I understand your perspectives.
It's wonderful that by the end of the story, she realizes that her strength as a human being is in being able to relate with children, and that she prides herself on being a teacher. In that sense, she has succeeded, because she has found a sense of comfort and solace for herself, and feels comfortable with her place as a human being.
However, she defines this realization in the context of her "looking beautiful" in a picture with the kid. In other words, she's equating her fulfillment and strength as a human being again with her physical appearance. This conclusion is reached after listing several negative remarks regarding her physical appearance (the plastic surgeon, the French guy, etc).
My point is that it is okay for someone to be comfortable and happy in admitting that they are an average looking person physically. I mean, let me be honest, I'm an average looking guy, and many of us are probably average looking people
But I know I have many strengths as a writer, as a friend, as a hard working person, as a respectful person, and so on. I know that Micaela Blei (the speaker) is an equally wonderful person who is clearly passionate about her students and giving a great contribution as a person to this world. But it concerns me that she is still defaulting to "beauty" in the traditional physical sense. This says a lot about how she continues to view people.
I think this is why I see it as a bit of a sad story. She's made a bit of progress in developing her self-esteem, but in a manner that still heralds physical beauty as the optimum.
For a lot of things in my life, acceptance of who I am has given me peace of mind. I think it's almost cathartic to be able to say to someone else - "she/he is a very beautiful woman/man," and not feel that physical beauty is something we must measure up to as well. After all, all of us have strengths, but not all of us necessarily look like supermodels.