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`UGLY' WOMAN BATTLES `LOOKSISM'

There once lived a girl who was rather ugly - or at least that's what people told her.

She had pale, thin lips and a long, crooked nose. Over her right eye sat a blotchy, purple birthmark. Lynn Romer was her name, but kids called her Pinocchio and Wicked Witch. Grown-ups just stared.For some reason, she was very shy. When strangers knocked, she hid in a closet. In high school, when other kids were dating, she stayed home.

Oh, she tried to look prettier. She dabbed on heavy makeup and grew her bangs long. She went to a doctor, who tried something new called laser surgery. It faded her birthmark some but left a permanent scar.

In fairy tales, the ugly duckling grows into a lovely swan. But this was real life. The rather ugly girl became a rather ugly woman - or at least that's what people told her.

One night at a bus stop, a stranger walked up. He pointed to a child and said, "He's the beauty." Then he said to Romer, "You're the beast."

Eight years later, Lynn Romer sits in a restaurant, talking faster than a reporter can write. No more hiding. No more makeup. No more trying to change herself into someone she is not.

She'd rather change the world.

"I'm ugly," Romer says. "What's wrong with that? I'm ugly, and please don't try to tell me I'm not, because if you do, then I'm going to think there's something wrong with being ugly. It's OK to be ugly. I think I have a beautiful soul, and that's all that matters."

From her Ogden home, Romer leads a very personal crusade against what she calls "looksism," the judging of people's character by their physical appearance.

Such discrimination is everywhere, Romer says, but she singles out a chief culprit - an entertainment industry fond of stereotypes equating beauty with virtue and ugliness with evil.

Romer has founded a group called The Pinocchio Plot, after the boy whose lies made his nose grow long. She has a new kind of fairy tale in mind. The wicked stepmother doesn't have to have warts. Prince Charming might be short, fat and bald.

Such role models would show youngsters they can be worthy and capable even if they don't fit society's ideal of beauty, Romer believes.

Some might say impossible. What Romer labels looksism, social researchers say is a fact of modern life. Studies have shown that attractive people get better jobs and are considered nicer, smarter and sexier than their plain counterparts.

Other studies go further, suggesting beauty is not so much cultural as biological, an evolutionary device ensuring that the fittest humans date, mate and procreate.

But Romer, hoping humanity has evolved to value more than just a person's breeding potential, wants to move beyond stereotypes that magnify and condemn the physical flaws that sooner or later mark us all.

Even Snow White got wrinkles, she notes.

The Pinocchio Plotters number just a dozen or so, mostly women from Ogden and Salt Lake City, but Romer is reaching out. A newsletter is planned, and the group sponsors a contest inviting authors to submit children's books with positive portrayals of "appearance-impaired" characters.

Romer also writes hundreds of letters a year to newspapers, magazines and others. Last summer, she wrote to Leonard Horn, head of the Miss America Pageant, chastising him for calling it a scholarship contest while requiring women to strip down to swimsuits. He didn't write back.

Her complaints of looksism elicit groans of "Get a life" from those who fear that yet another politically correct "ism" will only create a new and unnecessary class of victims.

On the other hand, a letter of Romer's published this spring in Mothering magazine drew more than 120 supportive responses.

"Thank you for expressing exactly what I've been thinking for years," wrote a mother worried about her two young daughters. "I'm sick and tired of seeing their heroines big-eyed, big-busted, small-waisted and impossibly long, lean-legged!"

"Looks fade fast," she says, "but character lasts."