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! 

  • EST. 1986

    I get my hair done and my eyebrows waxed about every month or so, but other than that, I do not do anything. People usually describe me as ‘cute’ and ‘pretty’. I think a lot of that has to do with my having such a young looking face even though I am about 3.5 years away from being 30.

  • Cree

    Well…if you were asking for tangible answers these are the things I think across the board we can do:

    -Be hygienic
    -Be proactive in choosing what clothes you wear or what you do
    -Maintain yourself. No wrinkled, ill fitting clothes. Nothing outdated. No trends that don’t work for you.
    -Enjoy the beauty routines you like, skimp on the ones you don’t
    -Take healthy pride in your life: relationships, career, intellect, spirituality, diet/health, and YES your body.

    That’s all I got. Don’t obsess. Don’t look to media. Don’t do anything with the air of competing. Know yourself, know your limits-don’t think you escape the insecure/artificial world by completely ignoring your appearance. That’s too simple of an answer and rarely is it really solving the problem anyway.

  • q. banks

    being beautiful is a natural thing…not a learned thing nor clothes, makeup etc

  • Mademoiselle

    “even though I am about 3.5 years away from being 30″ — you also have a young age (that would apply if you were 3.5 years past 30 too since 30 ain’t old)


  • Mademoiselle

    Amen! I’ll add that beauty can’t be found in someone else’s definition. If you can’t see your own beauty, it doesn’t matter if anyone else can so start with your own perceptions of yourself.

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