Plain Girl, third grade photo


At first I thought that my memoir would be about difference — how I felt like an outsider much of the time in my growing up years. When I started going to school, I became aware that I was “plain.” Sometimes I felt inferior to the majority of the students who were “fancy.” I was aware of all the ways we lived in different worlds.

Yet as I wrote the story of my first eighteen years, and now as I approach the publication of that story, it seems that many people have had an experience like mine.  Not just Mennonites. Not just country kids. Not just girls.

So here’s to “the plain girl” in all of us.

The Plain Girl

For Julia Jane Showalter

She goes barefoot in the summertime.

She loves the woods, the meadow, and the creek.

She whistles and sings, not just when other people do but also when she’s alone.

She owns her own body and plays games and sports full tilt, hitting the softball over the creek.

She lies awake on warm summer nights and tries to imagine what she will be like when she grows up.

She can devour four fresh ears of corn at one meal.

In class, she raises her hand whenever she knows the answer, and sometimes when she doesn’t.

When she reads a book, which is as often as possible, she becomes the characters she reads about — Jo March, Laura Ingalls, Robinson Crusoe, Tom Sawyer.

She notices little details — a cocked eyebrow, a husky voice, a graceful walk, a note sung off key — and makes little mental notes about what she does and doesn’t want to imitate.

She’s plain in her speech as well as her dress.

She chases what she wants as though they’re fireflies on a starry night.

She learns kindness, sometimes the hard way, from brothers and sisters or cousins or aunts and uncles, dogs and cats, puppies and kittens.

She skins her knees a lot.

She wants to be a scientist when she reads about science and an artist when she reads about art.

She talks to God, but not always with words.

92 Days Until Blush Launches

Are you a “plain girl”? Do you identify with this picture?

My New Beginning today will be to walk barefoot on the green grass while I pull some weeds. I will intentionally ground myself in the earth, which is the source of Plain Girl’s inspiration.

P. S. Chart your New Beginning here. Join 118 other entries.




Shirley Showalter


  1. Joan rough on June 12, 2013 at 1:17 pm

    Lovely, Shirley. I was “plain” too, by your definition. I can’t imagine being any other way. Thanks!

  2. shirleyhs on June 12, 2013 at 1:37 pm

    Thanks, Joan. I know I have a lot of company. The differences are there too. But first, it’s good to find common ground — and walk on it with bare feet.

  3. Katie Troyer on June 12, 2013 at 2:24 pm

    I was always different and plain. I still am different and plain although I am no longer Amish or Mennonite. I am just me.

    • shirleyhs on June 12, 2013 at 2:32 pm

      Katie, those three sentences could be the beginning of a memoir. And I know exactly what you mean. In fact, that’s what I was trying to say above. It takes a while to find our own plain-ness, even if we were not given a choice originally. Now you choose it. Hurray.

  4. WarmGinger on June 13, 2013 at 1:15 am

    I’m as plain as they come too. My mum is a former beauty queen and absolutely stunning, so didn’t quite know what to do with a tomboy with permanently scabby knees and a ginger afro!

    There’s something wonderful about being left alone to grow into yourself isn’t there? I’m glad it takes a certain sort to spot the twinkle in a plain girl’s eye. It sorts out the wheat from the chaff. 😉

    • shirleyhs on June 13, 2013 at 3:35 pm

      WarmGinger, I can’t see your eyes, but I’m sure they twinkle. I wonder if your mum might have had one or two characteristics of a plain girl too? Perhaps ones that were hidden by her dazzling beauty?

      One of the interesting facts of my own life is that my mum, too, was a beauty and loved fancy clothes, make-up, and jewelry. So we both had a secret desire for those things even though we were both plain girls.

      The wheat and the chaff are originally joined by the same stem. Hmmm.

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