Like many people, I’ve spent a long time fretting over being ugly. Beauty, or being pale and smooth skinned, able bodied, straight haired, thin, with symmetrical features amongst many others of varying arbitrariness, seems to be rewarded with good times, pay rises, attention, excused speeding tickets, prolific representation in the mass media, romantic partners and popularity. So every time I’ve been rejected or passed over I’ve simply put it down to being ugly. I used to get incredibly upset when I perceived my blemished skin and fat belly to be holding me back from success, popularity, romance and otherwise.

As I got more into fat activism I started to realise that the problem wasn’t me, it was this construct of beauty, and while it was nice to know it might not all be my fault… it still didn’t feel good to embody ugliness and to be treated poorly because of that. Not everyone has thought me ugly, but those that haven’t (and do not) surprise me!

As a blogger posting photos of their outfits it feels like ugliness still holds me back – because when I look at the most popular bloggers, they all embody and uphold traditional beauty standards and practices. I do not. The other day I was thinking about this, and trying not to blame myself for not being a beautiful and successful blogger, and I realised that maybe embracing ugliness was an answer. I will never have smooth skin. I doubt I’ll ever shave regularly again. I have visible tattoos, piercings, stretch marks, and scars. I am fat. I am not particularly graceful. I laugh loudly. I don’t cross my legs. Yet I still identify as femme, because it’s important to me to embrace a femmeness that challenges my culture’s screwed up notions of femininity and beauty.

Illustration of a fat person in a pink polka dot bra and undies with stretchmarks and hairy legs sitting above a banner that says "Ugly femme pride".

I don’t have to be beautiful, and I don’t owe it to anyone either. It took me two years to fully understand this after first reading Lesley Kinzel’s Uninvested in Being Beautiful. I was so struck by this epiphany today that I decided to draw it. UGLY FEMME PRIDE!

This illustration is available on t shirts, stickers, mugs, posters, bags, etc on Red Bubble, Spreadshirt and Cafe Press. (Cafe Press has plus sized t shirts!)

  • Anonymous

    AMAZING. To me, you’re beautiful. BUT in the whole scheme of things, I get the whole ugly appropriation and what does it mean compared to Universal Beauty Standards.™ In that case, the Ugly Femme concept also applies to me too, and I embrace it freely. I don’t shave sometimes. I don’t bother wearing make up or doing my hair sometimes either. Never wear high heels. Laugh loud, swear, fart in front of my husband (LOL ROMANCE), ill and fatty, stretch marks, chipped manicure, tattoos, fatness, dark circles, not obsessed with paling myself white nor tanning myself orange. I like wearing pretty clothes and smelling yummy as self-care and politics, but I can give myself permission not to do so also as self-care and politics.
    This would be an excellent idea for an arm tattoo. Thank you so, so much for making it.

  • Heidi

    I remind myself almost daily, “You don’t owe beauty to anyone.”  It’s an amazing revelation and it continues to change my life.

  • kadilange

    I think I absolutely get what you mean…but in the end there is always the question: What is beautiful? What is ugly? It is all and nothing, and that’s just it, as you don’t owe anyone to be pretty or beautiful or happy, you don’t owe anyone to be ugly … all of this is just another label, a word to describe yourself, in the end the only thing that counts is: What do you owe yourself?
    What makes you satisfied and what full fills you. If it is the word “ugly femme pride” go for it, if it is “super cute punk cuppycake pride” than just fucking to this! People need to see that it is always just about them. not about what others think of certain thing or what other associate with a certain thing!

  • Kim

    It makes me really sad to read this. Over the past few years you’ve taught me to accept bodies as they are, to accept my body as it is, and as a consequence I find beauty in so many more things now. In the way people move, in the confidence people project.
    But now you call yourself ugly and it’s such a loaded word that I can’t help but wince. Just as you helped me feel more beautiful by showing me that *you* are beautiful, I feel like you’re calling *me* ugly when you call yourself ugly.

    It really has nothing to do with me, and you don’t owe me anything. But I’ve managed to actually stop using the word ugly without even realising it. There is beautiful. There is a recognised standard of beauty. There are people that don’t fit those “ideals”. But not fitting them doesn’t make you, or anyone else ugly (in my eyes).

  • Marina

    Mainstream ideals are just that and don’t include the outliers. That doesn’t mean that beauty exists only within those ideals. Beauty comes in a myriad of forms. You are not ugly. To label yourself as such is to support those unrealistic ideals. They are invalid and therefore they do not rule you out. Someone can be fat and be beautiful. Someone can have flawed skin and be beautiful. You are beautiful. I bet when your husband looks at you, he does not see hair and stretch marks. You see that. You are fixated on your perceived imperfections. I look at you and see great eyes, full lips, round cheeks, great hair, personality and style. I don’t see ugly. I think you are trying to ‘embrace’ this because you have not learned to truly love yourself or accept yourself as you are. You are a beautiful, flawed human being.

  • http://andysfatshionrags.blogspot.com/ Sian Morgan

    I love this idea. I own the fact I am not “beautiful” in the eyes of society. It’s very freeing to be told your ugly, then smile and say “I know.” You can’t hurt me with words that have no intrinsic negative connations to me. What’s wrong with being ugly? Nothing. :)

    http://siansfatshionrags.blogspot.com/

  • Heather Kolaya-Spealman

    i absolutely love this! 

  • http://www.nearsightedowl.com Rachele

    I have had the same thoughts before and love your illustration to celebrate us hairy tattooed fat femmes! I was going to surprise you but I am going to draw you next as part of my portrait project because I think you are beautiful and wonderful.

  • http://twitter.com/karynironsides karyn ironsides

    I am super excited by your words and illustrations here.  Embracing and owning “ugliness” has been a wonderfully liberating thing for me, because the minute I started to, I stopped apologizing for myself to other people.  I stopped hiding and being afraid because people /might/ think I was ugly.  Why should I care if someone thinks I’m ugly?  Maybe it’s the size and shape of my body, maybe it’s my unplucked eyebrows, maybe it’s my baby-nose or fat cheeks or the clothes I wear.  It’s not my fault if you think I’m ugly, and it’s not my job to be cute for you.  My job is to live my life in a way that brings me happiness and enables me to properly love those around me, not to make sure nobody ever thinks i’m /ugly/.

  • http://www.stretchmarksolutions.co.uk/ Jill Law

    I think that you should be more conscious about your personal appearance. I also think that its not great to pity yourself instead you should build your character and be proud. I think that ugly does not mean that your not a great person.

  • Fonna Seidu

    Such a beautiful post. Thank you for sharing your experience with fat phobia.

  • http://blog.themerchgirl.net Creatrix Tiara

    For everyone here – I suggest you read this powerful speech by Mia Mingus, “Moving Towards the Ugly”, where she deconstructs the concept of beauty as something to aspire to while connecting it with disability, racism, sexism, queer, and femme: http://leavingevidence.wordpress.com/2011/08/22/moving-toward-the-ugly-a-politic-beyond-desirability/

  • thirties girl

    I can so identify with what you’ve written here.  I’ve never embodied traditional western ideals of “beauty.”  I’m fat, pale (a travesty in SoCal), have short-ish hair, have a deep speaking voice, don’t know how to flirt or behave in the expected “sweet, non-confrontational, ‘feminine’” way with guys.  My personality, on the contrary, is rather prickly.  Among certain “fat appreciation” groups, or with some guys who claim to be attracted to fat women, I don’t have the “right” fat body shape, since I carry most of my fat in my torso – my boobs and belly.  My shoulders are broader than my hips and I have very little fat in my hips or butt, making my body shape “less proportional,” and not what most “fat admirers” are looking for.   I was also born with a cleft lip, which resulted in an obvious scar
    between my nose and lip, a mis-shaped/disproportional nose, and a
    crooked upper lip. …So, yeah, I’ve had the “ugly experience” all my life.  I really like the idea of ‘reclaiming’ the word ugly, de-mystifying it, basically saying, “yeah, so what” about it, and reveling in my supposed “ugliness” or “non-standard beauty” (whatever you want to call it) and taking it back from those who would turn it into a negative thing.

  • Lorna

    As I was reading this it resonated through me, I totally get it, I dont conform to our current standard of beauty so I  must be ugly as well but you know what I really dont care…. I am not beautiful by the common every day standard but I am what i am!!!!! I am overweight, and wrinkly but why should I waste my life worrying about it!!!! You only get one life so move on and start enjoying it, why should it matter what you look like!!!! BTW when looking at your pics on here with all your different monthly outfits and before I read this part, I didnt think ugly at all…. I think what actually crossed my mind was you had lovely lips, sparkly eyes and great hair and geez I wish I wish I had your style… So let us all embrace who we are and remember ugly or beautiful we are all fascinating, unique and wonderful beings :)

  • http://polkadotrainbows.wordpress.com/ Liz

    Hi Natalie, I totally get what you’re saying here. I mean, I’d be the first to say that I don’t feel anything like my culture’s ideal of beauty either. I have PCOS, so deal with spots and facial hair on a daily basis. I’ve stopped shaving my underarm hair and very rarely shave my legs – only regularly in summer, but not very often at all in Autumn/Winter. I guess I understand the idea of reclaiming the word ‘Ugly’. At the same time, I feel that beauty doesn’t need to mean homogeneity, it doesn’t mean perfection. For me, my friends and family are beautiful because of who they are, and that shines out. I adore pretty clothes and shoes and jewellery, but I also identify as a deaf, geeky, messy femme, despite my love of perfume and pretty things. Life is messy, and humans are messy and we all have our own identity politics and self identities. Anyway, I love this post and it has given me lots of food for thought. Happy New Year! :)

    Liz xxx

    http://catsandchocolate.wordpress.com

  • Emi

    YES. Yes. I think about ugliness a lot – about why it makes us uncomfortable and almost annoyed (like when, for example, we see a handsome guy with a much less-attractive girlfriend); about how beauty is so deeply associated with goodness that we don’t even question it. The most intriguing people I’ve come across in life are ones that defy that tight relationship between attractiveness-sex and attractiveness-good, the ones who confuse and piss people off because they’re confident and fat, outspoken and ugly, etc. People wonder how they got that way, how they managed to ignore or fight against all the negative stuff that pushes even physically mediocre people down and it makes them angry. I hope to read more stuff like this.

  • Pingback: Doing Femme: Natalie Perkins « Bossy Femme

  • http://www.facebook.com/mirjamsaenger Mirjam Verena

    what does “femme” mean in this context? i only know the term as a sort of antonym to “butch”…

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