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On Being Ugly: An Argument for the Total Irrelevance of Beauty
January 13, 2014 3:24 PM   Subscribe

"Ultimately, feeling ugly or feeling beautiful can feel like the same thing, as long as you don't feel like either one of them has to get in the way of what you can do and of who you can be. Because they shouldn't, and they don't." (SLYT, autogenerated transcript available via the transcript button below the video.) via Socimages
posted by ocherdraco (46 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite

 
also: Moving Towards The Ugly: A Politic Beyond Desirability by Mia Mingus
posted by divabat at 3:59 PM on January 13


I understand what she's trying to get at, but I had a hard time getting past when she said that she didn't like people telling her that she's not ugly because I was looking at her and thinking "but....you're not." And she isn't. "Ugly", to my mind, would be if she had teeth growing out of the middle of her nose and suppurating tumors with pus dripping out of them or something.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:09 PM on January 13 [3 favorites]


I immediately assumed this was going to be Lizzie Velasquez (the TED talk that's been going around this week).
posted by K.P. at 4:16 PM on January 13 [2 favorites]


Surely, that she feels ugly is the issue. I mean, telling someone "no, you are not this thing you assert you are," leaving out obvious delusion, is... well, a big step to take.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:20 PM on January 13 [2 favorites]


Yeah, she looks really... normal.

I get what she's talking about, though. And I think it might just be the word "ugly" I'm rebelling at. I know she mentions not being able to shower in the beginning of the video, so maybe she doesn't normally present herself the way she is presenting in this video, but my first thought when I saw her -- and a thought I typically have about myself a lot and see other sort of nerdy women have in general -- is that she's just not one of those Girls. She's not wearing makeup or contact lenses or particularly stylish clothes. Her hair is unstyled.

I often feel like I just wouldn't know where to start with all that stuff. Like being A Girl isn't for me. Which can often go hand in hand with feeling ugly, and definitely causes the whole concept of Pretty to become problematic. Because when I Do All The Girl Things, I look in the mirror and what I see looking back at me is so unfamiliar that it is sort of an uncanny valley type of experience. Like, that woman in the mirror is NOT ME. So pretty equals ugly. And I go back to being a lot more comfortable and self confident if I can do whatever it is in a hoodie with my hair in a ponytail and no makeup. Plain becomes beautiful because it's how I'm most comfortable. Pretty becomes ugly because I don't feel like myself.

I think her whole thing might have come off a little clearer if she'd said "plain" instead of "ugly".
posted by Sara C. at 4:20 PM on January 13 [13 favorites]


"if she had teeth growing out of the middle of her nose and suppurating tumors with pus dripping out of them or something"

Goalpost moving dismisses her experience. Imagine if she were talking about a disability and someone said "really disabled is if you are in constant pain 24 / 7 and can only move one eyelid, so I don't see why you are talking about being disabled".

The fact that it is hard to call her ugly without sounding insulting is part of the problem. Why should ugly have to be an insult? Why can't it be a simple fact about somebody?
posted by idiopath at 4:27 PM on January 13 [15 favorites]


She clarifies what she's talking about in a second video. Spoiler alert: there is a surprise cat.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:43 PM on January 13 [1 favorite]


The fact that it is hard to call her ugly without sounding insulting is part of the problem. Why should ugly have to be an insult? Why can't it be a simple fact about somebody?

By the same token, why not take the realization that "there is something inherantly beautiful about any living thing," and expand one's own definition of "beauty" as a result rather than insisting "but I'm ugly" simply because "but I'm not beautiful like that"? That wouldn't be dismissing her experience, that would be incorporating her experience, of finding beauty in every living thing.

I'm just responding to what sounds like her own excluding herself from that definition of "every living thing".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:45 PM on January 13 [1 favorite]


"when I say I am ugly, I am not hating on myself" (quote from GenjiandProust's follow up link)
posted by idiopath at 4:48 PM on January 13 [1 favorite]


She also addresses the two meanings of beauty she uses in the follow up video.
posted by idiopath at 4:50 PM on January 13


A: Is there anyone - anyone - who doesn't feel ugly sometimes?
B: Jane Eyre describes herself as 'plain' frequently, and she rocks unco' hard [despite not actually being real and marrying a ... well, let's not spoil it].
C: I like it. The powerful perspectives she brings to her experience are much more important than the word 'ugly'.

It's a freighted word all right. I think its power to belittle and shame really comes out of point A though. And that's not going away. We'll always reach for something to describe the worthlessness we sometimes (undeservedly, usually) feel in ourselves, and some of us will try to cope with that by pointing it at others.

But in the final analysis, if I may add my feather to the bonfire, "fuck that noise". I think I'm charitably to be described as plain myself, and, for now at least, proud of it.
posted by aesop at 4:54 PM on January 13


"Being beautiful is not an accomplishment."

I really like that. I really wish that we lived in a culture where people actually got credit for things that ARE accomplishments, things that take work and courage and commitment and effort, rather than being treated as though their random good fortune (to be "beautiful" by the current standard, or to be born into a rich family, or even to be gifted with above-average intelligence) were something they had worked hard to achieve.

From the earliest time I can remember in my life, when I was still crawling, people treated me differently, as though I had more worth, as though I were more lovable, based on whether or not my mom had curled my hair that day or put the frilly baby dress on me. I'm serious. I knew that shit was wrong when I was two years old, and it derailed parts of my life for a long time. It sent the clear message that I was not to be valued for who I was or what I did or what I cared about, but rather based on this wholly arbitrary status-signalling trait.
posted by Ouisch at 4:55 PM on January 13 [12 favorites]


The way you look is not a competition. So many women really feel that it is and they feel it's not a competition they can win so you get these weird passive aggressive life is not fair, self-hating rants against other women or society. It's possible for everyone to take pride in their appearance and think they are killing it, it's not a zero sum game. It's also possible to not give two shits about the way you look without calling yourself names.

And this woman isn't ugly, she is plain the way she is groomed in the video at worst. Cleaned up she'd look perfectly fine, she has all her teeth and a perfectly normal face.
posted by fshgrl at 4:57 PM on January 13 [4 favorites]


My Aunt Edna used to call herself "homely" all the time, and she wore that like a badge of honor. She had a sister she would call "pretty" in a way you'd dismiss someone who was silly or interested in things that were unimportant.

I get the same type of vibe from this video. Being homely (I think "ugly" describes, to me, someone who is hateful or terrible, so I rebel against it) isn't a negative, so much. Wearing your homeliness in the same way you'd wear your beauty has a real power to it.
posted by xingcat at 5:00 PM on January 13 [1 favorite]


?where people actually got credit for things that ARE accomplishments, things that take work and courage and commitment and effort,

Well, but beauty in one sense of the word does include that. Yes, you can be born with above-average intelligence or looks, and I get what you mean about not "celebrating" that sort of thing.

But even with those gifts, those who work at it will be "more". 2 equally "innately" smart people, one who studies hard and one who doesnt, will have very different outcomes. This is no different when it comes to beauty, as "no makeup / messy hair / in sweatpants" photos of celebs can show.

You can celebrate that just as you celebrate intellectual achievements, and I don't see the problem with either. As long as celebrating doesn't mean denigrating others --- there's no reason you have to avoid celebrating academic success, but you should avoid telling other people they are stupid, same goes for "beautiful" or "ugly".
posted by wildcrdj at 5:01 PM on January 13 [1 favorite]


I really like that. I really wish that we lived in a culture where people actually got credit for things that ARE accomplishments, things that take work and courage and commitment and effort, rather than being treated as though their random good fortune (to be "beautiful" by the current standard, or to be born into a rich family, or even to be gifted with above-average intelligence) were something they had worked hard to achieve..

I do agree with this and think that a lot of our focus on beauty is problematic and (especially as a woman who just doesn't bother much of the time) I agree that we should judge people more by what they have done than by their appearance.

That said, I think that it's really easy to move from attacking the use of beauty as a metric for worth to attacking the women who try to thrive withing that metric, and I find that really problematic, especially because in fact being beautiful often does take TONS of effort. If I do stuff like blow-dry my hair or put on some makeup or take a bit more care with my clothes (such as, like, doing laundry), all of that is work. Going to the gym is work, shopping and learning how to dress appropriately is work, make-up is work (and hugely expensive! OMG! Thank God for me I do none of these things unless I have a job interview.).

So, yeah, I agree that we shouldn't be judged by appearance nearly so much but I also think it's important to separate judging based on appearance from judging people who put effort into their appearance and that line often gets blurred which just leads to a lot more judging of women based on their appearance, it's just that now we're judging women who look like they tried.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 5:16 PM on January 13 [10 favorites]


I could get more fully behind that if we didn't live in a world where women are held to the standard of wearing a full face of makeup just to look like they're not wearing any makeup. We don't (usually! I'm sure happens sometimes) congratulate women for the effort put into their appearance (and even then, there is the problematic question of who has access to the resources to put in such effort, and who doesn't), we generally congratulate them on the result, how close they look to the prevailing standard. Most of the compliments I hear still come off as, "Wow, you really ARE this thing" rather than, "Wow, you obviously put a lot of effort into this thing."

I'm sort of restating Carol Dweck's hypothesis. When you pretend that people either ARE or AREN'T something, and treat them with rewards or punishments accordingly, rather than rewarding them for effort, they develop a more fixed mindset that can inhibit motivation. Being told that I "was" beautiful, when really it was just makeup or just a dress or just hair - just some effort I'd put in - made me feel like I was hiding some HORRIBLE SECRET that must never be found out: that I look like a human being, and therefore might not actually be beautiful, and therefore might not actually be worth anything. It was paralyzing.
posted by Ouisch at 5:18 PM on January 13 [7 favorites]


This is an important conversation but it gets totally derailed in my head when watching these videos because I actually think this girl is very cute and totally normal. Yes, she looks better after a shower, as don't we all. But the whole premise of her talk is shaky.
posted by HotToddy at 5:25 PM on January 13


"Being beautiful is not an accomplishment."

Well, except that it sort of is. There may be some women who are effortlessly beautiful, but I think the vast majority of good-looking women are good-looking because they put effort into it. There may be women who can't be good-looking, no matter what they do, but she's not one of them. She totally could be a really good-looking woman, if she decided to put a lot of effort into learning to put on makeup, figuring out what haircut looked good on her, and figuring out how to style her hair. That isn't to say that there's anything wrong with deciding not to do that. That's great: we all have limited time and resources, and it's totally screwy to expect every woman to devote her time and money to being beautiful. But she isn't ugly in any inherent sense. She hasn't put in the money and effort that it would take to register as good-looking.

The problem for me was that it took me a really, really long time to realize that I wasn't inherently ugly. And I felt way better about how I looked once I learned to think of it as "I have decided not to put a lot of effort into my makeup and hair" rather than "I am ugly."
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:26 PM on January 13 [19 favorites]


I also think it's important to separate judging based on appearance from judging people who put effort into their appearance and that line often gets blurred which just leads to a lot more judging of women based on their appearance, it's just that now we're judging women who look like they tried.

I have this theory that, aside from a few extreme outliers, there is no difference between someone who is "naturally attractive" and someone who "just makes an effort". I think the reason Kara sees herself as "ugly" is because she is comfortable in her own skin as it is, no need to style her hair, put on makeup, find something more trendy or feminine to wear, etc. So she compares herself as she is to either more feminine women around her or to women in the media, and she comes away with "I'm ugly". And not "tbh I seriously couldn't be bothered figuring out wtf foundation even is," which is really more the truth of things in her particular case.

I wanted to mention the British comedian Miranda Hart in this thread, whose work I think sort of skirts around these same issues. But when I was trying to find a representative bit or youtube video or something, I kept coming upon sort of more mainstream (possibly meaning American?) sources showing images of her where she's obviously wearing spanx, full on makeup, pro hairstylist, some ideal combination of perfect clothes that "hide" all her "flaws", etc.

So I ultimately didn't link to any of her actual comedy, because I knew someone would come along and say, "Oh but she's not ugly! She's gorgeous!" Because the reality is that anyone can be gorgeous when it's their job to be, and they have a team of people ensuring that they succeed at it. There's no ugly vs. pretty. There's just this weird idea of "effort" that kind of makes me want to throw up.
posted by Sara C. at 5:31 PM on January 13 [2 favorites]


I think "ugly" describes, to me, someone who is hateful or terrible, so I rebel against it

For me "ugly" is a tremendously harsh word that goes much deeper than surface beauty; I would only use it for someone who had an ugly personality. There are many, many people in this world who I don't find attractive, and I'd never use that word to describe them.

I also had that immediate reaction on seeing her of thinking, "but she's not ugly at all!", even though she's talking about a somewhat different meaning of the word. I think there's a place in between, where instead of telling her she's wrong to describe herself that way I would instead just say that the way she's using (and reclaiming) the word doesn't resonate with me.

(I also think that there is a very narrow range of people who are photogenic and look beautiful on camera, whereas in real life it's possible to see a lot more kinds of beauty. Too often when we talk about beauty we just mean the first, but the second is to me more interesting.)
posted by Dip Flash at 5:39 PM on January 13 [7 favorites]


I would like to disagree with the notion that putting on makeup makes one beautiful. I see comments on the videos and a few here suggesting that if she'd only wear makeup she'd be really pretty, and I'm somewhat troubled by it. Makeup is a lot more complex than just "put it on and you'll be prettier." Consider: how seriously would you take your female professor if she were wearing heavy makeup? There's a lot of cultural baggage that goes with makeup. Different styles (and amounts) of makeup project different images.

Moreover, I have no beef with makeup or those who like to wear it, but I've never seen anyone wearing makeup who truly looks better than she does without it, regardless of how it's applied. A little different, maybe (which is why makeup can be fun, after all). Dressing in clothes that are appropriate to the occasion and flatter you and having clean, combed hair (especially with a flattering cut) makes so much more of a difference than any amount of makeup ever could.

This girl is not ugly, by whatever definition she may be applying. She has hair that I envy for its thickness and its wave. In the first video she needs a shower, as she admits herself. But that's it. Her face is just fine. I'm sorry she feels she's ugly -- even if she claims she doesn't feel bad about it. If she means she's fine with not altering her appearance, then fine. But I'd rather hear her say, "I like my face the way it is" than suggest she's ugly.
posted by CoureurDubois at 6:05 PM on January 13


but I've never seen anyone wearing makeup who truly looks better than she does without it

I mean, I can't argue with your experience if that's really what you think, but literally thousands of years of comestics history would beg to differ with you. And in my experience makeup helps everyone look better; man, woman, whatever. It's just that women are in many social circles expected to wear makeup while men are not.

Of course men are expected to be tall and being short is treated like a moral failing. And you can't do anything about being short...
posted by Justinian at 6:23 PM on January 13 [12 favorites]


I'm going to step out of this thread now, I think, because I worry that I have the potential to get axe-grindy on this topic but whenever we express a belief like "all women look better without makeup" (quotation marks are for clarity, not because I'm quoting a specific person) we're continuing to create a situation where there a lot of external pressures on women instead of actually creating a society where women can do what they damn well please with their own faces.

I get that "looks better without makeup" feels like a positive thing to say and I get why and I agree that it would be lovely to free women and their/our (certainly my) self-worth from the shackles of the evil cosmetic companies but whenever we say this we narrow down the amount of space women's makeup is supposed to occupy a little more. Every time we say "yes makeup" or "no makeup" it increases the challenge of the balancing act to wear enough makeup but not too much. This is part of why this is such a tricky topic, because even things that feel and should be helpful just create more stress and boundaries and expectations regarding women's appearances.

I see that I have indeed gotten a bit upset so I'm going to step away now and read a book for a while but as a woman (who, incidentally, feels badly about herself basically all the time) this is something that I find really, really upsetting and difficult so I do get kind of worked up about it.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 6:33 PM on January 13 [29 favorites]


She looks like Madonna. Not the face shape, but the "normal plain face" thing. Madonna is beautiful simply because of her inner fire: her bone structure is no different to anyone else's. If you want a plain person, look at Jennifer Aniston and her enormous chin. But her confidence and styling turns her quirkiness into a great asset. My fiance on the other hand has the world's most beautiful mouth, and eyes to die for, yet she grew up thinking her less blessed sister was the pretty one! Simply because her sister had more confidence.

OP is right of course, you do not have to jump on that superficial train. More power to her: there are more important things than beauty. Yet the fact remains that physically 99.9 percent of us are pretty similar, it's what we do with it that makes the difference.

tl;dr a smile is better than makeup, confidence is even better than a smile, and not needing to care about appearances is the best of all.
posted by EnterTheStory at 6:40 PM on January 13 [2 favorites]


anyone wearing makeup who truly looks better than she does without it

When I don't wear makeup, I might be asked by well-meaning people if perhaps I'm tired, or not feeling well, or sad. I think those people would argue that I look better made-up.
posted by nacho fries at 6:42 PM on January 13 [9 favorites]


ArbitraryAndCapricious: Well, except that it sort of is. There may be some women who are effortlessly beautiful, but I think the vast majority of good-looking women are good-looking because they put effort into it.

This is what i always think when these sorts of discussions come up. In a way, this entire thing seems like a repackaged 2.0 version of the whole "being feminine and girly is bad" thought process. A really great example of that sort of thing, whether it was just playful and snarky or not, is this attitude which many people present quite seriously

xingcat: She had a sister she would call "pretty" in a way you'd dismiss someone who was silly or interested in things that were unimportant.

Basically, there's something that makes me really uncomfortable about the way this video and lots of other things writing/talking about this approach it. There's just tons of baggage and wink-wink nudge-nudge associations made with the concept of being "pretty" or "good looking" or "conventionally attractive"*. It's always hard to read or watch a rant about this and not see the other person as making a bunch of associations where in their mind they aren't just thinking about good looking people, but the popular kids in high school or the athletes in college. Especially since a lot of these rants are written not by older adults, but teens and people in their early-mid 20s.

It's like they try and write a statement about people in general, but a lot of times it comes off as a direct attack on jenny or dave blabla who was pretty and mean to them.

Basically, while i might be making a really controversial and possibly even specious argument here along the lines of "Call someones actions racist, calling them a racist is unproductive" since "punching up" generally seems like the right thing to do, and is even super popular because bully the bullies! fight the power!... But where i always pull the bell and dismount these conversations is when it turns in to some sort of solidarity circlejerk of "yea, fuck good looking people! they didn't do any work to get there and just get a smoother ride through life for free" high-five-until-your-arms-fall-off fest. Like, "being beautiful is not an accomplishment" is almost in a bumper sticker is not an insight territory. I realize that might be contentious, but it completely discounts the fact that yes actual work does go in to being "conventionally attractive", and that it's not just a gravy train.

I don't even know whether this background is relevant, but i feel like it is. I was EXTREMELY awful looking as a teen. Not only was i on the autism spectrum and dressed like a horrible dork, but i kind of just got the ass end of the stick on a lot of things appearance wise. At one point i pissed off an online community that ended up photoshopping pictures of me they managed to get off my photobucket and various other places, but also cyberstalked and doxed me and even posted photos of the front of my house. Nearly every insult and attack was based around how ugly i was, and what specifically made me ugly. I'm still not really "conventionally attractive", although i did sprout up in height, bulk up, and grow a trimmed beard that hides my awkward bumpy un-chin.

I've had this exact conversation with lots of people, and various groups of people online and off. And i think one of the most important things it ignores is that being good looking is some automatic free pass to kicking ass at life like being rich and white is or something. And yet if someone wrote an essay or made a video about that all they would get is snark and serious flaming. I mean even on the most basic level it's a pretty obvious and demonstrable thing that society treats "conventionally attractive" women as less intelligent and a myriad of other things. You can expand WAY away from there. Really, you're just getting handed a completely different shit sandwich and the grass looks greener through the fence.

CoureurDubois: Moreover, I have no beef with makeup or those who like to wear it, but I've never seen anyone wearing makeup who truly looks better than she does without it, regardless of how it's applied.

Good for you! aren't you so progressive and seeing their true inner beauty :')

No, but trying my absolute hardest not to be a gigantic prick here, a lot of people themselves see the difference and then encounter a lot of men(not making an assumption on your gender here, i have no idea!) who go "ugh aren't women way prettier without makeup?

I mean, i absolutely agree with your entire first paragraph RE the cultural baggage surrounding obvious makeup, and makeup itself. But "I've never seen anyone wearing makeup who truly looks better" just sounds pretentious. I've seen a lot of before/after photos or tutorial videos(my partner is obsessed with them, heh) where if you had only briefly seen both you would be stunned it was the same person.

And that's not even getting in to the whole "makeup is for the person wearing it, not for you" discussion even.

By the way, i'm not even sure if i know where i was going with this. I just don't like the common bitter approach to this discussion i've seen a lot that's getting repeated here though, and i kinda rambled... If i'm being an asshole or people think i should step back i will.

*I have a special, weird, and specific hatred for this term. I get it, and i understand exactly what it means in context... but it ALWAYS strikes me as some kind of weird hipstery pretentious "oh, you would find them attractive" snark. Doesn't help that i've seen it delivered tongue-lashingly in that way.
posted by emptythought at 6:43 PM on January 13 [12 favorites]


/but I've never seen anyone wearing makeup who truly looks better than she does without it,

I'm sorry but there are things like mascara, false eyelashes, lip color and the various tone correcting potions that make 99.999% of people look significantly better. Just shaping your eyebrows makes an enormous difference to most of us.

In the US so few people make any effort with their appearance that anyone who does can easily join the ranks of the notably attractive. Well groomed is considered desirable here, much more so than anywhere else I've ever lived. Well groomed men are even rare, and therefore attractive. Obviously it's not a priority for a lot of people but this is a culture where you can get an A for effort in the looks department pretty easily.
posted by fshgrl at 6:45 PM on January 13 [3 favorites]


I think A for effort varies greatly by region and city...or even neighborhoods within a city. That's certainly true here in L.A.
posted by nacho fries at 6:47 PM on January 13 [4 favorites]


She is utterly average looking with a bad haircut and greasy hair from not showering.
posted by angerbot at 7:00 PM on January 13 [1 favorite]


but I've never seen anyone wearing makeup who truly looks better than she does without it

We have to meet.
posted by Salamander at 7:43 PM on January 13 [2 favorites]


Personally, I have come to feel that feminine beauty is like a masquerade, and that makeup, hair, and clothes all costuming. It can be fun, sometimes, but I resent the societal idea that it must also be a uniform. (See here.) I had a much longer comment, but I don't think my personal experience with the idea of beauty is too terribly relevant to the topic at hand, but it suffices to say that I've struggled with conflating my physical appearance with my worth as a human being in the past. I've also met many people eager to wrongly tell me, in various ways, that my worth is all in my appearance, no more, no less.

I think the only solution to this problem of physical beauty being put on a pedestal is if everyone stopped caring about what everyone else looked like. But that will never happen, because the world is populated with a great many narrow-minded people who are loath to expand their minds and hence end up raising more narrow-minded people. When feminine beauty is made to be such a standard, any woman who can afford a bag of cosmetics also has an arsenal full of criticism she can fire at other women (this isn't to say that some men don't denigrate women who don't live up to the standard either). I think instead of being angry that beauty is viewed as so important, we should be sad that it is so often used as a means of inflating one's self esteem to the detriment of the self and to other people. The girl who made the video at one point said "living things are beautiful" and yet seems to forget she is included in that seemingly infinite set of elements as well. I think we would all be happier people if, instead of making society's relationship to physical appearance a dichotomy of ugliness and beauty, we instead focused on accepting and finding compassion and solidarity in our shared humanity and all the ways it physically manifests itself.
posted by sevenofspades at 7:58 PM on January 13 [2 favorites]


emptythought, I'm female, for the record.

Clearly my wording was chosen poorly and I regret having apparently offended so many people. I didn't mean to imply that anyone looked bad in makeup or better without (i.e. that nobody should wear it and we should free ourselves from the shackles or somesuch). Far from it; I think many people wear makeup beautifully. I'm not sure I'm able to choose words that won't end up somehow implying something I don't intend, so I won't belabor the point further, and I'll just bow out of the conversation.
posted by CoureurDubois at 7:58 PM on January 13


But seriously: I can't let this 'women look no better with makeup than without it' thing go by.

I am a (semi-) expert at the no-makeup look. I have had many men comment on the fact that it's 'really cool' that I don't wear makeup, when I am in fact wearing: eyebrow powder, eyelash tint, light foundation, concealer, blush, tinted lip balm.

That's SIX products, which: frame my face (eyebrows), define my eyes (lash tint), even out my complexion (foundation), hide dark circles/imperfections (concealer), give me a healthy glow (blusher), make my lips look smoother and moister (balm). These products are all aimed at making my face look like a younger/healthier/less sun-damaged version of itself.

I am always astonished at how many men think that 'makeup' = sweeping black eyeliner, shimmery bronze eyelids, unnaturally vivid lips, sweeps of obvious bronzer up the cheekbones, etc. There are skilful ways of applying natural-hued makeup products in sheer textures so that you do not look like you are wearing any makeup. For many, many women, that is the whole point of makeup.

'Better' is, obviously, subjective. But if you've ever left your house, you have, in fact, seen '[someone] wearing makeup who truly looks better than she does without it'. Trust.

(On preview: I didn't think your comment was offensive at all, CoureurDubois! But I'm going to leave my comment as it stands, because it's interested me for years that so many men, in particular, have no idea what 'no makeup' really looks like.)
posted by Salamander at 8:03 PM on January 13 [20 favorites]


I would like to disagree with the notion that putting on makeup makes one beautiful.

I'm not sure if this is something folks are picking up from my comments, but it's not at all what I meant. In fact, it's almost the opposite of what I meant.

I think that we're all beautiful. We all start from the same baseline, that of being perfectly OK, attractive to whoever we'd generally be attractive to, and beautiful in certain ways/to certain people/in our own way.

But when we think of what a "beautiful woman" looks like, we picture something like this. Which means that, if you are a woman, and you don't straighten/blow out your hair, wear makeup, get contacts instead of glasses, wear jewelry, and dress in conventionally feminine clothes, your default self-assessment is going to be that you're "not pretty".

Because all the work that goes into looking like that picture is largely invisible. And it's easy to feel like a woman who looks like that innately has something you don't. You think there must be something wrong with you that you don't wake up looking like that, or that there must be something wrong with you that you don't know how to do that. Or if you are a woman who does all those things, you think there must be something wrong with you that you have to go to so much effort just to look "normal".

The takeaway is that even though we're all beautiful, somehow we all internalize that we're ugly.
posted by Sara C. at 8:07 PM on January 13 [5 favorites]


Consider: how seriously would you take your female professor if she were wearing heavy makeup?

I found this distracting. I would take her as seriously as her skill at professorship deserved regardless of what she wore on her face. Over the past several years I've had two graduate professors who wore definiteyl visible makeup. One you could call "heavy" - she's a glamorous-looking person in general, with very well-put-together outfits, and she went in for the Cleopatra bat-wings this past year, some gold shimmer sometimes, some bright lip color. And she always looked great. And she leads her field.

Makeup is a choice. It can make a person look/feel more beautiful, but it's not a given it always does that (plenty of us have seen badly chosen/applied makeup and people who look better without it or times we look fabulous without it). It's a tool for presenting yourself in a particular way. It's okay to reject it and it's possible to be incredibly beautiful with or without it. Everyone's free to do their own thing about it. If this girl wanted to be more conventionally-beautiful I would not start with makeup - she has great, bright natural coloring anyway.

The thing is, her point is, she's questioning the whole enchilada - telling her "but you could have this particular kind of response if you just played along" is missing her larger point.
posted by Miko at 8:18 PM on January 13 [10 favorites]


I think that one of the things about her talking about not letting insecurities get in the way of living is that she is experiencing these things as internal insecurities, not as external abuse. I'm ugly enough to get verbal abuse on the street (and physical stuff with that as a teenager; I'm not sure if that stopped because I moved somewhere that was less acceptable, or that people have less urge to spit on an ugly middle-aged woman than an ugly middle-aged teenager). I know that all women, from the most beautiful to the least, experience street harassment though in different ways. But I know that my appearance has led to unpleasant consequences in the past, and while I still live my life, that knowledge is always there.

There's "do I feel that I can go and do and do X while feeling ugly" and there's "do I feel that I can go and do X while knowing that in the past my appearance has led to me being shouted at, grabbed and spat on".

Incidentally, to add to the debate on makeup, it may just be that I'm atrocious at applying it, but makeup made no difference to that. I've had men come up to me in the street and tell me how ugly I am both when I've spent a long time on hair and makeup in the morning, and when I've been wearing absolutely none and just pulled a brush through my hair.
posted by Coobeastie at 12:32 AM on January 14 [5 favorites]


Having (sort of) slept on it and woken to this particular thread, a couple of thoughts:

1. I think it's worth considering that karakamos (the video maker) is really young. "Young" gets thrown around as a pejorative (much like "ugly"), but, in this case, it's really worth thinking about. She is clearly working on her own identity, which is (I think) what this video is about rather than a manifesto about how everything should be for everyone.

2. Because of this, I think the poster who are saying "she's not ugly" are pretty much missing the point (and possibly didn't watch the video, since she addresses this in the first few minutes). It really does not matter if you think she's not ugly or that she's really beautiful, or that she'd look better with or without makeup. She says she's ugly, and, if we are going to interact with her in good faith, we need to take her at her word that she feels ugly, regardless of our "objective" opinions.

3. karakamos is not doing herself any favors by using "ugly" when she really means "not media beautiful," (she clarifies in the second video). "Ugly" is an inflammatory word, which a lot of people in this thread are reacting to rather than to the actual argument being made, and, like a loosely-worded AskMe, I think people here are reacting to the image in the mirror this poorly-chosen word throws up rather than to the point that was intended.

4. So her point, as I take it, is that, in her experience, she has realized that she cannot live up to the ridiculous physical standards that the media displays, and she is trying to figure out where to go from there. Finding beauty (and purpose) in ordinary life doesn't seem like a bad strategy to me.

As a closing point, I remember a magazine directed at and produced by teen girls (Blue Jean, maybe?) that did a photoshoot with one of their editors. She took some pictures of herself at her house, then had a crew of make up people, professional photographers, clothes experts, etc do their thing and took a new set of photos. Then she pointed out that the reason you never look as good as people do on TV and in magazines is that they don't, either. It's an image produced with a lot of work under very specific conditions and it bears no relation to real life (and your inability to look like that on a daily basis says nothing about your worth as a person and loads about fashion photography as a craft). Anyway, I though karakamos was pretty much making that point (plus some thinking about how she was working her way out of that trap).
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:34 AM on January 14 [6 favorites]


I also think we should be listening to her when she says, as she does repeatedly in the video, "a lot of the time I feel ugly." She doesn't present "being ugly" as an invariable state, for her or anyone.
posted by Miko at 6:41 AM on January 14 [4 favorites]


I'm probably veering into MeTa territory, but I think threads would generally go better if we took people at their word most of the time. If someone (the subject of an FPP, the OP, a commenter) says "I am X" or "I feel X," it makes more sense to say "OK, then, what does that mean?" than "you cannot be/feel X," but we spend a lot of time in that second space. People report their experiences; we can choose to believe them or not, but always reaching first for the negation is not a great tactic.

I get that it can be hard to fight. My very first response, less than a minute into the video, was "what are you talking about? You are not ugly!" and it took a lot of effort to get out of that space and try and listen to what she was saying rather than to what my head was saying.

We will have situations where a person is delusional or disingenuous, but those are rarer than commenting suggest people think they are.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:19 AM on January 14 [5 favorites]


Feeling ugly is a lot like most other negative self-judgments ("stupid," "unlovable," etc.) in that there's no objective point where the feeling is justified. And if you point out to someone that they're not ugly/stupid/pathetic and there are other people who have it much worse, it's not going to make them feel any better anyway. We're all on a continuum, and one that doesn't have an easy, objective, one-dimensional measuring system; it's only natural to feel inadequate from time to time, wherever you are.

Regarding the makeup debate: makeup (along with other grooming practices like hairstyling, dressing well, good posture, etc.) can almost always help, but it's not going to level the playing field. A lot of the people who look better than me put more daily effort into their appearance than I do. But of those people, many of them would still look better than me if we both rolled out of bed in the same ill-fitting outfit.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:08 AM on January 14 [1 favorite]


and then there is Jolie Laide
posted by judson at 8:16 AM on January 14 [3 favorites]


I don't wear makeup and haven't really apart from some experiemental teen years. The thing I notice as I get older is that my fatigue becomes more and more apparent on my face. It feels so ridiculously fucked up that I even think about that. Work-related things have caused me to think more about looking "professional" and wonder if I should wear enough makeup to mask that fatigue.

So then I want to unpack the whole "professional" construct and why women feel pressure to do things like cover up their lack of sleep. And why when I think "professional" I think that means I have to appear more feminine than I do in my natural state.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 8:27 AM on January 14 [7 favorites]


"what are you talking about? You are not ugly!"

I also feel like, since there is this huge cultural association between women and appearance, saying that a woman is ugly (or fat, or probably some other loaded appearance words) becomes this outsized taboo.

When Andrea Dworkin died, I was in the habit of participating in this weekly salon/reading/performance thing. And I read a piece that I'd written somewhat eulogizing her. I closed by saying something about how I wanted to be an angry fat queer feminist just like her, someday. For some reason the audience's main takeaway from the entire piece centered around the word fat. A lot of my friends came up to me afterwards and were horrified that I would wish to be fat. Despite the fact that it was obviously a rhetorical device. That's something that has always stuck with me.
posted by Sara C. at 8:54 AM on January 14 [2 favorites]


Yeah, there seems to be this true horror, "you don't really mean it!" that comes up when you suggest rejecting this one range of standard of beauty as an essential life principle.

I feel there's a little connection to leftiness in this for me. I've seen a lot of smart, hardworking people marginalized in important contexts because of they way they dress or their general lack of interest in looking current or following beauty standards. I understand very much the real-world argument that like it or not, you need to conform to a certain degree so that your appearance doesn't "hold you back," but I also think there are serious ethical implications to that.
posted by Miko at 9:39 AM on January 14 [1 favorite]


I was ugly all of my childhood and teens. In my 20s I moved to a different continent and WHAM! BAM! I was pretty and being flirted with on a regular basis. It was unreal and kind of hard to get used to, but it made it obvious to me that it's in the eyes of the "Beholder", whoever that is.

Beyond adapting to both places, each of them dictating to me the way I should feel about myself, I have tried to develop my own sense of style and beauty and a fuck-you attitude (or at least a "hm, really?" attitude) whenever anyone says or implies anything in my appearance should change. Or even, when anyone praises it. It may take some time for people to get to see the "me" beyond the appearances, but such expectations are not something I'm willing to adapt to anymore.
posted by ipsative at 6:55 PM on January 14 [4 favorites]


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