In a popular Quora thread, people who have claimed to experience both ends of the spectrum of conventional beauty discuss what it feels like to make the transition from one end to the other. For some, the experience of seeing how people act differently around them has made them jaded; others feel liberated by their change.
Their frank self-assessments are a compelling look at how standards of beauty for both men and women affect our daily lives and interactions. Below are photos and quotes, taken directly from the Quora thread, used with each contributor’s permission.
1. “I have two personalities now. “
“My appearance changed quite dramatically from high school to college. My hair calmed down, my skin cleared up, I grew into my gangly, awkward body, I lost the baby fat on my face, and I finally started taking care of my crazy eyebrows. Growing up, I was a nerd. I didn’t have many friends, and most of my time was spent alone in my room working on electronics projects, programming, playing guitar or video games.
Some background: I’m a PhD candidate in electrical engineering at a top 10 school. At my core, I’m still pretty damn nerdy. I used to be very socially awkward and multiple people told me I probably had Aspergers syndrome. I also had really bad social anxiety, especially in high school, to the point where I would feel nauseous basically every morning at the prospect of having to go into a social situation such as school. I didn’t own a single dress, and no boys were interested in me. I didn’t have my first kiss until college.
After I matured, I started going to the gym, and my appearance started changing, I noticed quite a few changes in my lifestyle and how people treated me. This may just be specific to me, but these were the big changes in my life:
1) I was no longer a wallflower. People started looking at me when I walked around and taking notice of my presence. This was weird and unnerving.
2) Making friends became a lot easier; I didn’t even have to make an effort. I was still weird and offensive and I STILL made friends. I started getting invited to a lot of events and parties. I felt like socializing and going to parties was the “cool” thing to do, and the thing I should do and take advantage of.
3) Other girls ask me about and pay a lot of attention to what I’m wearing, my makeup, accessories, blah blah. This is weird. I don’t normally notice this stuff on other girls. And I still don’t really know how to use makeup that well, but if I have to go to an event or do a photo shoot or something, there’s usually someone around that can do it for me.
4) I have two personalities now. One is my real self, which is who my friends and coworkers know, and who makes super nerdy jokes, is wildly inappropriate, and very morbid. The second is the personality I put on for non-technical social situations. No one is going to get my nerdy jokes, even though they may be the first things I think of. I remember once at some fancy party I let one of those jokes slip and got laughed at and called “big bang theory” for the rest of the night. No, this is an art gallery opening, or a fashion show, or who knows what else, where no one wants to hear that stuff…”
2. “My mom who couldn’t recognize me…”
“I’ve lost more than 120 pounds (almost 60 kg).
I never cared much about how do I look, but of course many things changed for me. I never had an issue to find a girlfriend (as I think it has more to do with your confidence than with your body), but before the change I’ve never experienced a situation where a woman asked me for a date.
The weirdest reaction I ever experienced was from my mom who couldn’t recognize me on a video (as she haven’t seen me for years) and she was in shock the moment I started talking (as she recognized my voice).”
3. “I understand that these people DON’T really care about me. I know they won’t be there to look the 50 year old me in the eye and tell me how beautiful my spirit, attitude, and courage is to them.”
“It feels like the world is a very superficial place, to an almost sad extent.
I was a dorky band girl, with few friends, who would spend her free time at the library. Let’s just say my teenage years were not an attractive time for me.
I still spend a lot of time at the library and maybe consider myself even dorkier, the only thing that has changed these past several years is how I look.
Through this process I came to realize that people treat others drastically different depending on how they look. Sometimes just thinking about the stark contrasts of treatment makes me sad.
I always hoped there was some deeper meaning to attraction and maybe even how friends would approach one another, but I found that to be untrue. Not to say that attraction based on personality doesn’t exist or that genuine love and friendship don’t exist, I’ve just realized to how much you have to look attractive just to be given a chance at some things.
In high school, I was never asked out. I was never approached by anyone. I realized that men don’t even care to talk to you as friend if you are not moderately attractive (at least high school aged “men”). Maybe that’s a bit of a blanket statement, but it was definitely my experience. I was far from attractive or completely charming, but I would say that I was worth having as a friend.
This didn’t change until the end of my Freshman year of college. Guys started wanting to talk to me, period. It was the first time I had experienced being approached and I almost didn’t even know how to handle it! I felt flattered that anyone wanted to talk to me, let alone BE NICE!
People seemed happy to take pictures of me, men are constantly approaching me for random, crazy reasons just to talk, and I am sometimes told by new people I meet how “pretty” I am. I feel like I can’t go a week without getting harassed by some new guy.
With this being said, it hasn’t changed me and I don’t take these people seriously, because I understand that these people DON’T really care about me. I know they won’t be there to look the 50 year old me in the eye and tell me how beautiful my spirit, attitude, and courage is to them.
I don’t think about “using” looks as much as I think about treating people kindly despite how they may look. I do, however, believe this is an advantage because since I have experienced genuine kindness, I’ve realized I know how to spot it out in my own relationships as well as share it with others.”
– Janelle Alicia Monroy
4. “It’s funny how old hurts get stuck and we internalize things that were said to us.”
“Immigrating to California at age 11, I loved languages and people, but I was so embarrassed of my accent that my classmates in sixth grade assumed I was mute and that I didn’t know what a dictionary was (an insult, since I was an avid English reader and writer). I ate lunch in the library and books became my best friend up till ninth grade. I was the only Pakistani in my school. No one at home knew what was going on at school daily, because my parents were the classic “came here with 8 dollars in our pocket” and had full time jobs along with a little four-month-old baby and two other kids. They were good people, I didn’t want to be a burden. I started to notice this early sacrificing ritual where I just wanted to be there for people and not be a bother. A wallflower.
Two twin boys in my school started calling me “Pork” as they learned I didn’t eat it, I thought it made no sense but never knew what to say as a comeback. Soon everyone who interacted with them called me “Pork”. For PE class, I was told by a 7th grader that if I shaved my hairy legs, maybe I would run faster. There should’ve been an easier comeback here but to my knowledge, I believe I cried after the locker room was empty. Then, there was the incident where I was tongue-tied around a guy I had a crush on, I would try to speak up and he backed up with his palms facing out as if I was something untouchable. Great, no date to the school dance.
The place where I found my joy and didn’t give one single fuck was Improv Theatre class in high school. I would show up and everyone would always be surprised “wow, you are funny. You are actually funny.” I was the popular kid again in Theatre. Stuff like this was a big deal back then for me.
When I ‘transformed’ into a swan, I had no idea. People kept telling me I was pretty. I have learned to accept compliments, but really I wanted to work on my mind. I educate myself with books daily and I learn about people who are shaping our world. Looks to me are subjective.
I remember guys always assumed I was some sexually liberated woman because apparently I had ‘sex appeal’ at 18, it was embarrassing. A very insensitive 25 year old didn’t believe me that I was a virgin, and because I was starved for attention at 18, I actually went on a few dates with him.
Today, I have worked as a Group Therapist for incarcerated men at a State Prison. Where, of course I was asked to teach Improv Theatre. I had complete freedom of being myself which encouraged the guys in my groups to open up. I got to tackle topics like family issues, self esteem, and feeling invisible through drama and improv.
I guess I always related to outcasts and gravitated toward people who were unaccepted in society. It’s been a pleasure to find a human beneath their mask of anger/violence/sadness. I don’t mind wearing my mask daily either, Halloween after all is my favorite time of the year and I have seven characters for my sketch comedy performances.
The biggest piece of all this has been to learn to accept myself (starting with my curly hair!) and trusting human beings again! It’s funny how old hurts get stuck and we internalize things that were said to us. I have a wonderful support system now and I am not afraid to ask for help anymore.”
– Anam Gulraiz
5. “I feel like my outward expression of myself, physically and otherwise, finally mirrors what’s inside of me.”
“Many people assume I’ve always looked the way I do now, and that as a result I must be a snob, or have some sort of sense of entitlement.
My case is extreme in the sense that I went from literally being invisible to men for the majority of my life, to receiving comments daily from men all over the world telling me I’m beautiful. As an adult film performer I am somewhat in the public eye, so I get a lot of attention for and comments about my appearance.
I’ve always been friendly and outgoing and I had great friends growing up. I was a tomboy and never looked very feminine. I was always “the weird one” in my group of friends. I was fortunate to not be so far from the mark in attractiveness that I was bullied for the way I looked. Instead, I was simply completely ignored.
I was fortunate to have friends in high school (mostly from theater) who knew me for the person I was, so I wasn’t tortured over it. But I wasn’t happy either. Nobody was yelling in my face, “You’re ugly!” But I felt unattractive and invisible. Nobody ever asked me on a date. Boys I liked wouldn’t even look twice at me. Nobody told me I was cute. Nobody even told me I had potential to be cute. The psychological effect this had on me was pretty much the equivalent of being told I was unattractive. I was sure everyone was thinking it, but instead of saying it out loud, they just ignored me.
For me, my outward appearance has been a gauge of my overall comfort in my own skin. When I felt least confident in myself was when I also looked the least conventionally “attractive.” I’m much more confident now, but that’s not a result of my appearance. My appearance is the result of building my own confidence slowly. I’ve made changes to my appearance in small steps over the course of several years, but I decided to make each change because I felt confident enough to “pull it off,” so to speak. In other words, I didn’t go through some 10-hour miracle makeover and look completely different. In fact, I don’t really look that different from my high school self, I’ve just found a more accurate way to express myself.
After an incredible amount of self-discovery and embracing my sexual flexibility, I am now happily married to a man whom I met and fell in love with before I was “a swan,” (who in many instances saw beauty in me before I could see it myself), still identify as bisexual, and I have built a successful career as a popular adult film performer, despite not fitting the adult industry’s mold of what a typical porn star should look like.
I’m constantly fed jokes about how I must have gotten tons of attention in high school for my large chest. Most people assume I’ve always been conventionally attractive, that I’ve coasted through life on a steady train of ego inflation. I feel like telling them about how I had absolutely no confidence when I was younger. I feel like telling them about how confused and hurt I was all through my adolescence, because my unpolished shell obscured what I thought must be a reasonably tasty nut hiding inside.
I’m happier now than I ever was before. But not because others look at me now and see a swan — and surely, I’m not everyone’s type! Nobody can be a swan to everyone, and why would you want to be? — But because I know what kind of person I am inside, and I feel like my outward expression of myself, physically and otherwise, finally mirrors what’s inside of me.”
–Siri, porn star
6. “I’m still insecure, still don’t regard myself as attractive, and still feel like an outcast in most social situations.”
“I feel like I’m another more extreme case. I was always an unfortunate looking child. I never merited any praise and spent the entirety of my high school career as a social outcast. By most people’s standards I was a certified ugly duckling- a bit chubby, baby fat in my face, pasty white skin, no idea how to do make-up, a disproportionate body, etc…
It was only in high school that I suddenly became an introvert, a socially inept outcast with only a few close friends – and truly, the reason for that was that I was terrified. I knew how other people perceived me, and I knew how lowly they thought of me, simply because of how I looked. It was disheartening and horrible. People didn’t often call me ugly to my face, but it did happen a few times, and I would never wish that on anyone. It is one of the worst things imaginable to have someone tell you in person how gross looking and ugly you are.
As you can imagine, I never had a boyfriend, never had dates to prom, never received compliments. Eventually I accepted my appearance, learned to live with it, and decided that since there was nothing I could do to change it, I may as well embrace it.
It wasn’t until around my second year of college when I was 18/19 that my looks changed drastically. Everything seemed to happen at once: my body filled out into an hour-glass figure, my face lost its baby fat, I slimmed down without any real effort, I gained a fashion sense/working knowledge of make up, and my hair, which was getting long by that point, was dyed black. By the time I was 20, I was widely considered beautiful by strangers, family, friends, former crushes, you name it.
As many people have already mentioned, I don’t feel any different. I’m still insecure, still don’t regard myself as attractive, and still feel like an outcast in most social situations. The only thing that has changed is everyone’s perception of me, and I can safely say that you receive tons of benefits when you’re privileged enough to be considered good looking. You get attention, special treatment, compliments, invitations, friendships, you name it. There are downsides: unwanted male attention, creepy compliments, and being judged as vapid or conceited (it’s infuriating that, as a woman, you are judged harshly for being both ugly and pretty in our society). But there is no comparison – it is far easier and far more luxurious to fit the ideal of beauty in our society. It’s awful.
I still identify as a weirdo, a total nerd, and in any social circle I’m most likely to gravitate towards people that don’t seem to quite fit in. It’s a product of leftover fear, and also the desire to make people who seem out of place a bit more comfortable. I know what it’s like to be on the other side, and I know how fickle people’s opinions of you are. I do my best to never judge others based on appearances.
The sad truth is, physical looks are just as fickle as people’s judgments. You never know what is going to change, when, and why – and there’s no point in trying to figure it out. You just need to try to make connections with people who like you for who you are, and not what you look like. This is something I learned in high school, and even though my appearance has changed, it still rings true.
I hope everyone does their best to withhold assumptions and judgments of others, and tries to maintain a kinder outlook.”
– Rose Helena
7. “Internally, my mindset is still.. Hmm… How should I say this… Screwed up?”
“Some people grow up with pimples and acne, but my case was out of the ordinary.
I grew up having severe cyst acne from the age of 13 to 17. In fact, the term “severe cyst acne” just doesn’t cut it. There has to be a medical term for my condition.
Fortunately my acne is under control, but I still have scarring (on which I’ve already got multiple surgeries done). I’m not too insecure about my face anymore, but I do have to get over the fact that I no longer have acne on my face.
I was chubby from 15 to 18. I guess food was one of my means to enjoy life if nothing else was going for me. I also played an MMORPG game similar to World of Warcraft because that was my other means to enjoy life.
My social interaction definitely lacked big time growing up since I spent 8+ hours on the computer every day from the age of 13 to 18. It was pure isolation and I remember my parents being extremely worried about this.
[At 21] I developed seborrheic dermatitis on my face. I went to the ER and honestly thought I was going to die. I couldn’t sleep for days because it was too uncomfortable. I had smelly yellow liquid discharging from my head, skin, body, almost everywhere. It was very uncomfortable so I didn’t sleep at all that week.
I can definitely say that fitness helped me get through tough times. When I feel depressed, I hit the weights. When I feel like I’ve hit rock bottom, I hit the weights. Simply hitting the weights was a solution for everything, and it gave me positive results in return.
What I’ve experienced from my upbringing and past has made me very, VERY humble today. I am thankful in some ways for what all of this has taught me. If you were to see me today, you’d see a normal guy who looks like he has it all together, but that is far from the truth.
Internally, my mindset is still.. Hmm… How should I say this… Screwed up? If you threw someone in a society that was a lot different from what they’re used to believing in, they are going to have a hard time adjusting to the norms.
My life acted in a way that was like an off-on switch. And I had no clue how to respond to it. I started getting attention and opportunities that I didn’t know how to act upon. I didn’t have very much experience with socializing in the beginning. I can be very socially awkward at times since I failed to pick up social cues correctly, especially from the ladies.”
– Dennis Do
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