A Woman’s Right to Be Ugly

2012-06-18_1340029761As citizens of a digital world, we live surrounded by a constant haze of information and data, most of which we don’t really need or care about. It’s tiring trying to select what is interesting from the rest, but sometimes the effort is worth it. This happened to me yesterday when I read this article by Tracy Moore about a woman’s right to be ugly or – better “noncompliant”, because some women “are not willing to spend the time, money and energy it takes to live up to a cultural beauty standard that says skin tones must be evened out, eyes must be enhanced, cheek bones accented, weight managed, desirability advertised, and so on.”

Can we start from here to think things through, please? Because I think the topic singled out in the article is particularly relevant. Being pretty, beautiful, sexy and attractive is surely an objective for most women [1], because this is what we are told about since we were born; all these qualities are totally subjective, yet women have strived to reach or conform to a dominant or socially accepted beauty standard. Let’s not hide behind an excuse: everyone has gone through that path, sooner or later, because a totally understandable mechanism of emulation makes us feel less lonely and gives us the illusion that being aesthetically more attractive will turn us into better persons. Now, I’m not saying such a mechanism is wrong (I’m a strong supporter of any kind of personal freedom), but what happens when a woman doesn’t care about it? When she simply doesn’t want to be pretty, but – on the contrary – defends her right to be ugly? Is this an option or is it considered an abomination? The media – especially magazines, tv and cinema – bomb us with the concept of makeover and wants us to believe that it’s not possible not to dream about it. They’re all based on the “Cinderella-makeover” syndrome, but let’s ask ourselves what was the objective of that “magical” transformation: becoming pretty for being envied by other women and loved by the most desirable man.

Makeovers-Fix-EverythingCinderella’s project was also based on the motives of personal freedom and social advance, which were eventually reached through marriage. I repeat: there’s nothing wrong in makeovers or in desiring a better appearance, but the contrary (not wanting to be pretty, to be slim, to be sexy) is still a taboo, and this is definitely wrong. “There are no ugly women, only lazy ones,” Helena Rubinstein said and I actually think a woman’s right to be lazy with her looks should be defended, as well, and not pointed out as a capital sin. “She’s not a beauty but she’s always well dressed”, “She’s getting old but it doesn’t show: she does a lot of exercise”, “She’s fat but she’s got such a beautiful face and her make-up is always flawless”: how many times have you heard this and how many times have you focused on those “buts”? Society accepts women who are not considered beautiful, who are not young or who are fat ONLY if these “flaws” are balanced by something else, all this because the lenses through which society looks at women refers to a patriarchal mind-set.

If I think about my experience, I’ve always been told that I’m not a beauty but that my strong personality kind of makes up for it, an opinion I still hate because I hate hypocrisy. I’m not defending my flawlessness, because I have eyes and I can see the truth, but I’ve always stood up for defending my flaws, because they have made me who I am today. I’ve decided to post a picture of my left hand because it’s one of those ugly details that people often focus on: my middle knuckle and finger joint have gone through decades of gnawing and now look like this, but I’ve never thought of doing something to change them. Who would be the beneficiary of a change? Myself or someone else? Wouldn’t it be easier and more rewarding to simply going to a dermatologist and getting rid of those calluses? Or to lose weight and dress like a woman? As Moore writes, “the cost of the risk of noncompliance is still potentially very high”: she refers to the fact that “it limits earnings, opportunities, and the number of partners to choose from,” but I’m referring to something deeper. Being noncompliant means you know how to handle it – you have a set of aesthetic references which shows you a new way of being a woman – but I can assure you that not paying attention to the man’s gaze is one of the hardest things ever, a journey of self-discovery that can take you to dark and unpleasant places. At the end of the day I think it’s worth it but what you’ll find out may not be easy to handle. Building your own image only on the basis of your own desires and points of reference (despite the gender) is a painful yet liberating process which should be strenously defended.  Whether to start it or not it’s solely up to you.

[1] The reason why they’d like to be pretty, beautiful, sexy and attractive should be investigated as well. I firmly believe people define themselves and build their own self-image through social interaction and through the comparison between what they perceive themselves to be and how they would like to be. Women, in particular, can form their own self-image through the comparison with what they consider desirable or through the eyes of men, thus neglecting their point of view or their own desires.

4 comments

  1. Figurarsi, giusto venerdì scorso ho avuto la seguente conversazione con mia madre (dentro casa, si noti).

    M – Come stai bene vestita così!
    G – Mh
    M – Stai benissimo!
    G – Mh
    M – Perché non sei contenta?
    G – Ma insomma, se non stavo bene non era la stessa cosa?
    M – Ma nooo!
    G – Come no?!
    M – Ma una ragazza! Deve essere curata!

  2. It certainly has become harder to constantly be reminded of what “should be” beautiful. TV, Media, Fashion they all proclaim to know and praise what is “really beautiful”. This secret formula though is flawed because then we would all look the same. The fact that we are all different and bring a different light to this world is what makes us perfect. Maybe our hands are not perfect or our faces, hair, bodies, shape or weight but its OK. Its nice to admire a pretty lady, a handsome man and a divine dress but to aspire to look a certain way is not the way to go. High five to this post! I raise my left hand to YOU!

  3. It always strikes me that even otherwise perfectly nice men think they have a right to criticize a woman’s appearance (ugly, ungroomed, badly dressed etc), while also keeping the right for themselves to go unquestionably as nature made them – double standards, as always.

  4. Nice post! I agree… This is probably universal, but I remember hearing snide remarks from girls in elementary school about other girls that would end with, “…She’s not even THAT pretty!” It would make me feel self-conscious because I certainly wasn’t THAT pretty either! haha Looking back I can’t help but think that is way too young to be sizing each other up, as young girls. 7 or 8 years?!? Is that really all of the time we’re given to not obsess over our looks and compete with one another? How sad. Anyway, I think it is just a matter of being conscious that everyone is not going to be physically appealing to you and you don’t need to point that out every time to fit in socially.

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