There was this girl who sat behind me in third grade. She had unruly blonde hair that hung down to her shoulders, steady green eyes, and tiny teeth, and I thought she was beautiful.
During class, I'd dream up excuses to turn around and look at her. When she was out sick for two weeks during that year's typically cruel Wisconsin winter, I ran to school each morning anticipating her return. And while my classmates rejoiced on the last day before summer vacation, I began counting the many weeks we'd be separated. But when we all wandered into our stale classroom the following September, I saw to my dismay that the girl had changed. Her hair had been cropped like a Marine's, she'd gained weight, and she was wearing glasses so ugly her parents deserved jail time. In short, I no longer found her beautiful, and therefore no longer had any interest in throwing things at her during recess.
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This troubled me. Everyone from my mother to Mr. Rogers had articulated some version of "beauty is only skin-deep." What really mattered, they said, was inner beauty. Read: When It Comes To Long-Term Love, Do Looks Matter?
I knew there was more than an ounce of truth to that—far be it from me to argue with Mr. Rogers—but inner beauty? Did that mean a cute spleen? Tying my shoes was a major accomplishment, long division seemed a near impossibility, and complex social interaction consisted of a game of tag. So the concept of inner beauty was tough to comprehend.
It didn't get any easier. As a young editor at a popular men's magazine, it was my job to find "normal" women for photo spreads—people who weren't celebrities or models, but who looked like them and didn't mind millions of guys ogling them in their underwear.
It was not a simple task. But I eventually found about 20 pictures that I thought would meet our art director's approval. Then I looked on, horrified, as he dismissed all but two, his British accent making his rejections— punctuated with vocabulary that would have gotten me sent to Human Resources—sound almost affectionate.
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