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By Sandra Clark

My seven year old son and I have been reading our way through Roald Dahl’s books. We flop across his bed or squash into the backyard hammock as we’ve read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, Danny Champion of the World and The BFG. This last week our reading of The Twits coincided with this article and me seeing this this film. As I was thoroughly unsettled by the thought of young girls asking strangers, Am I ugly? and the ramifications of raising my kids in a world where the answer to that question can be mistaken as their worth, I was struck by this page of the text.
The title characters of the book, Mr. and Mrs. Twit are described as being horridly ugly. Not because they were born that way, but because they became that way. Ugly thoughts seeped from the inside out.  Years of this bitter tea brewed until her insides and outsides matched. Conversely, Dahl, as the omniscient narrator announces:

“A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.”

Though I welcome this description, ugly is as ugly does, it is hardly the one these girls are fearing. They want to be tagged as pretty.

I wish I could say that I was above asking those questions, that I’ve never wanted my attractiveness validated. But, that would be untrue. I have given up way too much time, particularly in younger years, memorizing compliments, so I might have those reserves to draw on when I questioned my face value. It still wasn’t enough. I knew I don’t have extensive reasons to complain, but I have my own less than ideal features that I feared obvious: too many moles (especially the weird one on my ear), high forehead, humble bustline, and a mess of curly hair I’m always trying to tame.  I’ve looked jealously at more proportionate figures with sleek hair, and wondered how my life might be different if I were a “bombshell”. Would I have garnered more attention, been asked out on more dates, and had an easier time finding clothes to fit? Probably, maybe and definitely.

But that doesn’t matter. What matters is why did I care, and why do all these girls (some as young as eleven) care so much to ask the world on YouTube? Why the fixation?

I cared, and they cared because it seems like everyone else cares. How you look is what gets noticed first. You are noticed if you look attractive and you are noticed if you don’t. You are noticed if you are dressed sexy and you are noticed if you dress dowdy. We are objects. Who we are becomes nothing more than how we look. Never mind what is in your head, what you say or, what you’ve done, what you will do, and who you may become. Those are inconsequential comparatively.

I’m mad about it. I’m mad that I wasted time worrying. I’m mad that I will likely waste some more time worrying about the way I look. I’m mad that other girls do the same. I’m mad that people that legitimize our asking, and worry of not being pretty. It’s ugly.

We are better than that. We are beautiful as is. Yes, you can dress yourself up, put yourself together and be fit. Those are all nice things, but they don’t make you lovely. I’m with Roald Dahl on this one, that comes from inside.

What do you think? Have you been made to feel ugly? How do you dismiss it and celebrate your body as-is?

About Sandra Clark

Sandra Clark Jergensen's writing (most often about food) has been published in Gastronomica, Apartment Therapy, The Exponent, and at Segullah, where she was once the Editor-in-Chief, and now as Features Editor. Sandra geeked out on food and writing as a master's student food studies at University of Texas, Arlington. She makes her home in California where she runs without shoes, foster parents, teaches cooking, develops recipes, and struggles to take pictures with her eyes open, and sometimes all at the same time. She is the owner and creator of thekitchennatural.com.

17 thoughts on “Ugly”

  1. As a mother of seven daughters {ages 16 down to 2} this is a major concern for both my husband and I. We want them to know and learn for themselves the beauty that matters comes from inside, from knowing their Heavenly Father is pleased with them.

  2. Thanks for this thoughtful post! I especially appreciate the Roald Dahl text and illustrations. My mom had body image problems and she passed those on to me. I'm trying to overcome them and let my two little girls know that they are just right.

  3. You better believe I'm mad about it. I actually wrote a little essay about how I felt when I was offered the senior discount ELEVEN YEARS too young.

    Since then, I try not to leave the house without lipstick and a pushup bra when I was more granola / sporty in my personal style before. Pandering to others makes me livid, but at my age, I get treated like a bag lady if I don't dress up at leat a little bit. But being misjudged also makes me more aware of how I treat others based on appearances, and (I hope) makes me kinder.

    Good post. Great topic. Good questions.

    I quick response to "Have you been made to feel ugly": Maybe on another day, I'll talk about how I was nominated by my honors English class as the 8th grade homecoming queen, as a joke. But that was a looooong time ago.


  4. Have you seen that article about how to talk to girls? It says that boys are asked intellectual questions and girls are asked about their clothes and hair. The article suggests we ask girls what kind of books they like to read and what they're currently reading. Awesome.

    I've also recently contemplated what beauty means to me. If I get it up in a post soon, I'll let you know.

  5. One day when I was feeling particularly ugly, I remember wishing that I could be lovely. Not necessarily beautiful or smokin' hot, but lovely. People often mistake me for being older than I am (KDA, I'm with you), and I'm sure "lovely" is not the first word that comes to mind when they see me.

    Anyway, on this day I ended up going to the grocery store in my ratty sweats and t-shirt, and while I was in the parking lot I noticed a woman whose bag had broken and cans of food had rolled under her car out of reach. She was having trouble bending over to pick up those that hadn't rolled. I asked if I could help and got down on the asphalt and partially crawled under her car to reach the food. For once, I was grateful to be wearing something that enabled me to do that. And I thought that maybe I seemed lovely to her, not because of how I looked but because of what I could do.

    Sort of a minor incident, but it helped me feel better on a day I was quite down over my lack of style.

    Thanks for the post.

  6. This reminds me of a passage from the play "Our Town". I don't remember too many specifics, but a teenage daughter asked her mother if she is pretty. The mother, not too concerned with the question answers, you are pretty enough for all normal purposes. This answer has stuck with me for years. To me it means, you are pretty enough to live a wonderfully full life, now don't worry about it and go live. It also challenges the notion that there is one type of pretty and that we should rank ourselves according to that standard.

  7. I've often thought that heaven must be a place for only the involuntarily blind and those who have chosen to be blind. Can you imagine what our communities would be like if we allowed our hearts to guide us along rather than our eyes? Sight teaches me to look twice: once at what I see initially outwardly, and then again at what lays below the surface, inwardly. I wish I would learn to pause long enough to consider the inwardly part before I "summed them up."

  8. Roberta has a point. I have often been struck by Isaiah's description of Jesus: "For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him."
    He wasn't pretty in the earthly sense of the word. I don't think that bothered him.
    I wonder if, had I seen him, it would have bothered me. Whether or not we each care about being pretty ourselves I think that most of us give much more credence to the handsome individual than we do to the plain.

    I was fortunate. My mother had body issues, but she was very careful not to pass them on to me. Though my parents did teach me how to be clean and neat they made much more of my character and thoughts and what they called "spirit shining through", which they appreciated, than they did of my appearance. So if I was ever called "ugly", I knew it was neither important nor true. And we didn't have much TV in our home to reinforce the cultural expectations of gorgeousness. Result: I'm fine with my body and my hair and face. I try to keep them clean and neat but I don't stress about it. They are unremarkable and they work and I'm grateful. I'm much more concerned about my character.

  9. I'm mad about it, too. For all the strides women have made, we seem to be going backwards in this area. How we look (specifically, whether or not we are "hot") seems to be becoming more important, not less. I think it has to do with the porn culture that pervades the media.

  10. I have had countless people (of my general generation) that I look "different" or "ugly", and had people in their 60's and above tell me I'm beautiful (or "If I was your age I'd take you to dinner!"). In primary school on an excursion to Sydney I had my photo taken with groups of Japanese tourists who couldn't believe my red hair. I've had a guy say "I don't know why I find you so attractive – you don't look like a model!"

    People are weird. I'm finally at a point where I don't worry about people's opinion about my looks any more – if I'm happy with me, that's excellent!

  11. Great post Sandra! I really love it. Of course I had issues with this and I tend to view myself as an esthetic-minded person, so that probably makes sense. Now I continue to love playing with color and making things beautiful but the difference comes in that I am doing it because it brings joy instead of trying to fit into a mold that I never will fit into! When I was young I was sure I was the ugliest person in middle school. I wasted many hours crying about it. Embarrassingly, it was a Jack Weyland book that made me show me what I wanted to be. There was a character in one of his books that lit up the room when she entered. that became my new goal and you can't be a light if you don't have joy. Roald Dahl is spot on!

  12. Melissa- Bless people like you. I want to be able to catch those moments and be the one to help. It is lovely of you to be that kind of person.

    Anna- I agree- there is no one definition and that is another reason why it's unfair to judge each other and ourselves to that standard.

    Roberta- That is a interesting view into heaven.

    MB- Good point. I don't think we give our bodies enough credit for their amazing functionality.

    Kris- I hope you gave him the words he deserved. How cruel.


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