15 April 2008

ugly ducklings

I've often thought that being average looking has been an advantage for me. It sucked the most when I was in my early teens, gawky, freckled, dishwater blonde, and before I had become proficient with makeup.

But now, I think my unremarkable looks have served me well. I have never once relied on my looks for anything: to manipulate men, to land a job, or anything. Being somewhat plain, I never felt that I had an advantage in that sense.

I know I am good at applying makeup because of the different reactions I elicit when au natural or made-up. I can leave my apartment most days and not even receive a glance from anyone. When I slather on the makeup, I get approached by many weirdos. I'm not surprised by these different reactions, as I've been receiving them for years.

The first time I bleached my hair in high school and started wearing self-tanner and black eyeliner, I suddenly got a lot of attention from guys. I didn't take it as a compliment to my looks, but rather as a testament to the generic appeal of the combination of tan and blonde. Instead of making me feel good about myself, it just made me aware of how different it felt to be approached based on "looks" alone. This had never happened to me before.

Because I didn't grow up pretty, I developed other things to help me succeed, like (hello) a personality. I realized the value of kindness, politeness and intelligence in helping me get through life. I didn't have to deal with being ostracized by girls or objectified by guys. I feel that I was lucky in this sense. I never expected people to cater to me the way life-long beautiful people tend to get accustomed to. This is perhaps a generalization, and just an observation: being beautiful usually means being catered to.

One summer I worked as an assistant to my aunt, who was an image consultant. We spent half our workshops telling people the importance of personal appearance for the advancement of one's career. We gave the participants a pile of laminated photographs of people in various states of attire, asking them to sort the people by job rank in a company. The pearly-teethed and power-suited ones were almost always placed at the top. Anyone who has ever seen TLC's What Not to Wear have heard the hosts go on and on about the importance of dressing the part, and how looking one's best is the first step to success.

Do beautiful people really have a long leg up over the rest of us?

Gonzalo Otolora, an Argentine author thinks they do. In this interview with Ode Magazine (link posted by Jolie Nadine), he presents his polemic that the beautiful, who he says have an "unfair advantage," should be taxed.

According to Otolora, the tax would benefit the less-than-beautiful because:

"We, the unattractive, won't squander that money because we're not compulsive consumers. We're not worried about failure because we've learned from all the rejections we've suffered. As a result, we're well- suited to think strategically and reach our objectives quickly. Our relationships with people are more honest and durable."

I feel that beautiful people have certain advantages over me, for sure. They've certainly got an edge when it comes to the realms of looking good in bathing suits or landing jobs as Coors Light promo. But lots of people have advantages over me, like engineers when it comes to bridge designing, or athletes when it comes to, say, any kind of physical coordination. I don't let it get me down.

Because I have found — and this is not going to be a popular opinion — that a lot of natural beauties are very socially awkward people. Their beauty is taken for granted by them. But it, unlike things such as a brilliant mathematic brain or a great golf swing, has a looming expiry date. The can only be youthfully beautiful for so long. While they have it, they tend to rely on it, often neglecting other things such as courteousness or a genuine interest in other people.

What happens to these people when youthful beauty starts to fade?

Cosmetic surgery.

I'm exaggerating, and of course there are exceptions to my generalizations. There are plenty of beauties who I am privileged to have as good friends, who are incredibly intelligent, caring and talented people. I would bet that almost all of these people have an awkward stage to thank, a period in their life where they developed some other aspects of their character. The ugly duckling-turned swan is often the most well-rounded beauty.

For me, there will always be makeup.


Erin said...

I'm sure I'll be the first of many commenters saying the exact same thing, but I have to throw it out there: you aren't actually that plain. In fact, most would argue that you are very pretty, though apparently a tad delusional. Aside from that, I would agree with most of what you've said here, and now find myself thinking about endless people from high school who fit the bill. (Though, to be fair, I can also think of a number of people who were intelligent, sociable, and lovely to look at.) Finally, I am now wondering where I fit in - don't feel obligated to tell me!

Jenn said...

"For me, there will always be makeup."

Seriously? Seriously. Dal, I have seen you in sweats (that don't match), hair in a bun, not an ounce of makeup, on less than 2 hours sleep, in natural daylight and YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL! So, and I think I speak for all those who read this and know you, shut up about this plain bs.
I know you weren't intending this post to generate mass "you're not plain" responses, but I just couldn't hold back. Not to mention the fact that you are incomprehensably talented in too many subjects to list. You are so, so many things, but I'm afraid plain just isn't one of them.

sarah nicole said...

you're probably the last person on earth to fish for compliments, ms curow, but you're also the last person i'd call average-looking. eyeliner or no eyeliner, you're a beauty. get over it.

etc'd said...


you're beautiful, Dal--in that above-average kind of way

Dallas said...

I wrote this as more of a reflection, and was not expecting this kind of reaction at all. Thank you.

Kate said...

I think you're beautiful Dallas even though I know you didn't write that so people would respond this way. I also agree that growing up beautiful makes you kind of ugly on the inside (for some of the people I've met) so if you don't know how gorgeous you are then you're probably better off for it! I actually read about a dating site for beautiful people only- imagine the assholes that would attract. Beauty can take you far in some aspects, but definitely not in others. And I love the elementary school pic. It's a classic.

Anonymous said...

You're welcome to play the "average" card, but remember that an average face is more attractive than not:

New York Times article

online demo which blends faces