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For every girl who has ever felt ugly

Hey, you. Listen up for a sec.

So, you don’t feel pretty, eh? I know. I know that feeling. That soul crushing feeling that you are in some way not enough, that you are overlooked or that you will always be chasing a new incarnation of the pretty, bubbly, popular girl you envied in high school.

You know what? I give you permission to feel that feeling. It’s OK. Go ahead. I won’t tell you you’re silly. I will not fault you for how you feel. Feelings aren’t rational, so I won’t try to rationalize them. But they must be dealt with.

I was never the popular girl. I was the smart girl, the athletic girl, the responsible girl. Not geeky, per se, but driven. Not invisible, per se, but not really noticed in the way those Hollister-clad, bright-eyed, effortlessly friendly cheerleaders were. Life seemed just OK for me. If only my hair could have been a little longer and straighter, my figure a little less muscular and a little more lean, my personality a little more open… but life was OK.

Then, slowly but surely, I grew up — as we all do. I built my career, and built up my confidence. I grew into myself and my body, refining my tastes as I became more myself. I cared a whole lot less about what people thought of me, so I began developing a sense of style that included voluminous hair, high heels, bright-pink lipstick and floaty dresses. Because I loved those things. I learned to communicate with people better, fighting my introverted tendencies, even though I still felt awkward and closed off inside sometimes. Regardless: I was growing. I felt like I was becoming the best version of myself — the one that was always in there, hiding, just waiting to break free.

And what you put out into the world, people tend to reciprocate. I started to feel more “noticed.” Here and there, people would comment on a scarf I was wearing, or my sunglasses, or the color of lipstick I had on. Guys I met would frequently call me “classy,” something I took pride in, because it was exactly what I hoped to be. I felt great that they’d noticed something about my style I carefully curated; I was like an artist selecting paint swatches to reveal their innermost thoughts and emotions without saying a word.

Pretty quickly, though, I started to feel boxed in — defined by the attention or compliments I got. If I didn’t get them, it chipped away at my self-worth, just like this Reddit user who recently posted a letter about feeling ugly. She describes how her girls’ night feeling “pretty” quickly soured when she didn’t receive the attention she’d been hoping for.

I can understand. Sometimes, as I grew into myself, I’d forget what getting dressed up was really about: feeling good about myself. Feeling like myself. If you don’t accomplish those things, you fail.

I remember once picking out a dress I really loved one day, and before I left the house, looking in the mirror. It was different — dark blue with flowers, a little retro and definitely a style risk paired with bright-pink lips and matching sandals. Part of me wanted to change before I left. Insecurities welled up inside me. Are people going to like this? I thought, before suddenly and instinctively allowing my brain to stomp that idea out.

I wore the dress. I have no idea if people liked it — I can’t remember. But I loved it. (I still do. I still have that dress.) I suddenly realized I didn’t want to be a dark-haired Barbie doll, anyway.

I really enjoy dressing up and playing with makeup, so I have fun with my style most days — but I’ve learned along the way that I needed to do it for me. Just me. Because I truly enjoy being girlie. The minute you focus on others’ reactions to you, that becomes your motivation for looking “pretty,” then you start defining your worth by how much attention you get, how many compliments you get, or who notices you on a night out (like that anonymous Reddit user, whose letter tugged at my heart).

Here’s the thing: It doesn’t matter what you look like to the outside world. Getting “pretty” has everything to do with feeling like the best version of yourself. Otherwise, it means nothing. If others don’t like it, who cares? The surface doesn’t matter if the person doesn’t take the time to look deeper, because it’s not who you are. It’s what you live in. You are so much more than the clothes you wear or the makeup you put on. You are smart, brave, insightful and articulate. Remember that.

Most people won’t see those qualities with a passing glance on a night out. Even if you’re all dolled up. Even if you look your prettiest. Even if everyone notices you. Your invisible qualities are your most precious assets — look for someone who makes you feel pretty for all the right reasons. Who delves deeper. It means so much more than a guy thinking you’re pretty at a club on a random night out.

So, you don’t feel pretty? That’s OK. We’ve all felt that feeling. So feel it, sweetheart. But then get back up and live your life for bigger, better reasons. It’s not always easy. But at the end of the day, pretty for the sake of being pretty is overrated. It’s fun, but it’s fleeting. Be beautiful instead.

I’ll even tell you the secret to true beauty. It’s easier than you think. Just live. Laugh often, love others, look for the best in people and finally be the person you always wanted to be.

Be beautiful. It’s simple. You already are.

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