The actress, activist and mom of 3 graces this year's cover of The Beautiful Issue

By Julie Jordan
April 26, 2019 08:00 AM
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Growing up in West Virginia, this year’s The Beautiful Issue cover girl affectionately describes her style at the time as “band geek-chic.”

“I was so not one of the pretty girls that I just bypassed insecurity and didn’t see myself as attractive at all. It was not part of my life,” Jennifer Garner tells PEOPLE, laughing.

RELATED: Jennifer Garner Graces the Cover of PEOPLE’s 2019 Beautiful Issue

Yet Garner, 47, was grateful to her family for keeping her so grounded. “I felt good about myself back then! That is the lucky trick,” she adds. “Looks weren’t a big deal in my family. I don’t think my parents ever said ‘You’re pretty’ and so we just didn’t think about it.”

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Jennifer Garner
| Credit: Thomas Whiteside

The “Garner girls,” which included the actress and her two sisters, also had rules when it came to makeup. “I wasn’t allowed to wear it, but then I, of course, put it on during home room,” she says. “You got it? You with me?”

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The actress cringes now when she thinks back to her “look” after years of doing summer stock theater. “I had a tackle box of stage makeup and so I thought that if I wanted to look pretty, I should wear that same makeup,” she says. “So I wore a pancake makeup. I drew on blush. I basically looked like Raggedy Ann. Even in pictures, I have this oddly white face, with I don’t even know. But it’s bad. It’s really bad.”

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Jennifer Garner
| Credit: Tibrina Hobson/Getty

Watch the full episode of The Beautiful Issue Cover Story: Jennifer Garner streaming now on PeopleTV.com, or download the PeopleTV app on your favorite device.

Asked about the first time someone called her beautiful, Garner recalls a moment during her freshman year at Denison University in Ohio.

“When I was walking across the quad, a guy stopped me and said, ‘You know that all the seniors think you’re pretty,’ and I was so floored!” she says. “Because I had never concerned myself about being pretty, and I was just like, ‘What?! Really? Are you sure you have the right person?’ But I still remember it.”

For more of our exclusive interview with Garner, pick up this week’s The Beautiful People issue on newsstands Friday and check out all of our coverage on PEOPLE.com