|“It hurts to be beautiful,” says Tiffany O’Connor’s mother, Rebecca. Convinced that only the beautiful are content, Rebecca encourages her five girls and one boy to sacrifice to be attractive. Each sister has her own trademark attribute, but nature is set against Tiffany’s thin hair and acne prone skin. As Rebecca waits for her youngest to transform into a beauty, Tiffany’s keen skills of observation enable her to experience the life lessons of her siblings as they discover together just how much beauty hurts in ways Rebecca never imagined.
Rebecca praises Angela for her beautiful figure, and encourages her to use it to win the heart of her youth group crush. No one is prepared for the consequences: Angela gets pregnant at 18. The pregnancy transforms the docile teen, but her newfound independence dies with the birth of her stillborn son. After she marries her boyfriend, Angela tries to quench her loss with two healthy children and constant overeating to the destruction of her fine figure.
Praised for her glorious hair, Emily hides her sensitive nature behind a harsh façade because of early rejections. During a weekend ski trip with Sophie, the third sister, Emily’s harmless flirtations result in rape. She chops off her hair to punish herself. A few years later, she dates an older man whose pompous attitude prevents him from understanding her hesitancy. He dumps her for being “frigid,” leaving her angry with the world and herself.
Sophie’s contagious smile and charm gives her the ability to please everyone at once, but her snobby high school peers are unimpressed. Striving to be accepted, she smiles in the face of reputation shattering rumors, but can never let go of the need to “fit in.” Later, she accepts her “popular” fiancé’s jealous accusations and infidelities until he harms Tazneem, the fourth sister. Devastated, Sophie feels she can never smile or love with the same passion again. Her new Born Again Christian boyfriend wants her to convert to his faith, but she is tired of pleasing everyone.
Rebecca loves Tazneem’s bronze, flawless complexion. Dramatic and sensitive, Tazneem is a flashy beauty, but she’s lonely. Men want her, but they don’t love her. She elopes with Demian, whose moroseness she has mistaken for depth. Their volatile natures create only strife. Trained all her life to accept pain as the price of beauty, Tazneem cannot walk away from the chance to love and be loved, even as her perfect skin bruises from the violence of her marriage.
Patrick, the youngest, is caught in the middle of the man’s world he lives in and the woman’s world he was raised in. School yard fights, Boy Scout power plays, and more test his sense of masculinity and chivalry. His biggest challenge is watching the bruises develop and fade on Tazneem. He doesn’t know how to help her or if he should at all.
When the violence escalates in Tazneem’s marriage, Tiffany finds a way to help her escape her oppressive husband, but it will take the entire family and all their beautybeauty they may not know they have. Tiffany brings the family together to release them from surface beauty’s painful hold by sharing with them their real beautythe comfort Angela found in imperfection; the desire Emily has to heal; Sophie’s acceptance of herself and her limits; strong and independent Tazneem’s desperate need for her family; Patrick’s sense of justice; and her own love and unquestioning acceptance of her family. She shows that Beauty doesn’t have to hurt.
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