Coping with moderate-to-severe ugliness.
February 7, 2015 10:51 PM   Subscribe

I am ugly and I feel bad about it and I'm tired of caring so much about my looks. How do I let it go so it doesn't dominate the rest of my young adulthood + beyond?

I'm a 21 year old female and I am straight up ugly. This isn't a case of low self-esteem. Please just take my word for this, I am not a good looking girl in the least. I have no less than 4 body-wide major skin issues + conditions, asymmetrical lumpy features and a dumpy body and am generally just not pleasant to look at. I have a fairly multi-culti background and trust me when I say it is a cross-cultural breed of ugliness and not like, as a result of living in LA or something. And for at least 15 years of my life it has bothered me and has definitely driven me to tears at least 2-4x a month during that time.

I read this great and somewhat helpful question thread on here about it, but it was primarily targeted towards dating whilst ugly, and I am not concerned with romance or sex; and anyway even from the weak description of the OP that was given, I am pretty sure I am significantly uglier (in addition to bad face and skin I have a fairly dumpy and ungainly body and unrulyish hair). Yes I am trying to lose weight for the zillionth time but having been all over the weight spectrum, I know it won't make me a goddess or anything.

My question is, how do I cope better with being ugly and move towards not caring very much? People always say things like, wait it out by the time you're middle aged everyone will look worse! But 1) that's quite a ways off for me and 2) I don't really think people turn decrepit in their 40s-50s and both sides of my family are really youthful looking anyway. They also say things like, emphasize the parts of yourself that are nice, no matter how small! But any decent traits I have are average at best and I don't want to go out of my way to show off the amazingly smooth 2" of skin on the back of my knee, you know? I just don't want to obsess about being ugly anymore. I know I will always be below average at best and I don't want to invest a ton of energy in my appearance beyond looking presentable because I still won't be good looking, will have plenty I will dislike about my appearance, and I want to spend my time doing other things in life. How do I just accept the fact that I am and will always be pretty ugly and move on with my life? Even though romantic issues aren't really a concern for me because I'm not interested, I do feel my ugliness has held me back when it's come to first impressions, maybe even friendships, and IME some heterosexual men seem to actually find young women they don't want to bang personally offensive. So that does make being ugly feel like a slight problem beyond just ego issues.
posted by hejrat to Human Relations (89 answers total) 69 users marked this as a favorite
It may sound facile and dismissive to you when people tell you to act like you're beautiful. It seems insane, doesn't it? After all, it's a straight up objective fact that you're ugly. Except, as with every damn thing in life, it's not that simple.

There are people who are ugly, as you describe yourself, who are sexy as hell. I promise you, it is so mixed up with how you present yourself - your body language and clothing, yes, but also, feeling good about you translates to moving through the world well.

Confidence is sexy. There's another thing that sounds like cliched bullshit, but is actually profoundly true. It doesn't have to be confidence in your appearance. It can be confidence in any part of your awesomeness.

Practice extreme and radical self acceptance, and honor every kind impulse and funny bone in your body. None of us exist as objects to behold, we exist as subjective beings, who get to claim our own worth in the world.

If you feel yourself shaking your head and thinking that it's not that easy,'re right. It's not easy, it's hard as hell. It's just really important, so you have to do it.

Big hugs.
posted by The Noble Goofy Elk at 11:13 PM on February 7, 2015 [70 favorites]

From your question I can see that you are intelligent, funny and articulate. In my book you are beautiful. When you learn to let that beauty shine looks won't matter.
posted by night_train at 11:28 PM on February 7, 2015 [13 favorites]

Mindfulness. I swear it is the only way to deal with this shit. I've had some crappy days recently and if I am mean to myself in the mirror, I walk away. When I find myself obsessing, and ruminating on the odd way my mouth is formed for example, I move my thoughts elsewhere. Yes, it's a slightly odd mouth - it's scarred, twisted, lopsided, and disproportionate - but it is my mouth and it speaks and breathes and snarls and kisses and all manner of things that are not being looked at. It is what it is, and I can expend energy elsewhere. It takes a long time to get used to doing that, but I'm getting there and it's infinitely more helpful than anything else.

The other thing I've been experimenting with is I take selfies, regardless of how good I look, because my friends love my face because it's mine. They don't look at me and go 'wow, doesn't she realise how asymmetrical her whole face is and her nose is weird and those scars and the pimples and the eczema' - they see me and go 'hey that's geek, she's great/funny/smart/whatever'. So I take selfies and post them and my friends tell me I'm lovely or they miss me or I'm adorable, and that feels better than insisting that I'm ugly, or trying to pretend that my enormous intellect and fierce wit make my nose look any different.

(a friend of mine did say recently that they thought I was adorable based entirely on my speech, my wit and my intellect and my writing, and that when they finally saw pictures of me - bad and good - they simply had that confirmed because they'd already formed an image of me that was so strong that no amount of double chins and disappeared piggy eyes and zits and lopsidedness could overcome it)
posted by geek anachronism at 11:43 PM on February 7, 2015 [27 favorites]

Best answer: I sort of got passed this by accepting that this is my lot in life. It might hold me back from some things, but could those people be good people who I would want to associate with? Absolutely not. And if other people are offended, well, that's their lot in life: to be offended by other human beings' normal faces. That's sad, but I have other stuff to do. You have to reject the idea that a person's face can be unacceptable. Which is difficult because we're fed the idea that most women's natural faces are unacceptable. It's a bad idea and not worth anyone's time.
posted by bleep at 11:50 PM on February 7, 2015 [12 favorites]

Someone I love is ugly. She's lumpy and poorly proportioned, her skin is not good, she has no muscle tone, dresses terribly and has uncontrollable hair. She's very overweight and has odd, asymmetrical features. But I love her and do you know what? Tons of other people love her too. She has the most caring and supportive friends, a busy social life, a devoted husband of twenty years. She's busy and happy and cheerful although she faces difficult health issues that limit her mobility. Bottom line is that she's a wonderful person and isn't much concerned with what she looks like. She's my sister, by the way. and told me years ago that she knew she wasn't pretty, but that wasn't going to be something that she obsessed about. You don't have to be pretty to be loved or valued in the world and some of the unhappiest people I know are conventionally beautiful, but never feel pretty enough.
posted by alltomorrowsparties at 11:52 PM on February 7, 2015 [84 favorites]

Not too long ago, I was in a rush to get to an appointment and was stopped for directions. I'm pretty embarrassed to say I noted that the woman approaching me lacked beauty in all the places we look for it. She came towards me with a confident stride - at this point, I'm not keen to be interrupted, I'm in a rush and a little perturbed anyway - and slayed and shamed me with the most amazing smile I've ever seen. It wasn't her lips or the shape of her eyes that did it. Her beauty was about energy, intention, presence, and connection, and it was real.
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:54 PM on February 7, 2015 [23 favorites]

There are a lot of women out there who are plenty accomplished but aren't what the media considers 'good looking'. Names that come to mind are Lena Dunham and Mindy Kaling (who I think are pretty gorgeous). What would be helpful would be to look into how the media rails on them for not being slim/beautiful etc. AND look at how they handle it. They're both 'hells no, I decide for myself my own self worth'. So, look around for those who can inspire you and teach you how to deal with this.
posted by kinoeye at 11:58 PM on February 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Well, you've got some of the self acceptance part down. The question you could try to ask is ...."now what?" Your looks are not who you are. So who are you?What do you want from life? Pursue those things. And as to how you stop caring, its a proces. You don't read or watch things that make you feel bad. Wear clothes that fit. Honor your body's strength, toughness, mobility, courage, endurance, sense of rhythm, whatever it can do that gives you pleasure.
posted by emjaybee at 12:02 AM on February 8, 2015 [3 favorites]

This is a topic Lizzie Velasquez tries to address and provide inspiration for. What I can tell you personally is that there are a lot of ways to impress people, and one that affects me greatly when I see it is kindness--more and more, really, as I get older. If you already excel in that, it's something to be so proud of that not much else ought to matter.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 12:13 AM on February 8, 2015 [10 favorites]

Look, it's not just you, we're all disgusting messes of skin and hair and unseemly biological processes. Being slightly less rugose or lumpy or whatever isn't what makes people happy in life.
posted by aubilenon at 12:23 AM on February 8, 2015 [12 favorites]

A lot of people are focusing on appreciating your inner-beauty (and they have great advice!) So I'm going to focus on cultivating outer-beauty.

You may not have a lovely shape but you can wear the loveliest clothes you can find; even better if they make you feel better. You may have problematic skin but you also could see a dermatologist (and/or a make-up artist) about medicine or at least make-up. You can pay to get the most flattering haircut possible. Etc.

Physical beauty may be something we're born with (or not!) but I believe a lot of physical attractiveness is about effort, to say nothing about the non-physical elements like confidence and kindness. You may never feel (or look) 100% the way you'd like but you can likely do better than where you are now, and I wish you luck!
posted by smorgasbord at 1:06 AM on February 8, 2015 [15 favorites]

I suspect you've probably done this but if not I would check out what can be done around the skin conditions - sometime this is stuff people don't go to the Drs enough for (esp if acne related) and there can be things that can help loads. I'd recommend getting the body Image Workbook, actually we've all had positive and negative feedback re: how we look. (Models get loads of negative by the way.. always being told they look too fat/old).

I personally find looking at how ideals of beauty change over generations and cultures really interesting sociologically.. that there is a definite social conditioning aspect to this. 'The Beauty Myth' would be a good buy.

I have been out with some conventionally very handsome men, then one day I noticed how attracted I was to my plumber.. small, balding, broken teeth, red veins in his cheeks... and beautiful twinkly blue eyes, a brilliant mind and cracking sense of humour. In the end, it really is the person.
posted by tanktop at 1:12 AM on February 8, 2015 [4 favorites]

Do you have pets? If you think at all you might like to, I think it could help. Pets don't discriminate between humans based on looks. I imagine my cat probably thinks we are all incredibly ugly, with our hugeness, lack of fur, clumsy movements and boring hair colours (WHY YOU NO HAS STRIPES?) But to a cat or a dog, that's totally irrelevant and when you are holding the can opener or a tasty bit of liver, they will look at you like you are the most beautiful thing in the world.
posted by lollusc at 1:32 AM on February 8, 2015 [31 favorites]

I have a bunch of relatives who range in media-defined attractiveness. At least three of them are so good looking that strangers will turn to me and say "Wow, who is that amazing looking person?" type statements. At the other end, somewhat unattractive and weird looking to a mix of plain and mildly pretty.

I can't see it because I am so familiar with them that I can't see their beauty, only them. One pair who I think are utterly beautiful are probably in the middle of the range, but have generous loving hearts. Another pair I find quite repulsive are considered to be extremely attractive for one and dumpily plain for the other, but both are selfish and cruel and so when I look at them, I am repelled physically.

This phenomena of not seeing a physical-self in friends, family and loved ones, but seeing a whole that shapes a greater aesthetic, happens to many if not most people. Focus on being a kind and loving person, and the people who can't see past appearances will avoid you - but you have a built-in filter for people who do and will eventually see you as you, and for some of them, you will be beautiful.
posted by viggorlijah at 1:37 AM on February 8, 2015 [15 favorites]

Hey, I have a couple of things I hopehopehope are useful but regardless, I'm sending good energy your way. You are really brave to write this question and name something that is very true and very difficult to navigate. It's a privilege people don't realize they have and when you don't have it, you fight an invisible battle every day. It's hard and exhausting. You're brave for sure. And strong.

So. Do you have any sport or physical thing you do that you can enjoy making progress with? I do not mean exercise to make your body more Western-culture approved, but something that challenges you to get stronger, more flexible, more precise, anything like that. Martial arts, progressive weightlifting, riding, etc.? Because our bodies are tools to do shit, not to be looked at and approved of. I found a new appreciation for my body as machine and tool for my use when I started running longer distances and realizing I could develop endurance. Weightlifting was also very empowering for me and made me love my previously-unacceptable body. It's still unacceptable to many, but I'm proud of the weights I can lift or being able to bang out a 16-miler on Saturday morning. It switches your perception and appreciation to "function." Just a thought.

Secondly, if you have a good personality you are way ahead of the game. I always had a terrible, unlikeable personality. I think I might have an undiagnosed spectrum disorder or something, because I have always meant well but always mess everything up. I was and still am disliked by most everyone. Most people in my hometown hate me and I've magically managed to continue to be unlikeable. It's a huge burden and I've had therapy, etc., but that stuff is hard to teach and apparently learn in my case. I just decided like bleep above that it was my lot in life. I know this is different from appearance but it has been devastating to my career that I just cannot "get" politics in a workplace at all. I've changed careers now so I work at home by myself and don't inflict myself on others. But if you have a good personality and people like you...the world is your oyster. Damn. What I wouldn't give to not be "that person" and to be well-liked for even a day. If you've got that, and if you care about people, from where I sit, you are fortunate and have a very promising future.

I sincerely wish you happiness and hope.
posted by Punctual at 1:45 AM on February 8, 2015 [31 favorites]

I found this quote on the internet. I have no idea who it's attributable to, but I think it's a great quote and would be helpful for you to keep in mind, specifically in response to you asking " How do I just accept the fact that I am and will always be pretty ugly and move on with my life? "

It doesn’t make sense to call ourselves ugly, because we don’t really see ourselves. We don’t watch ourselves sleeping in bed, curled up and silent with chests rising and falling with our own rhythm. We don’t see ourselves reading a book, eyes fluttering and glowing. You don’t see yourself looking at someone with love and care inside your heart. There’s no mirror in your way when you’re laughing and smiling and happiness is leaking out of you. You would know exactly how bright and beautiful you are if you saw yourself in the moments where you are truly yourself.
posted by Enchanting Grasshopper at 3:14 AM on February 8, 2015 [56 favorites]

Seconding the suggestion Punctual made of getting to know what your body can do, in place of the time you currently spend thinking about what it looks like.

Your body can be an amazing tool for running, lifting, singing, painting, savouring delicious foods and hearing beautiful music, dancing and so many other amazing things. Your senses and muscles and nervous system are complicated and specialist equipment and you can be proud of all they accomplish. Read about how your body works, do things to give it a chance to shine.

The goal is to learn what it's good at and focus on the positives instead of the negatives, the way you would for a good friend who has a weird laugh but is always there for you. But even if you don't reach perfect acceptance (and who does, anyway?) along the way you will find out how to successfully distract yourself from the negative thoughts you want to get away from.

Fighting negative thoughts just feeds them. You need to starve them of attention. When your brain says "ugh this skin", instead of agreeing and thinking about all the ways your skin makes you unhappy, tell your brain "yeah but it does a great job of keeping my organs in place so it's better than having no skin at all" and have a laugh and go lift some weights or do a little dance or smell some freshly brewed coffee. I know from experience it feels daft at first but eventually it just becomes second nature and the negative voice gets quieter and stops bothering to speak up so often.
posted by harriet vane at 3:29 AM on February 8, 2015 [15 favorites]

You sound like a great person, with a lovely dry sense of humour and good priorities. I enjoyed the tone of this post, in that sense, because you have a witty way of putting things and because you sound so sensible and head-on-straight. That said, I feel like there is some disconnect between the tone of your post and what you say about how this has made you feel in the past and I wonder if, for that reason, your angle on this issue is a bit self-defeating.

I mean, I think your core idea of trying to redirect your energy away from a focus on appearance is a great one because it's true that your appearance is far less important to your ultimate happiness than things like your personality, your work, and the quality (not quantity!) of your relationships. But the way in which you're saying this to yourself seems a little dismissive of all the sadness that this has meant for you in the past. You're telling your fifteen year old self -- and the parts of your fifteen year old self that are still with you -- that she is silly and wrong and to stop caring so much. Sheer denial of the validity of strong emotions doesn't, in my experience, help you to grow past them. You get a kind of bottleneck, instead, where you are either really flat about the issue sometimes and out-of-control sad at other times. If this is true to your experience, then you may find it more helpful to tell yourself, "this -- my appearance, and my feelings about it, and what other people have said/done to me about it -- has really hurt me, a lot, over the last 15 years. This is a loss, and a sad thing that I had a right to be sad about, and my job now is to help myself recover from that and feel good about life." You aren't dismissing everything you used to feel, in other words, you're (gently) working towards recovering from it. Part of that means replying to new negative self-talk with a more realistic story about how much appearance matters but I think you may also need to acknowledge that you're only human and that your negative beliefs, which arise automatically because of stuff in the past, are understandable even though they're not accurate. Be nice to yourself. In that vein, "ugly" is a loaded word that I, personally, wouldn't use to describe someone I loved, however far from the mainstream ideal of beauty they were. YMMV on how negative it is -- maybe, to you, it's purely descriptive and no one has ever called you that as a way to hurt you etc -- but, if it feels at all bad, I would ditch it completely and use a term that is more neutral and descriptive. "I look how I look" may be enough.

Also, I wonder if some of your anxieties about how much difference appearance will make to your life could be assuaged by actually just doing more stuff and seeing the difference it (doesn't) make. I second taking up bodily hobbies, like running or dancing or some other sport, but I also think it would be a good idea to increase your opportunities to meet people in a positive context by, e.g., doing voluntary work or joining groups related to hobbies you are passionate about. Maybe you do some of these things already, but could do more / branch out and vary the things you do? I think filling your days with things you enjoy, and/or that help other people, is the best way to redirect energy away from sad/bad stuff -- telling yourself not to think of something is a lot harder when you haven't got a bunch of other things to think about.
posted by Aravis76 at 4:12 AM on February 8, 2015 [15 favorites]

Pretty girls have to put up with a lot of crap. I have grown to like the fact that I'm not conventionally beautiful because it's an automatic filter that removes shallow people from my life, and leaves the good, kind, interesting people.
posted by BrashTech at 4:38 AM on February 8, 2015 [40 favorites]

I think it was Catherine Deneuve who said "Beauty distorts everything." Meaning, every time a man expressed interest in her, she could never tell at first whether he was just diverted by her beauty or if he really was interested in her as a person. I think she had a few troubled relationships because of it.

More importantly I want to second Harriet Vane on the importance of physical activity and being grounded in the body. I was a very klutzy, awkward child and young teen, not particularly attractive. I started running/walking early on in high school (vanity has its upside!), and I took up weight training in my twenties. I became much more comfortable in my body. I still struggle with self-esteem but for the most part that's not centered around my looks as much as it probably would have been had I never become physically active. There's a huge world of activities you could take up: yoga, martial arts, dance... find what you enjoy.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 5:18 AM on February 8, 2015 [6 favorites]

I also came here to suggest exercise. What's worked best for me is weight lifting: after a couple sets of deadlifts I feel like I'm more fully inside my body, and I'm evaluating it on something other than how it looks in the mirror. Other side effects have included weight loss, better posture and physical confidence, increased energy, improved mood and sleep patterns, and a bit more assertiveness when I need to stand up for myself.

It has very much helped me stop viewing my body as some kind of horrible defective enemy of my mind, which is how I felt for so many years.

The other thing that has helped me has been kind of distinguishing general body dissatisfaction from the specific outcomes that I wanted to achieve. "Don't be negatively judged by new coworkers/clients for my appearance" became a thing as my career improved, for instance.

I don't know how much time you've put into the "unruly hair" issue already, so possibly this isn't a good example for you, but fwiw my own feelings about my hair changed massively after the first time I went to a good salon, as opposed to getting a $15 haircut. I told the stylist that I knew nothing about hair and that I did not want to spend a lot of time every morning maintaining it, and asked if she could do something that would look at least ok with a minimum of effort. The result was a significant upgrade in how professional I looked -- like, I didn't suddenly look like a model, but I did look like I gave a shit about social norms, at the cost of an hour in the salon every couple months. That made a big difference to a lot of those snap judgments you're talking about, especially in the work arena, where people are less looking to be sexually attracted and more doing a read on competence.

Along the same lines, if you can afford to go to a medium-upscale department store and ask a personal shopper to help you pick clothes, that might also be worth a try. I was surprised by how much of an improvement they were able to make over my own clothing taste -- stuff that fit better, looked better, and had more personality -- plus I got through buying a whole wardrobe worth of stuff without the self-hate and fury that usually goes with a clothes shopping trip for me.
posted by shattersock at 5:23 AM on February 8, 2015 [7 favorites]

Be nice to yourself. In that vein, "ugly" is a loaded word that I, personally, wouldn't use to describe someone I loved

I came in to say this. I'm a believer in being your own best friend, and trying never to say something to yourself that you wouldn't say to a friend. I read a quote I liked in Amy Poehler's book "Yes Please" where she talks about the negative voice we get when we look in the mirror. She says she addresses it with something like "Don't speak to Amy like that. Amy is my friend". So when you're focussing in a negative way on this or that part of your appearance and likely saying mean internal things about them, practice sticking up for yourself as you would if you saw a friend being bullied: "Don't say that about hejrat. Hejrat is my friend". And if you can follow it up with positive attributes, "...and she is funny and smart and kind and good at X..." that's even better.

I also just thought I'd share this. When I read your question I tried to think of who I knew that I consider to be "ugly". I know a lot of people, personally and professionally, with a vast array of body sizes, skin issues, hair types, etc, and I genuinely couldn't apply that word to any of them because I could only think of nice things about them, regardless of their outsides. And then I remembered a woman I worked with several years ago. She was tall, slim, blonde, with clear skin and high cheekbones and blue eyes and white teeth. And she was the most cruel, mean-spirited, negative and bitchy person I have ever met. It drained me working with her because she sucked the joy out of every interaction and watching her snipe and sneer about people was really unpleasant. And when I remembered her all I could picture was her mouth twisted into a snarl and her eyes narrowed in spite about something or someone. And I thought "Her. She is literally the only ugly person I can think of", but if you saw her you might think she was somehow "better" than you. But if I had a choice to spend the day with her or you, you'd win hands down.
posted by billiebee at 5:25 AM on February 8, 2015 [17 favorites]

I'm straight up ugly too. Ugly baby, ugly kid, ugly teen, ugly adult. It irritates the FUCK out of me when people say "Oh, but you are beautiful". Because I'm not. Those words deny who I am and reinforce that beauty is the most important thing (if it wasn't, people could accept the fact that I'm ugly and not deny it).
It took me a long time to accept it, and even now there are days where I wish I was at least pretty, but that ship not only sailed, it sank and is somewhere at the bottom of the Marianas Trench and never coming back. So I have to deal.

So as one fellow ugly person to another:

1) Own that you are ugly, but recognize that ugliness is only skin deep. Its the most visible part of you, but it is only one part, and not the most important.
2) You may be ugly, but you can still dress well, for your shape, your colouring. Be classy and well put together. Good clothes and shoes do help in feeling confident. Makeup might help, or it might make you look like a clown. Experiment and go with what makes you feel most confident.
3) Focus on your intelligence, your friendliness, your compassion, your sense of humour - everything positive about you that isn't something you can see in the mirror.
4) Focus on your friends. People do look past looks all the time, and connect with people who share their interests, hobbies, sense of humour, etc. Find people you are compatible with, and make friends with them. Get busy doing things. The media tells us that only beautiful people have friends and lovers and relationships, and that's a lie. Ugly people do to.
5) Some people can't help but try to be nice and tell you that you're beautiful when you're not. Its irritating, so don't tell people you're ugly. They'll just contradict you. Or they think you're fishing for compliments. And then you're back to focusing on how you look. So just...don't say anything about it. You know what's true.
6) Media and society says you have to be pretty to accomplish anything. That is a LIE. Act confident because of who you are under the skin, and people will respond to that. After a while, it won't matter as much how you look, because people will respond to who you are.
posted by sandraregina at 5:28 AM on February 8, 2015 [64 favorites]

Looking over your question history, it seems like you feel the same way about your looks as you feel about literally everything else in your life. I'm not going to try to tell you you're not objectively ugly because I can't see you. HOWEVER I think it's likely that you would think you were objectively ugly even if you were, and even if you weren't, because you seem to be looking at the world through sludge-coloured spectacles right now.

So I'm going to give you a few suggestions, and you may not want to act on them, and if you do you may still feel that they haven't done any good even if they have. But I detect under the surface a desire to fight back, so I'm gonna make these suggestions anyway.

First, and I apologize if I'm being Captain Obvious here, but are you seeing a dermatologist for your four different skin conditions? Skin troubles can be very intractable, so I sympathize. But, if you can get some help to relieve them, that might reduce some constant low-level sources of misery for you. If you're not seeing a dermatologist, may I suggest that you do everything you can to arrange to see one? Trying to self-medicate can be such a huge waste of time and money in these situations and a dermatologist can really be the more cost-effective option.

In the second place, I would suggest that you reconsider whether ugliness is as negative a thing as we've been led to believe:

Now, I know you say you don't want to put any effort into your appearance, but you do actually have to get dressed before you leave the house, so may I suggest that you try to get a copy of The Triumph of Individual Style? It deals with universal principles of aesthetics, and is the most informative and enjoyable book I've ever read on the subject - and I have read many. It's a rare book, so it will be hard to find and very expensive but ZOMG is it worth every penny.

If none of my suggestions are helpful to you at all and only make you feel worse, then eat this message and forget it.

I'm simply talking about what worked for me, since I recognize my younger self across the span of your posts.
posted by tel3path at 5:28 AM on February 8, 2015 [8 favorites]

His question isn't exactly yours, but I think this letter from Dear Sugar says some things you need to hear.
posted by MeadowlarkMaude at 5:43 AM on February 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

Have a read of the reaction on Twitter to that awful obituary of Colleen McCullough. Seriously, it made me so mad that somebody would write about her that way, and on a number of levels. Maybe it will make you mad too. But it was a wonderful moment on Twitter when so many bonded over it.
posted by BibiRose at 5:58 AM on February 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

I have a handful of skin disorders so I know what you mean. I think you're overlooking the aspects of your appearance that you can change, namely your physical fitness and your clothing. Appearance isn't just a matter of winning the generic lottery. Also have a derm give you something for your skin issues to keep them under control.
posted by deathpanels at 6:02 AM on February 8, 2015 [3 favorites]

You have to make peace with who you are.

I've always been the kind of person who says, "play the hand you're dealt." I'm fat, you would think that if I'd diet and exercise that I wouldn't be fat. There's only so much I can do, and I keep trying. At the end of the day, I am who I am.

So, what then? Well, I'm the best me I can muster. I'm vain, and I'm unapologetic about it. I get my hair cut in a cute style that's easy to do. I use makeup. I buy lotions and scents and pretty things to wear because I enjoy these things and I enjoy the ritual of caring for my face and body. I buy clothes that are cute and flattering.

Then, once I've put myself together, I get on with living. I'm funny, kind, sarcastic and honest. I have lots of friends who have probably long since forgotten that I'm that fat girl.

So instead of avoiding mirrors and and such, embrace everything about yourself. Do as much as you can for your skin. See a dermatologist, use the best body lotion you can find that doesn't aggravate your conditions. Find a fragrance you like and wear it. Find make up that makes your complexion glow. Get your eyebrows waxed professionally. Get a hairstyle that is easy to take care of and that works with your hair. Buy pretty clothes.

You're not doing these things because you need to be as attractive as possible for the random people you meet, fuck them, you're doing it to remind yourself that you matter, that you deserve nice things and because you enjoy pampering yourself.

I have to say that I've been doing this for most of my life and I think I have the opposite of body dysmorphia. I think I'm prettier than I actual am. My brain has decided that since I spend all this time preening that I must have the looks to warrant it. Then I project attractiveness. Then I have swagger, which makes people perceive me as attractive.

The concept of glamour is actually magical. It's a spell cast to make others perceive something differently. If you do it right, it works on you in the process.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:02 AM on February 8, 2015 [25 favorites]

I've discovered that few people (outside of LA) are actually really good looking. We make up for it by having interests, personalities, hobbies, being total badasses...whatever. People get over being ugly slugs by working on feeling good physically (eating well, exercising for own quality of life etc.) and developing their brains. There are plenty of ugly people who have not let that hold them back - think Danny Devito (so ugly, he plays ugly people in movies). If you really are ugly, just accept it and focus on doing what YOU want out of life.
posted by Toddles at 6:07 AM on February 8, 2015 [3 favorites]

If your skin disorders are anything like mine, you have probably been to several dermatologists about them already, with few results. It is SUPER disheartening. I want to encourage you to go again, especially if any of the skin issues are painful or just darn uncomfortable. It took . . . well, I don't even remember how many visits, to find a dermatologist that wasn't just a shill for Botox or whatever. And, I'll be honest, my skin still looks ugly in a lot of places, but I, personally, for myself, feel SO MUCH HAPPIER not spending most of my day scratching or fidgeting uncomfortably now that I have a treatment regimen. Immediate confidence boost.

As I said, I still look like a reptile in some places. I'm never going to have flawless skin. I combat this, oddly enough, by accepting the genetic component in this. I am not at all the first in my family to suffer with skin that looks like an angry snake. Sometimes I look at old photos of my grandparents and great-grandparents and think about their lives, and I think, hey, they had horrible skin too and they had wonderful full lives surrounded by people who loved them. It makes me care a lot less about what my skin looks like.
posted by chainsofreedom at 6:23 AM on February 8, 2015 [4 favorites]

Exercise has done wonders for me. Hard, soreness-inducing, challenging exercise. Getting my body to do stuff that it didn't used to be able to do, that I wasn't sure it ever could do, has made me think so differently about my physicality. And it has made me feel more attractive, even when the actual appearance of my body didn't change a bit.
posted by decathecting at 6:25 AM on February 8, 2015 [8 favorites]

Our bodies are more than just how they look; they're wonderful instruments through which we experience the world. If you were a violinist and had the choice of an old, scarred violin that played beautiful music and a glossy new violin that was a poor or mediocre instrument, which would you choose? Of course you'd take the old violin, and you'd polish and tune it and care for it and make wonderful music on it.

Unlike in this analogy, we don't get to choose our instruments, but we do get to focus on caring for them and on what they can do rather than how they look. There's lots of good advice in this thread about self-care. Definitely work with a dermatologist, hairdresser, cosmetician, nutritionist, and any other kind of professional who can help you feel your best. Put together a wardrobe of clothes that are a pleasure to wear and that you feel comfortable in, whether that's embroidered velvet creations or simply cut clothes in good materials. Take up a physical skill that you enjoy (dance, yoga, swimming, a martial art, marathoning, etc.) and keep at it until you kick ass. And aside from this, focus on what you can accomplish with your obviously fine intelligence and wit. What special talents do you have that you can develop? What can you create? What problems can you solve? How can you help people? How well can you connect with others? How much fun can you have? Your body is your violin, and what you do with it is so much more important than how it looks.
posted by orange swan at 6:36 AM on February 8, 2015 [4 favorites]

I struggle with similar issues. My rational brain tells me that I don't actually value beauty, style, or vanity. I have less respect for people who I judge to be preoccupied with appearances, style, and superficial concerns. My anxious and lacking-in-self-esteem-brain, on the other hand, constantly compares my looks and style to others, and I am repulsed by what I see in the mirror and photos. I'm in no position how to tell you how to turn on the confidence switch and be at peace with your biological composition, but I can tell you what makes me feel a little better, in between wallowings:
1) Admiring non-physical qualities of amazing people I have tons of respect for, and actively seeking out things to admire in non-gorgeous people. I try to practice this both in day to day life, and in becoming a huge fangirl for past and present icons who weren't all about sexiness.
2)Actively try to break the feedback loop between the dazzle of attractiveness and estimation of worth: Am I really impressed by the substance of this person? Concentrate mental energy on not focusing on my envy of their looks.
3) But, I try NOT to nitpick or cut the gorgeous pplz down to size or be a hater. This only exaggerates the importance of beauty. Instead, I try to make a mental note "oh, they are gorgeous. .that must come in handy." and move on.
4) In childhood through college, I used to have really unhealthy friendships with gorgeous people, who were vampire-like in their appetite for my fawning subservience (equally my fault.) This was partially an unrequited love/failing to be successfully queer, and partially self-flagellation. I'm projecting here, but I'd say, in general, it helps to be self-aware about how your relationships make you feel about yourself. Even if you are auto-tormenting yourself without help, it may be worth finding relationships that make you feel better, not worse.

I hope this helps, and that you find your way around this morass. Cultural messages about the importance of beauty and sex-appeal abound. It takes constant vigilance to catch your breath and step outside even occasionally.
posted by Lisitasan at 6:39 AM on February 8, 2015 [7 favorites]

I like to focus on making my body strong and capable rather than "fit". I love knowing that I can do pushups, lift my end of a heavy couch, etc. I'm not slim but when I work at it I'm strong and that gives me a lot of confidence. Even though I'm far from a serious weight lifter I occupy my body in a different way, I move with more confidence and power when in my head I'm thinking "I did 20 pushups this morning. HAH!" Making my body strong instead of pretty also feels very subversive to me, which is part of the appeal.

What is your body for? What can your body do? What do you want it to do? What other people see when they look at you, and how they respond to you, is only one fraction of the equation. Use your body in ways that make you feel happy, interested and proud - dance, swim, hike, box, volunteer with habitat for humanity, enter a triathalon. If you aren't sure what to do, try a few different things.

Doing those things - whatever they are for you - will add to your confidence. So will exploring your non-physical passions - whether it's playing an instrument, painting, learning a language, travel, programming, volunteering, or writing poetry.

Also, check this out: The Fantasy of Being Thing.

.... being fat shouldn’t stop you from doing the things you’ve always believed you couldn’t do until you were thin. Put on a bathing suit and go waterskiing. Apply for that awesome job you’re just barely qualified for. Ask that hot guy out. Join a gym. Wear a gorgeous dress. All of those concrete things you’ve been putting off? Just fucking do them, now, because this IS your life, happening as we speak.
posted by bunderful at 6:40 AM on February 8, 2015 [7 favorites]

Time spent beating up on ourselves and feeling bad is time that we will never get back and could have been spent doing something fun or interesting. I regret every minute I spent looking in a mirror and thinking I looked weird when I was younger -- partly that is because now, when I look at old photos, I realize that I wasn't all that bad looking, just awkward and gawky and zitty, but mostly because it wasn't helpful and it wasn't useful in any way.

Filling your life with joy, good people, and interesting things is the better option. We all have things about ourselves that we wish were different but that can't be changed, and on top of that people's self perceptions are notably unreliable. It's not going to help to focus on the bad, and it almost certainly is going to make you feel crummy about yourself.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:40 AM on February 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm conventionally average, and sometimes I know I'm pretty and other times I know I'm ugly. I only recently figured out that certain things in my life contribute to that feeling. My brother, whom I love dearly, won all the hotness genes in the family, spends a lot of time and money on his skin and hair and physique, often talks about physical attractiveness, and frequently gives me skincare gift sets. I know he does it because he loves me, but I have noticed that my self-esteem takes a nosedive for a day or two after we talk about anything related to physical attractiveness. Then it gets better. I've also recently learned that some shirts make me feel sexy and powerful, and others make me feel like a lump. Finally, I like watching British TV shows and foreign films over most American ones because the former tend to feature normal-looking people, whereas American mass media creates a world where literally everyone is mega attractive.

So I guess this is all to say that there may be people or objects in your life who contribute to how you judge your own attractiveness. I've ditched some shirts and varied my film and TV consumption. In addition to the great helpful advice above about positive things to add to your life (pushing your body through a tough workout, volunteering for the less fortunate), you may consider lessening things that otherwise feed into how you think about how you look.
posted by nicodine at 6:41 AM on February 8, 2015 [5 favorites]

Regarding this statement: "IME some heterosexual men seem to actually find young women they don't want to bang personally offensive. So that does make being ugly feel like a slight problem beyond just ego issues." This is very true, and also sometimes not only from het. men. In my opinion, if you can kind deal with not having the pleasure of their company, this is a feature not a bug. Assholes announce themselves loud and clear. Thanks and seeya!
posted by Lisitasan at 6:47 AM on February 8, 2015 [17 favorites]

FWIW, the most attractive people I know all blossomed in their later 20s (or later) and none were really "conventionally attractive" to start with. And remember, there are no guarantees in life. Accidents and illness can change your physical appearance in the blink of an eye.

Now that I'm older, there's one common experience I share with all my women friends: we have all looked at old pictures of ourselves and thought,"Oh my god, I can't believe I thought I was ugly/fat/scrawny/whatever." Please, try to be kind to yourself.
posted by Room 641-A at 6:56 AM on February 8, 2015 [4 favorites]

Reframing my unattractive features has helped me a lot - my dark undereye bags actually make me look hard-working and/or rakishly work-hard-play-hard. Visible veins used to be straight up desirable - they were "lover's traces" that the eyes of one's admirers would meander along. Wide hips are a sign of fertility and abundance. Try to put a positive interpretation on some things you don't like about your looks.

Related: if you look at glossy women's mags, stop. Watch less television. Pay more attention to what normal folks you see in the grocery store look like. I realized that I prefer looking at people whose skin isn't carefully spackled and photoshopped until it looks like plastic. Watching makeup videos where someone starts with a bare face has also been surprising - I've never worn much makeup and didn't realize how much it can change someone's appearance.

Nthing exercise / doing other stuff that makes you appreciate your body. Treat it to fabrics that feel nice and self-massage and quality food. Be a friend to yourself.
posted by momus_window at 6:57 AM on February 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

I am aggresively plain in my looks and don't take a lot of care with my presentation. I sometimes feel bad about this, a part of me badly wants to look like Claire Underwood in House of Cards. Most of the time though I appreciate how it lets me move through the world as pretty much a non-sexual being. It's like being invisible. I am never catcalled, I am never hit on or talked at by guys, I've never gotten help that had strings attached, there's been no assumptions made or questions asked about how I achieved anything I've achieved. It's not just an asshole filter, it's an asshole forcefield, at least once you move past the peak-douchebag period of having to socialise with college age straight guys.
posted by Iteki at 7:00 AM on February 8, 2015 [20 favorites]

I am not good looking, and it's a been something I've struggled with since adolescence (especially since I had several beautiful friends - I was definitely the ugly one the wingman was forced to talk to).

I'm 35 now and here is the thing: learning how to dress for my body type and how to use and apply makeup that flatters me has helped a lot. I know - it sounds like "giving in," like you should be able to not care about society and be yourself. That is all true, but learning what kind of clothing, colors and hairstyles work well for me has helped me gained a lot of confidence.
posted by sutel at 7:14 AM on February 8, 2015 [6 favorites]

I know someone who is not conventionally beautiful, but she has a great sence of style that folks find very attractive about her. And of course she has many other endearing qualities and I can think of many other examples of people like this. Attractiveness is so much more complex than the superficial beauty we are born with.

Sure, some people are going to be shallow jerks. One way to think about this is that the lack of conventional, superficial beauty is kind of a superpower in that it helps filter out superficial assholes who would be offended by that. It makes it easier for those folks to show you who they really are so that you don't have to waste any time associating with them.
posted by jazzbaby at 7:18 AM on February 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

I don't know if it's a comfort to you, but most people don't give other folks' appearances all that much thought. I read your post and felt devastated for you. I started thinking about the people I know - my friends, family, coworkers, neighbors - and realized, after considering it for a few minutes, that some of them would probably describe themselves the way you do. They have a skin problem or have bad teeth or unusual facial features or they're overweight. I've noticed those things, but even when they're all together, I've never thought ugly - like, I don't know anyone that I would identify that way, even trying to be objective about it. I notice beautiful wherever I see it, but maybe because I'm a very average-looking person, anything short of wow that person could be a movie star pretty much doesn't register.

All of which is to say: you are way harder on yourself than the rest of the world, because the rest of the world isn't thinking about you all day. I know way more about every problem on my face and body than anyone else does, not because they aren't evident, but because actually no one else cares. If you want problems to be less obvious, makeup and clothes really help to a degree that IMO cannot be overstated, but please don't think that other people are thinking about you as ugly. They're probably thinking about a work project or their sick kid or what they're having for lunch, and if they run into you and have a chat, they're just thinking hey it's so nice when I run into hejrat, she's always so clever/cheerful/funny etc.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 7:37 AM on February 8, 2015 [4 favorites]

I found that it was helpful to get out of the binary thinking of ugly/pretty. There are more useful binaries that are more objective, like "conventionally attractive/not conventionally attractive." That puts you in a MUCH wider circle, full of people you have a LOT in common with. Using the subjective binary just isn't rational. And, as the internet will attest, people who are not conventionally attractive still live fulfilling lives and reap rewards, sometimes even because of and not in spite of their appearances.

I did a page search and seriously only one person so far as mentioned therapy, so I'm gonna go ahead and put that out there - therapy! Not to increase your self-esteem, necessarily, because talking about objective things as though they are subjective is probably going to drive you bonkers and not be helpful. It sounds like you're a pretty rational and practical person. You can learn through CBT and DBT to short-circuit the obsessive spiral that results in irrational thoughts.
posted by juniperesque at 7:42 AM on February 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

As a person who doesn't possess conventional beauty, I agree with others that appearance can serve as an asshole filter and save you a lot of time and grief when dealing with people you probably don't need in your life. You can experiment with makeup and wear it if you choose and if you like how it looks on you, but do that for you and not for others. I find all faces to be interesting, whether made up or not.
posted by SillyShepherd at 7:44 AM on February 8, 2015

I feel ugly myself. Ugly, useless and unlovable. Chronically single and ignored by men. But you cannot just spend your days locked inside, lying on the sofa, staring at the ceiling and waiting for death, can you? It might take some 30 to 40 years and would not be too exciting...So I am trying to live a full, interesting life instead, and bring value by being a good friend, a kind person, a reliable colleague, a nice customer. At least on the days when I'm not crying my eyes out with despair:) I chat to baristas while waiting for my coffee, I compliment my neighbor on a nice dress, I am patient with a municipality clerk, fumbling with my documents. I go out with friends, take singing lessons, work on improving my English, do a lot of reading. I try to avoid Facebook, certain TV programs and womens' magazines as much as possible, because I've noticed they are bringing me down. Same with internet comments on certain articles , especially on singledom, or places like reddit - people can be so mean! Good to have MetaFilter for a change:) I'm not very much into sports, but I noticed that occasional yoga class makes me feel better, so some day I will try to become a regular yogi:) I might not have the life I wish for, but at least I know I am doing my best with what I have been given.
posted by sill i dill at 7:48 AM on February 8, 2015 [12 favorites]


I thought I looked bad. And I'm really unphotogenic (that should be a word). And then I took a few self videos to "talk" some things out with myself. I was surprised to find I liked the funny and honest person I saw there.

maybe try some selfie videos. I hope you like the person you see (that's so much more than pretty. pretty's great for choosing a teacup, not a person you'd like to talk to)!
posted by mirileh at 7:51 AM on February 8, 2015 [6 favorites]

I think the key is to find something you like about yourself more than you dislike your appearance. You honestly sound like a bright, thoughtful, funny person so you already have a lot going for you there. When I think of some of the people in the world I find most beautiful they are people who were passionate about something in their lives. They either used that passion to enrich the lives of others or they did things that I find utterly amazing. None of them were/are beautiful by outward measures but they sure we're/are by inner measures.

Marie Curie
Mother Teresa
Albert Einstein
Eleanor Roosevelt

Listen, I know we all get caught up in the idea that society, through ads and television, has brainwashed the entire population into thinking only a limited combination of traits are physically beautiful. I found in my own life this to be much less true than what we are told. I, and most people I interact with on a daily basis, just don't give two shits about what someone looks like. This has only been more true as I have gotten older. Remember that next to the teenage years early twenties is probably the most shallow time in anyone's life. Even the most beautiful people feel like giant turds at that time in their lives. You will probably not feel the same way about yourself in five years.
posted by teamnap at 7:59 AM on February 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

Hippy Peeps here: meditate on your heart chakra and in your day-to-day learn to hold your body with a very relaxed posture - carry your energy in your hips and lower abdomen. This will relax you into yourself and you will be a very pleasant presence for those around you. You will feel great and it will build on itself. It's crazy how easy this is. All you do is shift your attention from your head (where you think you are, and where all those drudgery thoughts are swirling) down to your navel and slightly below. When you exist from that place you will feel less caught up in how you look since so much of your attention will be focused on just being.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:10 AM on February 8, 2015 [6 favorites]

1. Money helps. A lot. People are attracted to money. As the saying goes, "If I had a dollar for everyone who found me unattractive, I'd be attractive."

2. In practical terms, splurge on one amazing haircut with a top haircutter. Then take a picture of yourself with that haircut and give it to a less expensive hair cutter the next time you need one. The right haircut can do a lot.

3. Similarly, get one amazing outfit. Lena Dunham is never going to look like a model, but you'll notice she really stepped up her glamor game this year.

4. Amazing outfit does not need to be a feminine one.

5. You can be sexy if you're ugly. Because, f*** it. Leslie Jones on Saturday Night Live is monstrously tall and not particularly thin, and kind of mannish, and I'd hate to get in a brawl with her, but her thing is putting her sexiness out there, and when you put your sexuality out there, some men will be put off, and others will change their minds about your looks.

6. If you have skin issues, they may be fixable, or at least can be mitigated with medication and/or makeup.

7. Being excellent in something is very, very attractive. Ugly men have been using this to score ever since forever.
posted by musofire at 8:18 AM on February 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

I would also like to call your attention to this excellent advice, very on point and articulate. Great insight here, about how to prioritize your subjective experience over the world's bullshit. Bonus: you wrote this comment.
posted by The Noble Goofy Elk at 8:21 AM on February 8, 2015 [6 favorites]

Years back, I hired a young woman who was not pretty. Not at all pretty to look at. After about two months of her showing up and doing a great job, she became someone I knew I could rely on, someone I enjoyed sharing a work shift with. And I distinctly remember the day I was chatting with her and consciously realized that 'hey, I remember thinking she's ugly. She doesn't seem ugly to me now.' And that was when I really understood the saying "beauty is as beauty does". So, to get past being what you define as unattractive consider that there is a second part in the equation, which is that people who know you at all will see you through the eyes of love, and will love even your lumps. Self confidence is hard to gain, but your writing shows you to be a realist who (and this is important) *wants* to be happy. You've got all you need, just concentrate on doing what makes you happy. Superficial people will never change, feel free to ignore them.
posted by AliceBlue at 8:24 AM on February 8, 2015 [7 favorites]

Hey, fellow unattractive person, here. There are two ways you can go with this
1)Muster up the most "I don't give a fuck" attitude that is possible, and exude that constantly. or
2)Act like you're beautiful anyway.

They each have their good sides, and I do a measure of them both. #1 helps me when I feel down about how I look, or when no clothes fit, or when I catch myself in the mirror and I'm like "wow I'm fatter than I thought.". #2 is good at all other times, and I've actually started believing it.
So. I'm gonna give you advice for both of these.

#1)Surround yourself with other people who just do not fucking care about other people's opinions. Tumblr is great for this. I get life whenever someone comes in to call out someone for being fat/brown/ugly, the user basically says "omg look at this fucker who thinks their opinion matters", followed by a slew of people going "when will they learn it doesn't, stop str8boys2k15". Get a support group. You are a living human and that is amazing and fuck everyone else because your life is yours and own it. Redirect all of your hate onto those straight boys who are personally offended by you. Shame them for being so fucking basic. Revel in the fact that your mere existence can upend their life. That's some powerful shit right there.

#2) Let me first just say that 21 is still really young, and I find I didn't really "settle" into myself until I was about 24, and most people I talk to say it gets better as you become more of an adult. Re-evaluate beauty. I look at a lot of fat girls online, and it doesn't even phase me anymore to see fat naked bodies. Like at first, it was shocking. I see skinny woman all. the. time. and to be honest the reason I wasn't shocked isn't because they're inherently more pleasing-I'm just used to it. Look at fat people, ugly people, normal people, whatever. Especially people who also say "man I'm really feeling my stretch marks right now, so pretty". Your brain will start to agree after a while. And when you start to feel that confidence, other people will too. This shit works, trust me.
posted by FirstMateKate at 8:34 AM on February 8, 2015 [8 favorites]

Echoing others...

Okay, for the sake of your question, let's assume that you're ugly (ugh, I'm so uncomfortable typing that, I just can't even bring myself to believe it even after reading your question.)

Set OTHER goals. It's very hard to set a goal related to something you don't have, or ignore something you don't like. It's much easier to go out and get something, and there are (scientifically supported!) ways to do it. Be completely indulgent for a weekend, really wallow, drink, eat, whatever. Then mark Monday as day 1 of your "training montage". For 30 days you're going to work your ass off to achieve X. X *could* be weightloss, but I suspect you'll be happier if it's a more fun goal like learning a dance routine from youtube, or lifting some amount of weight, or learning to draw a flower, or volunteering to help at an animal shelter or cooking 30 different kinds of cookies, or . . . . Pick something you *want* and that you know you would be proud of.

During the 30 days? You are the person who is trying to X. After 30 days? You are the person who can/is/has X. That is who you are, regardless of whether the sky is blue or your physical appearance is not what you would prefer.
posted by synapse at 8:36 AM on February 8, 2015 [6 favorites]

I have a good friend from high school who is ugly. She is extremely athletic and has attained her doctoral degree. She has a satisfying career, a loving relationship and is very popular, despite her lack of conventional physical beauty. She lives in a fantastic part of the world. She is a devoted friend, and the way she treats her parents as they age is beyond compare. Over the years, she has grown into herself and has a great personal style, the way she dresses and carries herself is perfect.

She kicks ass in all areas of life. My dream life would be hers.

Do what you can to improve your looks then devote the rest of your energies into creating an awesome life. I promise, if you want it, it's out there waiting for you to come get it.

Also, I've dated and loved people who were ugly. It's about the energy and experience with someone not just looks. Hell, I dated a guy who was 20 yrs older, ugly, AND much much shorter than I! He was awesome, so intelligent and just exciting to be with. So it ain't always about looks. Don't let this limit your life!
posted by RichardHenryYarbo at 8:59 AM on February 8, 2015 [3 favorites]

I think answers that focus, even tangentially, on improving other people's reactions to you ("confidence is sexy!") are misguided. I'm going to come at this obliquely.

I would seriously recommend - if you can afford it - a longish trip by yourself. Ideally away from other people, like a long camping trip. Or, move far away from your comfort zone (e.g. across the country). If you can't do either, take solo day trips out in nature. Hiking, biking, skiing. It teaches you that 1) there's a big world out there that has nothing to do with you; and 2) almost none of what you really need to do to survive is related to appearance.
posted by desjardins at 9:05 AM on February 8, 2015 [6 favorites]

Because you are 21, I also recommend looking at how your family has shaped your perceptions and experiences of your appearance.

For example I am 29 and, like many people, my physical appearance and attractiveness has changed and varied throughout my life. These have been objective changes in my face and body, style choices, and social-comparative changes as I lived in different places and with different social groups.

I also grew up with a family where certain members constantly criticized my appearance. More to the point, they made it constantly known that they did not accept my appearance. I was ugly, ugly, ugly because this family member (who had some issues) wanted me to know, constantly, that they did not approve of me. Certainly, I was an awkward looking and unattractive child. But I realized that my objective appearance was not the same as people's interpretation or approval of it.

At my wedding, another family member told me I was beautiful. He meant it well, and I wanted to punch him. He meant it well because he was using "You are beautiful" to say "I love you and accept you, and I approve of you." I wanted to punch him because I was so, so, tired of people's judgements of my personal beauty being used as a tool to approve and disapprove of me. My appearance had improved, that's great! Now shallow people approved of me!

Look at all the comments in this thread about "love". "I loved them, then I saw they were beautiful." "I fell out of love, I saw their ugliness". We use terms of beauty to talk about things like love, approval, moral goodness.

The physical facts of your appearance are not the same thing as aesthetic tastes and beauty--not the same thing as your moral and ethical goodness--not the same as your worth of a human being--not the same thing as whether you are lovable--and not the same thing as whether people love you or not.

It's just one part of your body being a little longer or or shorter or redder or differently textured than another.

This may help you not care.
posted by Hypatia at 9:08 AM on February 8, 2015 [10 favorites]

Can I also offer the perspective that it's possible you're still growing into your face/style/body? I think sometimes because so many of your peers in your late teens/early 20s are at "peak conventionally pretty" that it can be a really tough time. While I agree that cultivating self-confidence, love, and mindfulness are definitely your best long-term bets, you're also comparing yourself at a time when most folks are at their most conventionally physically attractive with not as much work as it will take later for them to maintain that attractiveness.

Also, to get on the "family can really influence your perception of this" train, I want to offer a story. A few years ago, when my mother was drinking a bit too much, she told me that she was shocked that I turned out so pretty because "I was ugly as sin for a long while there." Finding out that my mother had found me ugly while growing up was one of those moments for me where everything kind of clicked - even if she had never told me that directly, the way she treated me definitely had, and it screwed up my confidence like whoa.
posted by superlibby at 9:20 AM on February 8, 2015 [5 favorites]

You need a physically demanding hobby. Rock climbing, running, skiing, mountain biking. Something that really gets your adrenaline pumping and makes you too focused on your muscles to think about your looks.

Since you describe your body as lumpy I am going to guess you're currently out of shape. That's okay! So was I when I started this way of thinking. Just start small. Take one beginner ski lesson. Go on an urban hike every Saturday. Slowly your muscles will improve and you will want to challenge yourself more. Honestly don't even worry about losing weight at first, your focus here is on making your muscles awesome and making this a part of your daily life. You'll probably find that once you have that down that it's easier to go on a diet because you will be learning how to prioritize food that makes your muscles happy.

Lucky for us ugly folks, being physically strong does not require any level of beauty. Being strong will make you forget your physical ugliness because you will be like, "damn, check out what I just DID."
posted by joan_holloway at 9:40 AM on February 8, 2015 [3 favorites]

I'm tired of caring so much about my looks. How do I let it go

Coming back to this. Instead of focusing more on your feelings about your looks, focus on the things that interest and empower you, the things you want your life to be about.

Lots of problems in life are kind of like brick walls. You can spend a lot of time directly resisting them without much result, and it's a heck of a lot easier just to go over or around.
posted by bunderful at 9:42 AM on February 8, 2015

1. Develop a "fuck you" attitude about this aspect of society. Get involved in some sort of counter-culture group like punk music, art, beat poetry, burner groups, radical feminism, etc. to help internalize this message by showing you there are others left out of and angry at society for the lame, superficial ways they judge people. It would also provide a community of like-minded "fuck you, society" people that would be more likely to appreciate the value you bring. Like any other skill, this one is best developed in a community or with a mentor.

The physical facts of your appearance are not the same thing as aesthetic tastes and beauty--not the same thing as your moral and ethical goodness--not the same as your worth of a human being--not the same thing as whether you are lovable--and not the same thing as whether people love you or not.
-- Hypatia

This exactly. Develop this mindset. Find other people with this mindset: people who have the maturity, courage and mental expansiveness to develop their own values and don't just mindlessly follow society's bullshit.

2. Take control of your environment as much as possible to reflect your own values. I've stopped following a lot of fashion pinterest boards because I feel more inspired when I'm not inundated with just pictures of beautiful skinny people.

3. Do physical things as others have stated that show your body you love it and allow it to show you what it is capable of (yoga, salsa dancing, etc.). Here's a tumblr of a body-positive female punk yoga person.
posted by FiveSecondRule at 9:42 AM on February 8, 2015 [5 favorites]

There is something terribly dehumanizing and cruel about the use of the word ugly. It's an insult and I strongly think you should find another way to describe and look at your situation--you are being terribly cruel to yourself.

I'm not going to list off a series of stunningly-odd-looking celebrities who are nonetheless attractive, but they are there, there are plenty and pretty much everyone can come up with examples from their own lives of people whose appearances are more the craggy tree in winter than the crocus in spring but who are nonetheless loved fantastically and fully by other human beings and have worthy and awesome lives.

You seem to me to be approaching this from a place of cold-heartedness that just based on your question, I can't imagine you directing toward another person.

Step one would be being so, so much nicer to yourself; in all of the many, many detailed and specific ways enumerated above; and never using the word 'ugly' unless you're talking about someone who engages in animal cruelty or something.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 9:57 AM on February 8, 2015 [6 favorites]

See how many people took the time to cheer and comfort you? I thought about you all day since I read this post this morning. Now that's having an impact from one little genuine, human plea for help. Maybe your answer is your ability to reach out to others?
posted by BarcelonaRed at 11:03 AM on February 8, 2015 [3 favorites]

Simple 4-step process:

1. Realize that you never actually look the way you appear in the mirror or in photographs. Mirrors exaggerate contrast; photos may diminish it, flatten you out or distort you, & often catch you at a fleeting unfortunate moment. (My calico cat looks not only like a strange cat, but just plain STRANGE in the mirror because the patches appear on the "wrong" sides of her face.)

2. Adjust your Facebook settings (if you're on Facebook) to be notified if anyone tags a photo of you. Learn how to immediately remove the tag if you don't like it. And remember people only think "That's not a very flattering photo" for about 2 seconds before they move on to something else. Or they don't think that at all, because they simply like you.

3. I'm not trying to unvalidate your feelings, but you really could look 3x as ugly as you are. Like if you had bad alopecia, which you apparently don't, or a huge dark red swollen nose the size of Jupiter, or recent face-swelling surgery. So try to feel good about how presentable you DO look.

4. Do what you can to look a little better, without spending a fortune or taking all day.

5. You did what you easily could; now brush it off and greet the world. If you're still not up to it, then you need to work on your mood and not your looks. Eat some protein or take a nap or do whatever healthy thing you have learned makes you feel better.
posted by serena15221 at 11:07 AM on February 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

Everybody has their issues. Everyone has their own shit and their own things that they struggle with. If you suddenly became conventionally beautiful. you would probably not be any happier.

You're assuming that people make value judgments about others based on appearance. I'm not so sure that's true. People are not the sum total of their looks. Yes, perhaps upon first glance, we make some instant value judgments on appearance, but those value judgments are in the areas of hygiene, of a pulled-together look. People who look like they don't care about their appearance; those are people who may be immediately perceived as less than attractive. But even then, very few people people say, "Wow, what a loser."

I am conventionally very good looking. My kids are also conventionally very good looking and one of my kids won a genetic lottery and she models. But we all have problems and issues and needed therapy and I went through a period of agoraphobia and in no way has our level of attractiveness made our lives in any way better than anyone else's. I have many friends who are conventionally attractive and those who are not, and I have never once made a value judgment on any of them because of their appearance.

Here's the thing: if you were to wake up tomorrow and be conventionally lovely, nothing in your life would change. NOTHING. You would find something else about yourself about which to feel badly, because if you're inclined to negative self-talk, it doesn't matter what you look like. It's that negative voice that needs to be stopped.

I'm sorry if it seems cliched but beauty is as beauty does. Winning a genetic lottery may be a thing that people wish for, but that doesn't increase your happiness.
posted by kinetic at 11:08 AM on February 8, 2015 [5 favorites]

This thread is filled with a lot of wonderful advice. I would also like to add that hygiene, in my opinion, is so much more important than beauty - particularly in terms of first impressions and maintaining friendships. If you're not interested in (or can't wear) makeup, or fashion, or any of that, taking some small steps in self-care is still so important. So keep clean, wash your hair and keep it cut (as others have said, go to a good salon just once to see what a good cut & wash can do), wash and iron your clothes, etc. It is 100% possible you already do this - if so, keep doing it! These are efforts that tell people, "I look how I look, but I respect myself enough as a person to take care of myself".
posted by thebots at 11:17 AM on February 8, 2015 [8 favorites]

Here's the thing: if you were to wake up tomorrow and be conventionally lovely, nothing in your life would change. NOTHING. You would find something else about yourself about which to feel badly, because if you're inclined to negative self-talk, it doesn't matter what you look like. It's that negative voice that needs to be stopped.

Alas, this is just completely untrue. I have been both ugly (due to a serious skin condition, among other things) and attractive (enough so that I have seen men walk by me and just gape at me with their jaws dropped) and I will tell you the differences in the way the world treats you are IMMENSE!!! It can not be overstated.

So, I get what you are going through and you are not wrong when you sense that people (especially men) treat you differently because of your looks. However, it is true that the people who treat you badly because for some ridiculous reason it matters to them how your features are arranged, are NOT WORTH KNOWING. You are young so one thing that may not be clear to you yet, is that these people can mostly be avoided and Karma is definitely a bitch if you are. So, less worry about all that. I promise, as you go through life, those people wont matter as much.

I want to Nth the folks that recommended developing physical skills like dancing or running or yoga. Its enormously helpful when you are trying to teach yourself to concentrate on something other than your physical appearance. Any other talents you can develop will be helpful as well. And yes, kindness... One of the biggest "Ah ha!" moments I ever had in life came when I read a book called Confessions Of A Pagan Nun. The message I took from this harrowing, yet profound story was this, "You can only stop suffering when someone does you a kindness, and you can only forget how you suffered by doing kindness for others. Kindness, both recognizing the kindness done for you and the kindness you do for others will heal you and bear you up through life. And really, love and kindness are the only things that matter in the end, when we all wind up looking like gristle.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 12:29 PM on February 8, 2015 [17 favorites]

Part of what I'm hearing here is a pink elephant problem. It's really hard to tell yourself "don't think about the pink elephant." What do you want out of life? Friends? Career success? Creative success? Romance? Solitude? Whatever it is, think about that. Take steps toward that goal, and make that what is driving you. You're never going to be able to tell yourself to stop thinking or caring about how ugly you are. What you can do is think about something else that matters more to you.

Also, are you seeking treatment for your depression and anxiety issues? I glanced back through your previous posts, and it's clear that this is a major problem for you. I think it is specifically giving you problems here -- worrying about being ugly -- in addition to other areas like academics.
posted by J. Wilson at 12:35 PM on February 8, 2015 [6 favorites]

If you want to stop focusing on your (perceived) limitations, focus on where you want to be and internalize the fact that you deserve the same things out of life as people who are "attractive". I say this as someone who spent her twenties tussling with a different insecurity: I always thought I wasn't smart enough. I thought I was shamefully mediocre. I thought I deserved whatever scraps and mistreatment I got because that was just how the world was for people like me. It took me way too long to realize that people with less intelligence and skill than me were succeeding in my field. I was the one holding myself back. I'm not saying I don't still have days where I have insecure feelings about my intelligence, but they don't matter as much as getting over them and moving forward toward my goals does.

Don't act a victim of your circumstances, because you will then become a victim of your circumstances. Don't agree with the forces of the world that say you are less, because then you will accept less. Don't let the little, lying voice that says "ugly people just don't deserve this" hold you back and silence you.

Contrary to what shallow, nasty people might say, ugly people have the same right to adoration, politeness, fairness and kindness that attractive people do. You deserve to get what you give in love, openness, and trust. You deserve to be treated with respect. You deserve to date and to be surrounded by people think you are great and have your back. You deserve to look in the mirror and like what you see (I know you don't like it, but you deserve to). You deserve to achieve your goals if you put effort into them. This is the truth. This is reality, no matter what circumstance you find yourself in. I believe in this, as do most of the people I know and have met over the course of my life.

In order to internalize the fact that you deserve the same things out of life that "attractive" people do, you have to do things for yourself that you think a "pretty" person would do for themselves. Wear clothes that flatter you, get a nice haircut, ask someone you like out, try to make friends, greet new people with the expectation that they will be nice to you, etc. I am not saying that you won't get hurt sometimes, but the times you will succeed are the times that actually matter in the long run. You are training yourself to treat yourself well in spite of how you feel about your looks. You have to actually do this if you want to learn it. The funny thing about treating something well or putting a higher price on it is that it will cause you to value that thing more. Which means that you need to treat yourself as a deserving person if you want to see yourself as a deserving person.

Finally, decent people grow out of shitty behavior like making a big deal out of the fact that an unattractive (to them) person exists. In fact, I'd be surprised if you met very many of them at all after your mid-twenties. Please don't let a bunch of assholes represent all of humanity to you; most people are not assholes and will support you if you give them a chance.
posted by rhythm and booze at 1:27 PM on February 8, 2015 [8 favorites]

Here's what I have done:

Exercise when I can


Wear only clothes that I like, flattering or not

No company of people who make me feel ugly

Haircut every month

Skin finally calmed down

Regular sex
posted by 8603 at 1:56 PM on February 8, 2015 [5 favorites]

Oh, one other thing. When I was younger, I double-resented not being more attractive-- not just because it was an advantage I wanted and didn't have, but also because I felt like people who spent time on their appearance must be shallow (because fashion is girly and flaky and bad, thanks internalized misogyny!). And so it wasn't FAIR that they got more attention because OBVIOUSLY they did not deserve it.

As I've gotten older I've seen just how much effort, taste, thought and money can be involved in looking gorgeous. Yeah, very occasionally there are people who just luck into it, and some people have much better starting material to work with than I did, or more money and time to throw at the problem. But most of the time, that really ripped, well-dressed person is putting some serious time into the gym, the salon, make-up job, selecting fashions, monitoring diet, etc. There's legit skill and effort there, and that makes it easier for me to regard conventional hotness more the way I'd regard, say, someone being a virtuoso at violin or having a law degree: a combo of natural talent and hard work that deserves at least some portion of the respect it receives.

I know, it's still not quite the same, because people don't walk around town with their JD stapled to their forehead, and virtuoso violin playing is not a prerequisite to romantic relationships. But being simultaneously jealous and contemptuous of other people really screws with both self-image and interpersonal relationships. I've felt better since I rewired those feelings somewhat.
posted by shattersock at 2:51 PM on February 8, 2015 [3 favorites]

I don't know that I'm actually ugly, more plain and unremarkable, but it still caused its share of unhappiness when I was younger. One thing that helped (and it went along with a huge mental "fuck you all") was that I stopped wearing makeup when I was about 19. Psychologically it did not do me a lot of good to get up in the morning and look in the mirror for things that were wrong and start thinking about what about my face I'd like to change or cover up or how I would look better with all these things gone or different or whatever, you know? To deal with make-up at all, I was spending time just focusing on what I did not like about my face or skin every day just to feel "presentable" enough to go outside. Other people sometimes seem to feel or react drastically different about it, but if you're using it now I'd advise going without it for at least a few months and see if that makes a difference in how you feel.
posted by dilettante at 6:42 PM on February 8, 2015 [6 favorites]

I just don't want to obsess about being ugly anymore.

You can take practical steps to change how you think about something. Two techniques for doing this are Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Hypnosis.

CBT has been demonstrated to be an effective treatment for OCD so it seems reasonable to assume it would also work for more minor intrusive thoughts. I have personally seen hypnosis do wonders for making previously overwhelming fears manageable.
posted by coleboptera at 8:13 PM on February 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

one more thing: learn from Lena Dunham (I so wish she was around when I was her age). She's in a business dominated by the media's model of beauty, and despite that the fact that she doesn't fit the media's category of attractive (and is constantly hounded for it), the woman loves herself and shows us all that's all that really matters (thank you Lena Dunham!).
posted by mirileh at 12:47 AM on February 9, 2015

Brooke Magnanti, aka Belle De Jour, author of the "Secret Diary of a Call Girl" series, wrote this blog post a few years ago about her facial acne scars and what they've taught her about attractiveness and confidence. It really resonated with me and I've re-read it several times over the years - it may help you as well.
posted by RubyScarlet at 3:54 AM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

OK, I am fat, and not just a little fat, but very fat; and I think I have a weird face. This is what I have learned to do in order to deal. I do think a lot of these things could work for you.

1) Limiting my exposure to a lot of different kinds of media. I never pick up beauty or celebrity magazines. It has really helped me to recalibrate what I think of as normal or attractive. I didn't realise what a big effect this really small and trivial adjustment would have. It just goes to show how profoundly we are affected by the culture around us.

2) Dressing and grooming myself well. Buying nice stuff that costs a little. Taking time to pamper myself, e.g. with a complicated bathtime ritual or something.

3) Being active - something I am working on, but that sense of feeling connected to my body is very valuable. I'm more than just what I look like, you know? I'm the sum total of everything I feel and can do.

4) Looking at other people with positivity. That woman who is unattractive has beautiful blue eyes. That fat man has a nice smile and great fashion sense. Complimenting people openly about their clothes or what have you. When you look at other people with love and appreciation you end up automatically appreciating yourself too. I may be fat but I have excellent legs and nice eyes. (Similarly, when I'm feeling unkind or critical to others, I find myself being unfairly harsh and horrible to myself.) I learned this valuable lesson from a Roald Dahl book when I was six.

5) Smiling a lot. You feel better when you smile, people will respond to you positively AND you just look a lot better when you smile.

6) Being busy with stuff I enjoy doing. The more busy you keep yourself, the less time you'll have to focus on the stuff that bothers you about yourself. And if you fill up your days with good stuff, that will reflect in how you feel about the person you are.

Good luck!
posted by Ziggy500 at 4:10 AM on February 9, 2015 [7 favorites]

Right now, I really like this unattributed quotation that showed up in my Tumblr feed that seems relevant:

"Every time I hate my body I remember that there are millions of old rich white men who benefit from my self hatred and if there’s one thing I hate, it’s old rich white men so I snap out of that shit instantly cos I ain’t EVER giving them the satisfaction."
posted by witchen at 6:26 AM on February 9, 2015 [12 favorites]

I do feel my ugliness has held me back when it's come to first impressions, maybe even friendships, and IME some heterosexual men seem to actually find young women they don't want to bang personally offensive.

Ugh, I'm so sorry that you've had to deal with that. But go back and reread The Noble Goofy Elk's excellent advice in the very first answer, and please realize that part of the benefit of developing the confidence in your own awesomeness is realizing that you deserve much, much better than a friendship with someone who disparages you because of your appearance.

If someone who won't be friends with someone they don't find attractive, that's their failing, not yours. I know that doesn't make it hurt any less, but it also doesn't diminish you as a person. I wish you the very best.
posted by Gelatin at 7:44 AM on February 9, 2015

I think you're playing a cognitive trick on yourself: You believe you are "objectively ugly". There is no such thing . Ugliness is a cultural standard, not a scientific fact. But even if there was objective ugliness, I suppose severe facial deformities would be generally considered ugly (by those inclined to think that way - which is not me and not everyone) the things you descibe do not fall into this supposedly objective standard.

Your hair is "unrulyish"? Come on. This is clearly not a universal standard of ugliness. Many people who are considered Hott by People Magazine standards have unruly hair. Your body is "dumpy"? Others may think you are cute and chubby. Believe me, there are people who find many different body types attractive. You may disagree with those people, but they exist. I personally have found people very attractive who have very skinny bodies, very fat bodies, more apple-shaped bodies, more pear shaped bodies, long legs, short legs, etc, etc. I have also been attracted to people with skin conditions, asymetrical features, and lots of other characteristics that you may find distasteful.

You are working to convince yourself that your low self-image is somehow objective fact. But this willful act of convincing yourself is not serving you. Instead, it makes you feel like shit.

If you want to feel better, stop repeating that you are objectively ugly. This is not fact, it is your opinion, an opinion that is not universally held.

Be a pragmatist here: if your attitude does not serve you, why keep nurturing it?
posted by latkes at 8:41 AM on February 9, 2015 [4 favorites]

You know what's attractive? Being comfortable and accepting who you are, and helping others feel the same way. All of us have 1,001 things that make us feel inferior to others in some way, so being around another person who can me at ease and calm my fears is someone I want to be around.

If you've come to the conclusion that you're not attractive based on external appearances, you can (and should!) revel in the joys of self-care and appreciation:

+Eat nutritious and well-balanced meals, not because you're dieting but because it gives you energy for the things you love and are good at.
+Engage in a favorite physical activity, not because you're working to achieve a certain body figure, but for the sense of accomplishment and the way it makes you feel physically.

You're not winning any best-dressed awards? That's ok, but would you enjoy having a funky jewelry collection or fabulous scarves, or wearing That Perfect Color that totally complements your eyes or hair color? You may be surprised at the compliments you might receive, even if that's not why you're doing it. Perhaps a sublime perfume scent. Or something more private, like your favorite facial wash that makes you feel totally pampered in the mornings. There are so many ways to appreciate You and Your Body that has nothing to do with narrowly-defined physical ideals.

Other ways to get past obsessing about the way you look: be busy being amazing at things you're great at and demonstrating your wonderful qualities, big or small, like:
+Baking fantastic cookies and sharing with others
+Volunteering at an animal shelter and showering the animals with much-needed attention and affection
+Reviewing resumes for friends or military veterans looking for better opportunities
+Initiating and managing a successful new campaign at your workplace

The idea is, focus on what you are most proud of. Getting hung up on your looks will become too low of a priority because you're too busy making the most of life and feeling good about it and yourself. You'll see you for who you are, and so will others.
posted by Goblin Barbarian at 9:02 AM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

Unrulyish hair: as others have mentioned, this is a problem that you can totally outsource by going to a good hair salon. My own problem in this area is that I have thin hair that I can't really do much with (I have a full head of hair but there's not really a lot of it and each individual hair is very thin). I wear my hair very short and I've set up a reminder in Outlook to make an appointment with my hairdresser every four or five weeks for maintenance.

Body-wide major skin issues: it might be helpful to look at this in terms of 'having a medical condition' (or several medical conditions) rather than 'being ugly'. Perhaps joining a support group for people with the same skin condition or working with a therapist who specialises in coping with skin / appearance issues might offer some new perspectives?

Clothes (and accessories, jewellery, etc.): forget about other people looking at you and focus on yourself. If you have no interest in these things, the minimum option might be to ensure that you have good quality clothes for different occasions that fit you well and that you're confident and comfortable in. If you do have an interest in these things, you might want to collect some pieces that you enjoy and that make your day a bit brighter when you wear them.

One last suggestion: posture. My own experience is that good posture gives a huge boost to my self-confidence and general well-being.
posted by rjs at 11:46 AM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

People look like what they look like, but you need to build up some confidence in yourself.

I have a friend who was born with a birth defect that i currently can't remember the name of. It irks me that I'm about to type this, because I feel like I'm Colleen McCullough-ing her spirit, but this birth defect made her skin and facial features appear melted together and her fingers and toes were fused so they also look a bit off (they were surgically separated). She had surgeries to make her face function, i.e. allow air in nose, allow eyelids to open. She is really very obviously not what most people on the planet look like.

But none of her friends or family would ever think of her as ugly because she's the shit. And she knows she's the shit and she owns it. She has had boyfriends, jobs (in customer facing environments) and all other normal things peopel have. The only time she gives in to her appearance "disadvantage" is when she is getting to know someone and just addresses the elephant in the room (I.e. I look this way because I was born with x condition, in case you were wondering. I'm not uncomfortable with my appearance and you don't need to be either or feel like you need to tiptoe around my appearance).

I also want to add that she takes care of herself, but does not go out of the way with makeup or being very fashionable unless its an occasion or going out or something where anyone would spice up their daily look. She feels no need to try any harder than anyone else when just "hanging out."

So work on your confidence in whatever way you can, because that's the real problem, not your appearance.
posted by WeekendJen at 2:35 PM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

I just wanted to address the 'go to a gym' and 'get a good haircut' stuff - that may or may not help. Sure, I can spend a shitton of money on haircuts, and time on straightening, or whatever, but I will always resent that. It is not an answer to the psychological affects of disliking one's appearance. Because you know, deep down, that it takes $200+ every second month + an hour a day + burns and serums and oils and so much energy, just to get to something that looks 'normal'.

So fuck it. I tie my hair back so it doesn't get up my nose, or wrapped around my husband's arm, or jammed under my bag straps, and slick some oil through it if I'm trying to be presentable. As a daily effort it is still excessive and intense focus on my appearance which never actually makes me feel good. Having my hair brushed (frizz city!) does make me feel good. Braiding my hair makes me feel good most of the time. Standing in front of a mirror fucking about with it doesn't. Same goes for makeup. Sure, a bit of powder and eyeliner and mascara and lipstick makes a difference but it just spirals into more and more focus on my face. Who fucking cares, y'know? It's a face.

But, I am a big fan of I Don't Give A Fuck as a philosophy.
posted by geek anachronism at 3:53 PM on February 9, 2015 [4 favorites]

Hey, I feel you on how you feel about your appearance. I'm *ahem* DISTINCTIVE LOOKING, completely unphotogenic (I swear, I could be looking directly into the damn camera, smiling big, chin tilted to minimize The Jowls, and I see the pic and not only am I somehow making stank-face, my face shape looks completely distorted), and not at all conventionally attractive. I'm also older than you by some, so here's what I did to feel okay about living in this body.

Tattoos. If I have to look like this, fuck it, I might as well get some pretty art on me that I like looking at. I'm going on nine and eleven years with the ones I have so far and I'm pretty damn happy with them still. And it gives people something positive to focus on with my looks. Might not stop traffic, but once a week, I will get an approving nod after I feel someone's eyes on my sweet Lisa Frank Dolphin.

Physical activity. It takes a while, but soon, my mind started to shift its thinking. I may have weird spots of fat on me, but belly dance has taught me to do things with those weird places on my body. Fuck it, I have a muffin top, but that muffin top is FUNCTIONAL. Fat stomach? LOOK AT IT DO THE THING. IT'S DOING THE THING. I no longer really bemoan my lack of pulchritude now that I am interested in things that my body can do that other bodies cannot.

Creative activity. I may not be Helen of Troy, but I can paint, cast resin, sew, embroider, make jewelry, and paint my toenails. The fingernails yet elude me. My hair may be a disaster, but that's because of the BEAUTY THAT I AM MAKING MANIFEST IN THE WORLD. Also, artists of any gender can get away with an unconventional presentation. Make something. Do something. Plant or cook or draw or sculpt or make shadow puppets. Bring some beauty forth in the world, and it's amazing how much things start to fall away.
posted by mornie_alantie at 9:22 PM on February 9, 2015 [7 favorites]

...and this is timely, a book written by Amanda Filipacchi, the daughter of a prominent '60s Ford Model. "The Unfortunate Importance of Beauty." Seems like it might be a good read for those interested in the subject of coping with falling "low" on the spectrum of beauty.
posted by Lisitasan at 12:24 PM on February 10, 2015

I'm not sure how helpful it is for a physically unattractive person to get inspiration from the successes of average-looking-but-not-model-hot people like Lena Dunham or Leslie Jones -- if the author of this post truly looks the way she describes, people like that are in a totally different world from her. It's like those body image articles I used to read in teen magazines that would say "Embrace your flaws! Angelina Jolie has acne!", which I'm sure made approximately zero people feel better.

This is just my opinion as a pretty average looking young woman, but I honestly think all of this fuss over healthy body image, etc. is not super helpful and can ultimately be counter productive, because you're just devoting more time to thinking about your looks. I would encourage you instead to focus on your good qualities and talents and building your self-esteem based on those.
posted by noxperpetua at 3:29 PM on February 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

I woke up conventionally attractive for the first time one day in the middle of my 20s, and it was one of the saddest times in my life.

Conversely, I emerged from that sadness by finding joy in my body through exercise, gaining some perspective on my suffering with meditation, and finding hobbies and communities that filled me with joy. When I was beaming with light and excited to connect with people, they were drawn to me. My body and how it measured up had nothing to do with it.
posted by unstrungharp at 1:39 PM on February 12, 2015

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! I got a lot of really great responses and approaches ITT. If I'm being honest, I am definitely ugly but I think a lot of the problem is internal too--I don't have a great outlook or much confidence and it's largely due to issues other than my looks but I think the pressures of being an ugly young female compound those things, but they also act as a scapegoat for me to blame other problems on as well. Nonetheless it is a real problem that a lot of people face, so I hope this answer thread will be useful to others too!
posted by hejrat at 10:51 PM on February 14, 2015

Hey hejrat - You sound like you have got a great head on your shoulders and some great advice here. One thing you touch on but don’t dive into too much – as a female, you are judged more on your appearance than men by BOTH men and women. And while it’s not right, it is reality.

The truth is that people will treat you very differently based on how you look. There have been numerous previous threads where people have shared their experience of changing their look how have they been treated differently by others. I am far from attractive and much older than you, but when I started paying attention to how I look, the difference how people respond to me was huge.

Why am I mentioning this? There are things you can do to make yourself more attractive (in terms of standard western conventions of appearance/beauty) and addressing them could help you not only look better but feel better and have a more positive attitude. Additionally, people with good social skills are generally considered more attractive than those without. I have a colleague who is not very attractive. I say this because she is very intelligent and friendly and a great friend, but there are so many things she could do to be more attractive, and maybe some apply to you:

• Her voice is very loud and she talks a lot without picking up on social cues, which irritates people. Pay attention to how people respond when you are talking with them and when they want to be left alone.
• Her clothing is too tight and out of style. Everyone can wear stylish clothes that fit well, you don’t need a huge budget or new wardrobe from hugo boss.
• Her hair is not styled and messy. Keeping your hair well-groomed makes everyone more attractive.
• She is perpetually suffering to allergies and sneezing and blowing her nose loudly which annoys and grosses out people in the office. Pay attention social cues of acceptable behavior.

No offense to previous posters, but I have to disagree with sentiments along the lines of ‘there is no such thing as ugly’ and ‘all women are beautiful’. It’s just not true. The reality is there are standards and criteria for beauty and people are treated much differently by both men and women depending on how attractive they are.
posted by seesom at 12:33 PM on March 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

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