Mirror, Mirror: In Praise Of Awkward Beauty

Fairest shmairest! Let’s get real about beauty and body image. Mirror, Mirror is a column running every other Thursday on The Frisky. It is written by Brooklyn-based columnist, freelance writer, and bagel enthusiast, Kate Fridkis who also writes the blog Eat the Damn Cake. You can follow her on Twitter at @eatthedamncake.

So I’ve given it some thought and I’d like to propose the establishment of a new category of beauty. Awkward Beauty. That’s my working title.

Awkward Beauty sometimes looks like it’s not beauty at all, but that’s wrong. That’s only because we’ve gotten so boring. We’ve watched too many shampoo commercials. Look closer. It doesn’t fit in, but it’s the real deal. Not like Emma Watson playing Hermione Granger with smooth hair. No, like the real Hermione Granger, who had features that stood out, hair that couldn’t be stopped.

The current popular definition of beauty seems to have a lot to do with shininess. Shiny hair, shiny legs, shiny lips, very big, very shiny eyes. Shiny boobs are a plus. The current definition involves a lot of strict symmetry, sort of like those photos that Science compiled of every face in the world that end up with one totally smoothed-out face that everyone thinks is the most beautiful because there is NOTHING interesting on it at all.

You know what’s boring? Science. You know what’s interesting? My big nose.

(No, seriously, science is very cool, guys. Without it we wouldn’t be able to build mini volcanoes that actually erupt and figure out the secrets of the universe.)

I am not alone in this: there is no amount of non-Photoshop related tweaking that’s going to make me look like even one of the models in even one of the ads in even one of the magazines in even one of the world’s kiosks.

And as soon as I realized that, some years ago, because I am reasonably confident, I made an effort to try to identify the things about myself that were pretty, despite that fact. And I picked things that were sort of somewhat a little like the pretty things on models and movie stars. Like my lips. They’re full! That counts! My ears—they’re delicate. My chin. I’m not positive, but I think my chin is something good.

Start with those features, a magazine would tell me encouragingly, and play them up! Lipstick! No, no, not on the ears. Emphasize the three things about you that look a little bit like a poor woman’s Emma Stone! 

It’s disappointing though, because even if my eyelashes and lips end up the same color as hers, her beauty always wins. Hands down. Come on, I’m not stupid (math for liberal arts majors, yo! B+!), I can see that.

But I haven’t given up on my own beauty, because I think it definitely exists, and is not just a figment of my mom and the elderly gentleman at the bagel shop’s imagination.

I am an Awkward Beauty.

The unpredictable kind. The kind where one eye is shut and the other one is open and you look like maybe you’re drooling a little in those photos that your boyfriend’s mother just posted on Facebook. But later you will look back and laugh, because there’s something cute about how bad they are. There’s something cute about the way you always blink with only one eye as soon as the flash goes off. It’s sort of a trademark. And pictures can’t capture your awkward beauty. It’s sneaky sometimes. It’s playful, and it doesn’t show up on time. It has its own schedule and its own opinions.

Awkward Beauty isn’t always trying to compromise. It isn’t about trying to look like someone else. It isn’t about competition or numbers (the number of hairs on your thighs, maybe, which is apparently supposed to be zero. No one told my thighs). Awkward Beauty is about the things that make you stand out, not the things that make you blend in.

Awkward Beauty is about being good at being the way you already are. It’s about the first things that someone notices about you, whether or not those are the things that fit into the common beauty rules we all memorized unwittingly at the age of three-and-a-half.

Awkward Beauty is about your nerdiness and your slouching. About your weird, grunge fairy style. Awkward Beauty is the stuff that the people who fall in love with you fall in love with. Your quirks. Your moles. Your oddly uneven eyebrows that make you look inquisitive by accident.

When I was a kid, I thought I’d grow up to be just as beautiful as any beautiful woman. This was because my mom told me I was beautiful and because I identified very closely with the girls in the books I read, who were beautiful, and because I was just generally cocky and full of tiny, frizzy-haired self-importance.

Then I grew up and part of my brain was like, “Wait. It wasn’t supposed to turn out this way. This is wrong. I didn’t sign up for this.” Sometimes my own face in the mirror really surprises me. I’m like, “No, no, it’s definitely just the light. Someone turn the damn light off.”

But this is it, folks.

Awkward Beauty or bust.

I’m hopeful, though. Ellen is a Cover Girl. Hipster chicks with big glasses keep popping up on TV. Michelle Obama is gorgeous with a totally original face and a collection of spunky belts that makes me want to buy so many more belts. Every day, we carve out a little more space for women who look a little un-shiny.

We can either embrace our Awkward Beauty or we can keep fighting a losing, and sometimes dangerous, battle to look like someone else. So put on something comfortable. Wear your hair frizzy. Shave it off. Whatever. Be a dork. Ignore the photos for a couple years until you can look at them and crack up. Beauty doesn’t have to be unanimous or precise. Beauty is complex and weird and evolving. Beauty has more room in it than we often think. Beauty can be awkward. 

Sometimes I catch myself feeling inexplicably fond of this weird, big-nosed, flat-chested, toothy-smiled woman I turned out to be. She’s not model material, she’s something else entirely. Something funnier. Something more complicated. She’s got something going on. She looks like she might be able to wield some sort of small, elfin sword. I think I like her.