From the minute we start presenting as women, we’re expected to, above all else, look nice. Consumable for the male gaze. Infinitely enticing, but only for consumption. But honestly, I wasn’t made for the art of male seduction—not in looks or sensibilities.
I knew this from the little girls that shrieked when I entered the ladies room and boys that snickered to themselves, throwing looks as I stood glued to gymnasium walls at school dances. A few instances come to mind—have you ever had someone just blatantly call you ugly?
Maybe you’ve thought it to yourself, silently asking as people looked you up and down. But it’s different when you’ve been told it. When so many different people have felt comfortable picking out your flaws and telling you about them. It makes games of “what celebrity do I look like” feel all the more painful once everyone comes to the conclusion that, huh, no one really looks like you.
Learning this as early as I did gave me reason to form a good personality, though. By sixteen, girls I didn’t know were waving at me. I heard rumors about myself that painted me as some mysterious, artistic intellectual. In reality, I was a lonely, depressed girl who openly talked about sex, politics, philosophy, whatever. And I was only doing it because I knew that I had nothing to lose. I won’t say that I “wasn’t like other girls,” though I’m sure I thought it at the time. There were so many girls—and guys—like me. So many of us who transcended the grasp of societal beauty standards and became notable for our strange yet interesting ways.
Even still, my ugliness haunted me. It haunts me now, though much less. With Instagram and Snapchat and YouTube constantly shoving beauty standards in my face, how couldn’t I? Beauty is a commodity in the modern world. It means more followers, more money, farther reach for your ideas. As long as your face is attached, of course.
So, yeah, when I look in the mirror sometimes all I see are flaws. And some days I still only drink black coffee and eat toast because that girl on my feed just looks so thin. And the world keeps selling me the idea that, for no good reason at all, black coffee and toast are better than a full meal as long as they make you take up less space.
Once these insecurities sink in, they can really fuck up your life. Anyone who has believed that they aren’t attractive knows how much it can wreck your relationships. Cringing every time your S.O. calls you beautiful, followed by that increasingly uncomfortable conversation about insecurity. Men think it’s sweet that a girl doesn’t know she’s beautiful until she’s crying in their bed about it at three in the morning.
Let me say that, if you’re in a relationship with someone who feels this kind of insecurity, the worst thing that you can do is get angry with them about it. I’m sure that so many people know this feeling, and to those people, I’m so sorry. No one should be treated like they’re weak or stupid for being insecure. Especially when that insecurity is ingrained in us without our knowledge or consent.
After years of struggling with all of this, I’ve finally started letting myself get comfortable with the idea that I really am ugly. At first it was painful. It was like having to admit that you were born at the tail-end of the race, right before the winner hit the finish line. And when I’d gotten so comfortable that I could say it, I realized how uncomfortable it made people.
Seriously, the best way to make an entire room squirm with unease is to blatantly, shamelessly call yourself ugly. A chorus of oh no’s and you’re beautiful’s will come flying at you from all sides. But it won’t feel flattering or honest—just hollow. Every time, it’s desperate. You could almost swear that they were trying to convince themselves instead of you.
But the more I let myself know it, even be proud of it, the happier I’ve become. Again, I still definitely deal with insecurity. It’s a journey, not a decision that magically made all those years of insecurity disappear. It’s an active process. Every day, I have to be okay with people taking photos of me. When I look in the mirror, I take a breath and accept; I choose not to massively Facetune myself anymore.
Recently, I’ve been challenging myself to only post pictures with me in them. I know that this is something that pretty people do naturally, but it’s just never felt possible for me. I remember scrolling through my classmates’ profiles, wishing that I could use my face as a selling point too. But after finding a few gems of internet people that actually look like me, I’ve decided to say fuck it. Social media may prefer the societally beautiful, but at this point, what would it hurt to show my face?
The most powerful thing I’ve done is start truly accepting what beauty is. It’s not this set, universal, timeless standard that we’ve been told it is. The reality is that these standards were created by men in boardrooms. Beauty is a commodity because it’s unattainable. It’s a limitless cash grab for acceptance and adoration. We all know it and yet we let it rule our lives.
Well, I’m done.
Ugliness is life. Even the weirdest, most uncanny parts of it can be beautiful. Small noses, full lips, and smooth skin are lovely, but what are they without substance? A male fantasy, and a fleeting one. You and I both deserve to be free of it. Let’s be proud of our ugliness.
By Zoey Hickman