How to be not ugly

“The reason a beauty is a beauty, and not just another pretty girl, is that she knows how to gild the lily. Not content with an average anything, she has studied, polished and perfected each of the points that add up to beauty: hair, figure, skin, makeup, clothes.” — Seventeen, September 1956

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I’m completely projecting here, but I think feeling deeply unattractive is something that all teenagers go through. To say I went through it isn’t accurate—because sometimes, I’m still not through it.

Of course, teens these days have Kylie lipkits and YouTube contouring tutorials and, when all else fails, FaceTune. We had Bonne Bell chapsticks and our moms’ frosted Clinique eye shadow (or was that just me). Still, adolescence is ugly for a lot of people, and that was painfully true for me. There was a particularly bad year in my life, circa junior high, when I had braces, an adult-size nose on a child-size face, and a giraffe neck (which I would honestly love to have back, why is hindsight so cruel). My hair had just turned curly—thanks, puberty!—and I decided that chopping it into a bob would make it more chic, or at the very least, more manageable. It didn’t make it more manageable, and it certainly didn’t make it more chic; it made it a Roseanne Roseannadanna triangle. That’s probably the first time I internalized feeling truly ugly, though Gilda Radner was impossibly beautiful, and it for sure wasn’t the last.

Girls have been asking teen magazines how they can be less awful looking since way before I was awful looking. You’d probably guess a lot of the advice was “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” style pep talks, and there is that. But there’s also a fair amount of, that’s OK that you’re ugly, which you are, just make sure you have a sparkling personality. Exactly the kind of wisdom that makes young girls grow up apologizing for their less-than looks.

Take it away, Seventeen from the ‘40!

All right, let's face it—you're not beautiful. Your hair is too straight, or too kinky; your mouth is too large, or too small; your nose is to broad, or too sharp. In fact, if you really want to get down to cases and be painfully honest, you're not even pretty. There, you've said it—that crushing phase that right now seems to be the be-all and end-all of your life. And now that you've said it, let's promptly forget it. How can you forget it? Well, temporarily, at least, try thinking of something else. Try thinking, for instance, of the dozens of people who have told you that you do have a very attractive smile, or beautiful hands, or wonderful expressive eyes. Concentrate on this for all it's worth. — Seventeen, June 1945

My, what beautiful hands you have.

Girls with oversized noses or undersized bosoms or other physical imperfections (and most people have some) get boy friends the way anyone else does—by being more interested in the other person's good qualities than in their own defects. If you take a good look around you, you'll notice that the girl with classical features isn't always the most popular. And opening your eyes to all the married people you know can't help but convince you that love must be blind! — Seventeen, May 1968

Well, at least love is blind.

The biggest beauty secret of them all: People who seem the most attractive on the outside are just radiating who they are on the inside. Ever noticed how when you're in a great mood—feeling brilliant, witty and cute—people (including guys) are attracted to you? So how do you overcome feeling so plain? Not by looking to outside sources (boys, your mom, classmates) to affirm your worth. The only one who can make you feel like the gorgeous creature you are is you. — Seventeen, October 1997

So if you’re ugly on the outside, you must be ugly on the inside.

At my school, you had to look a certain way to be considered pretty. Since I did not look that way, I don't think I was told even once that I was pretty. So I assumed I was ugly. Wrong! The second I stepped out into the real world, I realized I'd been living in a sheltered (think white and blonde) community. My first week in college, I got compliments I'd never thought I'd get. "Great hair!" (What? My frizz bomb?) "Great eyebrows!" (You can't be talking about my monobrow!) You need to see your beauty to appreciate being beautiful (which, P.S., you are!). So you're not cookie cutter—that's a good thing! It means you're unique...I've met so many people who had plastic surgery to change themselves into what they thought would be pretty—and they still weren't happy. That feeling comes from inside. We're all beautiful—some of us just don't realize it. But you're going to start today, right? — Cosmo Girl, August 2001

This advice, courtesy from our namesake, Atoosa Rubenstein, is actually great and came in very clutch when I was 14. Honestly, still does.