As is probably the case for many women, I’ve often been defined by my looks — not only by the way other people perceive me but also the way I perceive myself. And for most of my life, the way I view myself has been less than positive. Partially this is because my mother, when I was growing up, would often say that I was the “smart one” — my brother was the “talented one” (he excelled at playing the saxophone), while my sister was the “pretty one.” And, objectively speaking, if we had to be pigeon-holed into anything, that’s what we were. By all accounts, I’ve spent most of my life being a nerd, a dork, an “intellectual,” and only occasionally attractive. Even when I worked in the sex industry, I felt as though I was pretending, a constant actor on stages. Getting naked in front of strangers was a mystery to me, as I was constantly puzzled why anyone would pay money to see me. (This was before plastic surgery took ahold of the sex industry and pornography went mainstream.)

It’s only been pretty much since I’ve gotten sober that my self-image has started to change. There are actually times I feel pretty, and sometimes I’m damn convinced I’m sexy. I’ve finally learned to love my body the way it is, and — even better — how to dress to flatter rather than conceal my curves. I’m imperfect, and I know I could lose weight, but I’m also convinced that 75% of sex appeal is attitude and the way a person carries him/herself. And that’s where I was for about the past 18 months… happy with what I was putting out there, content with who I was and how I expressed myself. But then: I took out my lip piercings.

I’m not going to say I’m happy not having my snakebites. In fact, I feel as though part of my identity has been removed — all so I have a better chance of getting a job. Which sucks. Because in a fantasy world, I’d be able to get any job I wanted based on my qualifications and not what I looked like. But I realize also that my grandchildren will probably have that sort of life — so I guess I can have piercings when I’m 85 and in a nursing home, but right now it’s realistic to say they were hindering my job hunt. And so I took them out, and I’m still somewhat in mourning (boo). What I didn’t expect were the comments:

“Don’t get offended by my saying this, but you’re really beautiful without those things in your face!”

“I didn’t realize you were so pretty.”

“I can actually see your face now.”

“Before, you scared me, but now you look like someone I might actually want to marry.”

“I’m so glad you took that garbage out. You’re hot!”

Now, I’m sure that many people can’t see beyond the piercings, and that’s okay. But it isn’t as though I had huge stretched lips or something that completely obscured my face. So on the one hand, I’m glad that people can see I’m pretty, beautiful, hot, or marriage material (and everything in between). But just as I didn’t put the piercings in to become any of those things, taking them out wasn’t so I could magically put myself back on the Pretty Market. And so I’m struggling with this now… I want to accept the compliments and be grateful that — all of a sudden — men who didn’t notice me before are acting like I’ve undergone some transformation into a swan, ala The Ugly Ducking. But on the other hand, I also don’t want to be dating material for the sort of man who couldn’t see that I was all of those things WITH the piercings. Maybe this is part of the mourning process… or maybe I’m just sensitive right now… or maybe it will all take time… or maybe all of the above.

Whatever the case, I’m taking the pretty and running with it. Because, contrary to my mother’s opinion, I can be the pretty one AND the smart one. Namaste.