it started as far back as middle school, the knowing that one couldn’t be both smart and beautiful.

you had to choose. one or the other. beauty or brains, never both.

i knew i was smart, so it didn’t take long to solve that math problem.

in high school, i figured out how to fit in. i wore the right clothes, played the right sports, made friends with the right people. i survived- barely. i felt out of place and awkward 99% of the time. i developed an eating disorder. i wrote dark poetry and i belted out alanis morrisette, jewel and fiona apple at uncivilized decibels when i was alone.

in college, i began my pre-med classes and continued to use my formula.

i judged people.

i put them in buckets almost immediately. smart or pretty. the rule didn’t exempt anyone, especially myself.

i would sit in organic chemistry and decide who was going to make it and who would not, determining their fate with one simple glance.

i didn’t make many friends in those classes.

and i didn’t end up going to medical school. i told myself and everyone i met that it was my choice. that i chose not to go. but really? the truth?

i didn’t get in to the school i dreamed of and smart girls don’t settle for second best.

so now, here i sit, ten years later and my formula has been proven wrong millions of times.

i think about the younger me, sitting there in organic chemistry, judging anyone within a mile radius and i feel so sad for her.

because she wasn’t as smart as she thought and she was more beautiful than she knew.

and now i find myself walking down the street noticing everyone’s beauty. i see smile lines and forehead crinkles from worrying about people they love. i see strong legs and bright eyes. i see chipped nail polish digging in the dirt with children. i see frizzy hair that catches light and crooked teeth that glow with joy.

i’d love to tell you that seeing myself that way is just as easy. that my eyes don’t immediately go to the zit party on my chin or the wiry gray hairs that have recently begun to sprout (by the way, are zits and gray hairs supposed to go hand in hand). i’d love to tell you that i haven’t inquired about botox or caffeine belly wraps or been on the latest fad diets every other week. or that i never collapse in a swamp of tears over my muffin top.

but that just wouldn’t be true.

the difference between now and then, is that i’m smart enough to know that those things don’t make me ugly. no, no no. i was much less beautiful sitting in my smart classes, with my smooth skin and my size 4 jeans, judging everyone around me.

so here’s the math equations i use now.



when i’m feeling less than in either of the two categories, i up the kindness factor.

when i start to judge myself or others, i say something kind instead. i do something kind. i breathe in and out and i think kindness. it’s not a reflex, it takes thought and effort. but it’s the only thing i’ve found that is absolute.


photo by the smart & beautiful: yan photo