Back in September I posted a comment on someone else's web site in which I mentioned someone being ugly. Pious p.c. types squealed with indignation. How can anybody be called ugly? This piqued my interest, because my mother was a beauty consultant before she progressed into being a nurse and health consultant; I grew up knowing that all types of people can be beautiful. But that doesn't mean that all people are beautiful.
On the Blogspot, some time ago, I reviewed a book called Autobiography of a Face, which is about growing up and going to school with cancer of the jawbone. The review explained that when I say "ugly" I definitely don't mean the face of the cancer survivor who wrote the book; the word for her face, as shown on the book jacket, is "scarred." Chemotherapy, however, is not a pretty process. People going through chemo do tend to look horrible. If you don't know them well, your eye instinctively recoils and you instinctively want to avoid them. This is natural and healthy--people who are ill don't need the stress of making new acquaintances, so nature has provided us with an instinct to leave them alone.
When I say "ugly" I also don't mean my cat Mogwai. I don't have a photo of Mogwai to show you what I mean; let's just say that she was mostly mottled black and orange, with very distinct patches of black and orange on her face, black around her eyes and orange below. Well...I named her after the cute furry phase of the monsters in Gremlins, which she resembled, somewhat, after considering alternatives like "Goblin" and "Funny Face." People seeing her for the first time said things like "Is that a cat?" Her face really did look as if it were meant to belong to some other sort of animal, and her hind legs and tail seemed too long for her front end.
Mogwai was not, in fact, an ordinary cat. She was more social, more empathetic; she understood more words, and she worked harder to recover from an early injury and, as a result, was capable of physical feats ordinary cats can't do. By the time (during her second year) she grew into her hind legs, humans who knew her agreed that Mogwai was a beautiful animal, funny face and all. Mogwai seemed to get bored being told she was beautiful.
This discussion could go on to consider famous faces...Jennifer Garner, say. I don't particularly like her jawline. I suspect it was surgically altered, and if a surgeon did that to my jawline, I'd sue. Nevertheless Jennifer Garner has become rich and famous for looking beautiful. At least we've all seen enough images of her looking healthy and happy and pleasant that we can all like the way she looks, overall. She certainly doesn't come to mind when I think of "ugly."
So what do I mean by "ugly"? Well...the short list begins with a look I've often seen in the mirror, starting around age seven when my undiagnosed gluten intolerance was starting to affect my life. Some days I am my own primary definition of the word "ugly." I have no problem sharing this with you because this ugliness is temporary and curable. Most ugliness, in fact, is. Here are some things I've been known to describe as ugly:
- The look of ill health--sallow, haggard, baggy-eyed, saggy-cheeked, wrinkled. I had wrinkles to conceal at age seven because I was a gluten-intolerant child in a vegetarian family whose primary protein source was whole wheat. Other people have wrinkles to conceal, long before the skin actually starts aging, because they stay out late, don't drink enough water, don't choose a healthy diet, use drugs or "medications," don't exercise, and/or have some sort of actual low-grade disease. Most of us can fix most of these conditions, most of the time. Even after hair turns white and skin dries out, most of our faces look as "old" or as well-preserved as we deserve for them to. Grandma Bonnie Peters is an example.
- Heavy makeup some people, usually people much younger than President Clinton, plaster onto themselves in an effort to conceal the look of ill health. It does distract the eye from that, I must admit, but it does not look healthy, happy, or pleasant.
- The ravages of serious disease conditions--similar to the look of ill health, only more so. Ordinary uninfected acne is hardly even noticeable from a Good Healthy Distance. Scars don't usually impress me as being ugly. Wounds and sores are ugly.
- Extreme haircuts...Mohawks, mullets, crew cuts, etc.
- The kind of long dirty hair some of us sported in the 1960's. Long hair may be a woman's crowning glory if it's tied back out of the way and unloosed only when it's clean, glossy, and beautiful...but if it's trailed through food and who knows what-all, and it shows, long hair can become disgusting.
- Sweat and dirt, generally. Right, so it's natural to be sweaty and dirty while you're working in the garden. It's also natural to want to remove the sweat and dirt on your way to join other people after working in the garden.
- Anything that causes the abdomen to protrude further than the chest does. (Women obviously have more leeway than men here. Sorry.)
- A fixed stare, whether it's at my bosom, at my face, at the TV or at the ceiling. (I've known some people who were sickly, who compounded the look of ill health by staring fish-eyed at the ceiling. Ugly.) Some cultures may have a rule that holding eye contact throughout a conversation is normal. I wouldn't know; my Anglo-American relatives don't. We make eye contact, but we don't stare for longer than, say, three seconds, max. Healthy eyes blink and move.
- The fixed stare can also appear in the absence of an unhealthy look, but together with an open mouth and/or tensed eyebrows--a "greedy," "drooling" look. People who are indulging in long sexual fantasies while they look at other people aren't the only ones who ever have this look, but this is the look that identifies them. It's incredibly repulsive. People should take pains to avoid the thoughts that bring this look to their faces when anyone else can see it.
- The quintessentially White way of being ugly is a combination of the fixed stare and a strained, unnatural effort to make the mouth grin. This is the look of a person who's telling himself or herself to smile. It is not to be confused with the natural smile people do when they're pleased or amused. It is hideous. Whatever other expression might naturally appear on the face, it can't possibly be as bad as the fake smile. (It may be an Anglo-American affectation, but can the English culture really be blamed for it when so many English writers have agreed that it's repulsive? Douglas Adams described this look as "a smile that positively begged to be hit with a brick.") If you're worried about what your face may be doing, please, tell it to RELAX. Anything, including staring at the ceiling, is better than a fake smile.
Image credit: Joyce L. Vedral.
(Wordpress tags: any body can be beautiful,Jennifer Garner, Lucy Grealy, never tell yourself to smile, Priscilla King’s cat Mogwai, ugly is a choice (sometimes).)