12/15/2014 12:45 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The 'Plain' Truth: Confessions of a Non-Beauty Queen


Based solely on my looks, I'm best described as plain. I have unremarkable features, I'm short, and I have all kinds of things going on with my body that aren't the standard of beauty in any society that has ever existed. Like many women, with expensive foundation and creams of all kinds, quirky bohemian clothes, exquisitely designed eyebrows, designer eyeglass frames, wafting strange scents mixed by underground perfume makers, and underneath Instagram filters and the right light I manage "cute" or "attractive" rather admirably. I enjoy the creativity of my body, hair and face as a canvas for creating a persona, and I thrive in the compliments and attention that my choices sometimes create.

I also understand that I am not physically beautiful. When I was young, this was extraordinarily painful for me. I went through a period of time as a teenager where I cut and hurt myself in frustration over this condition, because I was certain that it mattered an awful lot. Certainly, the world spends an awful lot of time, money, and attention on it as did the sometimes overly blunt boys I went to high school and college with. "You have kind of fat thighs," one told me once, before I had put all my clothes back on. "Without your makeup, you're not really very attractive," said another, scrutinizing me in the dim light of the TV, as I curled up next to him in sweatpants and a low-maintenance ponytail. My reaction at the time was a kind of dim internal horror that I might not meet some standard I could do very little about. At one point, my mother insisted I compete in a beauty pageant, and my win, based on the charm and wit of my interview and strength of my talent (I did a dramatic retelling of The Telltale Heart by Edgar Allen Poe), coupled with having only two competitors in my age category, makes a great fact for two truths and a lie because no one guesses this might be a fact.

And now, as an adult, I am urged by countless blogs, magazines and well-meaning friends to reclaim myself from these declarations by loving every inch and ounce of my body (there is some extra accumulation of it, over the years) because it's all beautiful. And to this, I want to scream and rant and rave. No! It's not! There's nothing beautiful, for instance, about the skin that loosely hangs below my underarms. There is nothing beautiful about my C-section scar. Or the weird skin at the top of my thighs that is clearly an inherited genetic gift. I don't have to find these parts beautiful or enjoy their existence in order to love myself. Sometimes I say such things aloud, and am met with horrified looks or pity. Plain and overweight women everywhere console themselves and each other with memes about how much better they are than those who are attractive and thin, reacting to being judged by their physical appearance by putting down others who are more likely to meet a beauty standard of some kind. They attempt to draw me in and lift me up in these ways, a practice which makes me feel embarrassed and misunderstood.

But the plain truth that they're missing is that physical appearance isn't very important. To some extent, it reflects a life lived, especially at the extreme ends of the "looks" continuum. But for me, more in the reasonable middle of that spectrum, being somewhat plain is a relief. It means that when someone is attracted to me, I know it is because they're enjoying my wit or my personality or that they're attracted to my positivity or sillyhead behavior. It gives me a chance to be something other than pretty. To take bad photos and not obsess over them, but to focus instead on the good time I am having in them. To not be judged daily by other women about what I'm wearing or whether I have potentially, quite possibly gained three pounds. To not worry about which bikini to buy because I'll never in my life ever wear one. To be concerned more about how my career is progressing or whether I can afford that collector's edition Tom Waits book rather than obsessing about what to wear to a holiday party.

I know that this means I probably won't be the center of attention if I go to a bar or a club. I realize that I may end up having a crush on someone who won't ever reciprocate. It may take someone longer to build an attraction to me, because I am not their usual type. Those who seek out tall and/ or thin women as a matter of preference will pass me by. However, I am much more concerned with my long term legacy, with what people think of the things I have to say; with living my values, than I am about being hot. I'd prefer to make one strong, deep down, intellectual connection than 100 frivolous ones. Which is not to say that people who are blessed with physical beauty can't and don't do the same. Of course they do. And thank goodness for eye candy. It's great to be able to eat with your eyes, where the calories don't count, and I'm grateful you beautiful folks exist, but most especially if you're also kind.

Every morning when I wake up, I think about the things I have to do that day and I feel confident in myself and my ability to accomplish most of them. I rehearse difficult issues in my head and think about who I want to be. I resolve to be a better, more present and more patient version of plain old me, and there is nothing but beauty in my intentions. My heart is on my sleeve, and it's gorgeous. And at the end of the day, when all is said and done, this is what really matters.