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by Abigail Van Buren

This Plain Jane Learned What Counts Early On

DEAR ABBY: You printed a letter from a mother whose daughter was a "plain Jane," constantly overlooked by boys who preferred her beautiful friend. That letter has stayed with me because I was a plain Jane compared to my best friend in high school. I'll call her Lisa. Lisa had more boys lined up than you can count. Every boy wanted to date her.

Luckily for me, my self-esteem has never been dependent upon my looks. As a result, my life has been 100 percent easier than my beautiful friend's has been. I have always thought of myself as funny and smart. Therefore, I WAS funny and smart around boys.

Lisa has struggled with anorexia since puberty. She has had a string of scummy boyfriends who treated her horribly. I have enjoyed honest, relaxed, fun-filled relationships with boys from high school through the present. I am now 22.

I implore the parents of girls to make sure their daughters feel valued for their intelligence and talent. Girls need to know it's OK to exploit their strengths. Parents can do that by making sure that their daughters know that being smart, athletic and funny are wonderful traits.

There is no reason why a mother should worry that her daughter is a plain Jane. It doesn't help matters to reinforce the idea that looks are everything. It's far more important to help a girl become a strong, confident person. The boys will discover her soon enough. -- FABULOUS JANE, FAIRFAX, VA.

DEAR FABULOUS JANE: You and I were blessed with mothers who taught us early and often to value ourselves for the strengths and resources every girl has. However, many girls do not know how to appreciate and use their gifts and talents in pursuit of their goals.

The fact is, each one of us has qualities and abilities unique and genuinely beautiful, and far more important than makeup and clothing.

Last spring, I hosted a live Internet chat for the government's Girl Power! campaign at Girl Power! was created to help girls make it from childhood to adolescence without turning to unhealthy eating habits, drugs, depression or obsessions with unrealistic images of how they should look and act. It features Bodywise pages to help girls make the most of their physical and intellectual abilities, and feel good about who and what they are. Feeling good about oneself is a key ingredient for beauty.

There was once a neglected and unwanted little girl who often worried that she was a "plain Jane" or worse, but she made the most of what she had. Later on, she said this: "No one ever told me I was pretty when I was a child. All little girls should be told they're pretty, even if they aren't." We remember her as Marilyn Monroe, as pretty as any girl ever was.

So, a thought for the day: If you're an adult, make sure every girl you care about knows that she's smart and pretty and valued, and tell her why you think so. The secret to being beautiful is feeling beautiful; the secret to being successful is knowing that success is within your reach.

DEAR ABBY: My father remarried eight years ago when I was 26. I have never figured out how to introduce his wife. She never filled a "motherly" role for me. I feel odd introducing her as my stepmother, so I end up saying, "This is my father and his wife, Blanche." I think she feels slighted by my approach. Do you have any appropriate suggestions? -- NAME CALLER IN TEXAS

DEAR NAME CALLER: Ask Blanche what she would like to be called. It will make future introductions less awkward for you and other members of your family.

What teens need to know about sex, drugs, AIDS and getting along with peers and parents is in "What Every Teen Should Know." To order, send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $5 (U.S. funds) to: Dear Abby -- Teen Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in the price.)

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