While I was working as an advice columnist for New Woman Magazine. I received a lengthy letter from a woman named Lori.
Lori described herself as “a dumpy 27-year-old woman with matronly breasts, a big behind, and a plain face.” She avoided social situations and had been in therapy for years because her anxiety about meeting men, which she attributed to her shame about her appearance, was overwhelming—as was her desperation to marry.
She wrote, “My therapist tells me that plain-looking women get married as frequently as gorgeous women do, but I know I’ll never get married and it makes my whole life miserable. I can’t come to terms with my bad luck.”
Of course, I agreed with her therapist. Just spend an afternoon people-watching in a crowded shopping mall and you’ll see wedding rings on women of every size, shape, and form. Some men, it’s true, won’t look twice at a woman who isn’t beautiful or sexy by conventional standards. And to some extent, marriage is a competitive venture. Most attractive women have a larger pool of men to choose from than do women who are considered plain. The same is true for younger women and high-income men.
That said, love and marriage are about finding one person you hope will be your life partner. In this venture, physical appearance is less important than a wealth of other factors that shape our capacity to love and be loved. Lori’s problem is her narrow, shame-driven perspective on herself.
How much do looks counts? Appearance matters most in early encounters, but least in the enduring connections of friendship, love, and marriage. A woman’s physical beauty–or lack of it–tells us virtually nothing about how her relationship will fare over time.
In my forty plus years of practice as a psychotherapist, I have not once seen a connection between a woman’s conventional attractiveness and the intimacy, depth, resilience, passion, tenderness, or endurance of her intimate relationship.
If Lori stays attached to the false belief that her looks are the problem–and that marriage is the solution—she may spend more years in therapy blaming her appearance for her unhappiness. The fact is, many gorgeous, married women are also lonely and miserable. Many plain, single women are joyful, richly connected.
Finally, appearance goes way beyond our immutable physical characteristics. Our attractiveness to others is powerfully influenced by our confidence, warmth, character, intelligence, personality, spirit and style, as well as more elusive “vibes” that can’t be named. How a woman feels about herself, and how she conducts her life comes through. The fact that Lori feels so negatively about herself will certainly affect how others respond to her.
If Lori has a good heart, and if she moves forward in her life, she will find other people of a similar nature—whether she marries or not.
Ditto for men.