A Diet Soda commercial features The Bad Boy with a bit of Erotic Eating in the background for emphasis, when he accidentally knocks down a sheltered and spectacled schoolgirl, loosening her hair and glasses, thus bringing this trope into play.
Often used in many ads with "Before" and "After" pictures - a simple cure for baldness can turn a depressing nerdy guy into a hunk by not just fixing his hair, but his eyesight (causing him to lose the glasses), his skin, his clothes, his glum frown into a confident smile, etc.
A Verizon commercial does this with the power of NFL Mobile as Andy and Jane show.
In Howl's Moving Castle Sophie believes herself to be ugly. It doesn't help that other girls agree, and she's wearing clothes a good 50 years out of date. Howl, however, can see her as her true self and comments that she's beautiful, which she denies, at which point her temporary change back to a young girl ends. At the end, Sophie ditches the ugly hat, gets some new clothes, and Letting Her Hair Down, which becomes silver. She breaks the curse, realizing her value and admits to Howl that she believes her silver hair to be beautiful.
In the anime Love Hina, Narusegawa Naru goes from looking like a total nerd to being beautiful by removing her Nerd Glasses and taking her hair out of massive braids. Then again, her "ugly" state is a deliberate act intended to drive off unwelcome male attention.
Likewise, in Ichigo 100%, Toujou Aya becomes better looking by letting her bangs down, and beautiful by taking off her glasses and unbraiding her hair.
A subtle subversion is Chisame Hasegawa of Mahou Sensei Negima!. In her daily school life she is a bespectacled computer geek, allegedly with bad skin. But at home she takes off her glasses, combs out her hair, and takes digital pictures of herself in costumes, which she then photoshops to clear up her skin and increase her bustline — and becomes the virtual idol "Chiu" on her website. Of course, her teacher Negi insists that she's cute enough as-is, but he's ten, what does he know? Her problems with her appearance may be one reason she seems to prefer remaining in the form of a ten-year-old via the age pills, during the Magic World arc...
Asuna's friends are also rather surprised at how normal and even elegant Asuna can look without her hair ornaments, dressed normally and not kicking people in the face.
Chika Ogiue of Genshiken. Normally, her strange paintbrush hair and baggy clothes mar her appearance, but occasionally she lets her hair down, puts on more form-fitting clothes, and swaps her contacts out for glasses and turns out to be quite attractive.
Katou can also be considered this, as she turns out to be quite beautiful when that long, shaggy mop of hair isn't covering her face.
In My Bride Is a Mermaid this trope is played in the classic fashion. The Class Representative takes off her glasses, lets her hair down, and the object of her affections (who doesn't recognize her) almost immediately bumps into her, and thinks about how cute she is. Unfortunately for her, she couldn't recognize him without her glasses.
In Berserk, Guts thinks of Casca as a soldier, it isn't until she dolls up for the ball after their major victory that he realizes that she is beautiful. The other men at the ball (who didn't realize she was female until that point) agree with him, enough that she has to make her escape.
The Lamune & 40 series makes this into a Running Gag; when Meganekko Cocoa removes her glasses for any reason, everyone in the immediate area has this trope hit them hard — and she just says "What?" as she puts them back on.
In Code Geass,The Scrappy Nina Einstein, who looked extremely dorky and nerdy in the first season, returns in the second season with an updated look, that she looked quite beautiful. However, the rule 'inside beauty' still plays here, and as she still held her Scrappy qualities until almost the end of the series, people think her makeover does not help make her more beautiful at all, and even refuse to accept her Character Development.
Skewed a bit in Ouran High School Host Club: when Haruhi Fujioka's Nerd Glasses come off, the members of the titular club are startled to realize that she's really quite attractive — but Tamaki still thinks she's a boy (unlike the other club members, who figured it out during the day).
Inverted the following episode when the club members managed to find a picture of Haruhi sporting long hair and in a schoolgirl uniform, and they question just how such a pretty girl could turn into someone so mousy and boyish looking (to which Haruhi replied that she cut her hair after some mischievous kid stuck bubblegum into it).
One of Akane's pet peeves in Ranma ½ is that, although female Ranma looks very ordinary in the standard, unisex Chinese uniform (which is tailored for Ranma's male form anyway,) "she" is actually a beautiful woman otherwise. (Not to mention Ranma's apparently unconscious, instinctive ability to do both sexpot and Moe at will...)
Not surprisingly, Ranma's mother, Nodoka, appears as an attractive, but nondescript woman in a kimono most of the time. When she lets her hair down, she goes from "pretty" to total babe in two seconds flat.
Inverted by Mousse, who initially comes off as a Bishonen, but is a total moron who requires thick Coke-bottle glasses to function properly.
Near the end of the series there is a Beach Episode where domestic mother figure Kasumi appears wearing the second-tiniest bikini in the entire episode (only raving loony Kodachi wears a smaller one), and accidentally wins a beauty contest (in which all the other girls have entered, and for which she is acting as a "card girl") when the (mostly male) audience decide they like her best.
Minor example is Ukyo when she decides to dress like a girl. Even though every guy starts drooling over her, it's only a minor example because she was plenty cute enough already.
In one Naruto filler arc, there was the minor villain Fuuma Kagerou. He pretty much looked like a gorilla with a huge overbite in his first appearance. Then he, literally, shed his body and was revealed to be a quite beautifulgirl... Of course, since Kagerou's general powers and abilities were inspired by the mayfly, this also meant that her remaining lifespan was reduced to a few hours through this act.
The hentai manga Were-Slut combines this trope with Clark Kenting (and, perhaps, a more subtle form of lycanthropy). After main character Kimiko swallows the Beauty Stone, she becomes so beautiful that she gets flak from her teachers about wearing make-up and has to hide her gorgeous looks behind her usual nerd-glasses. This also keeps people from realizing that she's the Were-Slut, a side-effect of the expired Beauty Stone that... well, it's hentai, so it should be obvious by now. Also subverted by the fact that the boy she took the Beauty Stone to seduce was already in love with her and she only needed to have more confidence in herself (or just be blindly in heat) to make him her boyfriend.
In Glass Mask, Maya, who is usually described as "plain-looking", is cast as a beautiful princess opposite the beautiful Ayumi. Everyone thinks it's a complete miscast, and are extremely surprised by Maya's first appearance on stage. It only lasts as long as the stage makeup does and weirds out her friends.
Megumi "Nodame" Noda from Nodame Cantabile is actually a very attractive lady when she washes her hair and doesn't dress in mold-afflicted dirty clothes—and also refrains from shouting at the top of her lungs all the time or making silly faces.
Torako from Hyakko may not be really ugly, but her tomboyish demeanor usually lets her be outshined by girls like Ayumi—until she decides to get loose while posing for some photos.
Tsubomiya Inori◊ plays this straight. Her usual Sadako-like appearance tends to repel people, but when Torako peels back her forelocks and gives her a makeover...wow◊.
To show that this trope is not restricted to women, Mitsukake from Fushigi Yuugi was first seen with long unkempt hair and a Grizzly Adams Beard of Sorrow. When he saved Miaka and the gang and revealed his real face, he was male model gorgeous.
A male version would be Charden from Black Cat who wears glasses and a top hat. When he takes these off he turns out to be a handsome blonde man with flowing curls.
Subverted in Detective Conan. An Idol Singer is killed through poison by his beautiful soon to be ex-manager, who is also his ex-girlfriend, because he treated her like garbage and lots of his abuse was about her physical features. Turns out he did this because she had cosmetic surgery to please him, but he liked her "ugly" original face better and heavily blamed himself for her change.
In Phoenix, Uzume was an ugly woman being held as a prisoner by Chinese soldiers. After marrying Sarutahiko, she reveals that she's actually very beautiful and that she disguised herself as an ugly woman so that the soldiers wouldn't rape her.
Parodied in Hayate × Blade. Inu, who starts off looking like something that would make The Wallflower's Sunako look normal, is given a makeover by her sister-in-arms Momoka. While she does look a lot prettier with her hair done up, she's still considered creepy by her peers thanks to her...odd mannerisms (and matching Speech Bubbles, which don't go away after her makeover).
The Pig Bride is a young girl cursed with a facial deformity unless she can win over her destined boyfriend. At least, that's what she thinks, but it turns out that underneath the mask she's really a beauty.
Subverted in Blade of the Immortal where Rin (who is attractive, just too young) takes down her hair and tries to talk seductively to Manji in order to prove that she can be mature and lady-like. Manji simply bursts out laughing at her and mocks the trope itself.
In Full Metal Panic! (or at least in the Overload! manga spin-off) Kaname's best friend Kyoko is normally cute, but apparently looks like this with her hair down and her glasses removed. Played with in that the group of creepy fanboys stalking her aren't interested in her like this because they have a fetish for her "glasses and braids" look, although Kaname thinks she's adorable.
Yura from Honey Hunt when she loses the glasses and does something with that hair.
Played with fairly mercilessly in an episode of Noodle Fighter Miki where our heroine meets a scary teacher who looks like a Stringy-Haired Ghost Girl. Even her attempts to look friendlier just make her scarier. However, she has the ability to become quite attractive and give off an extremely friendly vibe, but apparently only while she's eating ramen.
In Beauty Pop, this pretty much covers all the girls Kiri makes over. Kanako's second makeover may be the closest to note, though, as it is revealed that her dowdy looks distracted people from her how perfect her hair, skin and nails are thanks to the instruction she's been taking from the SP in regards to their care.
Vincent Law from Ergo Proxy. At the beginning he has Eyes Always Shut, a round face, and looks kinda short and dumpy. Some episodes later, after becoming a wanted man, he changes completely: he opens his eyes, musses his hair, loses some weight, stands up taller, and voilà!
Eureka from Eureka Seven definitely deserves an honorable mention when she is not wearing her hairpin, as well as her long hair version in the movie ending. Renton is wise to fall for her.
In Princess Jellyfish, Kuranosuke becomes convinced that Tsukimi is one of these, and decides to give her a makeover to prove it. Tsukimi was not amused, because she and the rest of the Amars think that making yourself over is like going over to the 'enemy' i.e. the side of the trendy people.
Kuranosuke thinks every girl is a princess but is quite realistic in that, while he may think that way, he knows most of the world does make assumptions based on appearance.
In D.Gray-Man, Miranda Lotto lacked confidence in herself and suffering from the stress of being the only one not affected by the time loop affecting her town. It wasn't until she got her Innocence and became confident in her abilities (not to mention Letting Her Hair Down and She Cleans Up Nicely) that we truly see how beautiful Miranda was.
Male example played for laughs in Beelzebub: delinquent gang leader Tatsuya Himekawa sports a gigantic pompadour and a pair of tacky shades, but when he's forced to take off the glasses and let down his hair, he could pass for Sephiroth's kid brother. No one recognizes him until his hair goes back up.
Played for more laughs because, despite the girls raving about how handsome Himekawa looks with his hair down, he persists in subverting the trope by keeping the ridiculous hairdo and shades for no particular reason at all.
The title character in the Lupin III (Red Jacket) episode 'Revenge of La Nerd' is a female detective flirting with the oblivious Zenigata. She usually wears a formal outfit. with thick glasses and her hair tied in a bun. When she plans to infiltrate Lupin's hideout, Zenigata objects that she's not pretty enough for Lupin to invite her inside. Cue her going inside her car, changing into a more revealing outfit, takes off her glasses, puts on makeup, and lets her hair down. Zenigata was shocked by her beauty.
In episode 228-229 of Gintama (yes, they made a parody of Love Plus), the one person no one ever expected to be that hot was Pinko.
Tamako, though it was hinted at before the kids returned from summer break. Subverted in that she immediately goes back to the way she was before; she really doesn't care what others think of her.
Hachiken's ancestress in a flashback chapter to medieval times. She's a narrow-eyed girl with a Face of a Thug who is mistaken for a man at first, but it eventually becomes apparent that she's actually squinting because she needs glasses.
Hachi: Here, try to put these on... Toku: Hum, thanks... [puts the glasses on and stops squinting her eyes] Hachi: TOKU-SAN, WILL YOU MARRY ME?! Toku: Eh? Oh, sure.
In Kodomo no Jikan, we have Shirai, much to the shock of her co-workers.
In Bleach, Mayuri Kurotsuchi of all people gets a shower scene where we find that under all his war paint he is actually hot.
Played With in Girl Friends. Mari is very plain and unfashionable before she meets Akko, but it seems more like Mari already wanted to pay more attention to make-up and fashion but didn't know what to do, and the emphasis is much more on the sheer fun of this new world Akko introduces to her. Later, someone comments that Akko induced this trope in Mari, and Akko initially agrees but then changes her mind, saying that Mari was always cute.
When Ellen Dolan is first introduced in The Spirit, she's a dowdy college girl with, yes, hair up, and glasses. And she has a geeky fiancé. By the end of the story, the Spirit lets her hair down and removes her glasses... and then steals a kiss from the lovely girl. Needless to say, she dumps the fiance soon after.
Runaways does not feature this trope within the story itself, but comments made by Alex Wilder (Who reacted with dumbfounded shock upon seeing her after a year long gap) and several flashbacks (During one of which Karolina suggests that she get contacts) reveal that Nico went through this transformation. Also one of the few instances that combine it with a major change in aesthetic.
There's a bizarre example in Alpha Flight, with Jeanne-Marie Beaubier and her alter-ego Aurora. Aurora wears her hair loose, and no glasses; Jeanne-Marie has a tight bun and "glasses you barely need for reading" (as her brother put it). While Jeanne-Marie is hardly ugly, she looks much more strict and severe than free-spirited Aurora. It reverses the trope, in that her (long lost twin) brother first saw her as Aurora, then was shocked to see her do up her hair and put on glasses on purpose to look less attractive. This is no Clark Kenting, either; she has multiple personality disorder, so this trope works to draw the line between two different people.
Meggan, who would go on to become Captain Britain's girlfriend (and eventually wife) was introduced as a funny-looking, furry outcast in a dystopian alternate dimension. It eventually turned out that she was both an empath and a reflexive shapeshifter whose appearance reflected her feelings and the way everyone around her felt about her. She only seemed twisted and ugly because that's the way her home dimension treated her, but once Cap was nice to her for a while, she turned into a cross between Marilyn Monroe and Galadriel.
When Pepper Potts first appeared as a supporting character of Iron Man, she had freckles and looked like a teenager. Several issues later, she "got a makeover" and became the more better-known version of the character (in terms of looks).
Male version in Watchmen. Laurie comments that the nerdy Dan looks quite handsome without his glasses.
She-Hulk, maybe. One theory about gamma radiation is that it transforms a human's body to match submerged emotions and feelings that he or she had tried hard to keep submerged. So while the Hulk was the embodiment of Bruce Banner's inner angst and anger as a result of his unhappy childhood at the hands of an abusive father, She-Hulk was Jen's uninhibited, feminine side that she so much wanted to let show, meaning the gamma rays simply made her the Amazonian Beauty she was within.
Films — Animated
Subverted in Shrek when beautiful human Princess Fiona is transformed by a kiss into her true form, an Ogre. Arguably, the words of her curse can be interpreted to mean she would transform into the form of her true love.
Also played straight: Shrek finds Ogre!Fiona beautiful.
Over the Hedge has Stella, the skunk, who "looks like a nest and smells like a swamp" until she's called upon to distract Tiger, a purebred Persian cat, by passing her off for lovely cat...and turns out, it just took a haircut and a dye-job to reveal how beautiful she was.
In Wreck-It Ralph, Vanellope Von Schweetz is rather cute, even with her waif clothing and unkempt hair. When she transforms into a princess once she crosses the finish line of her game Sugar Rush, she becomes radiant. But she prefers how she looked before.
Films — Live-Action
The movie that arguably originated this trope, Now, Voyager (1942), also served to subvert it in anticipation. Bette Davis plays an overweight, dowdy, bespectacled, poorly dressed woman who's also painfully shy, unsocialized, maladjusted, and bullied by her widowed mother. When she loses weight, takes off her glasses, and buys fashionable clothes... she's still shy, unsocialized, maladjusted, and bullied by her mother.
Used in the rival bookstore scene of The Big Sleep (1946), where Marlowe "transforms" the lady bookseller.
In the 1962 film Gypsy, when tomboyish Louise first gets beautiful clothes and has her hair done, she looks in the mirror, and incredulously says: "I'm pretty. I'm a pretty girl, Mama."
In French Kiss, Meg Ryan is certainly cute and perky, but when she dons a blue dress and wears a $150K diamond necklace, Luc (played by Kevin Kline) says, "Now who is the goddess?"
Central to the plot of the 1989 Tony Danza film Shes Out Of Control, in which an overprotective father discovers his 15-year-old daughter has undergone this kind of transformation while he was away on a business trip, and can't cope with its results and side-effects.
Blade Runner used this trope to good effect; when the replicant Rachel took down her hair (admittedly, she wasn't wearing glasses, as she was an android with perfect vision) she revealed herself to be beautiful and, in keeping with the theme of the film, more human.
Miss Congeniality 2 plays with the trope: At first, Sandra Bullock tells a school girl to put her hair up because it will enhance her features better and that "people care about people who care about themselves". But at the end of the film Bullock meets the girl again and, having learned her lesson, takes the bow out of the kid's hair and says "I know that people care about people who care about themselves? but I really don't care about those people".
A brilliant parody of this trope is used in the Lethal Weapon spoof Loaded Weapon 1. A plain, dowdy woman takes off her glasses, bends over and shakes out her hair, and when she looks back up, she's a completely different actress — supermodel Kathy Ireland, in fact.
Parodied in Not Another Teen Movie (whose main plot followed She's All That). The main character, Janie, a "rebellious" artist who is seen as ugly by all the other characters, gets a makeover by a popular girl. Before she begins, the popular girl warns Janie, "this may seem a bit crazy..." She then proceeds to take off her glasses and pull down her hair. Suddenly, everyone acknowledges her beauty, and she even gets her own slow-walk down a stairway shot, complete with music.
Also parodied before that when she's nominated "hardest to make into the prom queen" because she has "glasses, a pony tail and paint-covered overalls". Candidates stated as "easier" to make over are an albino folksinger, twins joined at the head, and a hunchback.
Shaolin Soccer subverts this not once but twice. The heroine, originally a rather ugly girl with terrible skin, gets a makeover in the hopes of attracting the hero, but the result is almost as bad; she ends up with streetwalker-thick makeup, '80s big hair and shoulder pads. Eventually she goes through a second transformation where she gives up on the makeup, etc., and shaves her head bald — and looks better than ever (one wonders what happened to the bad skin).
This is rather common in Stephen Chow movies, in that almost all of his love interests have either physical flaws, or are characteristically flawed. One of the most memorable moments in Chow's movies before he became vastly famous was the ending scene of God of Cookery, where the comically homely female street chef got an extreme makeover after he alleged death. The actress playing the role, however, is a famous Chinese pop star in real life, so her final appearance in the movie actually had her to do away with her faux ugly makeup.
The Princess Diaries, twice! First, when Mia is shown without glasses for the first time, and secondly, and more famously, after her extreme makeover.
Fran in Strictly Ballroom who has an acne problem at the start of the movie goes through a similar transformation, although Shirley has been on at her to treat her skin with product for the first half of the film.
Although she was never supposed to be "ugly" (just plain) the character of Jamie Sullivan in A Walk to Remember has a moment during the scene in which she performs in the school play; as she takes off a black cape she is revealed in a blue silk dress, along with full hair and make-up for the first time.
The moment Ally Sheedy gets ruined in The Breakfast Club. Especially egregious since her character has major issues, but it's implied that a superficial makeover will make her socially acceptable.
The scene in Superman where Clark Kent is in Lois's apartment with her (off-screen) getting ready for their date. He is debating whether to reveal to her that he is Superman, and the actor straightens his posture, removes his glasses (OK, he doesn't let down his hair, it isn't a perfect example of this trope), does something to his expression, and becomes the extremely attractive Superman. Lois (still off-screen) says something and he changes his mind, transforming instantly back into the nerdy and relatively unattractive Clark. An excellent piece of acting by Christopher Reeve.
In the original comics, Clark Kent was so ugly, and Superman so beautiful, that Lois hated Kent and loved Superman.
Not so much "ugly" and "beautiful", it's just Lois compared shy, clumsy, and cowardly (after all, he disappeared at the first sign of danger!) Clark against, well, Superman.
Visible in Batman Returns. Who knew that getting thrown off a building, trashing her own house, and tearing up her clothes to make a catsuit would change dowdy secretary Selina Kyle so much? The book of the movie explains it's her self-confidence that makes her able to wear clothes that really suit her.
In Spider-Man, Peter Parker loses his eyesight problems when he gains his spider powers, so he stops wearing glasses. Mary Jane notices his beautiful blue eyes, of course.
In Rocky, on Rocky and Adrian's first date, when Rocky takes off Adrian's glasses and hat:
Rocky: I always knew you was pretty.
Adrian:(disbelieving) Stop teasing me. (Begin the makeouts!)
This shows up in The Hottie & the Nottie when the repulsive best friend is given a makeover. Although the actress is made up with things like rotting teeth, warts, and fungus, you can still tell she normally looks great.
Subverted in Legend for many fans, who consider Mia Sara more attractive as "Dark Lili" than "Princess Lili". (Her costume certainly didn't hurt.)
Toula from My Big Fat Greek Wedding started out as, in her words, "Frump Girl", but then she got contacts, changed her look, let her hair down (or at least arranged it more attractively), and started classes at a nearby college.
Though in this case, it's less of a broken aesop than normal, since when Ian meets Toula again after her makeover, he says "I remember you. I don't remember frump girl, but I remember you", implying that he liked her in the first instance anyway.
The DVD commentary with the writer/lead actress also clarifies that the "makeover" was about Toula becoming more confident with herself as she developed her own identity outside of her parents' restaurant; it wasn't solely about looking pretty so she can catch guys.
In The Mirror Has Two Faces, the frumpy plain Jane professor played by Barbra Streisand gets fed up with her husband's obliviousness to her (although they did agree to a strictly platonic marriage), and spends the several weeks that he's away dieting, hitting the gym, and going to the beauty salon. By the time he returns, she looks terrific and has the self-confidence necessary to dump him.
In the Night Watch film, the latent sorceress Svetlana is portrayed as your typical "librarian" with an average hairdo and glasses. Cut to the sequel, Day Watch, where she finds out about her magical abilities, she now wears her hair down and throws away the glasses. Suddenly, she is extremely attractive to the main character, not to mention a lesbian make-out scene in the shower.
Done subtly in American Beauty with Jane and inverted with Angela. At the start of the film Thora Birch wears a lot of makeup to reflect how unhappy she is. As she starts dating Ricky and becomes a bit happier, she gradually wears less makeup as the film goes on. Mena Suvari then wears gradually more makeup as the film goes on, to reflect us finding out why she isn't so desirable.
Happens to a male teacher in Sleepover. Julie advises him to loosen his tie and take off his glasses, also messing up his hair a little. A woman at the club immediately shows an interest in him.
Referenced directly and mocked in the 2002 remake of Carrie, when the jock replies to his girlfriend's request to take Carrie to the prom.
Tommy: Can we make a rule that if it worked in a Freddie Prinze, Jr. movie, we can't do it real life?
Sue: What are you talking about?
Tommy: Some dumb chick-flick where he tries to turn this ugly girl into a prom queen, except she's really a supermodel and we're not supposed to notice because she's wearing glasses or something.
All Jennifer Grey has to do is take off her mousy cardigan and put on some lipstick to become a sex kitten in Dirty Dancing.
The Rough-Face Girl, an Algonquin story recorded at least as early as 1884. A girl becomes ugly from tending the fire all the time and getting the fire's sparks and soot all over her (or alternatively, deliberately scarred by her abusive sisters). She gets ridiculed by her cruel sisters and neighbors. But she alone can pass the Invisible Being's Secret Test of Character, and is revealed to be beautiful once she washes all the soot off (or alternatively, is healed of her scars).
Thanks to her Fairy Godmother and a Pimped-Out Dress, this happens to Cinderella. This is also the case in many related Fairy Tale variants, such as "Katie Woodencloak," "Donkeyskin," and "Cap o' Rushes." (Aarne-Thompson Type 501a, to fairy-tale scholars.)
The Ugly Duckling, Hans Christian Andersen, 1843. A large grey bird hatches in a duck's nest. He gets teased because he looks bad for a duckling. The ugly duckling runs away, matures, and discovers he's a beautiful swan.
There could also be a spoof of this when Hagrid "dresses up" for Madame Maxime. He tried to comb his hair, but comb teeth get all tangled up in it. He also wears a hideous furry suit.
Neil Gaiman's short story The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch plays with this: "Miss Finch" is not the title character's real name, but the narrator calls her that because,
"... it's what I thought when I first saw her... Like in one of those movies. You know. When they take off their glasses and put down their hair. 'Why, Miss Finch. You're beautiful.' "
Since this is a Gaiman story, the circumstances under which she takes off her glasses and puts down her hair turn out to be bizarre, surreal, and strangely disturbing.
In Darren Shan's The Thin Executioner, we see a rare example that doesn't involve a change in appearance when Jebel has his pick of all the women in Wadi and he chooses the dowdy servant girl Bas over the Wadi princess Debbat.
In book three of The Bartimaeus Trilogy, when Nathaniel first sees Kitty's aura as Bartimaeus sees it, he exclaims, "You're beautiful!" to which she replies sarcastically, "Only just now?"
It's a case of subjective viewpoint, however. The narration at this point is somewhat indicative of the viewpoint of Schmendrick, who has fallen in love with her.
Hmm, that's an interesting viewpoint. I always thought that line signified Molly is beautiful because of some feminine secret the unicorn whispered to her. Or maybe she's beautiful because she's human, which is something the Lady Amalthea never quite got the hang of.
Played straight with Honor Harrington, with a bit of Ugly Duckling thrown in. When she was young she actually was rather unattractive (never quite "ugly," per se, but tall and gangly and generally plain), but in recent years (starting a year or two before the first novel, On Basilisk Station) she has begun to grow into her looks, and is now described by most characters as having a sharp-edged and exotic beauty. The problem is that, with prolong, it took her sixty years to finally get to this point, so her self-image as an ugly child is pretty much carved in stone, compounded by the additional factors of an Attempted Rape in her childhood and having a mother who has always been regarded as gorgeous. When Honor finally accepts that she might be more attractive than she has always thought, she begins to use makeup and dress for style and realizes how much she has changed since her youth.
In Tales from Jabba's Palace, a collection of Star Wars short stories based around aliens in the background during the first half of Return of the Jedi the story about the "fat dancer" (remember her?) "reveals" that her species stores water (like a camel). By the end of a trek through Tatooine's desert after Jabba's death, she's thin and beautiful. Notable in that she considers herself to be quite attractive both before and after the trek.
In "One Lonely Night" Mike Hammer is infiltrating a ring of Dirty Communists, one of whom is a dowdy, plain looking girl whom he flirts with to get information. She later turns up at his apartment in "a dress that looked like it had been painted on" — it turns out she's a case of Drop Dead Gorgeous Underneath.
In A Wrinkle in Time, Meg Murry wears glasses and has mousy hair. After an emotional talk with Calvin, one of the most popular guys at her school, she cries and Calvin takes off her glasses, and comments that she has "dream-boat eyes." He then tells her to not let any other guy see her pretty eyes. Later in the series, she actually became prettier, and married to Calvin.
Deep Secret toys with this. Maree is fat, mousy, has a thin nose and thick glasses, and isn't especially known for her gorgeous dress. However, when Rupert falls in love with her, his perceptions change, and he finally realizes that she's beautiful, even if her physical appearance hasn't changed.
Implied in Tamora Pierce's Song of the Lioness books, when Alanna decides to break disguise for one night and attend a royal ball. Bonus points for making specific references to 'looking like Squire Alan in a dress' and 'doing something with Squire Alan's hair' to achieve the full effect. Although since Alanna is clearly described as being not ugly but not stunning either, it's more of an affirmation that she can actually look and act convincingly feminine if she wants.
Played with in Howl's Moving Castle. Sophie never saw herself as pretty and lacked the confidence and self-esteem to see it, though many characters would argue with her that she was. In fact, a curse that turned her into an elderly lady that helped Sophie gain confidence and appreciate herself for who she was.
She also felt that her two sisters are more prettier than her.
There's a touch of this in Lawrence Block's Ariel (Block). Ariel and klutzy Erskine are Puppy Love in the making (although they'd both disagree, because they're friends). Ariel notes in her diary, after describing a warm, funny conversation they've had, "What he should really do is get contact lenses when he's older. His eyes are really quite attractive."
In Robin McKinley's Beauty: A Retelling of Beauty and the Beast, Beauty is convinced at an early age that she's homely and avoids mirrors throughout her adolescence because of her self-consciousness. The Beast's castle is completely without mirrors or even still water, making it that much easier for her to avoid seeing herself; she is thus pleasantly surprised when at the end of the novel the (former) Beast points her at a mirror and she sees that she's bloomed over the course of the book into a very lovely young woman.
Charlotte Bronte played with this in Jane Eyre. She deliberately wrote Jane as poor and plain. She's called ugly numerous times by antagonists, so you expect it'll be like She Cleans Up Nicely when she's with Rochester. But the point of the story is that Rochester likes her looks because she's not conventionally pretty, because he knows that he is not.
In Neil R. Selden's The Great Lakeside High Experiment the main character decided that she and her male friends should pick a "nowhere girl" from their school and see what happened if they gave her a makeover and treated her like they were best friends. When the girl in question gained some self-confidence and started dressing better, one of the boys became attracted to her and when the main character got jealous and let the cat out of the bag the whole thing pretty much blew up in their faces.
The amnesiac "Thing," from Mary Brown's fantasy novel The Unlikely Ones, is an interesting and pretty effective variant on this trope: She has been cursed and enslaved by an evil witch, who forces her to hide her face behind a leather mask whenever she is out among people. The mask, combined with the fact that she's usually walking hunched-over due to terrible stomach cramps brought on by the witch's curse, causes the general population to think she's a hobgoblin in service of the witch. The only ones allowed to see her without her mask are her four Animal Companions, who have no concept of human beauty and honestly can't tell whether she is ugly or not. Of course, any reader who has even remotely paid attention can guess that the girl is stunningly gorgeous behind her mask, but for most of the novel Thing really has no reason to think of herself as anything but ugly.
The (initially) unnamed protagonist of Tanith Lee's The Birthgrave awakens in strange circumstances with no memory of who she is (she later discovers that the mysterious name "Karrakaz" that she's been hearing for a while is in fact her own), and believes she must be hideous because of the startled reactions she sees on the faces of the first few men she meets. For this reason she wears a mask for most of the book. It's only toward the end that she is finally persuaded to remove it, and discovers what the reader has probably already guessed.
Tanith plays with this a lot. She's also got it in Electric Forest and in The Silver Metal Lover, where the girl's controlling mother has been giving her drugs to make her unattractive.
The House of Night: the Book Burned reveals that if Rephaim chose good and became human, he would look "hotter then an Oklahoma blacktop in the middle of the summer". Just how attractive he could be is the only thing Aphrodite and Stevie Rae can agree on.
Norma in Watchers by Dean Koontz. She's the daughter of an emotionally abusive mother and she's terrified of men. During the course of the book, she gets an Important Haircut and suddenly everyone raves about how gorgeous she is.
Vin in Mistborn: The Original Trilogy starts the series as a street thief who deliberately tries not to look attractive to keep the men from noticing her. Then she gets recruited by a group of heroes and given dresses and a beauty treatment to allow her to infiltrate the nobility. She looks stunning when she lets herself.
During Dinoverse Will, seeking to call attention to himself with a stunt, proposes just this to Patience McCray, the toughest jock in the school. If he pays to get her a makeover and pretty clothes and she hangs on to his arm at his party, he'll look like he's tamed her and she'll show up the more feminine girls at school. Patience smiles sweetly, says she's never been so insulted in her life, and punches him.
That 80s Show, the short lived spin off of That 70s Show, actually managed to do this right by taking the very attractive Chyler Leigh and putting her in so much heavy goth punk rocker make up that she truly did become unrecognizable, allowing her natural beauty to shine more effectively for the rare occasions where she was seen without the punk make up.
The Dukes of Hazzard: In the non-canonical The Beginning (released as a made-for-TV film in 2005), 18-year-old Daisy is portrayed as a mousy nerd, complete with unkempt hair, bifocal glasses, heavy sweaters and plaid clothes along with baggy jeans. Then she applies for a job at the Boar's Nest and decides to shed all this for her trademark tight short-shorts, her hair let down and no more glasses.
An episode of MacGyver ("Twice Stung") references the cliche- for his next trick, Mac needs a woman's glasses, her hairpins and the top three buttons of her shirt (upper cleavage level). She complies and it turns out to be part of the con that they're pulling.
Jake 2.0 featured an almost painfully ridiculous invocation of this trope in episode 6 "Last Man Standing", wherein Diane Hughes (the NSA doctor tasked with monitoring Jake's nanite functions) accompanies an ailing Jake to a wedding to look after him. Despite the fact that Keegan Connor Tracy (the actress portraying Diane) is almost unfairly good looking, they pull this trope with her by straightening her hair and removing her glasses. The reveal is impressively goofy.
An early episode of Charles In Charge ("A Date With Enid", broadcast 12/05/84) featured some play with this trope. Enid, a classic early-80s girl nerd with ugly glasses and hair up in an awful style, is Douglas' first crush. She expresses a desire to be more attractive to him. Citing the old "take off glasses and shake out hair, voila she's beautiful" cliche, Enid fears that it won't be that easy for her. They spend the entire episode trying things to prettify her that fail horribly, only to discover at the end all she had to do was... take off her glasses and shake out her hair. Of course, the twist is that Douglas now thinks they "ruined" her...
A parody of this trope was done on the first season episode of Arrested Development, "Visiting Ours". G.O.B. has to seduce his father's secretary, and in the process he tells her to take off her glasses and let down her hair, revealing her to be cross-eyed with bad, poofy hair.
"OK, keep the hair, back on the glasses."
What makes this a more thorough subversion than usual is the fact that with her glasses and done up hair, she is reasonably attractive, but without them she becomes rather unnerving looking.
Ironically, Judy Greer is in fact quite attractive in real life. Fans speculate that the show was intentionally trying to make her incrementally more attractive with each new appearance (sometimes with justifications, like her stealing a bunch of money for breast augmentation surgery) until by her final appearance on the show she's pretty smokin' hot — but everyone still treats her the same way.
An episode of The Addams Family had something similar to this with Pugsley's teacher.
American Horror Story: Murder House plays this for pathos when Addie, who appears to have Down Syndrome, wants to "look pretty" for Halloween, wearing the makeup Violet put on her, instead of wearing the ugly rubber mask her mom wants her to wear. Her mom is furious at Addie for doing this, but eventually, reluctantly lets her daughter go out without the mask.
The Cosby Show had a notable inversion in the episode where Theo's teacher (Brazilian superstar Sonia Braga) came to dinner at the Huxtables' home. Prior to her appearance onscreen Theo had been describing her in unflattering terms, but when she finally arrives she is (to his shock and surprise) stunning. She stays stunning until she has to be "Teacher" again with his parents, at which point she casually puts her long hair up into a bun and puts on heavy glasses. She doesn't stop being beautiful, but the transformation is still impressive.
Lisa Zemo of Neds Declassified School Survival Guide, former epitome of the image of the Nerd with no fashion sense, big glasses, and chronic nasal problems, became "hot" when she returned after a season break with "a new haircut, new clothes, new contacts, and new allergy medication."
Parodied in an episode of Seans Show; "Tie your hair up. Now, put on these glasses. My God, you're beautiful!"
On Gilligan's Island, a homely girl shows up on the island... and when given a makeover, looks exactly like Ginger Grant.
Given that both characters were played by Tina Louise, people really should have seen this one coming.
Subversion in an episode of Midsomer Murders: A character, after killing off her love rivals, takes off her glasses, shakes down her hair, and goes looking for the object of her affection. He's creeped out, and when he learns what she's done, horrified.
This trope happens just around mid-run of Soap OperaYo soy Betty, la fea, where the titular protagonist, who has been considered ugly since birth, embraces a makeover. Interesting because the makeover is treated more as a metaphor of her newly gained maturity (and she resists at some stages), because not everybody thinks she looks prettier now, and because it happens by slow steps: first she gets a new hairdo; then she trades her ugly, horn-rimmed glasses for a pair of cute, modern, minimalist glasses; then she gets rid of her bad-fitting clothes and gets more fashionable ones; and in the last chapter of the soap she finally gets rid of her orthodontics treatment and shows the results.
Notably averted (dream sequences aside) in the US version's Ugly Betty since she doesn't seem to have many hang-ups about her body and her odd fashion sense is an expression of her individuality (although they will be addressing the braces soon).
A Star Trek: The Original Series episode does this with a beautification drug. A woman realizes she doesn't need it and her confidence was what was truly responsible for her attractiveness when she's given a placebo. (Turns out to be a Broken Aesop, though: Apparently, "confidence" completely re-does one's hair and makeup, makes the lighting more flattering, and even generates a soft focus effect.)
Inverted in the episode "The Menagerie" where it is ultimately revealed that Vina's Gaussian Girl beauty is, quite literally, only an illusion.
Her beauty was real, before she became horribly disfigured when her ship crash-landed on the planet, and she became older; the Talosians simply restored it via the illusion. Also this was done in "The Cage", the abandoned series-pilot; but it's made into an Aesop in "The Menagerie", when Pike also becomes horribly disfigured, and Spock risks everything to also give Pike the illusion of his former beauty.
Beauty and ability to move around and actually do stuff. Pike was horribly debilitated, Vina less so but not enviable (Pike makes a light blink once for yes and twice for no, and that's the extent of his functionality. Vina... think scoliosis or polio, when it comes to movement.)
Subverted in Gilmore Girls when Lane stops wearing her glasses to look better to Zach, who prefers her with them.
Another Male example: In an episode of That's So Raven the titular character decides to makeover an art student with glasses, shaggy hair, and a bad wardrobe. Of course, his handsome face and nice body always existed, and Raven begins to crush on him as soon as he finishes the transformation.
This is actually done twice with Willow in Buffy the Vampire Slayer: although she neither wears glasses nor her hair in a bun, this is done by changing her out of her overalls-'n-jumpers outfits she wore through the first three seasons; in "Homecoming" she looks gorgeous in her formal gown and in "Doppelgangland" she astonishes the boys when she puts on Vamp Willow's sexy black leather outfit. Examining her chest, she says "Oh. Look at these." And do they ever!
Thrice, actually. The first time was in "Halloween:". Buffy convinces Willow to dress a little more racily for Halloween and Willow proceeds to put her hair up, apply a bit of make-up and wear a midriff top with black mini skirt and boots. She eventually feels too self-conscious and goes out wearing a ghost costume over the outfit. At the end she tosses the costume away and walks more confidently in the original outfit just as her future boyfriend Oz drives by and notices her.
Oz: Who is that girl?
And of course it was played with in "Go Fish", with Buffy herself who confronts Angelus while drawing out the small stake she was holding her hair bun in place with, letting her hair fall in the process. Angelus immediately mocks the trope, saying "Why, Ms. Summers! You're beautiful!"
This trope could also be applied to Xander in "Go Fish." He spends the majority of the series in rather unflattering clothes, and goes undercover ("Not under much," as Buffy says) on the swim team, and Cordelia, Buffy, and Willow are rather stunned to find out that Xander has a good body when in a Speedo.
Inverted in the episode "Inca Mummy Girl". Willow wears a dowdy and unsexy Eskimo costume to a cultural party and remarks that maybe she should have worn something sexy. However Oz ends up noticing her because of the costume.
Lizzi in the Greek episode "See You Next Time, Sisters!" (yes, that's the episode title). Who knew that a straightening iron and a power suit could give a girl such confidence?
Though it was less a confidence issue and more busting her out of her Plucky Office Girl position to her boss, Tegan.
An episode of Cheers ("Abnormal Psychology") had Diane trying to get Lilith and Frasier together by asking Lilith for a hairpin to fix the refrigerator door. Frasier scoffs at her transparent methods, but Lilith lets her hair down, and the two are instantly inflamed with lust for each other.
In the second season The Man from U.N.C.L.E. episode "The Nowhere Affair", a THRUSH computer picks an ugly duckling sexy THRUSH scientist to seduce Napoleon Solo, in the hopes of reversing the Easy Amnesia that was induced when Solo took "Capsule B" before his capture by THRUSH. The scientist does the statutory transformation from geeky to hottie by, of course, taking off her ugly glasses and white lab coat and letting her hair down.
Alex from Heroes. A bespectacled, cute-at-best comic book nerd? Sorry, that position is already taken, and we've got quotas to fill. If it was just his "new identity" with a shave and one less pair of glasses, it would be debatable, but then that Shirtless Scene came out of left field...
Subverted in, of all places, The Muppet Show. Miss Piggy was doing her usual routine of flirting with the male guest star— in this case, John Denver:
Piggy: "Oh please, I would love to see you with your glasses off, Johnny, take them off for me please?" Denver: (Removes his glasses.) Piggy: (pause) "Put 'em back on, Denver."
The MTV show Made had a number of episodes where a Tomboy or nerd girls wanted to become homecoming queen and are given a coach to transform them into one. The most startling transformation was Kitty from season 4. She was a genuinely geeky but sweet girl with an anime obsession who wore glasses, and baggy clothes and was madeover into an incredibly gorgeous girl with a great body who proceeded to win second place in her high school beauty pageant.
Annie in Community seems to be undergoing an on-going process of this trope; it's suggested in her backstory that, as well as being a rather neurotic Hollywood Nerd she had problems with weight and acne which she's only overcome relatively recently, which coupled with her various neuroses and self-esteem issues mean that she doesn't fully realize exactly how attractive she really is.
In Family Matters S5:E23, Steve's Aunt Oona from Altoona comes for a visit. She appears just as awkward and nerdy as Steve himself. Harriet takes pity on her and gives her a makeover, which reveals her to be as beautiful as Donna Summer. Because she is Donna Summer.
In the Mexican telenovelas "Alcanzar Una Estrella II" and "Sonadoras", Laura and Lucia go through this after their makeovers.
In The Dick Van Dyke Show episode Somebody Has to Play Cleopatra, Miss Harding is a kindergarten teacher that goes from Hollywood Homely to stunning in ten seconds flat by discarding a baggy blouse, losing her eyeglasses, and letting her hair down to get into the role of Egyptian Queen. It works so well that none of the wives will let their husbands play Mark Antony, and Laura later says she's going to have Miss Harding banned from any role except script girl.
Felicity Smoak from Arrow once had to let her hair down, lose the glasses and dress sexy to infiltrate a casino. She looked gorgeous, to nobody's surprise◊.
Doug Stone's No. 1 country hit from 1991 "In a Different Light," which featured an outwardly ugly female co-worker of an office boy — her hair worn in a bun, thick glasses and unfashionable business suits. The guy fantasizes about taking her out and one night actually does. When the two have sex, he sees her in all her beautiful glory — hair falling down, no glasses and "love in your eyes."
Played Anviliciously straight in Taylor Swift's music video for "You Belong With Me". Taylor starts out in a Hollywood Homely "Nerd" get-up, which of course ends up being more attractive than the Conventional Beauty she becomes to turn her boy's head at the High School Dance. Note that both characters are played by Swift, so this may in fact be a Stealth Parody.
Their video for "Sharp-Dressed Man" gender-switches the same idea.
Katy Perry's nerdy character Kathy Beth Terry in "Last Friday Night" gets an 80's makeover for the party. Not explained how she ended up back in her original getup after passing out.
Played mostly straight in the musical Wicked where the very green Elphaba quite literally lets her hair down, takes off her glasses, and dons some lipstick before being told, "Why, look, miss Elphaba, you're beautiful" by her roommate. However, other than the Love Interest, no one seems to notice.
It is then subverted: Elphaba rushes from the room in tears, shows up the next day in a flirtier wardrobe, and earning everyone's notice because they know exactly how her roommate "fixed" her. Elphaba's future love interest then tells her that she really doesn't have to change herself, she's just fine. She never follows Glinda's makeover tips again, seeing as the costume department is too busy slowly transforming her into the Wicked Witch of the West.
Then in Act II,
Elphaba: I just wish... Fiyero: What? Elphaba: I wish I could be beautiful... for you. Fiyero: Elphaba... Elphaba: Don't tell me that I am, you don't need to lie to me. Fiyero: It's not lying! It's... uh... it's looking at things another way.
Avoided in Hairspray. Tracy Turnblad is short and overweight and her make-over can only do so much. Then again, she became popular before the make-over, which is more of a perk of already being popular, by winning the crowd over due to her upbeat attitude and dance ability rather than looks. The love interest, Link Larkin, likes her because she makes him grow as a person, and because he's narcissistic enough to be beautiful enough for both of them. Tracy's mother, Edna Turnblad, is traditionally played by a man, compounding the problems. Her husband, however, doesn't even notice the make-over, as he is in love with her no matter what (and he's as thick as a 1960's bomb shelter door when it comes to noticing things).
There were casting calls for a local production of the play in Argentina. Even thought the ad for the casting calls clearly demanded overweight teenagers for the role of Tracy, some skinny/normal girls ignored this and auditioned for the role anyway.
With regards to Edna, in her case it's really a "Fabulous All Along" moment.
Liza Elliott undergoes this sort of transformation at the end of the first act of Lady in the Dark. It's not such a surprise to the audience, since her glamorous self has already appeared in two Dream Sequences.
The character of Phoebe in Hoodwinks. She is introduced as the secretary with her hair up in a bun, glasses and wearing a baggy shawl. At the end of the play Clete takes off her glasses, pulls her hair down and unwraps the shawl to reveal a fashionable gown, saying "I always knew you were a pretty girl, Phoebe". This happens before the ending musical number.
Parodied in Me and My Dick. Joey finally decides that he loves Sally, and even thinks that maybe she wouldn't be quite so ugly without her glasses. He removes them...and she immediately goes cross-eyed, prompting him to put them right back on.
Latooni Subota from Super Robot Wars Original Generation wears eyeglasses during the first half of the first game, being a shy and quiet gothic lolita of some sort. One time, her friends make her wear girly clothes and take out her glasses, that attracts many of the Hagane's crew members.
Tink, of all people, turns out to be this at the end of Disgaea 2.
Emma Emmerich suddenly attracts Raiden's interest when she takes off her glasses in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, but it's a subversion when it's shown she's just wearing empty frames because she likes glasses, and she doesn't care whether or not she's prettier without them. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots does this twice, to male characters - first when Otacon switches to contact lenses at Naomi's suggestion, and secondly when Johnny takes off his mask and darkens his hair, revealing that all this time he looked like a ridiculously Bishōnen version of Solid Snake.
In DRAMAtical Murder, Clear wears a heavy-duty gas mask at all times because he's afraid that his face will be too disturbing for people to look at. In his path, Aoba persuades him to finally take the mask off, and... you guessed it, the only thing about Clear's face that disturbs him is how distractingly pretty it is.
On Homestar Runner, in the tenth issue of Strong Bad's independent comic Teen Girl Squad, a frumpy gal known throughout the series as "The Ugly One" gets made up for her birthday: she trades in her usual clothes, hairstyle, and glasses for more stylish ones, and even Strong Bad is impressed by the transformation: "Woah! Did I draw that new hotness?"
In Triquetra Cats, Rain Soricha in her adopted civilian life wore a pair of thick spiral lensed Nerd Glasses. When she becomes a super powered magic user, she removes them to reveal big sparkly doe eyes, which takes everyone by shock.
Then Shaenon Garrity does it straight (more or less) in Skin Horse in the Tin Soldier story arc, when dumpy little Marcie of the Department of Irradiation gets a makeover from TipWilkins. Her glasses get changed to better glasses, her hair stays up in a perm, but the rest of the trope plays out precisely, including everyone suddenly seeing her as sexy. On the other hand, Hot Scientist Dr. Lee already looks extremely sexy with her hair up and her glasses on. No makeover needed there.
Played straight in Kevin & Kell, where Lindesfarne helps Fiona in this way. Later inverted, when Fiona undoes the change to escape unwanted attention — and going negative, by developing huge ears that she considers unflattering.
Amber in Shortpacked! manages to pull this off without losing the glasses, just getting new ones.
The hairstyle and more flattering clothing helped, but the point still stands. Especially since they weren't that different from what she wore previously.
Done with shameless Anviliciousness in Nip and Tuck, where Thelma enters a beauty contest... and things go drastically bad half-way through. Cue one near-Narmish "pep talk" from Tuck and "Gosh, I am beautiful!"
This was actually a followup to her previous "metamorphosis," when she suddenly began wearing less dowdy clothes, changed her hair, etc.... and actually scared off her romantic interest, Tuck, with her sudden transformation.
Marigold: I fucking hate it in movies and TV shows where they have the nerdy weirdo girl and all they have to do is comb her hair and put on some makeup and all of a sudden she's so beautiful how did we ever not notice before. That's not how it works in real life. It's bullshit.
The Saga of Tuck characters spend an awful lot of time trying to convince Jill that she looks pretty in a dress and make-up. Several characters later sign up for the cosmetology vocation course simply to work the "magic" out for themselves.
Parodied by The Nostalgia Chick in the Teen Witch review. She starts out with a prim, buttoned white shirt, the usual pigtails and her glasses. Then Madonna starts playing, she loses the shirt (she's got something on under it, don't get excited boys and girls), takes off the glasses and shakes out her hair. BUT THEN, she puts on a weird top, does her hair in a side-ponytail and puts the glasses back on, making her look ridiculously 80s-ish.
Played straighter by The Nostalgia Critic, who hated how he looked as a kid and young teenager, but now is relieved to be a Pretty Boy adult who gets a lot of attention (whether it's creepy/rapey or the nice kind).
The entire concept is demonstrated on thisIndexed card.
Subverted repeatedly on Daria. She is pretty, but has chosen to not play it up because she thinks doing so would be vain. Averted outright at least once though, when Daria was getting fitted for a wedding dress and the seamstress said her body had no curves, making it impossible to fit the dress right. And the dress hung off her like a smock for the rest of the episode.
On Clone High, the last two episodes just sort of mocked this trope. Joan is already quite good-looking, and as Abe tries to find her "hidden beauty" he just insults her unintentionally.
Subverted in the South Park episode "The List". Kyle convinces one of the ugly girls to take off her coke bottle eye-magnifying glasses. Turns out that her eyes are tiny and practically on the sides of her head.
Kyle: Let's just... put those back on.
Yet another subversion, in a scene from The Flintstones On the Rocks: Wilma walks into the bedroom with her hair down and in skimpy clothing, complete with Sexophone accompaniment. Fred at first seems to react according to the trope, but it turns out that Wilma was blocking his view of the TV. Seriously, we are in serious need of straight examples in this section...
Starfire is an odd example in the Teen Titans episode "Transformation". She's beautiful to begin with, but the change she undergoes in the episode (which is similar to Tameranian puberty, but more extreme in her case) turns her ugly - temporarily. When it's over, she's not only beautiful again, she's far more powerful, as if the short "ugly period" was needed to strengthen her powers.
Gwen Stacy in The Spectacular Spider-Man. Seriously, she went from one of the cast's dowdiest female members to flat out gorgeous. Mary Jane was too kind.
A straight (if over-the-top) example occurs in an episode of Duckman in which Cornfed meets a secretary who morphs into a supermodel when she undoes her hair/takes off her glasses.
Sheldon from The Replacements is a scrawny, weak Nerd, who walks with a hunch and has a Jerry Lewis-esque voice...until he takes off his glasses and we find he is incredibly muscular with a stronger and more masculine voice. It turns out that his glasses are so heavy they act as weights and keep his from walking upright.
Subverted when Todd tries to see if Sheldon's sister is the same, only to walk away trembling when he finds out that she's not.
Another straight if over-the-top example occurs in The Simpsons where Lisa is inspired to take dancing lessons. She and Marge are watching a film where the male protagonist chooses a woman named "Lisabella" to be his dance partner. She initially looks very bookish but on removing her glasses, letting her hair down and having the top buttons of her blouse pop off is revealed to be stunning.
The New Batman Adventures episode "Mean Seasons" plays it straight as a twist. A villain going by the name "Calendar Girl" kidnaps various fashion and cosmetics bigwigs in order to exact her revenge from them. The villain wears a metal mask that conceals her face completely and constantly fumes about how the industry has ruined her, especially her beautiful face. In the end of the episode, it is revealed that she is flawlessly beautiful, but is so distraught by her perceived flaws that she believes herself to be immeasurably hideous.
For the first two seasons of Justice League Hawkgirl always wore a Wolverine-like mask giving her black dots for eyes◊ and you never saw her whole face. At the end of the season two episode "Wild Cards" she sits at the bedside of an injured Green Lantern in the Watchtower. The two have been building a romance for the past two years. Green Lantern finally takes off her mask and she's revealed to be absolutely gorgeous◊ with beautiful green eyes.
You can practically hear John's brain screaming "JACKPOT!!!" the way he smiles right after.
In an episode of Unlimited, Huntress jokingly declares The Question (Vic Sage, the male one) to be the ugliest guy ever to wear a featureless mask all the time. Even after the Relationship Upgrade, she still hadn't seen his face. In part of the season finale, Q is beaten to within an inch of his life. He lets her remove his mask to kiss him, and he remarks that she was right on her joke. She still finds him attractive.
In the Comedy Central series Drawn Together, Clara's retarded cousin "Bleh," who normally wore confining clothes and a protective helmet, turns out to be more than "not just hot— but retarded hot" because of her slack jaw and dual lazy-eyes making her look impossibly sexy for a "normal" girl.
Family Guy plays this with Meg, who goes from a girl who's so ugly that people commit suicide by burning themselves to death rather than look at her to a very attractive woman. Meg eventually abandons it after becoming conceited, being humiliated on national television, and deciding that it is too hard to maintain.
In Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated episode "Mystery Solvers Club State Finals", the principal of the school (where the finals are held) looks very professional and...well, not unattractive. Yet it's not until she saves a life from drowning that she feels "alive!" She tosses off her glasses, releases her flowing hair from bun-captivity, and possibly the top button on her coat becomes undone, becoming the kind of school official whose office a teenaged boy wouldn't mind being sent.
Beautifully averted in the episode, "Beauty and the Wildebeest", of Timon & Pumbaa where Rafiki helps an ugly wildebeest improve his looks and manners so that he can romance a beautiful gazelle that he has a crush for. In the end the gazelle, touched when the wildebeest is willing to reveal his hideous visage to scare off a rival at her birthday party, removes her makeup and reveals herself to be just as ugly as he is and they both share a kiss before the end credits.
Subverted in the Avatar parody episode of American Dad!, where Phyllis, a girl interested in Steve, lets down her hair and takes off her glasses to reveal... an unkempt afro and beady eyes. Double Subversion in that he still finds her attractive. Possibly moreso.
Male example: a regular feature of the reality show "Beauty and the Geek" was a mid-season makeover for all of the remaining geeks. It was always quite surprising how well some of them turned out. In particular, Wes from Season 2 was transformed from a mop-headed nerd into a shocking handsome man with just a haircut, contacts, and a new set of clothes.
One of the show's dirty little secrets was that they specifically cast "geeks" who they knew would clean up well - you'll notice you never saw any who weighed 300 pounds or had terrible acne - sometimes the geeks were even "uglied up" so that their "makeovers" just returned them to the way they usually looked. At least one, for example, was told in his "makeover" to ditch his thick-framed glasses and switch to contact lenses; thing is, the guy only ever wore contacts in real life before going on the show. Since plenty of the applicants were just regular guys trying to seem as geeky as they could to get on TV, it wasn't hard to find presentable ones.
A large number of people go through this in real life, no extreme makeover necessary. When they're young, most people tend to follow passing trends exactly, or allow other people to make choices for them (parents choosing clothes, friends "suggesting" certain things, etc.) However, after a few years, and a hefty amount of trial and error, most people tend to find what works specifically for them. For women, it's finding what products work with your complexion, and what hairstyle (long, short, lighter, darker, etc.) complements their face, while men tend to find out that some faces look wrong with facial hair, and others look wrong WITHOUT it. Alongside the ending of puberty, which makes everyone's face and body go haywire during high school, and a very awkward teenager can become a very attractive 20-something.
The best-looking people tend to have a lot of help (via personal trainers, salons, fashion-consultants etc), while those with a poor self-image can neglect or even sabotage their appearance so it's conceivable that some people can undergo quite a change; likewise, illness typically harms one's appearance, so improving health can likewise make a substantial difference. And vice-versa.
A Daily Mail writer willfully underwent a personal makeover to look more like the women of The Only Way Is Essex, the British equivalent of Jersey Shore. Final tally: 8 hours, 1,200 pounds, and this comment from the writer herself: "I look like a Quality Street. And yet, as I peer at the women tottering around me in Loughton, I seem to fit right in."
Many of the young actors in the Harry Potter movies started out as average and geeky looking as befit their characters and became very attractive as they grew up. The most noteworthy examples are Emma Watson (Hermione Granger) and Matthew Lewis (Neville Longbottom).
In the 1990s during the Clinton administration, First Daughter Chelsea Clinton (a mere pre-teen when her father was elected) was often the subject of downright cruel mocking of her looks by conservatives, including those who were hardly in a position to talk about good looks. However, as Chelsea grew into adulthood, she became at least as attractive as her mother. YMMV