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! 

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  • 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.

    • 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)


    • EST. 1986

      Yes. I do not think 30 is ‘old’. I was thinking about how I am often mistaken as a teenager.

  • 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.

    • Diana

      I would also add working out to your list. Not to fit into an ideal dress size but excercising at least once a week gives you amazing endorphins.

  • q. banks

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

    • 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.

    • Orange Starr Happy Hunting

      ITA…I once heard it said that cute is something that has to be enhanced, whereas beauty enhances itself.

  • Mademoiselle

    Cool. I always like to reassure people that 30 isn’t old because I hear so many people bashing it so nonchalantly. I figure if 30 is the point that you turn old, by the time you retire/pass, you will have spent more years being old than you would have being young, and that’s not fair (especially if you take out the years that you were “a kid” as opposed to just “young”). Enjoy the youth! :)

    • Mademoiselle

      this was in respons to Est. 1986

    • EST. 1986

      Usually when I tell people that I hate that I get mistaken as a teenager, I am told to ‘be glad that when you are older you will look young’. I’m like, I couldn’t care less if when I am 40 I look like a 40-year-old woman. That is the least of my concerns.

    • Kristina M

      People say te exact thing to me!! It never gets less annoying. Everytime I meet someone new its a subject that they MUST talk about. And I have to act like its the first time someone said that or else I’m an asshole.

    • THANK YOU!!! people don’t understand that a lot of times people TREAT you like you’re a teenager. it would be nice to look my age and have people respect me instead of thinking i’m a damn child. i have a video on youtube that i made and i was shocked at how many people feel the exact same way as i do. aha

    • student

      30 isn’t old, it’s just the sort of unofficial point where you should probably be “grown”. That can terrify some people.

  • I think beauty comes from within. Alot of women get caught up with the weight thing– and I’m not knocking them, because it’s really important to keep the body healthy. However, health isn’t just about what you put in your mouth or how many times you hit the gym in a week. It’s really about balance. It’s important to watch what you eat, but it’s also important to give yourself that permission to indulge now and again. Beauty is not just about doing what’s good for the physical, but keeping everything in balance and doing what’s necessary for the spiritual as well. Happiness makes us beautiful. So enjoy your life–go out and have fun, and do the things that make you happy–and make others happy as well. That’s probably the best beauty secret there is–living a fulfilled and happy life. That’s one of the hardest things to do, but there is nothing more beautiful than a woman who is as happy inside as she looks outside. It took me 35 years to understand that.
    My so-called beauty secret is really “basic” and nothing special, but people do tell me that I am beautiful or pretty, which is always nice to hear. I think it’s because I like to make others comfortable with me, so I smile alot–even though I’m super shy. I have had some pretty big downturns in my 35 years, but I’m a fighter. I’m determined to win, and I like to laugh, have fun, and do and try new things–and I think that keeps me young. I’m devout Christian, and though I don’t attend church every Sunday, I love the Lord. Other than that, I try my best to take care of myself these days. I didn’t always, but I find as get older, it’s vital. I try to have balanced meals most days, but I also love pizza and dessert–so I’ll do that when I want it. I try to get alot of protein and green veggies in my diet (fish, cheese, greek yogurt, chicken, turkey, kale, spinach, brussell sprouts, collards greens). I take a multi-vitamin, and CLA. I also add chia or flax seeds to things like oats in the morning. I try to workout 4 times a week–I used to do 5, but I gained some weight after starting a new job, so I’m focusing on getting back on track a little at a time. I have very dry everything so moisture is essential for me. I keep my skin moisturized with shea butter and I’ll actual slather on oil right after a warm shower before blotting dry to keep the moisture locked in. I wear sunscreen based foundation on my face everyday, and I’ll rub in sunscreen on any other parts of my body that will be exposed to the sun. My hair is natural and extremely curly, so I keep it moisturized with water, coconut oil, and glycerin; I’ll also spritz a leave in-conditioner whenever I start to dry out. I wear wigs when I want to play with hair–I don’t put lye and dyes in my hair anymore. For the most part, I keep the ends pinned under a scarf at all times, then I’ll de-tangle and co-wash once a week (right now I’m using a coconut oil base and Miss Jessie’s Creme de la Curl). I’ll wear protective styles like braids a few times a year. People say I have alot of “headgear”–hats, wraps, wigs and stuff–lol. I just find that my hair grows very long very fast when I’m not messing with it. I have a cute little curl coif and I want to keep it healthy, pretty and strong.

    • P