little victories: the kind of beauty that stands out in a crowd

I like to stand out. I like to be different.

Writing the buzz cut piece reminded me.

Well, getting the buzz cut reminded me. And then writing about it. For me, everything is two-pronged: the doing and the writing.

As a little kid, I was shy, but I liked to stand out. People don’t think those things go together. They think when you’re shy you want to disappear. But I was just particular about the ways that I wanted to stand out.

I hear that kids are supposed to be afraid of being different from other kids. And I’ve definitely had those moments, of course. But for some reason, there weren’t many of them. Instead, there was this fierce pride. Like a little unquenchable flame, just inside my belly, a tiny eternal light like the one that hung over the ark where the Torahs are kept on the bima. But mine didn’t have cobwebs like the one at temple.


“Why doesn’t the school bus pick you up in the morning?” my neighbor, Benny, asked me when I was ten. He sounded a little accusing.

“Because my mom doesn’t let it,” I said.

“My mom says you probably go to school at a special school. At your Jewish church.”

“No,” I said, “I don’t go to any school. And it’s not a church, it’s called Temple Har Zion.” I felt important.

Benny made a face at me that said, “you aren’t saying real words.” “That’s weird,” he said.

“Do you want to learn a prayer in Hebrew?” I said.

“Okay,” he said.

So I taught him the Sh’ma, the central prayer. Sh’ma yisrael, Adonai eloheinu, Adonai echad. I sang it. I convinced him to sing it, too.

I was the weirdest kid on our street, of course. Jewish AND homeschooled, in a town where no one was either. In a town where once the boys down the street cut a swastika in a nearby cornfield. So I don’t know why I liked to stand out. Maybe because I was always with my mom, and she was always comfortable standing out.


She was always fighting for something. She was boycotting Nestle, because they made the baby formula that was being given to new mothers in the hospital, before they even asked for it. They should at least know their options, she said. So we couldn’t eat Nestle chocolate. Which was sort of a joke, because we never ate candy anyway. She felt strongly about lots of stuff, even when everyone else didn’t seem to think it was a big deal. I didn’t have to think about it—she had to be right.

It was a good thing that I liked being different, because there was a lot of it waiting for me. In fact, it wasn’t until I was much older, maybe even halfway through college, that I started to notice how normal I actually was. It was disappointing.

Yesterday, Bear called me brilliant, and I laughed. “I’m not brilliant,” I said. “Obviously.”

He tried to protest.

“I’m smart,” I said, “And I’m good at some stuff. But I know enough to know I’m not a genius. And it’s totally fine.”

“Well, you’re perfect to me,” he conceded. I accepted that.


I am totally fine with not being brilliant. It’s less pressure. When I started college, and I wanted so badly to be the smartest one, it was a lot of effort, all the time. I had to watch my vocabulary, in case I slipped back into normal words. I had to be careful not to mispronounce “hegemony,” which quickly became my favorite word. I was always trying frantically to remember a quote from something I’d just read.

In college, I realized that I was not stand-out beautiful. So it was even more important that I stood out in other ways.

As a little kid, I just assumed I was. The way I assumed my mom was always right. The way I assumed I understood the world. I thought I was unusually beautiful because I was unusual. It seemed self-explanatory. Obvious.

Now, more than a decade later, it occurs to me that I still love to stand out. That I want to be anything but ordinary. Anything but unseen, unremarkable. That despite the strings of aching minutes standing in front of my narrow dorm room mirror, silently, viciously disassembling my own worth feature by feature, I still tumble backwards into my own odd self-confidence.


After years of hunching forward. Of turning automatically frontward so that no one would have to see my damning profile. So they wouldn’t know the sad truth about my face. Of laughing with a hand over my nose, because I hated the way it looked even bigger when I laughed. Of never figuring out how to be around a camera. Of covering up my arms. Of trying to cover up all of my supposed flaws, so that the world would be spared. Of watching myself gain weight and wondering if a face like mine would make a body like mine was becoming impossible. Unallowable. Wrong. Of calculating measurements and rules and wild guesses and colors and sizes and carbs and proportions. Of giving up in a heap of self-loathing. Of going out with my gaze on the ground. Of wondering what he’d really meant when he’d said I was sexy. No, that couldn’t be right. Of wondering if it was time for another nose job. When was the right time? Of suspecting that no matter what, I was probably never going to be really beautiful. Not for real. Not the way really beautiful women are beautiful. So it’s a lost cause. So why do you even care? Of wondering then if it meant I should be smarter. As though there is this cosmic scale with beauty on one end and your brain on the other.

After all that– there is still a willingness to catch eyes in a crowd. To say something stupid or say something strange. To speak without thinking. To admit how weird I am. And now, to admit how normal I am.

To admit that I still feel beautiful when I stand out. In a long bright skirt with no hair and huge earrings. With a big nose and full lips and rounded hips. In a tight dress that shows off my cheerful belly and my only-slightly-larger-than-before breasts. Looking like no one except myself. Looking exactly like me.

It comes in bursts. It sneaks up. It’s there.

I feel beautiful for being unusual, sometimes.

It’s that flame. It won’t go out.

(source. the other pics here are also of eternal lights, of the sort that hang in synagogues. they’re really cool-looking. and the light always has to stay on. that’s the rule.)

*  *  *

Do you feel comfortable standing out?

Unroast: Today I love my white nail polish. It’s chipping, of course. When is it not chipping?

A reader sent me this picture of her awesome new hair. She wrote: I was inspired by your post that mentioned something saying that you had an interesting face and could pull off short hair. I’ve always admired short hair but have been scared to try it. Since all the fous is now on my face, would it hold up to scrutiny? But shifting the idea from focusing on beautiful to interesting made it easier. Oh course I have an interesting face! Everyone does- They’re all different, how could you ever be bored?

God, yes. Thank you so much for this message and the picture! You’re interesting and beautiful at the same time :-)

She also included an unroast: Today I love how I look in a super bright, super long skirt.

Which is funny, because I was just talking about that in this post! Perfect!

Please send me your own pictures and unroasts, if you’d like me to post them!

P.S. Other posts in the Little Victories series include “how am I not jealous right now?”, “asking for a raise“, and “my breasts

24 Responses to “little victories: the kind of beauty that stands out in a crowd”

  1. Melanie responded on 17 May 2012 at 1:16 pm #

    I have always stood out, and only sometimes wished I could be a wallflower and not have a ton of eyes on me.
    I never realized I was different until I was 11 or so and family members started commenting about how when I made a collage, the pictures weren’t all at right angles, and how that must have been hard for me. Or how I cut all of my meat in to bite size pieces before I can take a bite. I never noticed, until someone else did.

    To this day I continue to embrace my weirdness. This is who I was meant to be. If it makes other people uncomfortable, that’s not my issue, that’s theirs.

    But there are days when I’m down and I’m crying and I am so mad that I can’t just be like everyone else. Thank goodness those days are few and far between, because I really don’t like them.

  2. Jennifer responded on 17 May 2012 at 1:26 pm #

    I had a pixie cut for about a year and a half, and loved it. For the past year, I have been growing it back out again (and as you know, I am sure… growing out super short hair can be hell), but your buzzcut post made me want to chop it all off again. Still, toughing out this past year seems like an investment, you know? My hair grows slowly, and it is ALMOST long enough that I can pull it back into a ponytail without also needing a million clips to hold it back. I hate to lose all the time I’ve invested in this, but I loved the short hair. It made me feel “edgy” somehow, even though I’m NOT an “edgy” person. I was the only 20-something female I knew with short short hair. I felt brave. Plus, it was sooo easy. Sigh.

  3. lik_11 responded on 17 May 2012 at 1:29 pm #

    I’m 5’11″ and have been since I was 12 years old… I’ve ALWAYS stood out- whether I wanted to or not. In high school- I was so awkward and didn’t know how to handle my body, so I dressed like an old man (literally!)- because I felt manly. It wasn’t until I met an older man who would ask me, “Don’t you notice how everyone stops what they’re doing and look at you when you walk in a room? Don’t you see how people watch you?” He was the first person that ever made me feel beautiful. After meeting him- I began to embrace my feminine side and wear colorful sarongs and dresses. Yes! I like to stand out. When people watch me- it makes me feel pretty.

  4. Kimmy Sue Ruby Lou responded on 17 May 2012 at 1:38 pm #

    most excellent post…are you a Leo? :) i love standing out, even when others think i’m showy, because i also laugh at my crazy cockiness…the only thing that ever makes me feel uncomfortable is the opinion of others when i do…once in a while i allow that to lower the flame…i say turn it up! those who can take the heat will remain…:)

    btw…i’m noticing a new “maturity” in your voice…interesting to watch another evolve this way…thanks for sharing!

  5. Amanda responded on 17 May 2012 at 2:06 pm #

    Thanks for this. Finding the beauty within ourselves, and BELIEVING in it are so important. We are each beautiful, as individual as snowflakes : none of us look the same, and cannot be compared to one another, only appreciated for our unique selves.

  6. Alpana Trivedi responded on 17 May 2012 at 2:23 pm #

    Hello, Kate. I like standing out too. I like wearing colorful clothing and mismatching socks. Sometimes it’s good NOT to compare yourself to others, so that you can appreciate yourself and it seems your mom was really good at doing that as well.

    Kudos to you for writing about a topic that people stress about every day.

  7. Courtney responded on 17 May 2012 at 3:33 pm #

    A friend of mine posted a statement to illustrate the difference concepts of an outgoing introvert and a shy extrovert:

    “An outgoing introvert will sing the solo and then hide after the show to get some alone time, The shy extrovert will sing in the back of the chorus and won’t talk much at the after-concert gathering.”

  8. Gwen responded on 17 May 2012 at 3:55 pm #

    Be the youest you that you can be… why bother fitting in when you can stand out?

  9. Claire responded on 17 May 2012 at 4:19 pm #

    “She was boycotting Nestle, because they made the baby formula that was being given to new mothers in the hospital, before they even asked for it. They should at least know their options, she said. So we couldn’t eat Nestle chocolate. Which was sort of a joke, because we never ate candy anyway.”

    I have never felt such a powerful personal connection to someone’s writing before. These few sentences really brought up an extremely vivid memory of the exact same conversation with my mother (and general life situation as a young child). I’ve been reading your blog for a while, but just in the last couple weeks it’s really struck me how similar our upbringings were. I was also unschooled by a LLL leader mom (only through 3rd grade, though my younger siblings all stayed home longer), one of the only Jewish families in the neighborhood…

    Wonderful post, as always, but it really felt like you were inside my brain for a moment there!

  10. Kate responded on 17 May 2012 at 4:28 pm #

    Are you serious right now?! That’s crazy!! Where do you live now?

  11. Sooz responded on 17 May 2012 at 9:27 pm #

    I do NOT feel comfortable standing out. BUT. I feel you saying the thing about accepting parts of yourself that may be less than stellar(the “brilliant” bit). Because I don’t think I’m beautiful. I accept it now. AND I am okay with that. Because I don’t need to be the most beautiful gal around. Because I still like me just as I am.

    p.s. Nice piece of writing. :)

  12. Claire responded on 17 May 2012 at 10:58 pm #

    Kate — I am dead serious! I grew up in western New York state, but am currently in Boston… I think we’re practically the same age (I’m 26), so it’s wierd to think of us growing up in a sort parallel universe situation.

  13. Celynne responded on 18 May 2012 at 9:30 am #

    While a lot about me makes me stand out – my love of brightly coloured clothes for starters – it’s not something I aim for when I think about how I look. I’ll only really realize how wacky I dress or behave or think when I’m around other ‘normal’ people, and see that nobody else seems to dress like a rainbow threw up on them. But my crazy clothes make me – and other people – smile and it feels more natural for me to stand out than it would to try and blend in.

  14. Kelly responded on 19 May 2012 at 9:44 am #

    I love this post. You’ve expressed so many of the same feelings that I have (except written them in a much better way than I could ever hope). Your little victories help me to experience similar ones in my own life. :)

  15. morgaine responded on 19 May 2012 at 5:04 pm #

    “For me, everything is two-pronged: the doing and the writing.”

    Gods, yes. Accompanying everything I do is a little self-referential part of my brain figuring out how to spin it into an interesting narrative. Describing my every move, finding the perfect words, turning this phrase and that one. It’s a little tiring sometimes, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

    “As a little kid, I was shy, but I liked to stand out.”

    This. This so much. I love to perform – acting, singing, you name it. I wear bright clothes and walk with confidence, but I don’t actually enjoy most social interactions. I like to put on a show, to present myself before a crowd, but ask me to chitchat with the members of said crowd, and I’ll run screaming. People are always bewildered by that.

  16. Kate responded on 19 May 2012 at 5:09 pm #

    Thank you for understanding!

  17. Donnasummersdiscoghost responded on 19 May 2012 at 11:23 pm #

    You pregnant w your cheerful belly and slightly larger boobs?

  18. wontantimo responded on 20 May 2012 at 4:59 am #

    ‎”As a little kid, I was shy, but I liked to stand out. People don’t think those things go together. They think when you’re shy you want to disappear. But I was just particular about the ways that I wanted to stand out.”

    Exactly! I wore mismatched shoes for most of my childhood. Now that I’m older I still find little ways to feel special/different/weird. You’ve described my lil unique complex (or what have you) perfectly.

    P.S. I’ve been reading your blog for about two years now and have been too shy to comment until now. (=

  19. Rachel responded on 21 May 2012 at 3:44 am #

    Dear Kate,
    I know this may sound strange but do you think you might have misplaced a sister somewhere in the middle east? or more specifically in Israel.
    The more I read you the uncannier it gets:
    a. We seem to have the exact same self esteem and body Image issues (and there are quite a few for a girl to choose from) apart from the fact that I’m quite bothered that I don’t look Jewish at all…
    b. Your bear and my frog seem to have been made using the same mold. your post about guy friends? I’m considering sending it to him.could never have written it better.
    c. I’m sure there’s more but I’m having writers block.

    Can I eat the damn Pizza, I don’t like cake!

  20. Susannah responded on 22 May 2012 at 10:15 pm #

    Sometimes I have to remind myself that it is okay to blend in, such is my natural bent towards standing out. That said, I think having an innate acceptance of oneself is a formidable gift, especially for a female. I have an eight year old who is quirky and lovely and awesome and we are really working at helping her accept that sometimes she will stand out, and that is fine.

    PS hegemony was my favourite word at uni, too. That and “discourse”. He he.

  21. Kate responded on 22 May 2012 at 10:54 pm #

    Yes, definitely “discourse.” Definitely.

  22. Mouse responded on 08 Jun 2012 at 10:56 pm #

    In school, I’m so hidden that people no longer make jokes about it. Nobody misses me when I’m gone, nobody notices when I spend hours straightening my hair, and I’ve stopped caring what they do and do not think. So in October, because it was breast cancer awareness month, I went out and bought a neon pink wig and wore it all month. I even wore it during my school picture. I wasn’t doing it for attention, I was doing it for awareness, and when it turned to November nobody gave me a second glance.
    I don’t think that standing out matters where I am because someone is either going to step back or someone will leap forward. It only matters who’s cooler at the time.

  23. Eat the Damn Cake » the girl someone should write a book about responded on 03 Jul 2012 at 1:11 pm #

    [...] I didn’t think I wasn’t really pretty. I thought I was unexpected. We were only fifteen when we had this discussion. Later on, I became less sure of my different-beauty. Sometimes, automatically, I identified with the girl who was described as unattractive. The beak-nosed woman or the girl the boys weren’t in love with. It’s back and forth now. Sometimes I am the unattractive one. Sometimes I’m the beauty. Because I am some swirling combination of these things, and lots of things in between, I think. And I’m still looking for clues about how I’m supposed to identify. [...]

  24. Eat the Damn Cake » stop apologizing: a story that is secretly about Natalie Portman responded on 13 Aug 2012 at 12:41 pm #

    [...] I don’t really want to draw attention to my appearance because what if it turns out that there’s… Because what if some comment I make causes people to wonder why I think I’m so great? Because what if I accidentally imply that I am stunning, and that would be absurd and everyone would have to laugh at the absurdity of that idea. [...]