The Ugly Acceptance Movement (or, a term I sort of just made up right now)

31 Aug

My sister and I went to see The Dark Knight Rises last night, and it was fine and all (especially Christian Bale), but there was something about it that really irritated me. It’s something that bothers me just about any time I go to see a movie, or watch a television show, or whatever: there were no ugly women.

This was a movie full of many dudes, some of whom were extremely attractive (again, Christian Bale, I am looking at you) and some of whom were what I would describe as “not conventionally attractive”. There were two women in the movie. Both were thin and polished and beautiful. Of course.

I am so fucking sick of all of these movies where men are allowed to be schlubby, or hook-nosed, or Steve Buscemi and still end up with a smoking-hot girl at the end. I am so fucking sick of movies where a girl is ugly because she wears glasses, or has braces, or favours big baggy sweaters – and then she takes off her glasses and blammo, she’s Rachael Fucking Leigh Cook.

I just want to turn on my television and see someone who looks like me. Someone with bad skin and squinty eyes and a big nose. I want to be able to go outside without feeling like I have to put on a layer of makeup before I can pass as presentable. I want to not feel like a disgusting monster approximately 43% of the time.

There have been times in my life when I would have been willing to trade any and all of my many sterling qualities for a pretty face. That’s gross, and it makes me feel gross to type it out, but it’s true.

Have you ever noticed how many men think that the gravest insult they can sling at a girl is to call her ugly? Anytime they want to make it clear how great their distain is for a woman, her life, and her entire body of work, they call her ugly. Anytime they want to dismiss a woman, her thoughts and feelings and smarts, they call her ugly. When they want to mock or insult another man, they call the object of his affections ugly.

I am fucking sick of it, do you hear me? I am sick of ugly being this horrible, shameful thing to be called. I am sick of appearance-based insults being the very worst thing that people can think of.

I am not writing this because I want you to believe that everyone is beautiful, or because I’m fishing for compliments, or whatever. What I want you to realize is that ugly is normal. Ugly is what the majority of people look like without makeup or airbrushing or clever lighting. Ugly just means that you don’t conform with society’s rigid beauty standards.

So here’s my homework for you: go watch some Coronation Street. Check out how many ugly women are on that show. Notice that their lives really aren’t that different from their more attractive counterparts, and also note their hot boyfriends, and not-hot boyfriends. Notice that you are watching television and you are actually seeing people who maybe look like you. Oh, and if you need someone to catch you up on the last twenty years or so of the show, give my mom a call and I’m sure she’ll be happy to oblige.

I guess what I’m really saying here is, fuck society’s boring, homogeneous ideas of what beauty is. Maybe I’m ugly, and maybe it’s fine.Β So who’s going to help me write the Ugly Woman’s Manifesto?

Oh and the first person to leave a comment telling me that I’m pretty gets a knee to the groin.

Hollywood’s idea of “ugly” – quick, avert your eyes before Medusa here turns you to stone

31 Responses to “The Ugly Acceptance Movement (or, a term I sort of just made up right now)”

  1. Natasha, Men Are Women Too August 31, 2012 at 6:53 am #

    Love, love it!

  2. empressnasigoreng August 31, 2012 at 10:06 am #

    So true! Australian movies much better in that regard.

    • bellejarblog September 1, 2012 at 1:30 am #

      It’s weird, eh? Like, why is the media in Australia and the UK so much different than North America? I find that even Canadian movies fall prey to the every-woman-must-be-gorgeous fallacy.

      • empressnasigoreng September 2, 2012 at 11:15 pm #

        A lot of Australian films tend to run towards comedy or arthouse so maybe that is why. Just imagine how crap Muriel’s Wedding would have been without Toni Collette being willing to look her most unattractive.

  3. catariya August 31, 2012 at 10:53 am #

    Watch HBO’s Girls. I was pleasantly surprised πŸ™‚

    • bellejarblog September 1, 2012 at 1:33 am #

      I keep hearing such conflicting reviews of this show! Some people love it, some people are SUPER CRITICAL of it. I definitely have to check it out!

      • catariya September 1, 2012 at 12:20 pm #

        There are still bits to it that I cringe at, but overall it’s funny and gives a way more ‘real world’ view of young women.

  4. April August 31, 2012 at 12:01 pm #

    Someone with bad skin

    Britney Spears. (I recently saw an unedited – or at least not heavily edited – photo of her. She looks like a real person.)

    and squinty eyes

    Taylor Swift.

    and a big nose.

    Miranda Kerr.

    My mom used to say that she didn’t watch movies and TV to see regular people. She saw enough regular people going about her day to day business. She watched movies and television to live in a fantasy world for awhile. I do the same thing. I think more people should, or at least remember that what we’re seeing onscreen is a work of fiction. I haven’t seen the latest Batman film yet, but I’m sure it was like other superhero movies where people do things that defy the laws of physics and science, yet people don’t get upset about unrealistic expectations being set since we can’t jump off a building and shoot something from our belt to stop our fall.

    So, get mad at the people who actually buy into the supposed “standard” of beauty and try to make others feel bad for not fitting into it. They’re the problem.

    • Ryan August 31, 2012 at 2:15 pm #

      April, are you asserting that the fiction we absorb is just this self-contained entity that doesn’t seep out into the way we see the world and live in it?

      • April August 31, 2012 at 10:15 pm #

        If it seeps out into the way we see the world and live in it, then that’s something we need to work on within ourselves.

    • bellejarblog September 1, 2012 at 1:47 am #

      I’m going to be honest here, and I hope it doesn’t come across as rude.

      I think that saying that you don’t watch movies and TV to see “regular people” and you want to use that media to live in a “fantasy world” is a total cop-out. And part of the point I was trying to make there in that mess I hammered out in the wee hours of the morning is that North American media is full of ordinary and even unattractive men. It’s only the women we expect to fit into the narrow standard of beauty that society expects of us.

      As well, television and movies in other places, notably European countries and Australia/NZ, feature regular-looking people. So it’s not like no one ever would want to watch someone who looks like them on a screen.

      And there’s a huge difference between the kind of laws-of-physics-defying stunts that happen in superhero movies and our expectations that surround the appearance of women. For one thing, there is a giant industry trying to convince women that if only they use the right product, style their hair in the right way, or use the right colour of eyeshadow, they too can be supermodel material.

      A movie industry with such a huge and obvious double standard that feeds us images of average-looking men, unattractive men, and super attractive men but only ever shows us conventionally gorgeous women is definitely a problem. But then, I think most mainstream media is a problem when it comes to the way it treats women.

    • Matt September 1, 2012 at 2:11 am #

      The problem, April, is that the fantasy world of television and the movies doesn’t always have a distinct border with reality. Sure, for three hours, I can immerse myself in a world where police departments will happily order all their personnel to chase one man, ignoring all the other crimes in progress; where there exist eccentric billionaires who take it upon themselves to act as vigilantes using a secret identity and experimental military hardware; where cartoonish supervillians are part of the milieu, and let my suspension of disbelief take charge. This works because when the credits roll, that fantasy world stays inside the cinema, and I come out where none of that exists.

      However, the staggeringly beautiful people that graced that screen for those three hours still exist. And every time I go shopping for groceries, buy a pack of gum, or even dare to walk past a newsagent, there they are, following me. Their every foible is dissected, analysed, chewed up, and spat out. Not only is it their job to entertain me when they’re on the clock, but an entire industry exists to chase them around and turn their everyday lives into entertainment as well. An entire industry dedicated to capturing them when they’re trying to be normal people, doing normal things, and then excoriate them for not looking like movie stars when they’re shopping for groceries, buying a pack of gum, or going out to a restaurant.

      And that’s just the tabloid magazine industry. The fashion magazine industry then takes these same people, pays them to just stand there and look good, and then airbrushes the everloving fuck out of their faces, and bodies, to take these already beautiful people that, every day, I’m shown how I should compare my life to theirs (because, really, who wants to 9-to-5 in downtown Toronto when I could be sunning myself on my private yacht in Belize?), and make them look, literally, impossibly good. Magazine covers and ads where women have skin as impossibly smooth as a Barbie doll’s, and heaven forbid that, when they advertise bikinis, that their bodies should show any other flaws.

      ….But only with women. Only are women’s bodies, and faces, and lives, put on this grotesque parade.

      And this manipulation of women’s appearances goes back decades. As only one example, go rent Casablanca, and look very closely at how they photograph Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman when each of them is in the frame, alone. Bogie’s always in sharp focus, sharply lit, capturing every detail of his rugged good looks. When the camera switches to Ingrid, immediately everything’s in soft light, and soft focus, making her skin look soft and smooth.

      So yeah, I think there’s every reason to be angry at these industries that exist exclusively to make you feel bad about yourself, simply for not having a face that would launch a thousand ships, and then shows you what Helen looked like when she wasn’t inspiring war, and screaming, “GODS, WHAT A GORGON!” There is an industry whose sole purpose is to make people think that if you didn’t put on makeup today, or if you have a body fat percentage above, say, 10% (bearing in mind the average person’s is between 18-24%) then you’re a hideous monster who deserves to be made the subject of fun.

      This is very important, so I want to say it as clearly as I can: FUCK. THAT. SHIT.

  5. Sara Hanna August 31, 2012 at 12:37 pm #

    Well, since I don’t want a knee to the groin, I’m gonna skip what I was itching to tell you and move right along. *shifty eyes* I used to watch Coronation Street all the time with my mom. Funny thing, it never really changes. It’s always kinda the same storyline. And yeah, most of the people on that show are not only kinda ugly, but also old. But you grow to love em nonetheless. Just like in real life. I’d rather someone who had a great personality, made me laugh, loved me and was also just attractive to me, than someone who looked like a model anyways. πŸ˜›

    • bellejarblog September 1, 2012 at 1:49 am #

      Haha Coronation Street is the best. Every time I talk to my mom she gives me all the updates. I’m like, I don’t even know who these people are.

      And yeah, I’d rather be with someone that I love, who is funny and smart and good at what he does, than someone who is smokin’ hot.

  6. eden August 31, 2012 at 12:43 pm #

    This is amazing! Yeah, none of us are under any obligation to be pleasant to look at, and it’s so easy to forget that. I sometimes talk about how I am kind of secretly ugly, and I never ever mean it as self-deprecation, but that gets exhausting. xo!

    • bellejarblog September 1, 2012 at 1:58 am #

      “I sometimes talk about how I am kind of secretly ugly, and I never ever mean it as self-deprecation, but that gets exhausting.”

      Oh man, I hear you on this! I feel like every time I try to talk about this, there’s usually a chorus of “but you’re not ugly!”, when really what I’m trying to say is, being ugly isn’t that big of a deal, you know?

      • eden September 1, 2012 at 1:49 pm #

        Yes! And that dude, I am totally gorgeous and also totally ugly and these things are not actually mutually exclusive.

        That line from “Chelsea Hotel #2” – We are ugly but we have the music – is amazing to me for that. It’s PROUD, goddammit. And it’s sexy.

  7. annie August 31, 2012 at 2:24 pm #

    this is so great, anne.

  8. Ryan August 31, 2012 at 2:40 pm #

    Not calling you pretty, this is a bigger thought, so leave my groin alone: It seems interesting to me that when you list the traits that you feel “disqualify” you from prettiness (“bad skin and squinty eyes and a big nose”), pejorative tone aside, I find these characteristics to be pretty neutral. If someone described someone to me in less judge-y language using those characteristics, I don’t think I’d immediately go “eugh, doesn’t sound pretty!” I’m sure when Rachel Leigh cook breaks down her unattractive qualities for herself (“too short, enormous forehead, can’t wear glasses convincingly”, or whatever), the list is made up of these same details that don’t really add up to a conception of someone’s attractiveness, until you imbue them with your own confirmation bias. I mean maybe the problem is all the breaking ourselves and others down into these little movie close-up chunks and then trying to infer the whole from the parts. There’s a kind of unified aesthetic of a person that gets lost there.

    But you know, what do I know, I’m just a fat dude with a receding hairline who doesn’t know how to dress.

    • bellejarblog September 1, 2012 at 2:58 am #


      Kidding, kidding πŸ™‚

      You do make a good point. I think that what I was trying to say (and which I realize didn’t come across very clearly) is that women are both constantly being told that they need to look a certain way and are being torn down for their appearance. I’m sure that every pretty-faced Hollywood lady feels ugly quite often, because the Patriarchy Machine (own one now for only $99.99!) makes sure to keep all women feeling badly about themselves.

      And I doubt that any of the qualities you listed about yourself above, whether they’re true or not, have any impact on all the smart things you know πŸ™‚

  9. Emily the Strange August 31, 2012 at 2:48 pm #

    Yes, yes, YES! Ugly women unite! And I felt the same way about that Rachel Leigh Cook movie! Many English and Australian and European shows are far more representative of various physical types (male and female), and we in North America need to catch the fuck up. I don’t know if you’re pretty (don’t knee me, please!), but you sure as hell are awesome!!

    • bellejarblog September 1, 2012 at 2:00 am #

      Thanks! And yeah, I’m always totally blown away when I watch movies/see television from other continents. It’s like, whoa, these people look like me! Why don’t I ever see that on Canadian television?

      • Ryan September 2, 2012 at 12:21 am #

        Because, as an industry we’re trying SO HARD to run it like America. I think it’s the wrong strategy, and it will end in tears.

  10. Fran November 30, 2012 at 2:40 am #

    Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, my husband may not be ‘attractive’ to other people but he definately is to me, and vise-versa

    • bellejarblog December 5, 2012 at 6:50 pm #

      Totally! I would love to live in a world where we put less emphasis on “beauty”, though!

  11. Jenn April 2, 2013 at 7:16 pm #

    Your blog is absolutely wonderful, but this is probably my favorite of your posts. I’ve always been frustrated by this as well – ugly/decent men get the hot chick. I feel sick to my stomach every time my boyfriend watches Game of Thrones. You’ve inspired me to write a post of my own about my thoughts of objectifying women and the double standards of beauty ( I look forward to reading more!

  12. kait March 23, 2014 at 7:44 pm #

    Not only are American movie women all attractive, but they’re only ever secondary characters with few meaningful lines, one dimensional personalities, and there aren’t very many of them anyway. It’s because the film and tv industries are dominated by men, who produce their own fantasy content for other men. So of course the women in them are going to be unrealistic. If we want to see real women in pop culture, then we’re going to have to produce it ourselves. Which is how it should be, because if we just complained and we got token Ugly Bettys without the power dynamics changing (and without the quality and quantity of women increasing as well), then nothing is accomplished. In fact it would be worse, because we’d be reinforcing the power of being called ugly as a means of hurting our little girly feelings and thus being controlled.

    Really, the question isn’t so much ‘can we see ugly women in media’ as ‘can we reduce the stigma of being ugly’? They aren’t necessarily the same thing. The only way to reduce the stigma is to choose – yes, choose – to not be ashamed or afraid of it. That kind of self-love only comes from inside, not from being shown a fictional person on a screen.

    There’s only power in calling a woman ugly because we give it power.


  1. Beaten With An Ugly Stick | Life In Pint-Sized Form - August 31, 2012

    […] friend Anne over at The Belle Jar wrote a blog yesterday that talks about this. Women in movies and advertisements are conventionally beautiful. […]

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