12 People Share Why They’re Grateful For Their Unconventional Looks

Thanksgiving conjures feelings of gratitude, although due in part to a $4.2 trillion wellness industry, our cultural vernacular has embraced the notion of being #blessed all year round. But what does it mean to be grateful for your outward appearance in today’s landscape?

And, further, what role do the contents of your vanity cabinet play? After all, the beauty industry has made a mint off perceived physical flaws that need fixing from a magic lotion, makeup item or tool. Every year, loads of beauty products are released, each touted as the latest panacea for bodily insecurities. On the flip side, beauty rituals across cultures and centuries offer the practitioner pleasure that arises from self-care. As such, the relationship we have with vanity is fraught; no one said beauty is simple.

With Thanksgiving upon us, the latest in our ongoing series The Vanity Project explore how influencers, models and beauty insiders cultivate gratitude for their looks, especially those that are dubbed nontraditionally beautiful. And although standards of beauty are more fluid and self-determined than ever before, these interviews reveal just how cruel the world can be to people whose beauty falls outside social norms. Nonetheless, these folks are thankful for their looks, proving that vanity has the power to be a sublime experience, one that serves as a gateway for gratitude.

Jazzelle, artist known as Ugly Worldwide

I feel like an alien; I feel cool.”

“I don’t have eyebrows. It makes me feel like a blank canvas, like I can transform into anything I want.”

On being teased or bullied for her looks: “[I’ve endured] years of shady comments with people asking me if I have cancer or alopecia.”

Why she’s grateful: “My look makes me feel like I can transform into anything I want. It gives me freedom.”

Vanity Selects: “Before shaving I use Fifth Element by Filthy Cosmetics to exfoliate. When doing my makeup I like to highlight my brow bone with Marc Jacobs Beauty Glow Stick Illuminator.”

Sofia Grahn, university student

Going against my deep-rooted impulse to hide my skin feels liberating. Posting pictures of myself with acne has resulted in me having a broader sense of acceptance towards my skin.”

“Acne scarring hasn’t always been something that has made me feel beautiful. But it has become a part of me that signifies growth and strength after dealing with severe acne. My scars are my reminder that my body had my back and healed my wounds, even when I wasn’t in a mental state to love it back. My scars empower me to defy the idealized beauty standards in society and embrace what I’ve been conditioned to hate for so long. They make me feel like I have the power to define what’s beautiful for myself.”

On being teased or bullied for her looks: I’ve heard all things ranging from, ‘My god, what happened to your face?’ to ‘I’d like you better without those red dots’ to ‘You really should start to eat clean.’”

Vanity Selects: “Charlotte Tilbury Beauty Hollywood Flawless Filter (highlighters are usually not recommended for people with textured skin, but I don’t confine myself to those rules anymore), Smashbox Photo Finish Primerizer, Glossier Cloud Paint.”

Dominique Violet, university student

Fueled by the negative views of others, I used to be resentful of my body and full of self-hate.”

On being teased or bullied for her looks: “My entire life, I have been criticized for my body, even from those closest to me. ′If only you were skinnier; if only you weren’t you.′ Ironically, my body, once the source of hardship, is now the very thing to garner admiration and love from others. I’m grateful to be soft and plush with curves bending around my silhouette. In this body I am myself, and without it I would not be the same.”

Why she’s grateful: I feel beautiful by showing my body the gratitude and tenderness that it deserves. Beauty is more than how you’re perceived by others. It is a feeling that emanates from your core. Willing a perception change is challenging, but changing the way I perceive myself has made way for so many more wonderful things in my life.”

Vanity Selects:Etude House’s Sunprise Sun Milk to help protect my fair skin.”

Shel Pink, founder and CEO of Sparitual

“When I was a kid we had Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and Elle in our home and I would look at the models. I became aware of an internal dialogue comparing myself to this beauty standard that didn’t reflect who I was. Over time, I realized how unhealthy that dialogue was and made an intentional decision not to focus on my outer appearance, instead to focus on feeling good and being strong. I learned not to give in to that tyrannical inner voice about what needed to be ‘improved.’”

On being teased or bullied for her looks:I remember being self-conscious because I was comparing myself to others until I realized that this is just giving away my power.”

Vanity Selects: “I don’t wear a lot of makeup but cleansing is a beautiful ritual. I wipe away the stress from my skin at the end of the day with Odacite Green Ceremony Cleanser.”

Jasmine Okoli, makeup artist and owner of The Jazz It Up Beauty makeup

I’m not going to wait to feel sexy or confident until I reach a particular number on the scale.”

“For years, I thought that when I was skinnier more guys would like me, I would be more accepted, and more clothes would fit. But when I started to embrace who I was and how I looked on the outside, I found more inner peace and self-love than I ever could have imagined.”

On being teased or bullied: “People have teased me about my stomach and rolls for years. I have had negative comments posted on my social media pages about my size and how I should be covering my chest more. It took me some time to realize that the negative comments from people are just a projection of the self-hatred that they themselves feel inwardly.”

Michelle Ranavat, founder and CEO of Ranavat Botanics

I love the way my skin looks when slight freckles peek through showing signs of a life well lived.”

Why she’s grateful: “My appearance is a representation of who I am and where I came from. I love that every feature has a connection to someone in my family. I feel unique but also part of something bigger. “

David Ruff, beauty and style influencer

“I would always straighten my curly hair or try to hide my acne. But rather than running away from things that made me unique, I look at my features as an opportunity to tell a story of who I am and who I want to be in the future.”

Growing up in the early ’00s everyone had thin brows. I stuck to my bushy brows even when they weren’t on trend.”

On being teased or bullied for his looks:I was consistently teased about my fashion and beauty choices. I would wear sparkly hats in middle school; wear glittery cat eyes to Pride in high school. My brows were there for me.”

Why he’s grateful: “Both my parents have really prominent eyebrows and I always feel elated when people say I look like my parents because they are my role models in style and life.”

Vanity Selects: I love Blink Brow Bar and Kylie Cosmetics Brow Pencils.”

Melinda Parrish, plus-size model and mom

“I’ve always been a ‘big girl’ in both height and weight. It’s always made me feel different, like I don’t belong.”

On being teased or bullied for her looks: From whale jokes in elementary school, to being compared to a drag queen in high school, to being called a ‘fat bitch’ while walking down the street as an adult woman, my size has always garnered me negative attention. In college when I was training for NCAA division rowing, guys in the weight room would tell me to ‘take it easy, or the boys will start to think you’re one of them.’ It’s been relentless.”

Why she’s grateful: Over time, I’ve come to realize that people criticize my size because they find it powerful. That makes it a superpower, rather than a ‘flaw.’ I know that I can walk into any room and command attention through how I carry myself. I know that I can leverage my size to get attention for my ideas, and that inspires me to use my platform to make the world a better place for all women.”

Vanity Selects: Lotion, especially shimmery lotion, can make your legs and arms glow like a bronzed goddess. I also like to play up my height by giving my hair volume, and have an arsenal of hair mousse to help me achieve this.”

Alicia White, social entrepreneur

Media, for the most part, has a few ‘types’ of normal and doesn’t consider alternatives. When people think of beauty, they would hardly include someone who has a deformity.”

“I grew up with scoliosis and was severely deformed until I underwent spinal fusion surgery. From my surgery, I have a scar straight down my back from the base of my neck to my tailbone.”

On being teased or bullied for her looks: “I have always been asked a lot of questions [about my back]. Some questions would make me feel uncomfortable or a bit like a science project.”

Why she’s grateful: “My scar is extremely unique, and the uniqueness makes me feel beautiful.”

Alexa Fischer, founder and CEO, Wishbeads

You know those sneaky lines in between your brows that seem to get deeper as we age? Well, I have to admit, it’s something I check when I look at myself in the mirror.”

“I don’t use Botox and I think that aging is a luxury, considering the alternative. To me those sweet parallel lines are like a map, indicating where my mind is at any given moment. With each glance in the mirror, I see both the wisdom I’ve earned and the gentle, powerful reminder to let go and enjoy the ride.”

On being teased or bullied for her looks: “I used to be a professional actress, so I know firsthand how the pursuit of eternal youth can be a slippery slope. When we resist the process, of anything really, we create a tension that actually makes reaching our goals more difficult. Obstacles are truly our best teachers. This is actually the secret to eternal youth: a curious, compassionate mind.”

Vanity Selects: “Those rose quartz rollers with a touch of oil are the best. It’s my thank you to my face each night.”

“I have a very concentrated patch of gray hair on left side of my chin and nowhere else on my beard. It’s feature that I’ve grown to love.”

On being teased or bullied for his looks: “I’ve had a few people tell me I should dye the hair so my beard looks uniform, but it’s just a part of my new aged self.”

Vanity Selects: Beard oil

Christina Yannello, university student

“Rubbing your fingers across your face and feeling like you’re a human crunch bar can be very humbling. Acne is by no means considered ‘beautiful,’ nor is it confined to just teenagers. Having suffered its social and psychological effects, I am so proud of my acne scars.”

“Even though I use Instagram daily, it can be a negative space as it pushes a singular notion of beauty. I wanted to promote diversity, so I have never been tempted to edit my skin. It’s not the purpose of my account. I love being vulnerable so I can provide a safe space for others. Shifting the way we view acne has had such a positive impact on my mental health and makes me feel empowered. Beauty has infinite diversity.”

On being teased or bullied for her looks: “Acne can be very isolating, but being confronted about it is even worse. When I was in middle school my classmate asked me, ‘What’s on your face?’”

Why she’s grateful: “Dealing with acne involves so many emotions. I became so fragile and lost my lust for life. But now I am gaining back my confidence and relearning how to look people in the eyes again. I am so grateful to have acne scars and let them be a reminder of the strength it took me to get here today.”

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