There’s a post over at Thought Catalogue called “How To Be A Beautiful Woman” that’s obviously supposed to be tongue in cheek as it lays out all the stereotypical checks on the pretty girl to-do list: Be “naturally” thin, be blonde, be sexy but not slutty, be not gross, be perfect.

Unless you’ve never watched TV, gone to the movies or flipped through a magazine — basically opened your eyes and looked at things — those subliminal messages about unattainable universal beauty are impossible to escape. Reminds me of the time my 8th grade class took a field trip to the Museum of Tolerance and the tour guide made everyone choose to go through either a door marked “Prejudiced” or one marked “Unprejudiced.” Guess which door we all chose? Guess which one doesn’t open?

Same thing goes for beauty. There are women who buy into the bullshit and those who claim they don’t (and have the hairy pits to prove it), but how can you really not? And I’m positive hairy armpits are the jam to someone, somewhere. At least I hope so. Because, winter.

Often, we allegedly enlightened grown women assume that each one of us has tattooed Maya Angelou’s “Phenomenal Women” across our sagging boobies in invisible ink. Of course we know beauty comes from within. Duh! That it comes from confidence. That beauty’s only skin deep. It’s in the eye of the beholder. And all of the cliches your health teacher taught you. But how do we actually carry that out into the world?

I’ve never been told straight out that I’m hideous. My face is pretty symmetrical, but my eczema-ravaged skin has always been splotchy. In high school, my nickname was Olive Oyl. Also I regularly got called a “transvestite” for no tangible reason I can think of. I didn’t kiss a boy until the eleventh grade and not again until college. But somehow throughout all that (which honestly isn’t pretty pat in high school), I just thought everyone else was behind the curve. Seriously. Even when I was crying my eyes out in the girl’s bathroom after some little bitch called me a “man” I can remember thinking, “Someday.”

But why? It’s not like I was crazy confident. I wasn’t. I was a skinny black nerd in “Gapp” jeans with a bad press and bowed legs. Beautiful wasn’t something I heard on a regular basis, but I still felt it. Funny thing: I recited Maya Angelou’s “Phenomenal Woman” to an auditorium full of hungry high schoolers as part of this lunch break art program (did I mention I was a nerd) and I actually understood every line at 16.

No I wasn’t “cute” — although yes I did fit a “fashion model’s size”– but the last words in the ending couplet — “That’s me” — made sense. Maybe it’s because I was an only child who got to spend hours on end with herself or because of my excellent first ballet teacher or the plethora of black dolls in my bedroom.

Carrying around the ease and comfort in that line is what’s given me more “I feel beautiful” days then “meh” days ever since. But that’s me. That’s how I roll. It’s different for every woman and after all the dust from debating the damage of impossible-to-reach beautiful standards settles we’re left here — dusty.

Do you stare at yourself in the eye in mirror for a few seconds every morning (guilty) or sit quietly in a chair while concentrating on your body for a minute a day (my mom)? How do you become a beautiful woman?

This post originally appeared on XOJane. Republished with permission. Click here for more Helena Andrews on XOJane! 



  1. “Beautiful is how a woman lives. Beauty is in the mind, not the mirror.”- Frederic Fekkai.This quote helps me understand beauty, my beauty.

  2. cabugs

    Cliches upon cliches. But if we didn’t have them, how would we navigate life sometimes? Haha, this comment is tongue in cheek. Don’t take me too seriously.
    Anyway, I am someone who thinks about beauty a lot. I feel that I understand inner beauty well enough. I know it when I love someone for their heart that they are beautiful. Physical beauty – now that’s a bit complicated. And that’s the one I really want to know about. It’s hard to dissect because of all its aspects from personal biases, to the media, society, culture, scientific/pseudo-scientific bases of beauty, etc. I want to know about physical beauty – without the cliches. Who do we consider beautiful really? I want to write a paper on this honestly. Yes, I am obsessed. Unfortunately. We all chase after what we feel we don’t have, and I really want to understand this. Where do people find the (physical) beauty in others – in smooth unblemished skin? in long noses? thick figures? large feet? big eyes? What is it? Do you have very high standards for physical beauty in the people you are attracted to? Have you ever found yourself finding someone “beautiful” (physically) even though you thought they were average or ugly at first? Thoughts please!

  3. K. Moore

    You sound crazy,shut up!!

  4. TheBestAnonEver, Part 3

    Do not feed the trolls

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