'RE the PROFESSOR?!?!?! Really?!?!?!?!?). To combat this I have built up a stockpile of basic tanktops, blouses, and slacks in solid colors, and I have had my mother tell me what goes with what. These things can be had cheaply at Target or department stores. I don't look like a fashion icon, but I look adult and put-together.

I also found it helpful to "work with what I have", in a sense. My hair is frizzy and unmanageable, but with layering it curls relatively nicely. I can't even believe in hindsight that I spent so many years straightening it only to have it freak out in every direction. My skin is kind of olive-y, and if I wear a pastel colored shirt, it looks like I am the same color from my hair to my waist. So I don't do that. Etcetera.
posted by chainsofreedom at 7:21 PM on June 26, 2013

The most attractive thing in a person is them smiling and making eye contact. Take your time figuring out what kind of style you have. But do the eye contact and smiling and complimenting now. Note the results.

Also buy, read and do the exercises for Intimate Connections by Dr. David Burns. It works.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:29 PM on June 26, 2013

What Ideefixe above said. She just saved the rest of us a bunch of typing.
Get to work, Gf! Attractive people are happy and attract other happy people. Note that I didn't say "pretty" people or "beautiful" people. Attractive simply means that you've enhanced what you have - and from your description, you have a lot to work with! Have fun at it too. Disclaimer: I realllly dig fashion and vicariously gloat at the idea of someone kicking aside the church mouse persona to become a proud little gem.
posted by Lornalulu at 7:38 PM on June 26, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks for all your answers! To clarify, I am very personable, friendly, smiley, and active in a variety of things. ... so that isn't a concern for me. My concern also isn't attracting members of the opposite sex per se, but more about feeling confident in my own skin-- I'm actually in a very happy and long-term relationship with somebody who finds me attractive.

To the poster who wrote that I might feel like it's not "worth" putting in the time because I don't meet a "prettiness" baseline-- yes, that sounds partly accurate.

Finally, I have gone to a dermatologist but I'm not willing to go on oral antibiotics or Accutane...
posted by gemutlichkeit at 7:50 PM on June 26, 2013

"Beauty" (of the socially conventional kind) is as beauty does, and I think the first thing you should decide is whether you want to aim for conventional beauty or not.

I've personally decided I can't be arsed with making my face up and overly styling my hair every day. I don't find it that interesting and I have other things to do. While I do recognize that I'd appear more conventionally "attractive" if I did those things, it's also not that important to me to be so. What's important to me is to look professional at work, and to feel very free and very comfortable outside of work. Every now and then I get dolled up for an event, which is fun, but I have made the understanding with myself that I am not going to be a person who fusses much about my appearance. This is an OK way to be. The way I approach it is that I kind of go for a simple, good/natural/healthy aesthetic. I get good haircuts and color, and I try to stay healthy and in shape, and wear good clothes. But I don't dress femme-y, and I don't wear makeup. If there are times I've been beautiful, it's because I was happy and healthy and doing well at these projects. Most of my confidence comes from feeling capable and effective, social and artistic, and I have a generally positive self-opinion about my appearance even if it isn't that traditionally attractive.

If you want to aim for conventional "beauty," there are tips aplenty and it's formulaic enough. The great secret is that it doesn't just happen for most people. Some are naturally gifted with great looks, but most people who acheive "beautiful" are working at it and making conscious choices to get there. It's a project. It takes a little time every day, and some significant time investment in grooming and clothing selection and stuff like that. The very first step is to decide whether that's what you want, and whether you're willing to spend the time. It's OK to decide either way, and life won't suck if you decide not to.
posted by Miko at 8:47 PM on June 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

You could easily be me 20 years ago. I didn't feel comfortable in my own skin until recently. What changed? It started with yoga, which is great for introverts. It makes you feel great in your body, which shows. I don't fight with my hair any more - I found a stylist who works with it. Then I made my skin a top priority. It was really difficult (not to mention expensive) to clear my acne, but so worth the time and effort.

And I second everything Ideefixe said. Especially going to Nordstroms for a bra fitting. That was one of the best things I ever did.
posted by icanbreathe at 9:37 PM on June 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

If I feel like an article of clothing is unflattering on me, I'll almost never wear said article of clothing.

Yes, good. I am unsure of why you think not wearing unflattering clothing is problematic.

I can be picky about what clothing I wear because I place a high priority on comfort and tend to prefer plainer styles and colors. ...I'm also a student so I exclusively purchase clearance and sale items and don't have money to revamp my entire wardrobe in one fell swoop.

Plain is not a problem - there are definitely plain clothes that look fabulous on. You need to find out what those pieces are for you if you don't think your current wardrobe looks as good as it could. Here's what you do if you're willing to invest the time and effort: get thee to thrift stores that have dressing rooms when you have hours to look. Thrift stores are perfect because they have the widest possible selection of styles and brands. Touch everything, and don't try something on unless it is to your softness/comfort standards. Do not budge on this. Next, if it feels nice, take a quick look at it. If it is 100% absolutely NOT YOU, skip it. But if you're even 1% unsure, at this point, try it on. You should be trying on several cartloads of items in each thrift store and possibly buying one piece per cartload you try on. As you try the clothes on, you will slowly start to figure out some things about your own proportions or coloring (and some of these realizations will surprise you). You'll stop trying on cropped tops or calf-length skirts because as you suspected, they do not do good things on you. You'll realize that despite your vision of yourself as someone who doesn't wear pink, hot pink in fact looks great on you and you'll just need to cope and maybe pair it with some stompy shoes. If you can't tell if something looks good, step out of the dressing room and ask someone. I know, that's awkward, but you'll probably never see them again and they will tell you if the crotch on those jeans is just weird. Sometimes they will then tell you they just passed by a a pair of turquoise pants that looks to be your size, you lucky thing, and you need to try them on.

As you spend time doing this, you'll start to be able to pick out what styles work for you before you even try them on. You'll also start to develop an awareness of which brands cater to your styles and fabrics. You'll learn that you're a fan of Banana Republic or White House | Black Market. This means that while you can still supplement your wardrobe (and wardrobe knowledge) at thrift shops if you want, you can also now buy on eBay or directly from the merchants and know that you'll like what you're getting and that it will look good on you.

Shoe-wise, for comfort, boots are your friends. They can go with almost any item of clothing including most dresses unless we're talking full business suit. Ballet flats, Oxfords, and a cute yet comfortable sandal should fill out your options. Zappos is fantastic for this as they'll do free shipping both ways, and obviously you can also try on shoes in person in local shoe stores. Thrift stores don't do shoes well in my experience (sizing, for one thing, is a huge issue).

As for the grooming issues: I am super aware of any acne I have, but one day when I was super aware of a zit in class, I actually noticed that a lot of my students had acne. I'd never needed to notice that about them before, so I didn't. I mean, acne really is something you kind of have to be all up in someone's face to really notice/care about. I also have a friend who I literally knew for over two months before I realized that she has a port-wine stain on her forehead. And I mentioned it in passing to two other friends of ours, who both said, "She does? I never noticed." And we are not unobservant people, honestly.

I will finish by saying that thin, straight hair in my book looks best short, and that especially if you dislike wearing makeup, wearing a tasteful necklace or scarf can really polish your look.
posted by vegartanipla at 10:15 PM on June 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

For the acne, have you tried something like Stridex?

I struggled with acne and the resulting scarring and hyperpigmentation throughout my teens and twenties and nothing else helped me. I also saw several dermatologists who gave me different things but none of them helped. Stridex somehow just clicked and its such a ridiculously easy and cheap solution that I wish someone had pointed me to it earlier. I've been using it for years now and it just works.
posted by greta_01 at 10:17 PM on June 26, 2013

Oh, one other thing - if your glasses aren't adorable, go hunting for a pair that complement your face. This should perhaps be the highest priority mission. As much as I apparently don't notice zits/birthmarks, I do notice frames and consider them to be a strong personality indicator.
posted by vegartanipla at 10:21 PM on June 26, 2013

Oh Hai, Past Me.

For past me to become present me took a couple of things that Past Me kinda swore she'd never do.

One, I actually did start working out and lost a fair chunk of weight. I got myself down to legitimately rather tiny, which for whatever reason floats my psychological boat--it's a shape that makes me feel comfortable and ...graceful? something like that... while moving through the world. So figure out what kind of physical space you enjoy occupying with your body, and see how you can go about getting your body there. I was never overweight, but always felt like a lumbering elephant before. A friend of mine only feels right when she is made of muscle. YMMV.

Two, I conceded that I look better with hair than without. Then I conceded that my hair requires a blow-dryer and a flat-iron if it's going to do what I like. So I just sucked it up, and now I'm a lady who does her hair in the morning, most days. It kind of rankles, but it's better than feeling the way my short short crop or shaved head made me feel.

Three, I finally came to terms with the basic facts of my appearance and gender. I have ginormo tits. I have a substantial nose. I look like a girl. I spent a decade and a half trying to look like a boy or an elf or a heroin model or whatever and IT CANNOT BE SO, for it is impossible. And I grieved, and then I bought some clothes that don't look like crap when I stuff my boobs into them. Lo, verily, I now am the owner of some twenty dresses and I love them.

That really covers the big bases. You just have to make your desires line up with the facts on the ground, and with the sacrifices you're willing to make--or anyway, line up as nearly as possible. And then you can dive in, and once you dive in, you're gonna love your fine self.
posted by like_a_friend at 10:41 PM on June 26, 2013 [10 favorites]

I tend to beat the drum about this, but my acne stuck with me like a barnacle for 20(!!) years. The only thing that made it better was giving up dairy. It was an almost overnight improvement and my skin has never looked this good before. You may or may not benefit (I have no idea why it worked for me) but surely it's worth a shot.
posted by orrnyereg at 11:50 PM on June 26, 2013

The thing that really helped with my acne was leaving my skin alone. No soap, ever. Wash softly twice a day with lukewarm water, that's it. Sometimes I moisturize with Cetaphil or oil at night. I try to keep from touching my face and change my pillow case often. It annoys me to no end that it took me until I was thirty to figure that one out.
posted by pishposh at 2:24 AM on June 27, 2013

Best answer: Yeah, I felt like you 25 years ago and you're getting a lot of practical advice above and I want to add:

when I look at pictures of me in my early 20's with no makeup, crazy hair, wearing a men's white t-shirt and jeans, I think, "Jesus Christ, Kinetic, what the f*ck was wrong with you? Why did you spend so much time beating yourself up waiting to grow into your looks? You were beautiful."

Seriously, I want you to go outside today and take some pix of yourself smiling and laughing and being generally goofy. Make prints, put them away and tell yourself, "In 25 years I'm going to look again at these and realize how ridiculous my thinking was, because I was absolutely stunning."
posted by kinetic at 3:43 AM on June 27, 2013 [11 favorites]

You've gotten lots of advice here about how to be more attractive, if that's what you want.

I just want to add my voice as a late-20s woman who doesn't bother with makeup, fashion or doing my hair. I take excellent (dedicated, serious) care of my body and health, but I don't work for beauty or fashion. You know what? I am pretty enough. I could be prettier if I blowdried my hair, wore makeup or dressed fashionably, but I am pretty enough now. It is OK to make that decision. You don't owe it to anybody to maximize your attractiveness. You don't HAVE to be as pretty as you can be. You really, really dont. Metafilter is a very progressive sort of place, but I find that many people here still feel as though you'd be crazy NOT to look your absolute best. You know what? It's not crazy. Looking your best (according to the whims of the age, which constantly change) takes time and is not a requirement for enjoying life.

I also want to agree with the commenters saying that you probably don't see yourself entirely accurately right now - you're probably prettier than you think. Many people have the experience of seeing a picture of themselves, cringing, and then seeing the exact same picture just 3 years later and thinking "Wow, I looked pretty good!" I've been going through that experience at an accelerated pace. I'm 4.5 months pregnant now, and already, when I see pictures of myself taken 3 months ago I am *shocked* that my figure looked so good. Just 3 months ago all I could see were the flaws. It's really amazing.
posted by Cygnet at 3:57 AM on June 27, 2013 [8 favorites]

YouTube is your best friend here. Go on YouTube, find one of the million tutorials for hair and makeup. Pick a look you like. Try it out one night when you're not going anywhere. If you like it, practice at night when you're not going out until you're fast enough to do it in the morning when you are, without it totally throwing off your schedule. At the same time mix and match your clothes until you have several outfits that are comfortable and look the way you want them to look. I play dress up at least once a month. The last thing you want to be doing I'd running around int the morning trying to figure something out.

The reality is, and its something I've come to personally in the last year or so, looking good means work and effort. Put the effort in and people notice far more than if you happen to have a naturally pretty face or body. People who are conventionally attractive take effort in their appearance. And there's no reason not to put some effort into it because you'll feel better abut yourself. It's an ego boost to know that you've left the house with kickass hair or awesome lipstick.

Also I agree with those who suggest that you find a pair of flattering sexy glasses and rock them. I tried on every pair of glasses in the store last time I bought and had a friend with me to give opinions because I can't see myself very well without my glasses on to know what looks best. It's the one thing I believe in spending money in since I wear them every day.
posted by GilvearSt at 4:10 AM on June 27, 2013

Do you get regular haircuts? That can help a lot with feeling attractive.

Also getting your eyebrows done - I like threading and it's pretty cheap - can make a huge difference. I started getting mine done at the end of high school and it kind of transformed me - I had sort of bushy shapeless eyebrows and then actually got compliments from strangers on my eyebrows when I started getting them threaded.

Start using the gym/rec center on campus(you're probably paying a lot for it anyway!) drink plenty of water and try to eat a lot of vegetables.

For clothing if you don't feel like your clothes are doing much for your body shape, try buying fewer pieces but of better quality, which you can still get off the clearance rack or at a discount store. Or wear awesome shoes - shoes you really like that you feel good in.

I had acne throughout my 20s(I'm 29 now) that made me feel horrible about myself but doing the above things helped a lot with my overall self image. I went to the dr but they weren't able to do much for me - you might have better luck? One facial mask I really like that unfortunately I didn't discover until a couple of years ago is called Aztec Secret - it's pretty cheap, ~$6 for a tub that lasts forever. It's actually really good for acne and sensitive skin. Otherwise I would say make sure to exfoliate and moisturize...even with acne that can help with feeling more attractive.
posted by fromageball at 5:16 AM on June 27, 2013

I'm not a consumer of female beauty products/processes and no amount of money spent on them, in my opinion, will make you feel much better about yourself. I am not a natural-born beauty, I just can't be bothered with all that crap and I have better things on which to spend my time and money.

Take some dance classes, learn to move through space gracefully, stand up tall. Add a genuine smile. Be nice to people. That's all it really takes. I'm three times your age and I still turn heads.
posted by mareli at 5:45 AM on June 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

And give yourself permission to just go do it, and make mistakes. Don't box yourself in to "what you're comfortable with" because it sounds like part of you wants to break out, and that will feel uncomfortable.

I can't wear this stylish/sexy skirt, it's just not me. JUST DO IT.

Ohh but I'd never wear that color of nail polish. JUST DO IT.

Umm that sexy push-up bra is too expensive. JUST DO IT.

I dunno, I'm only comfortable with brown makeup. DAMN THE TORPEDOES, WEAR THE PURPLE.

etc. etc. This was me, a total lab nerd, I never felt "allowed" to dress a certain way like all the other girls did and then I said:

"fuck it, I'm XXX years old, this is as good as it's gonna get, might as well enjoy it so when I'm 80 and look like a raisin, I'll be satisfied that at least I did it."

Also it's about being comfortable with sex/sex energy because lets face it, dressing feminine and dressing "up" has a certain amount of sex energy in it. Not that you're "looking" but learn to be comfortable with sex energy. When you can watch Captain Kirk circa '67 without squirming, you know you're comfortable with it.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:03 AM on June 27, 2013 [6 favorites]

This is going to sound like some Cosmo horseshit, but I wish I could go back in time, slap my early 20s self a couple of times, and tell myself to invest in, uhm, myself. This means spending money and time on the things that really put a spring in my step - learning new sports and fitness activities, a KILLER haircut and colour, clothes I really like. I was also trapped in a kind of miserly 'oh well, I guess I'll always look like Roger Ramjet in a blonde wig, whatevs, might as well not try.'

The hard part is bracketing off the 'I'm not attractive' thoughts and pushing forward with 'what can I do to feel awesome?' I want to second, third and fourth Cygnet's point that you don't owe it to anyone to 'be attractive'. Try to find the kinds of self-care that make you feel tremendous.
posted by nerdfish at 8:09 AM on June 27, 2013 [4 favorites]

Three words: The Rules Revisited.

The OP is asking about feeling attractive herself, not attractiveness as seen by men (which is very often not the same thing). I don't think it's particularly useful to frame attractiveness or looks-based self-esteem around what some stereotypical/hypothetical man thinks.

I am someone who likes make-up and dresses, but if I put on a suit - not a masculine one, but the kind with the skirt and the jacket - I feel like I'm in drag as Office Barbie. You might feel the same in make-up, or wearing a dress, and that's entirely fine. One thing I like is looking at fashion blogs, where we get to see real people wearing real outfits rather than models in editorial shoots. Yes, there are lots and lots of people who are very conventional in their type of attractiveness and presentation, but there are also butch girls, fat girls, tall girls, short girls and girls who decide they'd prefer not to shave their pits, thank you very much. There are some blogs which talk about body image as well as style - You Look Fab is one, and Already Pretty covers some of this ground - the latter isn't everyone's cup of tea but you might find some of the posts on self-image there interesting.
posted by mippy at 8:25 AM on June 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you're feeling a bit bored with your clothes, think in terms of two categories: support pieces, and star pieces. I got this terminology from fashion expert Brenda Kinsel, who writes good books about this. To me it sounds like you have a number of support pieces already - basics like tees and pants or skirts, and they're all fine, but you're missing something.

So now you need a few star pieces. Start checking out clothing items that strike you as distinctive, interesting, original, very "you," or whatever. You don't have to buy right away, but start thinking about how you might want to add in just one exciting piece to the mix. I don't know your style, but you could try...

a faux leather jacket or cardigan in a fun color - yellow, sky blue, lavender
boots with a heel
strappy wedge sandals in a color you like
a big colorful fabric bag
a soft infinity scarf in a fun pattern
a leather (or faux leather) wrap bracelet or cuff
anything that has a symbol, design, color or pattern that has meaning for you

As others have mentioned, it's not necessary to spend a lot of money on your star piece. But you'll need one per outfit in order to look distinctive. Kinsel advises against wearing more than one at a time.

If you're having trouble figuring out what you like design-wise, start with anything that catches your eye. What flowers attract you? When you walk into a bookstore, which displays do you go to first? Start a scrapbook of colors and patterns that appeal to you.

Kinsel mentions that colors carry overtones of emotion and association in our minds, and they affect the impression you create on those around you. This can be really fun. Cool colors create mystery - any color blended with black is a cool color, so grey-green rather than kelly green, or cool violet as opposed to pinky violet. Primary colors and brilliant tones will make you look approachable, and can perk up your mood.

Fashion should be fun, not a chore. It's okay to decide you want to be the best version of yourself it's possible to be. Your question shows that you're past dreading this and are ready to dive into the possibilities for self-expression and pride in your looks. There's nothing superficial about this journey - it's an important one. Enjoy!
posted by cartoonella at 12:02 PM on June 27, 2013

I am old enough to be your father. IANYF.

Youth itself is beautiful. Yes, it is. If you do not feel beautiful it's because you do not have the proper perspective. Either that or you just hang out with shallow people. Unless you are 22 years old and look EXACTLY like Jabba the Hutt... you are beautiful. Keep saying it... over and over again.
posted by brownrd at 3:39 PM on June 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

See a dermatologist about the hyperpigmentation, and learn how to do light makeup, if you choose. Try different haircuts, and maybe color/highlighting, again, if that appeals to you. Go shopping for clothes. Wear nice underwear, and comfortable clothes that are easy on/off, and try on a lot of stuff. Ask salespeople and other shoppers for opinions and advice. Order a variety of clothes from catalogs Anthropologie, Modcloth, etc. Decide on the colors and styles that suit you best, whether it be girly, bikerchic, whatever. When you get dressed, pay attention, and when you're dressed, know that you look terrific. I can think of 2 specific friends who are not pretty, per se, but who believe they look fabulous, and it affects the way they present themselves.

Good posture always helps, and I find that wearing nice underwear and nice shoes makes me feel better.
posted by theora55 at 5:06 PM on June 27, 2013

If you can cultivate an ability to take a serious interest in other people, to truly engage in conversation with them, approach others with the goal of finding something really interesting about each of them, then your eyes will express that interest and others will find you attractive, especially if you smile easily and sincerely, which you will do naturally when you're sincerely engaged in conversation. IOW, once you succeed in focusing on other people instead of focusing on yourself and how attractive/unattractive you look, you'll actually be attractive, indeed.
posted by aryma at 12:19 AM on June 28, 2013

Hey so,

I think everyone struggles with this to some extent. I longed to be like those girls who look like they are just natural models. Here's what that led me to do:

-Grow my hair long
-Spend an inordinate amount of time straightening it
-Spend hours upon hours watching youtube videos on make-up and hair because I thought I wasn't doing it right
-Try to emulate other women's expensive style with my severely limited budget
-Guilt myself inordinately about how I wished I were more in shape

It got to a point last year where I was just like, forget it. I realized my hair is not going to be anything but what it is, and I didn't want to wake up at 5 every morning to get everything looking "just so." After months of pumping myself up for the change I cut my past-the-shoulders hair into a pixie cut. Here's what I do now:

-Spend less than 3 minutes styling my hair every morning (Thanks Got 2b gel!)
-Spend less than 3 minutes on makeup (moisturizer, undereye concealer, powder blush and mascara)
-Stock my closet with affordable classic work wear pieces so I can just throw anything on (black/grey pencil skirts, a bunch of white shirts, some colorful shirts and 3 cardigans)
-Use a set of varied color faux pearl earrings bought at Claire's
-Exercise with yoga and running (this is so important to feeling good because it gets those endorphins going and helps you become mindful

Yes sometimes I still feel dumpy about myself/feel that my hair cut looks like a boy's. But seriously it so much easier and most of the time I feel classy enough.
posted by donut_princess at 9:13 AM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

There is lots of "girl stuff" that isn't always explicitly told to us, or shared with us by other girls in the know.

Some things I did to make myself feel better about my appearance (and not until I was in my early 30's, so at least you are thinking about it now and not wasting the same amount of time that I did not feeling entirely confident!):

Read Don't Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me (thanks AskMe!) and put what I learned there to use in terms of getting my acne under control.

Went to a personal stylist who specialized in doing color analysis. She showed me which colors work best on me, and which really don't, and why (it has a lot to do with complementing your eye color and hair color, as well as your skintone). I worked with her for makeup colors too. I couldn't afford to work with her for actual shopping, but with what I learned, I felt confident to shop on my own. I will use that knowledge for the rest of my life, and now I don't have a closet full of clothes that I don't wear. So it was pricey at the beginning, but has paid off in the long run.

Stopped going to cheap places to get my haircut, and found a stylist that is really skilled but a little more expensive. Not too terribly much more expensive though.

(There are so many things going on with hair these days - my stylist was just talking to me about keratin treatments. I'm not sold yet, but they are supposed to help a lot, esp if you have hair on the frizzier or curly side. There are also extensions to help you build volume. You can also use extensions to experiement with hair color).

Another thing I just learned from AskMe is that people who have really well-fitting clothing get their clothing tailored. I kind of knew that other people got their hems altered, or had special occaision dresses tailored. It never occured to me to have regular, every day shirts taken in just a bit to add more shape, or to have a baggy sleeve cut down so it didn't make my arms look weird. Thanks again AskMe!

Recently I started learning about weight loss. You know how you always hear about celebrities suffering from "exhaustion and dehydration"? Yeah, that's code for using Adderall for weighloss. (I don't mean to derail the thread here, esp since you aren't asking about losing weight, I just mention it because it is another one of those "beauty secrets" that was a total revelation to me, even if it's common knowledge to other women).

Start asking friendly girls where they get their hair done, or what they like to use as moisturizer, or some other innocuous beauty tip. I was always a little too embarrassed or proud to ask those questions, but once you start, you will learn so much.
posted by vignettist at 10:38 AM on June 28, 2013

Well, at 35 I am still getting a lot of inspiration from this thread, so maybe you DON'T want to listen to me, but anyway. :-) Here are some thoughts.

1) Lab research. In the 15 years since I was your age, "geeky" or "nerdy" has become cool. I sometimes get a vibe from other women, particularly now that I have switched to the sciences, to the effect of "oh, even though I [other woman] am a nerd, I'm still really sexy." You can hear this when people mention "girl geeks" or "coder girls" or whatever. I have a colleague, for example, who is not ugly, but who is strictly average-looking. For reasons of her own, she wears clothes that would never fly in a regular workplace and are straight-up unsafe for lab. What she does with clothes, other people maybe do with makeup, hair, ALWAYS wearing the science t-shirts, whatever.

I don't say this to rag on other people. I mention this to assure you that you DON'T HAVE TO GO THAT ROUTE. "Gender performance" is a big catchphrase on Metafilter. I'm here to tell you that you don't have to do the "nerd performance" thing any more than you have to look like June Cleaver. Your choice of glasses frames remains your choice alone.

2) Comments from your parents. For your own sanity, tell yourself that your parents' (or family's) views on your looks are A PRIORI wrong. Keep repeating this. Down the road, once you are better-adjusted, once you, just for example, move 1,800 miles away from your parents, not that I would know, you may be able to incorporate CERTAIN of their advice. For example, wearing a slip may be a good idea. You may, in fact, look good in red even though you don't like to wear it. But at this stage in your evolution, consider dismissing everything they say.

You know the people who aren't very attractive, but think they're beautiful? I've known many of these people. I've been to their parents' homes. Their parents clearly think (and tell them) that their children are hot tickets. These folks are lucky. But don't let YOUR parents do the opposite to you.

3) Acne. Here are some obstacles that I faced in going to the dermatologist.
a) Shame of having someone stare at my face and view how ugly I am. OK. Maybe your GP will write you a prescription for Differin if you explain that you can't make yourself go to the dermatologist. Maybe you can try a birth control pill that's good for acne next time you're at the OB-GYN. (That was how I got on the right acne treatment path, btw, when a GYN mentioned, in a totally non-hurtful way, that sometimes nothing works for acne on "the trunk" besides the pill, this is not my fault, would I like to try it? The Pill is the only thing that worked for me.)

b) Gross nature and gross side effects of many acne products. For example, in high school they had me on Retin-A liquid, which I hope you never have to contend with, as it is oily and disgusting and it destroys what's left of your skin. Modern times have arrived. Let them switch you to another medicine.

c) A dermatologist should not be an asshole. If a dermatologist makes you feel bad about yourself, s/he is an asshole--find another one.

d) If you can't make yourself go to the dermatologist (it seems from other posts that you have school-based insurance, so I hope coverage is not a factor), then keep trying the OTC stuff. Don't get the "ultra treatment" version of every product. For example, get just a gel soap that doesn't have any medicine in it. Then get the 10% benzoyl peroxide. Then a plain oil-free moisturizer IF you need it. (I didn't until my 30s.) Then have the soap with salicylic acid for worse days ONLY. Etc. If you go for max medication at every stage of the regimen, your skin might freak out.
4) Thought experiment. Think of someone you like romantically (either your SO or, you know, some sort of office crush). Think of a good friend. Think of a work/school colleague who's not a friend as such, but whom you like. You know how it's nice/fun to see them all dressed up? Wow! You look great! And you know how they look PRETTY MUCH THE SAME when they're just in normal, possibly unstylish, mode? As in, you're still attracted, or still glad to see them, etc. That's how people think about you. Wow! Gemutlichkeit looks great today, which is Monday. Wow! On Wednesday she looks pretty good, too, like herself, you know. Which is to say: YOU ALREADY LOOK TOTALLY FINE.

5) Clothes, makeup, hair, etc. Think of it as a fun hobby and not a must-do. What I found helpful (even in high school I fortunately had this experience) is to get dressed to the nines for prom or whatever and see myself get second looks (from everyone, I don't mean the opposite sex as such). Know that you CAN go "mainstream attractive" if you want to. For women this often means full makeup, too, but it doesn't have to. Then, once you have this experience in your mind, you can incorporate elements of this SOMETIMES, when you feel like it. I enjoy fashion magazines, Allure, etc. because it's a whole alternate world I do not myself inhabit.

Regarding clothes specifically, take a fashionable friend to Goodwill and get some new stuff when you feel bored, unattractive, whatever.

Regarding hair, find a "stylist" who doesn't embarrass you. I have fine, thin hair myself. For me this stylist is a BARBER. Men are not always trying to lay a "if only you would do X" trip on me like I get in salons. That way, you won't be afraid to VISIT this person, because they won't make you feel BAD.
posted by skbw at 8:03 AM on June 29, 2013

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