Producer’s note: Someone on Quora asked: What does it feel like to be an unattractive woman? Here is one of the best answers that’s been pulled from the thread.
I’ve come to terms with being a Plain Jane, but for most of my life I’ve felt flat-out ugly. My mother always told me that there are no ugly women, just lazy ones. So I tried. And tried. But my standards of beauty were based on the media, and on the predominantly white population at school. (I’m Chinese, but I’m not conventionally pretty by either “American” or “Chinese” standards.) In late adolescence, convinced I’d be ugly no matter what I wore or did with my hair, I felt free to dress comfortably and to tell (dirty) jokes. Most of my friends were nerdy, not-great-looking guys. Like them, I felt awkward around pretty girls. It wasn’t because I knew they’d never date me (it didn’t matter to me, since I’m straight), but because they reminded me of everything I could never be. I gave up on femininity, which I equated with being attractive. I didn’t realize that a sense of humor can be considered an attractive quality.
A few years passed, and I convinced myself that I didn’t need physical beauty as long as I cultivate an interesting personality. I dove into personal interests and became a bit of a film and music snob. (Fortunately, I have since learned to stop alpha-nerding.) But my self-esteem was still warped: I was convinced that pretty girls must be awful people who use their beauty to their advantage, and that they were all empty inside because they spend all their time shopping or getting manicures or something. I told myself it was better to be unattractive, not realizing that my sour-grapes attitude was what was truly unattractive.
Then a few more years passed, and… I like to think I’m finally starting to pull my head out of my ass. I do think the larger problem is that women are conditioned to think their worth is based on their appearance. Because of this, many girls grow up focused on making themselves look their best while neglecting other aspects that can use improvement, like critical thinking or compassion (both of which, frankly, everyone can benefit from practicing). At best, this leads to a vague sense of social anxiety. At worst, well, I’m sure we all know at least one person with an eating disorder.
I realize men are also judged by their physical appearance. It’s why Nixon lost to Kennedy. It’s why muscular men are assumed to be stupid, and why pale, bespectacled, out-of-shape men are assumed to live in their parents’ basements. But a man can redeem himself by being useful in some way–being good at his job, say, or even being skilled in something, like fishing. A woman’s worth will always depend at least partially on her appearance. It’s just biology. Our lizard brains tell us that physically attractive females are more likely to produce genetically gifted offspring. But we don’t need to kick that into hyperdrive by using “hot” women to sell everything from beer to hair spray.
Remember what my mother said? Well, I don’t even shave my legs unless it’s warm enough for shorts. To this day she says, “You’re not pretty, but you’re not hard on the eyes, either.” And you know, I’m ok with that. I feel better about myself when I’m being a good person and making myself useful, and at this stage in my life, that’s what’s important to me.