Art, Body Image

Ugly cute.

31 December, 2011

My ugly exploration seems to be dividing people fairly sharply down the centre; some find they can not get across reclamation because of their relationship with the word, or how it seems to reinforce beauty ideals/ a binary between ugliness and beauty, while others find it resonates strongly with their experiences. I am listening to a lot of feedback on the topic and it’s been terribly complex to navigate through it all, because I am not objective and am swayed by my own experience and embodiment.

One thing is patently clear: I can never seek to speak on behalf of any other person when it comes down to identity. I can reflect on what it’s like to be fat, disabled, acned, cisgendered and white and how my body has been viewed as ugly. I can not ever know what it is like to be a person of colour or trans, and I can not ever understand how the word “ugly” can hurt someone who isn’t me.

I am now very concerned about my use of people of colour in this series of drawings because it’s pretty messed up of me, a white person, to reinforce that dominant and damaging idea that people of colour are ugly because they aren’t white. Unless I am drawing a person of colour who identifies as ugly, I will not put that identity on them in the future. It’s not down to me to reclaim anything on behalf of any marginalised person who isn’t me, and I apologise for not checking my white privilege.

My thoughts on the ugly concept are still muddled and having the opportunity to read and listen to discussion prompted by my drawings is of such great value, whether people are vehemently opposed to OR empowered by the concept of ugly reclamation. I know that when I reclaim ugly for me, I don’t want to stop using the word “beautiful” and other synonyms for beauty, like lovely and gorgeous and hot and cute. It’s not a case of one or the other, it’s knowing I can be ugly cute and rock the shit out of it. I want to cease fretting about being acceptably palatable to the world and be more concerned with maximising my already present awesomeness.

Here are some links to good stuff on the issue of ugly:
You sho is ugly on Nudemuse
Conversation on tumblr, which thanks to tumblr’s functionality must be explored through the notes because there is a LOT of commentary that has been added.
Moving Toward The Ugly: A Politic Beyond Desirability on Leaving Evidence (h/t to Tiara for reminding me of this amazing keynote speech)


Finally I’ll just add this video clip for Ugly by 2NE1. Zoe showed it to me the other night and I wanted to make sure I included it in my information gathering so I would be reminded to look for commentary on the song, video, and band.

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  • emily

    I really like and appreciate your project on ugliness, so I just wanted to throw that in there. Are most of the discussions about it and feedback you’re getting going on on tumblr? I do think it would be nice to see (although you might not want to) drawings and reclamations of ugly-noncute, of those who want to rock the shit out of being ugly (and that’s all). 

     I like 2ne1 in general and I find the video to be helpful .. but for the fact that they are all still four very accepted-as-beautiful girls. The article at 
    http://www.racialicious.com/2011/12/12/how-nicki-minaj-kicked-open-the-door-for-2ne1/ touches on 2ne1’s ‘ugly’ video and lyrics, and is worth a read. 

  • Sonya

    Apologies in advance for the muddled thinking, I’m a little drunk and am having trouble articulating right now.

    I am behind you on the reclamation of ugly for YOURSELF, for sure. I know you don’t intentionally want to ascribe the description or identity to anyone else, so I feel it was good that you apologised and owned up re: ” It’s not down to me to reclaim anything on behalf of any marginalised person who isn’t me, and I apologise for not checking my white privilege.”

    I am conflicted on it myself and think I need to work through it. I think this might form my next article, so, errr, thanks for inspiration.

    A very muddled thought I haven’t quite thought through — just as one doesn’t owe beauty or attractiveness to anyone, one doesn’t owe ugly to anyone either? I guess, what I’m trying to say it’s a very personal thing and I think you’re making that come across.

  • I really love your posts on ugly. I think it’s so important to challenge the primacy of beauty. We’re not all beautiful, and not all parts of us are beautiful. Insisting that they are a) renders the very idea of beauty meaningless (if everything is beautiful, then nothing is beautiful); b) naturalises beauty by denying the fact that it is a social construct; c) invalidates the very real experience of ugliness and makes it a problem of individual attitude rather than cultural hierarchy; and d) reinforces beauty as the most/only important thing a woman can be.

  • Catatastrophe

    i GET uglycute, but can we also reclaim cuteugly? ie my best friend is considered objectively a VERY beautiful boy, but because of his illnesses, his body does a lot of things that society would describe as “disgusting” ie throwing up uncontrollably in public.

  • I just stumbled onto this website because I really liked the photo of the black girl with the caption ‘ugly and don’t care’. 

    apparently, the author feels they made a mistake of including a non-white person into this art, but as a black girl, i loved it. I loved that for once, a white person is drawing pictures of a non-white person. it’s a very humble and non-superficial thing to do- to step outside your own realm of what you’re used to and do (or draw) someone different.  So many white artists only draw white able-bodied people for whatever reason, but personally, it feels very open-minded when they draw someone that is different to them. and it makes me (as a black person) feel included.  

    you’re not fixated on being white because you used ur time and energy to draw a non-white person. it makes me feel included in ur work and ideas m’dear x

  • Sarah Hosking

    For myself (white, cis, currently able-bodied), I love this concept of ugly cute. I’ve been on board with fat acceptance for years now, but this has brought it home that I never quite made it with *body* acceptance (not that there’s really a point at which you make it, I think it’s a lifelong process of battling cultural expectations). I have keratosis pilaris on my arms and legs, stretch marks from adolescence, pregnancy and general embiggening, and cellulite from hips to knees. I don’t remove body hair regularly because it’s such a bloody hassle. I flush easily if I’m too warm (or after consuming about two mouthfuls of red wine). I bleed. I sweat. Sometimes my feet stink. None of this stuff is going away any time soon. And I always knew that, but I never found a way to articulate it in relation to my body image – in some way it has always held me back from really believing I could be cute. I … yeah. This really works for me.

  • I saw this excerpt of a Q&A with a visual artist about the notion of beauty in art, and it reminded me of you: 
    http://neditpasmoncoeur.blogspot.com/2010/02/fashion-war-and-beauty-q-with-wangechi.html

  • Caveat Calcei

    Ugly cute is the egalitarian sibling of jolie laide.  

    Even with unconventional beauties there are judgments attached (Ref http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/16/style/tmagazine/t_b_2122_talk_jolie_laide_.html?_r=1&adxnnl=1&pagewanted=all&adxnnlx=1326323207-cj7t3swPFc8JAgJX80gL9g).

    What you are proposing goes much further than beauty and this is a honourable intention. To embrace ugly cute is to be accepting of diversity and individuality.  Who among us has not enjoyed that feeling of a double take at someone who swings past us – green or purple haired, clad in something that makes them stand tall and proud – and to see that that person is ugly cute.

  • Caveat Calcei

    Ugly cute is the egalitarian sibling of jolie laide.  

    Even with unconventional beauties there are judgments attached (Ref http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/16/style/tmagazine/t_b_2122_talk_jolie_laide_.html?_r=1&adxnnl=1&pagewanted=all&adxnnlx=1326323207-cj7t3swPFc8JAgJX80gL9g).

    What you are proposing goes much further than beauty and this is a honourable intention. To embrace ugly cute is to be accepting of diversity and individuality.  Who among us has not enjoyed that feeling of a double take at someone who swings past us – green or purple haired, clad in something that makes them stand tall and proud – and to see that that person is ugly cute.

  • YES, THIS EXACTLY. I appreciate Natalie’s acknowledgement of the intersection of the misogynism and racism. As a [fat, tattooed, hairy] woman of color who constantly gets called ugly, this is the first time I’ve seen my experience illustrated.