beauty products on a pink background

The Awkward Girl’s Guide to The Ugly

I grew up ugly.*

If you’re about to jump in here, all scandalized and ready to tell me that can’t possibly be true, because everyone is beautiful, let me stop you right there and remind you that this was the 1990s. People were allowed to be ugly back then. We did not think everyone was beautiful. We had Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell and Claudia Schiffer as our role models. We thought some people were actually quite ugly in comparison, really, and I, with my bright red hair and pasty, freckled skin, believed myself to be one of them.

(*At least, that’s what I believed (and was often told) at the time. I wouldn’t be a teenage girl again for all they money in the world.)

“You know, you’d be really quite pretty if you just had an upper lip,” said my best friend, Dawn, as we practiced putting makeup on one day in her room. “Or actual eyelashes.”

“You’re still growing into yourself,” said my mum defensively. “You’ll be lovely when you’re older.”

I nodded uncertainly, wishing I could “grow into myself” immediately, and one day wake up with a face that finally fit.

I’m still waiting.

[NARRATOR: But Amber never did ‘grow into herself’. For hers was simply not a face that fit, and no amount of Cover Girl foundation would make it so…]


While I waited, I spent my time perfecting the role of Ugly Best Friend to other, much more socially acceptable girls; ones with lips that weren’t exactly the same colour as their faces, and whose legs didn’t blind people in the sun. I was Dawn’s Ugly Best Friend in High School, then I moved on to University, where I immediately became Stephanie’s Ugly Best Friend (UBF).

In nightclubs and bars, I’d sit and watch my better-looking friends pair off with men of varying levels of attractiveness, all of whom would have their own UBF, who would be forced to make awkward conversation with me, so the Better Looking Friends could party on, unhindered by The Ugly.

I sometimes wish we’d formed a club or something, all those Ugly Friends and sidekicks. We could have called it The Ugly Best Friends Brigade, and I could have been its leader. We could have had meetings where we drank cheap wine in the student union, and reassured each other that we weren’t that bad looking, really. We could have started the body positivity movement, years before social media came along to provide us with inspirational messages reminding us that everyone is beautiful. I could even have just gotten over it, and learned the important lesson that looks fade, and it’s personality that matters, anyway.

Unfortunately for me, though, I didn’t have that great a personality, either, so, instead, I turned to the beauty industry and waged a war against The Ugly that I had been fighting my entire life.

– As a young girl, being teased for her red hair and freckles.

– At high school, where I was nicknamed “Spam Head”.

– At my first job, where everyone would assume I was ill if I turned up without a full face of makeup.

– In my twenties, being repeatedly told that I “needed” to get a suntan and eat a sandwich.

– In my thirties, being told that I’d “look so much better” with a bit of colour in my cheeks.

These were not the ‘best years of my life,’ needless to say. And, while most people’s response to this was to simply roll their eyes and tell me to get over it, as The Chicks would say, I was not ready to make nice with The Ugly. I mean, I’d never gotten over anything else that had ever happened to me, so why would this be any different?

It wasn’t. And beauty products were cheaper than therapy, so I dedicated my life to working my way through as many of them as I possibly could. Here’s what I learned…

Some of the things I’ve learned in my life-long war against The Ugly:

[Disclosure: some of the links are affiliate links; I’ve marked them with an asterisk*]

01. The vast majority of skincare products are snake oil, which will not make the slightest difference to your skin. Diet, sleep, and sun protection are the things that will make most difference to your skin. (That and genetics, which I can’t help you with…)

02. Wear SPF every day, even if you don’t have skin like a vampire. (I like this one.)

03. If you must spend money on your appearance, spend it on your teeth. I don’t mean go to Turkey and get yourself a set of Chiclet teeth; I just mean find yourself a good dentist and take their advice. I’ve had braces and veneeners: my teeth are literally the most expensive thing I own other than my house, and je ne regrette rien.

04. Don’t mess with your eyebrows.

05. If you ignored the point above and messed with your eyebrows, microblading will make your life a hell of a lot easier.

06. Your natural skin colour is the one that suits you best. You do not need to change it to be more socially acceptable. (Plus, the paler you are, the harder it is to find a fake tan that doesn’t end up looking like a skin disease.)

07. Most people on social media are using filters and other tools to make themselves look better. Even without filters, I’ve taken selfies that look literally nothing like me, just because of the lighting. Delete social media if it makes you feel bad about yourself, and don’t look back.

08. No one cares about your appearance nearly as much as you do. You are not, in fact, the main character, and once you realise this, you’ll be able to stop feeling like you need a full face of makeup just to bring the bins in.

09. Similarly, no one is looking at your thighs at the beach, I promise. They’re all too busy hoping you’re not looking at their thighs.

10. Most shampoos are exactly the same, regardless of price. They might have different scents and come in fancier bottles, but they’re designed to get the grease out of your hair and that’s it. It’s conditioner you need to spend your money on; and sometimes not even then, because supermarket brands can be just as good as designer ones these days. (This Pantene mask* does more for my hair than Olaplex: I will die on this hill.)

11. BUT! BUT! I know dozens of people who swear by Olaplex and tell me that Pantene is basically just coating my hair in pure evil, and this is why it’s so hard to trust beauty reviews —everyone is different, and your mileage may vary.

12. Your hairdresser is telling you the expensive brand is the only one that will work for your hair because that’s the one they sell, not because your hair is so special that there is literally just ONE pricey product that will work for it.

13. If you have pale eyelashes, a cheap home dye kit from Amazon* will change your life, not even joking. (Please follow the instructions and do a patch test first.)

14. After wearing sunscreen, teaching yourself to sleep on your back is the best thing you can do to avoid getting wrinkles.

15. If you’re a side-sleeper, you need this silicone chest patch, or it won’t be just your face you have to worry about.

16. Botox is the only thing that will get rid of those two lines between your eyes that make you look angry all the time. Any cream or potion that claims to do this is just a waste of money. (See also my Foreo Bear review…)

17. Collagen supplements do work, but you need to find exactly the right kind, and it will cost you a small fortune. (I swear by these, which were originally sent to me to review, but which I’ve repurchased many times on my own.)

18. This £5 foot cream will transform your feet overnight, but you have to use it (almost) every day, or you’ll just revert back to hobbit feet.

19. Waterproof mascara holds the curl in your lashes much better than the regular stuff does.

20. This removes it in seconds.

21. You’re going to need to learn how to use eyelash curlers.

22. Almost every woman I know has chin hair. It’s not just you.

23. If you’re the kind of person who mocks people for having surgery to look younger or better, you’re probably also the kind of person who made them feel like they had to have surgery in the first place. You’re the problem. It’s you.

24. Between them, the beauty industry and social media have created a situation whereby we no longer understand what people (particularly women) are actually supposed to look like at various stages of their lives. So we think grey hair is only for the over-80s and that it’s realistic for bodies to just “snap back” after having a baby. We then criticize people for looking “normal” but sneer at them for trying to change their appearance — so, no matter what you look like, you’re going to feel like you’ve failed, basically.

25. It’s OK to not care what you look like, but it’s also OK if you do. Berating women for wanting to wear lipstick is not the feminist flex you think it is.

26. If you’re lucky, one day you’re going to wake up and look really old. (If you’re even luckier, this will only happen when you actually are really old, and not just after you’ve had kids, say, or a big night out.)

27. None of the products on this list will change your life (Except the foot cream, it’s genuinely bomb…), and none of them are a substitute for good therapy, or just learning not to care. Since no one has ever stopped caring about something just because someone told them to, however, they may well help you with some of the utterly trivial things that some of us care about even though we know perfectly well that there are people out there with REAL problems, Amber.


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books by Amber Eve
  • Skimpy


    Ah, beauty, such a subjective thing…
    See, I’d kill to have your looks 🙄
    (well, maybe not kill, but you get the point)

    June 12, 2023
  • Amy


    I used to say the most horrible things about me to myself. It was bad. My therapist told me that I should try to treat me like someone I liked (in my case, my wife) and that helped me stop some of it. The best thing I did though, was ask myself who else I thought was ugly. I couldn’t think of anyone. Even my mom who looks very like me, I don’t think she is ugly. It seemed unlikely from a statistical point of view that I would be the one ugly person out of eight billion people so I decided it was a silly thing to think about myself.

    And I hate that the mainstream has taken body positivity and made it another way to tell women how we’re doing everything wrong. I like body neutrality better.

    June 12, 2023
  • Eff Emm Emm


    I love this post so much that I have come to re-read it. Possibly one of the best that you have written. Things I’d add to the list:

    – You will look back at old photos and kick yourself. Try to remember that now when you’re tempted to be your worst critic.
    – Walk on the shady side of the street.
    – You’ll need to invest more time and money into yourself as time ticks on. See yourself as a classic car. See it as an age tax.
    – You’re lucky to get wrinkles. Plenty don’t get the chance.

    June 21, 2023