For some reason ugly people still think they have better personalities than everyone else
Since I’ve become a heavy user of the internet (over the past 3 years) I’ve seen one discussion pop up time and time again. It’s the whole conversation where people who had an ugly phase or are still having one talk about how their face’s lack of symmetry has contributed to them being a better person. I have never in my life heard that theory before the net.
Jessica Valenti wrote an article called “The Upside of Ugly” for The Nation in which she talks about the value of being one of the less attractive people in your peer group. She starts off by talking about a Georgia teen named Nadia Ilse who had her ears pinned back (something that a few girls did at my school when I was in jr high). The charity apparently pays for girls with “deformities” to get corrective surgery.
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Valenti tells her own story of having that one feature you wish you could change:
When I was younger I begged my parents to let me get a nose job. Like Ilse, I was taunted at school and hated my nose so thoroughly I was sure my face was an affront to the people around me. My parents, to their credit, never considered letting me have surgery. They simply assured me I was beautiful the way I was. But here’s the thing: I knew that wasn’t true. I was a smart kid, and I realized that compared to what was considered beautiful, I was absolutely awkward-looking.
As my friend writer Jaclyn Friedman once said to me, the problem isn’t that girls don’t know their worth—it’s that they absolutely do know their value in society. Young women know exactly how ugly the culture believes them to be. So when we teach girls to simply “love themselves”, we’re implicitly telling them to accept the world as it is. We’re saying that being beautiful is something worth having when we should be telling them a culture that demands as much is toxic.
In a lot of ways I’m glad I was considered unattractive as a kid—there is an upside to ugly. I developed a sharp sense of humor, a defense against the taunts. I thought more deeply about how good and bad people can be. I started writing. I found feminism.
I understand where Valenti is coming from and I’m no sociologist by far…but this rings false for me. First of all, I’m not against telling women to love themselves. I think there is a certain degree of superficiality that we all do have to accept. Human beings like things they think look good — cars, dogs, furniture or whatever.
I do appreciate Valenti touching on the cultural implications. We live in a country that tells ALL women they’re not good enough. Often that message is about looks but frequently it’s about other things–sex life (you a ho!), parenting choices (Mayor Bloomberg is investigating someone’s breast milk as we speak!) and fashion choices (you a ho!). The unfortunate thing for women is that the number of media being used to tell us how horrible we look increases by the day–mostly in media targeted toward women. I’d rather work on fixing that then telling people to stop obsessing over beautiful lips and eyes.
As far as the relation between looks and personality is concerned there’s no guarantee that people who feel ashamed of their looks are going to develop other interests and improve their character traits. Many people who are teased as youths about their looks grow up bitter and insecure and they never recover from being treated poorly. Some isolate and never even develop the ability to talk to people like a normal person because worries about teasing give them social anxiety.
Moreover, attractive people can be teased about their looks and be made to *feel* unattractive which is really what this is about–it’s not how you look it’s how you feel and how others make you feel. Further, pretty people who are outgoing often immerse themselves in activities meeting all kinds of different people and developing a strong sense of self as well. I’m just not convinced that feeling inferior results in finding self worth enough to say there’s an upside to people making you feel like shit though it sounds inspiring and all that.
I guess my concern is there are no guarantees you’ll ever experience the upside Valenti did and no evidence that that upside is something a significant number of folks can count on. I’m not saying that Llse should have gotten her ears pinned back, nose done and whatever else. But the reason for that is more because of her age. I mean damn, her face wasn’t even finished working itself out yet.