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Dear Abby: When I was in my teens, and even into my 20s and 30s, I was a Plain Jane. I had little self-confidence. But strangely, I'm one of those people who has gotten better looking as I've aged. Now in my 50s, I am better looking than many women my age or even younger. Men definitely notice me, and I love it.

My problem is, I'm now obsessed with my appearance. I constantly worry that I'll lose my looks. I have even considered cosmetic surgery. I don't want to be the shallow person I see I'm becoming. What can I do? — LATE BLOOMER

Dear Late Bloomer: There's a saying, "You can fool Mother Nature, but you can't fool Father Time." What it boils down to is, time takes its toll on everyone.

It isn't shallow to have the feelings you are experiencing. But please remember that beauty is more than what's on the surface. Perhaps it's time to start concentrating on qualities that accentuate your inner rather than external beauty — kindness, warmth, intelligence, generosity, an appreciation for the value of others — because charm lasts longer than beauty.

This is not to say I don't appreciate the value of cosmetic surgery, which can do wonders for a person's sagging ego. But your appearance should not be the focus of your life because, frankly, it isn't healthy.

Dear Abby: I am writing in response to the letter from "Military Service Marker" you printed on Dec. 22. When my uncle, a military veteran, passed away, he was without a military service marker, too. His two kids (my cousins) didn't bother to obtain one, probably out of sheer laziness.

Feeling that it was important, I took the initiative and contacted the VA myself. I obtained the record of his honorable discharge (form DD 214) and his death certificate. I filled out the appropriate paperwork and my uncle got the marker to which he was entitled free of charge. It was delivered directly to the cemetery, and the only cost involved was the installation. It was well worth it, and I have never asked my cousins for a dime. I felt proud about having done something for a deserving vet! — BILL B. IN MISSOURI

Dear Bill: My thanks to you and to the scores of other readers who wrote to share this information with me. It is important to know that relatives of deceased military veterans can receive these military markers at no cost. Starting the process is as easy as contacting the cemetery, the VA at www.cem.va.gov/hmm/ or a local VFW or American Legion post for assistance.

Dear Abby: I need advice on whether to contact an old friend who backstabbed me years ago with my former business partner. I'm trying to get back into the field, and this old "friend" is doing well now. He has a lot of contacts that could help me start my own company. I'm not sure if I should contact him because of what he did to me. Should I? — UNCERTAIN IN CALIFORNIA

Dear Uncertain: Frankly, I think it would be a waste of time. Leopards don't usually change their spots. If you expect someone who backstabbed you once in business to become generous and helpful, you are dreaming. Find another way to network that he can't "taint," because if he can, he will.

Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Contact Dear Abby at www.DearAbby.com or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.

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