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Reclaiming Ugliness

reclaiming-ugly

Imogen discusses the concepts of beauty and ugliness, and calls for us to reclaim the word ugly as an act of subversion against misogyny.

His words provoke a wave of disgust within me; an unshakable feeling of ugliness.

‘No one wants to kiss you, Imogen. You’re ugly.’

A nine-word slap across my face. Ouch.

It’s 2004. I’m five years old. We’re playing kiss chase, and I’ve spent the past half hour loitering  close to the group of boys in an attempt to make it easier to catch me.

Apparently it isn’t my nimble speed that was causing them difficulties. The realisation rises within me and looks like lava on my face: no one wants to kiss me. Five years old, and literally no one wants to kiss me. I haven’t even hit puberty yet and I’m already destined for the life of a miserable spinster.

I laugh and pretend they are too slow to get me anyway; run solitary laps of the playground whilst the other children run rings around me.

His words provoke a wave of disgust within me; an unshakable feeling of ugliness.

Thirteen years later and I’m still being teased by the same thoughts: in the classroom whilst teenage boys sneer at my spots, in the changing rooms as gaggles of girls gasp at my body hair, in nightclubs when grown men tell me I am ‘unfanciable’. I’m chasing beauty like those little boys chased lips; forcefully, urgently, relentlessly. It has remained a prominent goal throughout my life, despite the fact we tell ourselves our interpretations of beauty mature with age. I can call myself an adult now, and talk of how beauty is a substance that lies within – an attitude rather than an image – and I know my spotty, hairy body isn’t really ‘ugly’. I know it. But I still can’t help but feel it is. That there are parts of me that are repulsive and awful; and, worse still, that I can look at others and see these parts too.

 I’m chasing beauty like those little boys chased lips; forcefully, urgently, relentlessly.

So I’m on the search for a solution. And no, I don’t mean emptily complimenting each other and posting inspirational beauty quotes on instagram until we feel slightly better. It’s time to reclaim the word ugly. I’m taking it for our own. For too long we have reached for beauty as though that is our full potential; a concept that is skewed by the media into unrealistic images of passive, posed prettiness. With each photo, advert, glossy magazine cover we see, we push our ‘beauty’ standards to higher, unreachable levels. It’s time to accept that we are never going to ‘beautiful’ by the media’s standards. Beneath this make up, behind that instagram filter, we are still little sacks of blood and bones and sweat and spots. And that’s okay. We can crush beauty between our thunder thighs. We can be so much more.

 Ask yourself: where is the meaning in beauty when we are treated with such ugliness?

Ask yourself: where is the meaning in beauty when we are treated with such ugliness? When the concept of beauty itself is a cradle for misogyny? The beauty industry is an enterprise aimed largely at women; I challenge you to think for one second that any business within it cares about how thick your eyebrows are or how full your lips look. These are pressures put upon women to get them to buy beauty products; like any commodity, we are business, a money making scheme. We have been exposed to these misogynistic images day in and day out, and, in turn, men and women alike have internalised and reasserted them. I have been policed with the fear of being unattractive my entire life; ‘ugly’ is a four letter dagger I have cowered from.

And this is not to say I have not been stabbed with it; that womankind as a whole has not been wounded with ugliness. Tell me what beauty is when, at 14 years old, I was punished in school for wearing shorts that were too ‘distracting’? When we were banned from wearing coloured bras beneath our white polos for the same reason? Are we beautiful when page three still exists? When the highest power in US office will brag about sexually assaulting women?

We have had our confidence and pride taken from us, our bodies manipulated into other people’s hourglass fantasies, and now it is time to take something back. This is not the time for prettiness and likability; the least I can do is be as ugly as the violence my sisters have endured. I have an undeniable urge to be as repulsive to misogynists as I possibly can be, an urge to show them the reflection of what they have created. Whether you’ve been rated a ‘ten’ or a ‘two’, you have still been beaten down and objectified – so why buy into it? I no longer want to be desired.

 These words are dressed head to toe in misogyny, a violent dialogue surrounding women that I too have internalised.

We have become too entwined with the grotesque ideas of beauty. When I draw my eyebrows on each morning for fear of looking too fair haired; I am reproducing these images. When I feel a pang of judgement at the woman with a muffin top; I am reproducing these images. When a man slaps my bum as I walk into a club; he is reproducing these images. When the media attacks Susan Boyle for being too ‘ugly’, or Melania Trump for being too ‘pretty’, they are reproducing these images. These words are dressed head to toe in misogyny, a violent dialogue surrounding women that I too have internalised. I have experienced this outlook particularly in secondary school, resonating in the giggles of girl cliques and the corners of PE fields. Too fat, too wonky, too loud, too weird.

Now, I want to be so disgusting I am feared. I will take pride in my hairy legs, my blotchy face, my bloated waistline; an untouchable hurricane of hideousness. Our quest for beauty has led us down a grisly path. I will be ugly. And– perhaps – I will find true beauty in that.

Do you think beauty standards are violent? Should we aim for ugliness instead of beauty? Let us know your thoughts. @rifemag

If you would like a safe space to chat about some of the topics raised in this article with fellow women, check out Project ZAZI