Every day, when I open my email, there are a plethora of emails detailing how ugly I am. Every day, someone leaves a comment here on this blog, or sends me an email, or trolls my Tumblr, deeply intent on declaring me the ugliest person they’ve ever seen. They equate me to pigs, whales, elephants, hippos, manatees and all manner of animals, all of which I personally find awesome and absolutely adorable.
Once upon a time, this would have hurt me deeply. I would have been terribly upset, it probably would have made me self harm, or driven me to isolate myself more, or stopped me from dressing the way I love to dress.
But it hasn’t done that for a long time.
Now before you deny my ugliness, which is a lovely thought of you, I want to say, it’s OK. I’m not writing this to have people dispute the accusation. You don’t need to tell me I’m not ugly, or even that I’m beautiful, to undo the shitty things that some people say to me. Because other than some irritation at having to deal with continued abuse and harassment, the actual words themselves don’t hurt me at all.
I realised why today when I responded to an email that was actually lovely (not abuse, I don’t respond to those) from a woman who had always felt ugly and she told me about her journey to find her own beauty. I got to thinking about that need to be beautiful, and I realised I don’t have that need myself. Not that I have any problem with other people needing to feel beautiful, but it’s just not there for me.
I feel absolutely no obligation to be aesthetically pleasing to others. Oh don’t get me wrong, it is always nice when someone refers to me as beautiful, but I don’t feel it defines me or adds any value to me as a person. Now admittedly, mostly women are expected to be beautiful, or at least aspire to beauty. Women are often seen as prizes or trophies measured by their beauty. I want more from my life than being aesthetically pleasing.
My having beauty does not define all of the important things in my life. It doesn’t diminish my intellect, my humour, my compassion, my dedication, my enthusiasm, my strength, my ability to love. These are, for me anyway, the yardsticks which I measure my success as a human being – not beauty.
Let’s not forget, beauty is entirely subjective anyway. As much as there is a societal beauty ideal, it is not the default of what all people actually find beautiful. People find all types of features beautiful – for every single feature of appearance there is, someone out there will find it beautiful – even the very things we ourselves might find deeply unattractive. We can also find polar opposites of features beautiful – you can be attracted to more than one body type, or more than one eye colour, or more than one skin tone, and so on. I know I am. Think about the famous people that are seen as beautiful. One movie star or pop singer may be deeply desirable to one person, and then completely off putting to the next. Except perhaps for Tom Hiddleston, it seems EVERYONE finds him deeply desirable!
Personally, I’m attracted to people for more than just their physical beauty. A person can be physically stunning, but deeply repulsive to me. I can think of several famous actors who are lauded as being the “sexiest men alive” yet I find them very unattractive because I know that they have been violent towards previous partners, or have bigoted political beliefs, or are ignorant. What I find attractive in a person extends much further than external appearance. For example I am attracted to an infectious laugh, gentle hands, quick wit, deep intellect… I also like crooked teeth, skinny legs, smile wrinkles, hairy bodies, big feet, fat bellies… all things that other people would consider very unattractive. A person doesn’t have to have all of those things for me to find them attractive, but I notice them on people and am attracted to them, particularly when accompanied by those non-physical attributes that I like.
That said, I don’t expect every person on the planet to meet my aesthetic. I’m not personally offended by encountering someone that I do not find attractive. There seems to be this mentality in men in particular that if a woman fails to be sexually attractive to him, it is a personal insult to him. I’ve heard it referred to as The Boner Principle. Any woman who “fails” to inspire an erection in a man loses her right to basic human respect by default. It is the most unbelievably conceited attitude to think that you are owed attraction by every woman you encounter.
I’ve got no intention of buying into that bullshit. My life is worth far more than being a pretty ornament that pleases others. If people think I’m ugly, I offer no apology and feel no shame. For some time my personal motto has been:
I’m not here to decorate the world, I’m here to change it.
No. That’s all I have to say to the word “ugly” in this context.
I’m with you on the attractiveness thing. Attractiveness for me is about far more than what is on the outside. A person can be classically gorgeous (by society’s standards) and an utterly ugly human being.
I love your moto and I think you are an amazing person who deserves to be judge on what you do, not what you look like. It infuriates me beyond all belief that people think they are ugly because society says we should look or act a certain way. If I could change anything, it would be the lack of confidence and love that people have for themselves.
Hear, hear! There’s a saying that goes “Beauty is as beauty does”, and I think that sums it up here. I think you’re beautiful for what you DO! But you’re right, beauty is really nothing in and of itself. I’ve seen all sorts of stories in movies and TV where the “ugly duckling” turns out to be a good person and loved for that, while the conventionally “pretty woman” is mean and spiteful. More women and girls need to hear that – that what makes them special to those they love are the wonderful inner qualities. I mean, I’m not conventionally pretty by any means, yet my husband loves me for who I am inside and sees me as more beautiful than the plastic dolls that pass for women nowadays. So all of you on here are beautiful, for who you are, not because you tickle the fancies of this narcissistic, shallow world. (BTW, Tom “Loki” Huddleston? Yes, agree – yum!)
“I’m not here to decorate the world, I’m here to change it.” I love this! I think you have a great dirty laugh 😉 and I wish I had lovely calves like yours.
Mindy, I didn’t realise my laugh is a dirty one. I love dirty laughs!
And honey, I don’t have calves, I have full grown cows! Hehehe!
People can be so cruel. You are a very beautiful person, dahling!
Really, in this day and age someone is calling you ugly, they can’t be more wrong. All my life I have never been told I am beautiful but I do believe that I am lucky. Lucky to have been born here and healthy. Lucky to have healthy children and lucky to be able to express my opinion. And my opinion is that those people who comment and e-mail you telling you that you are ugly and names are the ones who both have nothing better to do and have such low self esteem that they have to take it out on someone else to make themselves feel better. I feel only pity for them and tell them to look at their own lives and try to improve themselves instead of picking on someone who is making a difference in a lot of other peoples lives. Good on you for ignoring them and don’t give them the satisfaction of replying.
Some of us out here applaud you for who you are and for what you are doing.
“I’m not here to decorate the world, I’m here to change it”.
I am going to write that on the wall in my office! What an amazing motto!
I wanted to comment Kath, to let you know that you have TOTALLY changed my world. I’ve been following you for about 20 months now. You were the first fat positive activist that I had ever encountered in my life and those ideas were SO radical to me when I first read your blog and your tweets.
Now, less than 2 years later I am a changed woman, I no longer blame my body for not being the “right” shape and size and at 34 I now love myself more than ever.
It all started with you, so thank you for opening yourself up to a barrage of “you’re so ugly” emails just on the off chance that something you say, will reach someone like me.
Nikki, this is the type of response that really matters to me. This is why I do this stuff, why I put myself out there. So that someone can find the peace with themselves that I found, thanks to those who came before me. I love the adage “Be the person you needed when you were younger.” Nothing is better than knowing someone out there is finding the path to self esteem through me.
You read my mind – as usual. No, not me nor you or anybody else have been born to be aesthetically pleasing to others.
I once heard a half-jokingly question:
Why should I spend I do not have on things I do not want to please people I do not like? – Same goes with beauty. Why should I try to reach a beauty ideal, that is out of my reach (look ,I’ll never look like teenager again), by doing things I hate (like dieting or sports) just to impress people I cannot stand (because they are so shallow)?
Why should I spend MONEY .. sorry for the ommission.
I’m not here to decorate the world, I’m here to change it. AMEN!!!
People are cruel & ignorant & usually so full of self-hatred that they feel the need to feel as if they are ‘better’ than someone else, hence the prevalence of attitudes such as “Well, I am fat but at least not as fat as SHE is” or “She is much uglier than I am.” I am pushing 65 years old & I have lived all those years as a disabled person, as well as one who could never be conventionally pretty. I have been part of fat acceptance for 34 years & I was able to accept the fat part much easily than the ‘ugly’ part. However, you live & learn & you grow. If you are lucky & smart & keep your eyes, mind & heart open &, if like me, you can connect with mutually supportive people who share similar experiences, you come to have self-esteem, confidence, you learn to love yourself & feel at home in your body & happy to be who you are. I have finally reached that point. I have to say that getting old tends to be a big help in developing that “fuck you & your opinions & your fascist beauty standards’ attitude. However, as I have also seen on the internet, it is unfortunately not an universal experience. A few weeks ago, I came across a story about the need for body love & among those featured, usually showing photos of three generations of women in a family, was a lovely, fat 95-year-old woman who said she needed body love because she hated her weight & still wished she could be thinner. What the hell is WRONG with a culture where a woman can live 95 years in a fat body, could very possibly have lived to be 95 at least in part BECAUSE of her fat, & still feel she needs to change, or a culture where a woman of that age still cares what she looks like. She obviously did not wish to be thinner for her health, as losing weight is one of the WORST things older people can do for their health & if she has lived 95 years, she has to KNOW that she has been lied to for years about fat sending people to an early grave. No, her insecurity is all about a lifetime of being told that all that matters about a woman is her looks & the size of her body & that she could never be good enough if she did not conform. I wasted too much of my life on those feelings, but I am very glad that I did not waste my whole life on them.
I used to be hurt badly by comments on my disability or my looks, but no more. The last time I was hurt was when my granddaughter, who was five at the time, told me I was ugly. I came to understand that she loves me anyway, that she was too young to intentionally, & that her ideas of what is & what is not beautiful are molded every day by the culture around her. She owns about 70 Monster High dolls & she loves them, but doesn’t seem to realize that their bodies are not like any real people she knows. She is a tall, sturdy little girl, almost 9 now, & getting a bit plumper in preparation for puberty, & her mother, who is recently divorced & stressed & in the market for a new man, is obsessing about her being fat or getting fed the wrong foods or too much or whatever when she here, since I have taken care of her a great deal since she was a baby. So I what I can to spend our time together concentrating on doing fun things, enjoying each other, not talking a lot about looks, & I try to model self-loving, fat-positive behavior, such as explaining to her why ‘fat’ is not a bad word, being fat is not bad, & why I don’t mind being called fat, etc. I hope that I can be of some help to her, especially since I suspect that, given her genes, she is likely to grow up to be large & tall.
You are an amazing woman, Kath, & a great role model for us, not only in fat acceptance, but in accepting &, yes, celebrating, that we are not what the world considers beautiful. We are our unique selves, & we bring much color, beauty, & richness to the world, & that is much better than being blandly & shallowly beautiful.
YOU are also an amazing person Patsy. I’m glad that you have got to the point where you feel ‘fuck you and your opinions’. I sincerely wish that we didn’t live in a world where people were judged by looks. It is a shitty attitude and I too have got to the point where I don’t care what people think of me or how I look.
When I was a teenager it used to kill me that none of the ‘cool’ boys would give me the time of day (other than to poke fun) but what would I have done with a person like that anyway. Such shallow ideals would probably bore me.
You raise a great point when you talk about people thinking ‘well I’m fat but she is fatter’. There is this fabled image of women as being in some sort of sisterhood but I’ve found that is rarely the case. Women can be so cruel sometimes.
You also talk about accepting that you are ugly. I presume that you mean in the classic sense because you are (as far as I can see from this post) a beautiful person who deserves to be judged on far more than her looks. Who’d want that anyway 😀
It’s another one of those things where you and I are swimming against the tide in a big way, m’dear.
From the instant we’re born, little girls are told first whether or not they are considered physically attractive… and maybe someone gets to some other aspect of us later on, if they think of it. Little boys hear that they are strong or that they are smart before people think to comment on their looks.
Sure, I enjoy being told I’m pretty. As a woman, I am socialized that way, and I doubt it would be an unpleasant thing to hear even if I weren’t. But you know what I’d rather hear? That I’m smart. That I’m funny. That I’m a great singer and a fabulous cook and a creative human being. That I’m a comforting person in times of crisis. That I have value beyond any decorative possibilities.
So call me pretty anytime you like… but please say something else first. To paraphrase John Merrick in The Elephant Man: I’m not an art exhibit; I’m a human being.
I truly enjoy reading all your entries. I am 60 years old and still continue on a journey toward absolute self acceptance. May your day be as wonderful as you seem to be.
I hope it’s not too creepy if an old man thanks you for making the world a lovelier place.
I get a lot of nasty hate mail too, and I can assure you that people only behave like that because they are threatened by bad ass women like us who are confident, happy, assertive, and likable without having to conform. I can’t find a photo of you so I can’t comment on your appearance, but photos don’t show a person’s beauty, actions do, and you are fucking beautiful.
Well written, and I love your attitude! Rock on!
Own your ugly girl! We can’t all be “pretty”. I was born with a cleft palette and having a facial deformity growing up I was called every name under the sun. I’m approaching 40 and still single and while I would like to find a man to share my life with, I refuse to get discouraged because of my so-called ugliness. It’s a great asshole buffer – if they are offended by my face, I wouldn’t want to date them anyway!
While I still have issues with my physical appearance from time to time, I am doing better with who I am as a person (I have baggage). In any case, I’m still struck by how often women are depicted as decorative objects and not people at all. Not just in western culture either. Women are so often considered property, or a means to acquire land or heirs or whatever that I am rather appalled. This isn’t true everywhere, so I wonder how it came to be so prevalent.
Yet women have always had their own lives, however privately they have had to live them. It is a weird dynamic and I hope it continues to change so that women are fully people to everyone everywhere.
Excellent piece. You are just f*#king awesome which is better than boring old (standard) beauty!
“I feel absolutely no obligation to be aesthetically pleasing to others.” – Yes, so wonderful. I love this statement.
The trolls posting such things to you certainly epitomize the definition of the UGLY.
I wish I had spent the first 60 yrs of my life with a tiny bit of your pizzazz and spunk! I vow to do better for the next 30 yrs!
i love what u just wrote.. i think u are amazing and totally support ur idea of beauty
This was one of the most inspiring things that I’ve ever read regarding redefining Self in the face of a society of individuals who think that since they have an *opinion* about something, they a) have an automatic ‘right’ to express that because b) they think that it has some merit. The Dunning-Kruger effect has many followers, as it turns out. 😀 I want to thank you for expressing this because The Boner Principle isn’t just about weight, it’s about the experience of being sidelined because of a crooked nose, or an imperfect smile, or *whatever* ‘flaw’ that deems an individual ‘unworthy’ regardless of gender. You have inspired me this morning to go and do some digging around in my own feelings of socially programmed unworthiness that have been holding me back from expressing my Self in the world; thank you for that and for the strong platform that you’ve expressed so that I can more strongly craft my immunity to the insults and arrows that I’ve experienced as a fiercely intelligent yet ‘physically unacceptable’ woman. 🙂
Well said, Kath!
F*** them, F*** the lot of them. I always look forward to your blogs they are a life preserver in the sea of hatred and stupidity. Ugly is skin deep but stupid goes all the way to the bone…
I first began to be told I was ugly as I entered my teens and I felt deeply hurt by it. I felt hurt that people wanted to make me feel bad, or didn’t care about how I felt. At that time I didn’t really care about how I looked, but I hated the humiliation and the way (some) people treated me, supposedly because of how I looked. So that made me care deeply – geez, I just wanted to look average, just ‘nothing’ enough to not be abused by strangers and humiliated by acquaintances.
I still have absolutely no understanding of the mindset that causes people to call out others on the way they look. Is it a dehumanising of people that look different, do they want to set themselves apart from those who are different (why?) or is difference somehow scary to them?
All thoughtful responses appreciated.
I believe we are all like works of art. Some of us are in bodies that are more sculpted and linear and geometric, and others are tonal and curved and soft. (And some are a little abstract!) It is silly to say that one kind of body is more “beautiful” than any other kind; it’s like declaring that Michelangelo’s works bear the standard of what art must be and every other kind of painting style in history is null and void.
What a beautiful analogy! Also, even if we’re naturally drawn to some works of art more than others, there’s no reason not to respect ALL of them.
I love this. I believe that the real “ugly” people are the ones who prey on others, belittle others, or just make them feel like shit. Doesn’t matter how “hot” you think you are, if your an asshole it will shine right through. Keep on being awesome.
Thats funny – if yr an arsehole, it will shine right through! Love it!
I believe that is respect for everything what is lost. It makes me sad that the world seems to go backwards. Instead of being in the need of knowledge we are in the need to hurt others because we think it’s fun. And kids are now being teach that nothing deserves respect. Haters are found everywhere, and for no reasons. It’s like the new trend. It makes me wonder where are we going. We read in the news very often people commiting suicide for this type of bullying. But that doesn’t mke people think that we should teach respect instead hate. This is the first time I read your blog. And it makes me so happy to know that you and so many others are fighting for a better tomorow. I wish you the best. Congratulations girl!! (I hope i write this right because my english isn’t good) xoxo!
“I’m not here to decorate the world, I’m here to change it.” – this blew me away! Very well said.
“I feel absolutely no obligation to be aesthetically pleasing to others.” — Best thing I’ve read all day. Year, probably.
Some people are genetically (through no effort of their own, I might add) endowed with looks that our society finds “attractive” or “beautiful.” And some of them even I find nice to look at, but I wouldn’t necessarily want to sit down across a table from them because, as you point out, outward physical appearance has little to do with the much more important stuff of a person’s character. That being said, sometimes a person’s inner beauty shines through and is so obvious just from looking at them, that they appear (to me, anyway) just as beautiful as any fashion model or celebrity. You are one of those people. In fact, I have just been scrolling through your blog trying to find MORE pictures of you because the few that I did find made me really happy.
I am so glad you don’t take the haters to heart. The haters must be dealing with their own demons. My primary goal in life is to raise children who love themselves and never feel it necessary (or appropriate!) to hate/shame anyone else. One of the ways I do this is to let them see me naked, and to never utter negative comments about my own body or theirs. Our bodies are our bodies and they come in all shapes and sizes. Loving ourselves and others is so much more important than anyone’s idea of physical “beauty.”
Rock on, girl.
Kath, I want to loudly second what Nikki said. You’ve helped me so much, I can’t even put it into words. You’re doing a fine job of changing the world!
I just read your view of my book Fat on your blog, and as the comments were closed there, just wanted to comment here. First, thank you for the positive things you said about the book! But second, I was interested in your comments that I did not acknowledge thin privilege in the book.
I actually went to some trouble to raise that very issue in the book in a reflexive way by talking about my thin body shape and commenting that while I am not the subject personally of anti-fat stigma, I am addressed by anti-fat discourses in another way – as a mother of young children who is positioned as responsible for their body size. I talked about the difficulties of being a feminist mother who does not want to pass on body hatred to my young daughters but also needs to ensure that they are healthy. And I note that even thin people are still imbricated in anti-fat messages (‘If you don’t conform to warnings, then you will become fat’ and so on).
As you yourself point out, I detail in the book the injustices to which fat people are subjected and the results of this for their self-worth, so surely this signifies my awareness of thin privilege?
I think that we also all have to be careful about talking about thin privilege, given that many thin people have eating disorders, and are certainly not privileged. We can’t tell from looking at a thin person how stable their mental health and how good their quality of life are. They may be suffering intensely and be just as self-conscious of their bodies as many fat people are made to be.
I don’t normally allow off topic comments on other threads, but I will let this one through.
I’m afraid you’ve just done exactly what I talk about in the review, right here in this comment on my blog. All you have done is reinforce my assessment that you fail to acknowledge thin privilege.
1) Suggesting that your experiences as a thin mother is in any way in comparison to the experiences of a fat woman, and in particular a fat mother, is not “acknowledging your thin privilege”. It’s saying “But I do it tough too.” – which is not an automatic dismissal of thin privilege. Pointing out privilege is not suggesting that someone does not have issues they have to deal with, it is demonstrating that the people they have privilege over have a whole host of issues that they have the privilege of not having to deal with.
2) Detailing the injustices which fat people are subjected to is not the same as acknowledging that you as an author are privileged in having people listen to what you say, when fat people saying THE EXACT SAME THING are told they are “making excuses” and “in denial”.
3) Thin people with eating disorders are very much privileged over fat people with eating disorders. Thin people are believed to have eating disorders. Thin people are given sympathy for having eating disorders. Thin people are DIAGNOSED with eating disorders. Thin people are given treatment for eating disorders. Fat people with eating disorders (of which I am one) are disbelieved, either told they are just gluttons (for binge eating disorder) or encouraged to engage in disordered behaviours (if they are restriction/purge disorders). Fat people fight to get a diagnosis of an eating disorder (we are either assumed to have BED or considered liars if we restrict/purge, and even then only get the ambiguous EDNOS instead of an actual diagnosis). Fat people are encouraged to continue their disordered behaviour rather than getting treatment for it.
I believe you probably don’t quite understand how privilege works, and I stand by my review of your book.
You haven’t made it clear how my acknowledgement of thin privilege should have been articulated in the book? The whole book is about how thinness is privileged over fat embodiment and the sociocultural reasons for this. An important exception to this, of course, is when people are deemed to be ‘too thin’ (‘scary skinny’ etc) and are subjected to excoriation in the popular media etc just as are fat people. Both body types are represented as grotesque and ugly.
You’re the researcher. I’m not being paid to educate you on how thin privilege works. I’ve outlined the problems clearly enough in my response, any further has to be up to your own research.
Again, all you’re doing is proving me right by suggesting that “thin people are called names too” – that shows a clear failure to understand how privilege works. Not what we should be seeing from someone who makes a living from talking about fatness.
Well Kath, I was genuinely interested in engaging in a conversation with you and inviting you to explain your comments. I don’t agree with your assumptions about me and my understandings of thin privilege, but maybe we will just need to leave it at that.
Well Deborah, I already explained my comments above, I don’t need to jump through hoops to make you understand when it’s all laid out there perfectly clear.
I don’t agree with your attitude towards thin privilege, an attitude that you seem to want so desperately to cling to – I didn’t invite debate or conversation. Perhaps next time you want to “engage in conversation”, perhaps find out if the other party is a willing and interested participant first.
Nobody you have privilege over has an obligation to entertain your desire to “engage in conversation”, I was polite enough to respond to your off topic post and clarify my original review, however you aren’t willing to listen or take the time to educate yourself without demanding I do it for you.
Next time you wish to publish about a topic you don’t experience yourself, you know to expect those who do to openly critique you.
Just wanted to shout out and thank you for the amazing work you do. I think it’s a radical sentiment- that you don’t need to be beautiful, esp for women, but I think it’s true! And powerful.
I’m not at that point with my own life/body/whatever, but I wholeheartedly stand behind you in this. Thank you for putting it forward. A lot of fat activism is about recognising beauty in all, but as you say- how is beauty related to any of the amazing things that we love about other people?
I know I allow myself to feel like I should perform some level of beauty, or whatever is allowed me as a fat woman, and I recognise the harm while I simultaneously enjoy the performance. This is reminding me there are other options to conforming to those expectations.. I’m rambling and not sure there’s a point. But as so many others have said, hear hear!!
In response to Deborah Lupton: it saddens me that you can recognise the privilege thin people have and still sit here and say ‘but thin ppl have it rough too’. Of course, some do. But Kath is explaining that privilege intersects. Just cos someone is thin doesn’t mean they might not have other less privileged identities (people of colour, those who have disabilities). But a thin person is never going to experience the level of hatred that fat people do on an everyday basis because of their body size. (And no, ‘eat a sandwich’ doesn’t count, although it can definitely be harmful on an individual basis).
Moreover, if you’ve written about this, I would have hoped that you would consider the impact of your words on Kath and other readers. Surely if you’ve got some idea about fat activism, you would realise fat activists have to deal with ‘what about me’ questions constantly. There are countless ‘playing nicely in the sandpit 101’ blog posts out there that explain why comments like yours are little more than derailing. Try googling a bit and stop relying on those who deal with this constantly to educate you on your ignorance. It’s NOT hard. Trust me- I’ve done it!!
Kath- hope my comment is okay, happy for you to delete if I’m taking over. I just got mad.
More than OK Laurin – you rock!
It took me a long time to learn that I don’t owe it to anybody to be what they perceive as pretty. I do not owe it to anyone to be their “eye candy.” It seems a simple concept, but it took me almost 50 years to get it.
Wow, great post! I aspire to not be concerned with what people think of my appearance, aside from basic hygiene and cleanliness. I don’t always meet that standard but that is the goal. Thanks for your views. They’re very uplifting and encouraging.