Lady Edith and the advantage of a nontraditional beauty

Lucie Amundsen
Lucie Amundsen: If I tell my daughter to celebrate her every aspect, while tearing myself down in my head, she senses it.
Courtesy of Lucie Amundsen

Lucie Amundsen is a Duluth writer and graduate student and co-owner of Locally Laid Egg Company. She is a source in MPR News' Public Insight Network.

I look like Lady Edith. I know because when I wondered about it in a casual Facebook post, an alarming number of people wrote to confirm it. Scores of them. As one friend typed, "We've been saying this in our house for weeks!" ("Masterpiece" recently premiered its third season in the States, so I can only imagine that the entire nation has "Downton Abbey" on the brain.)

Then just a few days ago, at a funeral of all places, a stranger walked across the room to tell me of my striking resemblance to the earl of Grantham's middle daughter. I was tempted to say, "Oh, you mean the homely, pernicious one?" but instead smiled and nodded my affirmation. When you're right, you're right.

Like my doppelganger, I possess what is politely called a nontraditional beauty. Edith and I sport a side-parted, wavy hairstyle and what may be described as an ornithic profile — in which a generous nose meets a less-than-substantial chin for a decidedly birdlike appearance. My own nose precludes the normal use and enjoyment of champagne flutes. Shot glasses, too. So when I say that having unconventional looks hasn't been easy, I know what I'm talking about.

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I'd like to call on the Crawley estate and take tea with Edith. I wouldn't try to convince her that physical beauty doesn't matter — that's just not true. Who wouldn't want to walk around as the ethereal Lady Sybil, if even for a day? But as an adult in my early 40s (and junior high far behind me), I see some good to growing up without the crutch of conventional good looks.

For one, it repelled shallow men. More importantly, my outsider status made me a keen observer of life and cultivated my sense of humor. These attributes, more than anything, have infused me with an energy that continues to attract interesting people.

The best illustration I could share with her comes from my favorite job. It was writing for a national how-to magazine, teaching homeowners how to maintain and improve their properties. We'd hire models and photograph my projects step by step, like "How to build a closet organizer out of a sheet and a half of oak veneer plywood."

The models were sometimes nice, sometimes not, but what they all had in common was their constant nervous scramble for the next gig. Between shots they were in constant contact with their agents, because they understood that the same society that worshiped and rewarded their fine looks also had its capricious fingers on a corner of the rug. One day there would be no more lucrative jobs for these pretty faces, while I'd still be happily working my laptop on an overturned bucket just beyond the photographer's lights.

I would not pretend to Lady Edith that it's been easy. Age helps, and it also reveals that even the most attractive people have areas of self-doubt. Every now and again I still bobble, but the best support for my footing comes up to my chin these days; she just turned 12.

If I tell my daughter to celebrate her every aspect, while tearing myself down in my head, she senses it. Kids are creepy that way. Turns out, I love her more than enough to send some my way, too.

Across the china tea service, I'd share all this and counsel Edith to go create a joyous life, stop comparing herself to her sisters and rest assured that there are wonderful romantic partners who will see and appreciate her beauty. It happened to me. Lastly, I'd like to put my hand over hers and say, "Edith, dear, being a fool is part of growing up. But could you please stop doing it while wearing my face?"