The Problem With Ugliness


A recent conversation: Maggie: Do you think people are either attractive or unattractive? Kate: My mother was on the phone last night, saying, “You have to stop putting yourself down. You sound ridiculous.”

I was saying, “But I feel bad sometimes. I’m just being honest.” She wasn’t buying it. She is a staunch defender of my awesomeness. I definitely plan on being the same way with my eventual children. My fiancé likes to tease me by saying, “But what if they’re actually ugly?” We have this little debate. I say, “They won’t be to me. Or to other people who love them.”

“But what if you can just tell that they’re objectively ugly?”

“I’ll still try to make them feel beautiful.”

“But what if they just know they aren’t?”

“Then I’ll make sure they’re really, really smart.” It’s not an easy problem.

My mom said, “Some people are actually unattractive. You aren’t one of them.”

I thought, “Is it ridiculous that I feel bad about myself? Maybe I AM objectively attractive. Then I don’t ever have to think about this stuff again.” And then I thought, “Who are those actually unattractive people?” Do they know who they are? What’s the line that divides us? How are we split up?

It seems to me like the standards change a lot. In some places and times, women are ugly just because they’re heavy. Sometimes it takes more. Sometimes it’s a skin color. A hair color. Sometimes it’s a combination of a lot of things. And even when it’s a combination of hundreds of tiny factors, I wonder who gets to look at a woman and determine she’s ugly. Everyone does, right? But how does everyone collectively decide? It seems to me like even in cases where a woman doesn’t meet a whole army of beauty requirements, there are probably still people in the world who will find her attractive. In fact, I’d be shocked if there weren’t. So then being ugly is a numbers thing. It’s a democratic process. Everyone has to decide together, and the majority rules.

I have some problems with that. First of all, it’s not that easy to tell what the majority has decided. Some women turn heads everywhere they go. Most women don’t. Most women turn heads SOME of the places they go. Some almost never do, but can still definitely be considered attractive. Even the women who turn heads consistently are not necessarily considered attractive by most people. Maybe they simply have really big breasts. That seems to do the trick. Or maybe they wear revealing clothing. Or maybe they are tall and thin.

I don’t always agree with the general public. In fact, most of the time, we like different things. For example, I don’t understand what people like about reality TV. Or most cars. Or candy. I really don’t like candy. Here’s a big one: I don’t understand why people drink as much as they do. I have never liked the taste of alcohol, and never felt at all interested in getting tipsy or drunk. In college, everyone else was very interested in both of those things. That’s the College Experience. Everyone expected me to get drunk. When I came back on breaks, adults who knew me would make little “so-getting drunk a lot?” jokes constantly. I laughed along and had no idea why I was supposed to be throwing up all over myself in the basement of a frat house. So yeah. I don’t get it. I don’t get so many of the things the majority likes. Why should beauty be any different?

What if a woman lives in a cabin in the middle of a vast wilderness? With no mirror. What then? These are important questions we must always ask ourselves. Much like I must always ask myself, “How can it be that the subway randomly sees fit to skip my stop on days when I absolutely needed to be on it five minutes ago?” Alright, that last question should maybe be filed in a different category.

I can see all of the ways that I can fit into the idea of ugly on some days. But on the flip side, I can also see ways in which everyone, and I really mean everyone, can fit into the the idea of attractive. Even if I don’t personally find them attractive.

Maybe the key is that the standards people use to judge attractiveness need to constantly be reevaluated themselves. And even the concept of having standards to judge people’s attractiveness needs to be reevaluated. And after we do all that, we need to shrug and admit that we live in a world where people judge each other based on appearance, and that’s not going to change, just like people aren’t going to stop watching reality TV and eating candy and getting very, very drunk (sometimes all at the same time). But that doesn’t actually mean we can’t all find a way to feel beautiful and be beautiful to the people who matter.

Ugliness sucks. And it doesn’t hold water.

This post
originally appeared at Eat the Damn Cake. Republished with permission.

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