An ugly debate April 15, 2012 8:40 AM   Subscribe

I suppose the "I know better" attitude is intrinsic to the format of AskMe, but wouldn't it be better to just answer the question as best you can and refrain from attacking other peoples' answers? Being angry because others don't share your opinion is natural , but projecting that onto someone else you don't even know seems insincere. I also don't see a need for anyone to apologize because some peoples' opinions are different from yours.

I think it's perfectly valid and not at all condescending to say that a woman who thinks she's ugly may not actually be ugly. Young women often have negative body images that don't have a lot of bearing in reality.

Nothing in the poster's description of herself points to "ugly" in my opinion. So while I feel it's perfectly valid to provide advice on what to do if she is "ugly" (damn I hate that word), I don't feel that stating she might not be is completely out of line.
posted by hazyjane to Etiquette/Policy at 8:40 AM (139 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

She could probably get more honest answers at /r/amiugly...
posted by empath at 8:47 AM on April 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Could we please not pull some random woman's picture into this debate? That seems highly unfair to her, whoever she is.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:49 AM on April 15, 2012 [15 favorites]


I really don't like this being pulled into metatalk because it's sorta a delicate human relations question.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:54 AM on April 15, 2012 [7 favorites]


(That's not intended to be a criticism of you, hazyjane, it's just that it makes me sad for it to end up here.)
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:58 AM on April 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


This cannot possibly make the OP of that AskMe feel better.
posted by maryr at 8:59 AM on April 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'd appreciate if people wouldn't go back into the thread and flag stuff from hours or a day ago. Once comments are sort of locked in and replied to we have minimal options as far as deletion goes and it just means we're going to be checking out a lot of comments that we can't do much about. I appreciate that this thread pushed a lot of people's buttons but I think somehow it went from "Hey it's okay to consider that you might not be as ugly as you think" types of comments to "OP I am so sorry everyone else was condescending and unhelpful and rude to you"

The former is fine, the latter is less fine. For some reason the gentle questioning of assumptions is not something that everyone is so great at in AskMe, either in doing on their own or in tolerating from other people. I know there's a lot of body image stuff wrapped up in someone saying "Maybe you're not really fat/ugly/unloveable" but it's going to be a part of any question that winds up on AskMe and personally I'd like to see people get better at handling that eventuality.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:59 AM on April 15, 2012


Let's at least keep this discussion about respectfully disagreeing with other people's opinions generally, rather than re-hashing the topic of the AskMe.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 9:01 AM on April 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


wouldn't it be better to just answer the question as best you can and refrain from attacking other peoples' answers?

Without looking at the question you link to, the answer to this question is no. If someone is offering faulty or wrong advice on AskMe it is a good and awesome feature of the site that others who can offer advice that counters it may do so and explain why.
posted by carsonb at 9:01 AM on April 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


Um I think the key phrase there is "attacking" and yes it's better to avoid that, period.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:09 AM on April 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


I thought the answers hazyjane links to were perfectly reasonable. There are quite a lot of different angles from which to answer that question (i.e., maybe the poster isn't unattractive but only thinks she is and only needs confidence, maybe she is unattractive but could be attractive if she just worked with herself, maybe she is really unattractive and needs help coming to terms with that) and it seemed very on point to me that some people should answer from a standpoint of accepting that the poster really is as unattractive as she thinks, and to add that in that case she would need to disregard a lot of what's been written.

We don't really know what the true situation is here, and I liked it that the answers covered all the bases.
posted by orange swan at 9:17 AM on April 15, 2012 [22 favorites]


Um I think the key phrase there is "attacking"

Hey no need to attack me there.
posted by carsonb at 9:19 AM on April 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh, I forgot to mention I did have a serious problem with one of the answers in that thread — the one about buttonholing perfect strangers on the street and asking them to tell her whether she was ugly and should change anything about her looks. WORST ASKME ADVICE I'VE EVER SEEN.
posted by orange swan at 9:22 AM on April 15, 2012 [55 favorites]


Here's a photo I found of a woman who could be described in exactly the same way the OP described herself.

Her skin isn't mostly covered in stretch marks, the nose isn't bumpy and neither is one eyebrow higher than the other. It's interesting that only certain traits that society deems favorable are highlighted in that photo. Never mind the sheer awkward strangeness of commenting on a random photo off the internet in this discussion (included highlight the weirdness).

Bottom line, no one really knows what the OP looks (nor should they). Deciding that the OP's view of reality is false is belittling at best and to link to a photo of another person is problematic at the very least.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:25 AM on April 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, the best answer would be for several female Mefites to leave their contact info. That way the OP could contact them and maybe send a photo if she felt comfortable in doing, in order to get concrete and helpful tips about her appearance.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:31 AM on April 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh, I forgot to mention I did have a serious problem with one of the answers in that thread — the one about buttonholing perfect strangers on the street and asking them to tell her whether she was ugly and should change anything about her looks. WORST ASKME ADVICE I'VE EVER SEEN.

It's even worse than that- you go up to a stranger assuming they think you're ugly and asking them to explain why! Truly worst of the worst.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:32 AM on April 15, 2012


I did hesitate to post the link to that picture, but decided to do so on the basis that the woman posted her photo on her own web site which is about how to use makeup to make the most of your looks. She looks great and I feel that a woman that confident would love to show the OP how to be confident too, but with hindsight I may have been mistaken to do so as it wasn't my place to decide that for her. I simply thought the picture could highlight the fact that the OP may very well be beautiful but just not realize it.

It's certainly not my intention to make anyone feel bad about themselves, and if the consensus is that this call-out may do that then perhaps the mods would consider deleting it, or at least the link to the photo. I didn't mean to say or do anything to hurt anyone's feelings and I feel terrible when I think I could have done so.

Orange swan, I completely agree that the body of the answers I linked to were good. It's the fact that they were prefaced by attacks on other peoples' answers that I found to be less good. I actually think the community as a whole did a great job of answering the question (except the recommendation that the OP ask strangers about her looks).
posted by hazyjane at 9:39 AM on April 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's the fact that they were prefaced by attacks on other peoples' answers that I found to be less good.

I had to check the linked questions twice, because I really don't see the 'attack' portion as in the slightest bit as being problematic. I just see people disagreeing on an emotional topic and empathising with the OP. I think you are perhaps seeing those disagreements with the same sort of emotional response, just in the other way.

I thought that thread was surprisingly civil, considering how emotionally loaded the topic is.
posted by Brockles at 10:03 AM on April 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


Well since you linked my answer and called it an attack (!) I'll respond. Yes, there was a sense of "some of these comments are well meaning but probably don't have the experience with this to answer." but aside from that, I think of askme as a resource not only for the asker but for anyone who might have the same question in the future. We can't know if OP is ugly, but I tend to take people at their word here. And you'd agree that some people are indeed ugly, right? even if OP is not? So I was answering for her but also for them. Some ugly person will read that even if some average but low self esteemed person does too. And who are we to say who is who?
posted by ocksay_uppetpay at 10:09 AM on April 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


Can anyone who thinks that some answers were attacking other people's answers give specific language that they think is attacking? I totally and completely can't see anything wrong with the answers linked to in "projecting" or "that".
posted by 23skidoo at 10:09 AM on April 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've posted answers and had others criticize my point of view and managed to resist rebutting since it would not have been about the question asked. If I managed this, so could others as I'm not in the 1% of self-control.
posted by Obscure Reference at 10:15 AM on April 15, 2012


Poster, you've spilled your guts and people are invalidating you right and left, telling you you're not really ugly, and that your perception that looks matter greatly is wrong. I am angry on your behalf that this has largely been your response. You deserve honesty in return for an honest and straightforward post, not a bunch of feel-good wishful thinking.

I have no problem with answers that rebut other answers by saying something like "I disagree and here's why." However, if someone expresses a viewpoint that's perfectly valid but doesn't agree with your own line of thinking has you angry, then be angry, but it's pointless to claim it's on the OP's behalf when you have no idea whether your answer is objectively more or less "correct" than someone else's. Saying that the OP may not be ugly but simply suffering from a distorted body image isn't dishonest or wishful thinking, it's a possibility, and I don't agree that other posters have the right to dismiss it out of hand.

That said, I'm probably being way too sensitive. I tend to do that. I'm working on it.
posted by hazyjane at 10:21 AM on April 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


WORST ASKME ADVICE I'VE EVER SEEN.

No shit. That was ground-breakingly bad advice, to the point that I first read it as a stunt- or art-post meant to be read as sarcasm.
posted by Forktine at 10:23 AM on April 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ask not what AskMe can do for your face. Ask what your face can do for AskMe.

Human beings, from a certain proximity (ask any surgeon) are all pretty gruesome looking. And from outer space, we're all gorgeous.

Also, I recently learned that "gorgeous" derives from the ancient Persian word for (probably captured) Georgian women.

posted by spitbull at 10:25 AM on April 15, 2012


Can we take the photo of the unrelated third party out of the original post in this thread? I mean, holy fuck, what the hell is that about? That woman is going to get a ton of clicks and come over here to see why she's being talked about, and my guess is that what she's going to take away from it is that strangers on the Internet think she's "ugly".
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:27 AM on April 15, 2012 [8 favorites]


I think the comments linked here are absolutely great - best of the web and exactly what askme is for. Where else can such matters be discussed so honestly? Sure, maybe it is true that the poster is prettier than she thinks. But it is very condescending and unhelpful to assume that she does not know exactly where she stands.
posted by yarly at 10:31 AM on April 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


Seriously, please take that link out. Dragging some unrelated woman into this discussion is really unfortunate. She might be 'confident' but in our culture no woman can possibly be confident enough that finding out that someone thought she was a good illustration of a set of features described as ugly won't be wounding.
posted by winna at 10:33 AM on April 15, 2012


With all due respect, hazyjane, I think you might be being a little to sensitive. I agree with the other comments above: the "attack" part of the comments aren't particularly vitriolic and fall within what I would consider normal in terms of expressing a difference of opinion.
posted by Specklet at 10:33 AM on April 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


I think it's perfectly valid and not at all condescending to say that a woman who thinks she's ugly may not actually be ugly.

The second comment you linked to directly addresses that, right from the beginning:
When someone sees your face for the first time and recoils in disappointment, that hurts a little. What hurts so much more is being told you don't really experience the world as you experience it, that it's all in your head, that your observations on your own life are invalid. And by people who have never lived as an ugly woman, but who believe everyone is beautiful (inside), or that everyone has at least one good feature, hey, your feet are nice! That, more than the way I look, always made me want to just give up and go back to bed.
Do you see that you are arguing for doing exactly what this commenter (and others) report as being the most hurtful thing that people do or say?
posted by Lexica at 10:33 AM on April 15, 2012 [14 favorites]


[Removed the photo of the random woman from the OPs MeTa per OP request, carry on]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:35 AM on April 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


Saying that the OP may not be ugly but simply suffering from a distorted body image isn't dishonest or wishful thinking, it's a possibility, and I don't agree that other posters have the right to dismiss it out of hand.

If the entire thread was filled with comments saying "Please consider that you may a distorted body image", you might have a point. But I think you're overlooking alot of the comments that were telling the OP that being unattractive was completely unimportant with regards to getting what she wanted out of life. Those were the comments (I imagine) that were being referenced as being dishonest or wishful thinking.
posted by 23skidoo at 10:52 AM on April 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think it's perfectly valid and not at all condescending to say that a woman who thinks she's ugly may not actually be ugly.

In this case, where we don't know what the woman looks like, yes, saying that she may be mistaken is a valid tack to take. But it's equally valid to take the position that she may be just as unattractive as she thinks and to tell her how to cope with those who invalidate her experience and self-assessment by telling her untruths that are meant to be comforting and instead only add to her misery. The poster who wrote about her angry reaction to those in the thread who are telling the woman she isn't unattractive is probably speaking from the bitterness of her own experience with people who say such things to her, but she kept it within bounds and she spoke to how to recognize and deal with such a scenario.
posted by orange swan at 10:54 AM on April 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Do you see that you are arguing for doing exactly what this commenter (and others) report as being the most hurtful thing that people do or say?

The thing is, I've been there. I was told numerous times growing up that I was ugly - by other kids, by adults, hell, even my own mom told me I was ugly. I remember one time in girl scouts when I was 12 a woman came to give us all a make-up lesson (that is some messed up shit right there but that's for another debate). I was so desperate to figure out how I could stop being ugly I jumped up and down and waved my arm high in the air when she asked for volunteers. I went up to the front, she did my makeup and then asked the other kids how I looked. Dead silence. Then one girl piped up "well, I suppose she looks a little bit better."

So yeah, I'm probably way too sensitive about this stuff. But what I personally needed was for someone to tell me I wasn't ugly. As a kid I was unkempt, I was dressed in used clothes that were out of style a decade previously, I had an unfortunate home-cut hairstyle and terrible self esteem. I also had very pale milky skin in the deep south. But I sure as hell wasn't ugly, and the most hurtful thing for me was to be told that I was. The process of figuring out I wasn't ugly was a long and painful one in which I got used my men based on my low self esteem. I just wanted to tell the OP that she probably wasn't ugly either and got very frustrated when I felt other posters were invalidating what I was saying.


The poster who wrote about her angry reaction to those in the thread who are telling the woman she isn't unattractive is probably speaking from the bitterness of her own experience


And that's clearly where I'm coming from as well. I can see that now, and that I was being oversensitive. I apologize.
posted by hazyjane at 10:58 AM on April 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


Also, I recently learned that "gorgeous" derives from the ancient Persian word for (probably captured) Georgian women.

I believe it comes from gorge meaning throat, through French, maybe in relation to flashy neckwear.
posted by demiurge at 11:02 AM on April 15, 2012


But I think you're overlooking alot of the comments that were telling the OP that being unattractive was completely unimportant with regards to getting what she wanted out of life.

I wouldn't describe any of the answers in the thread that way. Nobody was being a Pollyanna.
posted by orange swan at 11:08 AM on April 15, 2012


hazyjane, I think what I and some other commenters were trying to get at is that there's the opposite experience too.

I was told I was pretty by my family and close friends. Even sometimes well meaning non-related adults told me I looked nice. I had nice clothes and always had a good sense of style - I was the friend everyone wanted to go shopping with, so I could teach them. i learned to do makeup at a young age and always had nice makeup and presentable, if not gorgeous, hair.

And despite all this I saw myself, and I saw other girls my age. I saw how I looked and how they looked. I saw them get attention from boys, and dates, and kisses, and boyfriends, and married. I saw them get attention in other ways, too: at work, or in (platonic) admiration from other girls, or just randomly on the street. I saw that clothes and hair and makeup could make me feel better about myself somewhat but they couldn't make me attractive. I had great self-esteem for who I was inside but it was not related to my looks. My looks just made me sad.

It's sweet that a select few people have always told me that I was attractive. But what I wish I would have had was someone who'd tell me the TRUTH. It's like telling an innumerate kid that she's good at math just because you love her and she can sometimes manage to add up numbers right, then sending her to college for physics and wondering why she fails out. Sweet, but entirely unhelpful.

I'm trying to say there are different experiences. We can all say we've been there but we can only guess which "there" the OP has experienced. That's why answers from all sides are helpful, and why disagreements are not attacks.
posted by ocksay_uppetpay at 11:31 AM on April 15, 2012 [7 favorites]


I swear we've had exactly that thread before.
Female anon, posts "I'm ugly, how should I handle this?" and all the answers are "you're probably not ugly" vs "I accept that you're ugly, I wish others wouldn't be so quick to reject your experience".

Anybody else remember that? I wasn't able to find it on a quick search; maybe it was deleted?
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:53 AM on April 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I remember that too LobsterMitten. I think the woman was a redhead? In any case she posted pics and she wasn't ugly at all as I recall.
posted by sweetkid at 11:56 AM on April 15, 2012


Oh that was the photography one, I think. It wasn't about her looks exactly but it was about how to get people to not take photos of her, I think, and the reasoning was because she stated that she was terrible looking. And people focused on the looks part and not the photos part and everyone got all grrr about it.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 12:11 PM on April 15, 2012


when a person tells you they think they are ugly, and offers no visual evidence but simply asks for advice, helpful answers do not begin with "you're probably not ugly". i don't mean that those answers are necessarily wrong (b/c indeed, perhaps the OP is not in fact ugly) but they're not useful answers within the confines and parameters of how the mods have set up AskMe.

They're 'not helpful' answers in the same way that if a question is "I'm looking for a new PC -- what's your advice? Also, I'm not interested in Macs because I find them confusing", then a not helpful answer is "Macs aren't confusing, you probably just haven't tried enough." Even if it is in fact a 'correct' answer, it doesn't work within the parameters of AskMe.

If posters can't answer without bringing in their own baggage about body issues in society, then they just should take a deep breath and not post at all.
posted by modernnomad at 12:14 PM on April 15, 2012 [7 favorites]


I dated a girl once with what could be considered an ugly face, buck teeth, big nose, small but not pointy chin, etc. She even dressed in baggy men's clothes and never wore makeup. I tell you, she had an amazing body and she was totally awesome and the more I looked at her face the more I liked it. Things didn't work out, but just as a data point, "ugly" people can also be really hot people, I think people don't realize because they think hot looks like one thing, but really there's lots of ways to be attractive and lot of ways to be ugly and they are all mixed together in people.
posted by fuq at 12:54 PM on April 15, 2012 [8 favorites]


I dunno, I kinda see this akin to someone feeling discriminated because of "x" and a bunch of people saying, "hey, it's really just in your head."

It might be in her head, but it's also true discrimination because of x not only totally exists, but is rampant and very, very real.

If someone thinks attractiveness (and being of a certain race, or being wealthy) doesn't open about a thousand and different one doors for you in this society that are otherwise closed, I'd like to know where, exactly, they live.

The thing about attractiveness though, is that you can actually do something about it far more easily than those other factors. I guess you can tell the OP, hey, "you should just enjoy what you have now, build on those charms you have now, and look for other doors to open" but I kind of cringe at those answers because attractiveness, for most women, CAN totally be changed. And it doesn't take a knife, and it doesn't take surgery (though I'm not knocking those options if that's really where you want to take it.)
posted by The ____ of Justice at 1:04 PM on April 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


I thought this was one of the most thoughtfully answered threads I've seen on Ask Metafilter. I almost Metatalked it just to point out how fantastic it was. All the advice - both sides - certainly inspired me to reevaluate how I feel about my own looks and my own childhood insecurities. I agree that it's annoying when someone walks into a thread and announces all other answers are bunk. There's a way to strongly disagree without this language. However, I really saw this particular Ask thread as a model thread around a difficult subject - we notoriously don't handle women-appearance issues well, and I was so happy to see this particular thread fill with thoughtful, kind, helpful answers from all sides.
posted by Zosia Blue at 1:12 PM on April 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


(With the exception of the "walk up to a stranger and ask them why you're ugly" advice. Jesus yikes.)
posted by Zosia Blue at 1:13 PM on April 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


> Also, I recently learned that "gorgeous" derives from the ancient Persian word for (probably captured) Georgian women.

No, it's from Old French gorgias 'elegantly or finely dressed, fashionable, gay,' which may (as demiurge says) be related to gorge 'throat.'
posted by languagehat at 3:28 PM on April 15, 2012 [7 favorites]


My problem with the three linked posts was that they seemed to be angrily and vehemently denying that ugly people had much chance of finding love, based on their own experiences. Certainly it is a possibility and it is good to tell the OP from firsthand experience that she can have a good life even if she never finds a mate; but I think it is doing her a disservice to tell her that the anecdotes about other ugly women who have found love are "feel-good wishful thinking."

It can and does happen that many unfortunate-looking people find love, and I don't think it's wrong to leave the OP with some hope (and some potential strategies) for doing so, rather than insisting that her lot in life will necessarily be lonely and hard.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 4:00 PM on April 15, 2012 [9 favorites]


Out of morbid curiosity I checked out the first 10 reddit threads in empath's first comment. I expected to see some average to below average folks. None of them were REMOTELY ugly. A few could have acting careers. One could have a modeling career with a haircut. It really saddens me that it's even crossed their minds that they could be ugly. After seeing that I'm pretty sure that the OP is not, in fact, ugly, and the so-called "condescending" comments were probably right on.
posted by desjardins at 4:40 PM on April 15, 2012 [7 favorites]


I didn't answer the question, in any case.
posted by desjardins at 4:50 PM on April 15, 2012


LobsterMitten writes "Anybody else remember that? I wasn't able to find it on a quick search; maybe it was deleted?"

Variants of this thread have been posted on several occasions. It's common enough that I knew how it was going to go and yep, that's how it went. modernnomad stated my view better than I could. But I'll add that it seems like some of the membership is unable to conceptualize that some people are indeed ugly which is great for those members and the people around them but unfortunately that there are a lot of people who can conceptualize it, I'll bet the majority of people, and those people are influenced by that view. Being able to cope with that if you are perceived that way is an important life skill that AskMe could help with.
posted by Mitheral at 4:52 PM on April 15, 2012


Gorgeous Georgians
posted by Wolof at 5:17 PM on April 15, 2012


IMO, unless there's a mountain of evidence that suggests otherwise, people on AskMe should post answers that give the OP the courtesy of crediting what he or she says.
posted by ADent at 5:35 PM on April 15, 2012


desjardins: "It really saddens me that it's even crossed their minds that they could be ugly."

Wow. If those people are ugly, then I'm far too hideous to even exist. Particularly given the stated ages, I'm guessing we're looking at victims of modern media/marketing.
posted by dg at 5:57 PM on April 15, 2012


Out of morbid curiosity I checked out the first 10 reddit threads in empath's first comment.

I looked at four and then got all teary. They're so... lovely.
posted by Specklet at 6:04 PM on April 15, 2012


A lot of women I know do the whole "I am so ugly/fat" as a socially sanctioned way to call attention to their looks without being criticized for being slutty or arrogant or what have you. I feel like that reddit is probably that, but the internet.
posted by the young rope-rider at 6:04 PM on April 15, 2012 [14 favorites]


I think it's fair. The earlier answers receive more attention at the expense of open to adjustment from later answers. This is only controversial because the question is an emotional one. I've participated in many technical and financial questions here where I corrected an earlier question, and where I answered early and was corrected myself. It's all to benefit the asker if the corrections are true.
posted by michaelh at 6:33 PM on April 15, 2012


I thought the answers were by and large pretty good. But the attacks bothered me too, hazyjane.

There are times I could have written that question, especially at 20. I've wasted hours in therapy whining about being ugly, and wasted tons of opportunities by not looking guys in the eye because I thought I was so profoundly unattractive that to show them attention would be some kind of violation. But - surprise. I'm not ugly. I'm just average. To some people I'm even beautiful. And to find the best that my life can be I can't keep identifying to myself as ugly. To some people I surely am. But not to everyone.

To suggest that the OP's estimation of her appearance might be inaccurate seemed hardly condescending to me. I felt that to take her completely at her word, when I know so many women to wrongly believe exactly this thing about themselves, and allow themselves to be crippled by it, would be disingenuous. For me to say what I did was honest, and based on my own experience and observation.
posted by bunderful at 7:26 PM on April 15, 2012 [8 favorites]


This comment made me cry. I wouldn't consider myself ugly, but I realize that I'm not perfect and try to play up my good features and downplay my bad ones (probably as most women do). My husband never says I'm beautiful, and I'm sort of glad he doesn't, because I feel like it would imply that I'm only beautiful when I do/wear certain things. Self-image and the concept of beauty is so heart-breaking and complicated. I agree that it's rare for me to see someone and say "Wow, that person has no attractive feature and is truly ugly". Everyone is beautiful.
posted by two lights above the sea at 8:03 PM on April 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


And the amiugly subreddit is very sad. Why some people think that the opinion of strangers is more important that their own is beyond me.
posted by two lights above the sea at 8:05 PM on April 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


When I was middle- early high school aged, I got teased a LOT for being ugly. People would dare each other to walk up to me, tap me on the shoulder, and tell me I was ugly. Mostly called out for ridicule were my curly hair and big lips. And dark skin, although I'm light skinned for an Indian woman. The beauty standards where i grew up were very narrow.Mostly you had to be blond, fair, straight hair, light eyes, period, end of story. It got better toward the end of high school because people got more mature, but I never thought I would date anyone ever. Who would date someone so ugly?

Then Angelina Jolie got famous and big lips were beautiful. Then I went to college up North and had a boyfriend within a year. I haven't been called ugly or anything like it in years and years. Mostly the opposite. If I had "come to terms" with being ugly back then I would never have had a shot at being happy. Beauty is so subjective and in my case, extremely tied to the cultures of where I grew up.

Now people who teased me in high school post positive comments on my pictures on Facebook. It's a total reversal. If I held on to that crap I'd be nowhere.

The OP is very young. She may or may not have the same biases about her looks put against her as I did, but I don't think there's a benefit in "ugly, deal with it" type comments.
posted by sweetkid at 8:17 PM on April 15, 2012 [11 favorites]


Wow. My response in that thread has apparently been so thoroughly misunderstood by some folks that it's hard to know where to start.

The poster who wrote about her angry reaction to those in the thread who are telling the woman she isn't unattractive is probably speaking from the bitterness of her own experience with people who say such things to her

Nope, not at all. I'm not ugly. I like my face and hair and I've actually been considered facially pretty throughout my life, by many people. So, I don't relate to the poster on that level. I do, however, relate to baring my soul and then having people tell me I am wrong, the experiencing I am relating doesn't exist, etc. This is invalidating, and yes, it makes me angry when someone responds to another human being's vulnerable revelation of their experiences and feelings by denying the validity of those feelings or experiences. On that part I do relate, and I stand by the idea that relating to people that way is belittling and disrespectful. This poster has had experiences that lead her to believe she's ugly. She's sharing her fears with us, and to tell her she's just wrong is not helpful or respectful.

My problem with the three linked posts was that they seemed to be angrily and vehemently denying that ugly people had much chance of finding love

Wow, what an extreme interpretation. I absolutely do not believe that at all. I believe ugliness in a woman is a serious dating handicap, and that facing that handicap head-on will yield more helpful results than denying its existence.

the anecdotes about other ugly women who have found love are "feel-good wishful thinking."

Um, no. I never said that and don't think that. What is feel-good wishful thinking is telling someone who's ugly that she isn't really ugly, or that it's exclusively about her attitude and confidence. I do not deny, in the least, that ugly women have found love.
posted by parrot_person at 8:26 PM on April 15, 2012 [6 favorites]


When I was just starting high school, I was getting on the bus one morning and some asshole guy called me a dog. Ugly is one thing, but being called a "dog" was really worse beyond comprehension, and at 14, was something that struck me to the core. I still think about that comment maybe once or twice a week. I wish I could forget it.
posted by two lights above the sea at 8:28 PM on April 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


I think its rude and incredibly insulting to assume the OP doesn't know what "ugly" is. She sounds like an intelligent woman looking for real advice, not a bunch of people blowing hallmark-crard niceties up her ass.
posted by Kloryne at 9:05 PM on April 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


The thing is, plenty of males who criticise women for being ugly/fat/whatever would do well to look in a mirror themselves sometime. Particularly those that would do so aloud and in public. I've seen plenty of men make disparaging remarks about women when, using the subjective standards that define 'beauty', those men would score lower by orders of magnitude than the woman in question. I guess it's no consolation, two lights above the sea, to think that he's now approaching middle-age, probably overweight, balding and has a prostate growing to resemble a grapefruit, his wife has left him and he has to resort to using a 10 year-old photo on dating sites to even get anyone to respond to his messages?

Most men are incredibly lucky that women don't seem to set the same high standards for physical attractiveness that many men do.
posted by dg at 9:13 PM on April 15, 2012 [10 favorites]


Most men are incredibly lucky that women don't seem to set the same high standards for physical attractiveness that many men do.


Some guy told me once he wished he were hetero...only because the physical standards set by women were so much lower.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 11:40 PM on April 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Most men are incredibly lucky that women don't seem to set the same high standards for physical attractiveness that many men do."

That's extremely true.

This thread has been bothering me because I see merit in both sides of this argument. Because isn't it obvious that several things are true at the same time? That some people are widely thought to be very physically unattractive and this is a huge and painful burden for them to deal with; many more people, most especially women, think themselves much more physically unattractive than they're actually perceived by others as being; and that it's possible for both groups to have positive self-images and self-esteem and find love and happiness, regardless?

And, most importantly, the way in which this is accomplished is learning to feel good about oneself independently of physical attractiveness and to not limit what is possible for oneself on that basis — not by convincing oneself that one is actually physically attractive? When it comes right down to it, is it really that beneficial to believe oneself to be physically attractive to most others, even when it's true?

There's two levels of injustice going on in this. The first and obvious is the fact that women in our culture are valued primarily according to their sexual attractiveness, and how absurdly high the beauty standard really is and how widely it's propagated, produce the awful result that a majority of women in our culture feel unattractive. Being average means being ugly. Being slightly below average means being hideous. It's makes no sense, it doesn't even make practical sense (because the majority find romantic partners), but it's how women feel. So, on that level, fighting back against this ubiquitous tendency to have low self-esteem on the basis of how women are taught to feel themselves as not meeting an impossible standard makes sense and is fighting an injustice.

But on the level below that, fighting in this fashion is perpetuating the underlying oppression. It's like, no, really you should feel good about yourself because you actually are an attractive sex object in our culture where a woman's self-worth is intimately tied to how much she believes men want to have sex with her. No, really, lots of men want to have sex with you and you really should think highly of yourself for that reason.

That's an improvement? And it's an improvement even in those cases where it's not true?

Now that I've typed this out, I almost want to totally reverse my opinion and say that I don't like either answer. I don't like the idea of reinforcing someone's buy-in to all this by telling them that, no, really, they probably are attractive, but, also, I don't like the idea of telling someone that they just need to come to terms with what it means to be unattractive, either.

Basically, our culture really sucks at this. The way in which we try to deny the social importance of our beauty standard just ends up proving how important it is. There's almost no right answers at all because we know simultaneously that it's almost all-important and extremely unjust. So we lie to ourselves and others about one of those two things, or even both.

Seriously, I don't know what the right answer is. I very much agree that this situation is generally much better for men than women. Even so, one thing that men understand intuitively and experientially, and which is proven and quantified in quite a few different studies, is that height matters a great for men. And I've always been short. More recently, I find that I'm poor, middle-aged, with fat around the middle, disabled, and bald. And I intuitively know, and also know this from experience, that the ways in which I'm unattractive somehow both seem to matter a great deal and not so much. Or, maybe, I've always just lied to myself (sometimes with more success, sometimes with less) and so it's mattered more sometimes and less sometimes. Hell, I don't know. What I do know is that I can't tell you what I'd want someone to say to me about this. What I really want is to be as actually attractive as I wish I were. Failing that, my choices are people slightly patronizing me by underplaying my unattractiveness and thus helping my self-esteem...which makes me more attractive, all things being equal. And, regardless, I'll feel better about myself. Believing something that is at least partly a lie. And from being patronized. The other choice is someone telling me that, yes, these things make me considerably less attractive than average but, even so, that doesn't have to limit me as much as I probably think, as it hasn't seemed to limit me that much in the past. That has the virtue of being true, but in a culture where physical attractiveness is so incredibly fucking important, I don't think I'd ever be able to put out of my mind the fact that someone actually told me they thought I was ugly, even if they said it nicely.

There are no right answers. Because our culture is screwed-up.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:23 AM on April 16, 2012 [23 favorites]


I am prescribing you all this song.
posted by IndigoRain at 12:40 AM on April 16, 2012


I thought such a wide range of answers was great because at least some of them were bound to resonate with the OP. I thought the contrary ones were phrased fine, not attack-y. As someone who's always been "the ugly friend," the ones taking "ugly" at face value would have resonated with me during my decade-and-a-half of the worst acne of anybody in my extended family and all my high school and university classes and workplaces too. The ones questioning the "ugly" assessment and talking about inner beauty, playing up the good points you do have, the power of confidence and intelligence and kindness etc, resonate more with me now, having experienced their long-term power. (Also vital: the power of an unmitigated "Fuck you, superficial assholes!" attitude.)

That thread put me in mind of the following passage from L. M. Montgomery's The Blue Castle (Chapter 34):
One day, coming home through the woods, with her arms full of trailing arbutus and creeping spruce, she met a man who she knew must be Allan Tierney. Allan Tierney, the celebrated painter of beautiful women. He lived in New York in winter, but he owned an island cottage at the northern end of Mistawis to which he always came the minute the ice was out of the lake. He was reputed to be a lonely, eccentric man. He never flattered his sitters. There was no need to, for he would not paint any one who required flattery. To be painted by Allan Tierney was all the cachet of beauty a woman could desire. Valancy had heard so much about him that she couldn't help turning her head back over her shoulder for another shy, curious look at him. A shaft of pale spring sunlight fell through a great pine athwart her bare black head and her slanted eyes. She wore a pale green sweater and had bound a fillet of linnaea vine about her hair. The feathery fountain of trailing spruce overflower her arms and fell around her. Allan Tierney's eyes lighted up.

"I've had a caller," said Barney the next afternoon, when Valancy had returned from another flower quest.

"Who?" Valancy was surprised but indifferent. She began filling a basket with arbutus.

"Allan Tierney. He wants to paint you, Moonlight."

"Me!" Valancy dropped her basket and her arbutus. "You're laughing at me, Barney."

"I'm not. That's what Tierney came for. To ask my permission to paint my wife--as the Spirit of Muskoka, or something like that."

"But--but--" stammered Valancy, "Allan Tierney never paints any but--any but--"

"Beautiful women," finished Barney. "Conceded. Q. E. D., Mistress Barney Snaith is a beautiful woman."

"Nonsense," said Valancy, stooping to retrieve her arbutus. "You know that's nonsense, Barney. I know I'm a heap better-looking than I was a year ago, but I'm not beautiful."

"Allan Tierney never makes a mistake," said Barney. "You forget, Moonlight, that there are different kinds of beauty. Your imagination is obsessed by the very obvious type of your cousin Olive. Oh, I've seen her--she's a stunner--but you'd never catch Allan Tierney wanting to paint her. In the horrible but expressive slang phrase, she keeps all her goods in the shop-window. But in your subconscious mind you have a conviction that nobody can be beautiful who doesn't look like Olive. Also, you remember your face as it was in the days when your soul was not allowed to shine through it."

I thought about posting this in the AskMe thread but didn't because it falls under the "possibly patronizing" critique. But all my life this passage has helped me develop and sustain my FUUUUUCK YOOOOUUU Assholes armor, so I'm dropping it in here in case others like it too.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 1:01 AM on April 16, 2012 [15 favorites]


Yeah, but why assume that people saying it has to do with attitude - that that's not their experience? You think we're just spewing platitudes and denying reality? What if that is our lived experience, our reality?

Some of us have been called "the dog" and not just once, and not just in high school. When I was 14 a boy threw a rock at me and commented matter-of-factly, "Dog." When I turned my head to look at who threw the rock, he confirmed, just as matter-of-factly, "you dog." The biggest joke in high school was when some girls from my typing class wrote an obscene letter, signed my name to it, and sent it to the supposedly handsomest boy in school. I found out through an overheard phone conversation that the boss I had when I was 25 was referring to me as "the dog".

I've also heard through third parties, "oh, tel3path is beautiful", been called "beautiful" on the street numerous times, heard that players said of me "oh tel3path is really attractive but she'd see through my routines in an instant." None of it had quite the same impact on me as being called ugly, but maybe that's just me.

FWIW I do know that there is such a thing as being legitimately ugly. I have a friend whose appearance could be described this way. If she would do something with herself, I think her appearance would improve a lot, but she has no interest. She is satisfied with her appearance as it is. She is married, has been since before I even met her.

I model part-time. When men who don't know me clap eyes on me for the first time, they show a microexpression of disgust, and quickly look away. If I strike up a conversation with a man, even if it's just to say "pass the salt", they flinch and mention their GFs, so I have learned to speak to a man only when I'm spoken to - which may be never. Sometimes, when men have gotten to know me through being thrown together with me for extended periods of time, they have started fighting over me, which has more than once caused me severe professional disruption through no fault or action of my own. Beta males have carried torches for years at a time, players have dramatized what should be routine interactions by monkeying around with PUA tactics trying to get me to chase them (I infer that they'd lose social value if they admitted to being attracted to me, or maybe it's just a variation on the obscene letter joke), maladjusts cyberstalk and get their dumb friends to try to contact me months after I've blocked them.

So based on the way the world reacts to me I can't say for sure whether I'm beautiful or ugly. Apparently I must have something, but what I don't have is dates.

Maybe this means I'm ugly and therefore, it's true that ugly women don't get dates. What I actually think it means is that beauty is not straightforward to define and that there is no straightforward relationship between beauty and loneliness. Or perhaps that's just something I say to comfort myself. Hard to tell. I do expect to be treated like a human being, and not a dog or a prize or an HBn or a friend-zoner, and the biggest problem is that that seems to be too much to ask. Even attraction seems to be expressed in ways that feel like hate, from my point of view.

I'm sorry that "you probably aren't ugly and attraction is more complicated than that and it won't necessarily stop you from getting what you want out of life" is not what some people want to hear, but my experience suggests that it's true, whether or not it helps. I don't particularly relish having my experience invalidated, either.
posted by tel3path at 2:57 AM on April 16, 2012 [25 favorites]


Umm linguists relax, I knew it was folk etymology
posted by spitbull at 5:00 AM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


I try to stay out of these nasty posts and AskMe questions but I am tempted to ask the posters who were on the side of 'I hear you' and 'beauty is subjective is a condescending statement' kind of comments.

I know hazelshade is old enough to fail this one outright but how many of you looked closely at how old the OP was and made an attempt to keep your opinions on beauty/lack thereof to yourselves and try to think for the interest of this young adult? And I am also curious to know that about married older adults with kids, esp that anonymous poster who said his wife is "ugly". If you read this anon poster, here is a question for you and I challenge you to answer me here or mail me personally- You don't have the courage to tell your wife that but you are okay with discussing that unspoken part of your life with a 20 year old so that she would look at only the last line of your comment and nothing else? You really believe that this young adult is going to remember how there is "hope" for her and not let her thoughts center and spiral around other people's opinions? Did you look at her before you answered that question and do you know for a fact that she is indeed, what you would consider "ugly"?

Perhaps there should be another Metatalk thread on this? Are you not imposing your sad opinions if you don't consider an OP's age, and not really answering a question (as you all claimed to do) with their long term interest in mind? And if you are 30 and over, don't you think you should? Why or why not?
posted by xm at 6:28 AM on April 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


Perhaps there should be another Metatalk thread on this?

No there shouldn't be. I'm sorry the anon comment resonated with you in a way that is frustrating if you can't talk to the original poster, but part of the complicated part of AskMe and MetaFilter generally is that there's no built-in right to call people out or make them respond to your requests for more information or for closure. People comment anonymously often specifically so they don't have to participate in this sort of thing, among other reasons.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:54 AM on April 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


...and I challenge you to answer me here or mail me personally...

Perhaps a duel, pistols at dawn, that sort of thing?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:25 AM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


FYI- The post above was along the lines of 'food for thought' and not intended to "call out on people" or get "closure".

@Jessamyn-

I am not sure where you get the idea that I am suggesting having another thread because I can't talk to Anon. Just so you know, I couldn't care less, let alone be "frustrated" by it.

I really appreciate and respect what you do as a Moderator. However, calling me out above based on what you *think* my intentions are, and in the way you did, was unnecessary and out of line.
posted by xm at 7:25 AM on April 16, 2012


However, calling me out above based on what you *think* my intentions are, and in the way you did, was unnecessary and out of line.

You weren't called out.
posted by Jpfed at 7:28 AM on April 16, 2012


Yeah sorry wasn't a callout, just responding to the many questions you directed [in your word "challenged to answer"] towards the anon commenter. Your next sentence asking whether this should be a separate MeTa, a sentence I assumed followed from the previous one, was what I was referring to. I was not calling you out, at all.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:32 AM on April 16, 2012


Between these threads and my 3 year old daughter telling me yesterday that "I want to be beautiful so I will have friends and people will like me" I am depressed as hell today.
posted by gaspode at 7:53 AM on April 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


IMO, unless there's a mountain of evidence that suggests otherwise, people on AskMe should post answers that give the OP the courtesy of crediting what he or she says.

I disagree. There are questions on AskMe, and there will be questions again, that say things like "I'm a worthless human being and a waste of space. I don't contribute a single thing to anybody's life." Looking at a post like that, I don't have a single shred of actual evidence to the contrary but I will contradict what the OP says about himself or herself all day long, as will any number of other AskMe regulars whose instincts on these things are better than, say, mine.

Now, in the post at hand, a 20 year old woman self-describes as ugly. It is certainly quite possibly the case that her perceptions of herself are accurate,* but it is also at least as likely that the OP has an unduly harsh opinion of herself. Assuming (because I haven't done the research) a bell-curve distribution of physical attractiveness, it is unlikely but not impossible that the OP is indeed on the far left of the curve. It is on the other hand a virtual truism that 20-year-olds have inaccurate and vestigial self-images which they are likely to outgrow in their next decade.

Having read the thread, I see an awful lot of people answering from a place of "When I was 20, I thought I was horribly ugly, too. Then I [learned how to charm people anyway / got better haircuts and a rockin' body / stopped caring about my looks and got awesome instead / met someone who was totally turned on by my comically mismatched giant ears] and now I don't really think about it. You can do some or all of these things too and here's how."

The thing is, the fact that that's most people's experience makes it likely that that will be the OP's experience as well. None of us knows whether that's actually the case or not. But running the numbers, it is highly unlikely that the OP is irredeemably ugly in a way that will render her unattractive to all appropriate people no matter how [charming / rockin' / awesome] she makes herself. It's not impossible. It's just very, very unlikely.

I get what you're saying about it being discourteous to contradict the OP. I just think that this is one of those situations in which there are a lot of other things at play, and that this particular courtesy may impede people giving advice that is quite likely, but not necessarily, both helpful and accurate.

* insofar as such an evaluative statement can indeed be described in terms of accuracy, a great deal of "ugliness" being both highly cultural and subjective and idiosyncratic.
posted by gauche at 7:53 AM on April 16, 2012 [9 favorites]


Did you look at her before you answered that question and do you know for a fact that she is indeed, what you would consider "ugly"?

Of course no one did. If someone asked that question in person, it would be different. (Not saying it was mandatory to assume she was "ugly." Just that an answer on that basis doesn't confirm her assessment, just assumes she's telling the truth on some level.)
posted by BibiRose at 7:56 AM on April 16, 2012


The thing is, the fact that that's most people's experience makes it likely that that will be the OP's experience as well.

You cannot possibly know that "that's most people's experience." Obviously, the people who outgrew their ugliness (or their perception of themselves as ugly) are going to be far more likely to talk about those experiences than people who still see themselves as ugly—you can't pretend that the responses are statistically representative of the population at large. Most people who feel that they are ugly and that their lives are unpleasant as a result are not going to come into a thread like this to say so.
posted by enn at 8:33 AM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


The thing is, the fact that that's most people's experience makes it likely that that will be the OP's experience as well.

So wrong. There's no reason to believe that the answers dropped in an AskMe will be representative of the experiences of society at large.
posted by 23skidoo at 8:44 AM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


..... just assumes she's telling the truth on some level

That's a dangerous assumption. That "truth" is coming from a 20 year old*?

Whether we think beauty is subjective or whether we like to assess every person we associate with what we deem attractive, its besides the point. The core of the issue is really the level of concern young adults (and apparently toddlers) have with how they look and how that will influence how well they fare in different aspects of life. The question is, how and why did we get to this point. To me this is really at the heart of OP's original post. And till we figure this out, there will be more "I am ugly. Now what?" questions in the future. If we so much as lean with the posters and validate them based on a few words we read here, we are reinforcing that vicious cycle- not just for one person, but many more than we will actually know about. (At the risk of getting hit by more stones in one day...) I suggest the "ugly" camp AskMe responders to such questions think about these things and their responsibility as adults toward the younger adults as the next generation, not just focus on making one 20 year old feel good for this week.


*Note gauche's comment.
posted by xm at 8:53 AM on April 16, 2012


I think I'd rather stick with not assuming someone doesn't know themselves just because they are young.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:58 AM on April 16, 2012 [10 favorites]


You cannot possibly know that "that's most people's experience."

If you want to get right down to it, you're right. I can only know my own experience. But I will bet you a cheeseburger that the following statements are true:

1) an overwhelming majority of women in the (let's say) English-speaking world possessed, when they were in their late teens and early twenties, a persistent, recurring, deep-seated belief that they were physically ugly in noticeable and significant ways which would negatively impact their happiness, their personal and professional success, and their ability to attract and retain a mate. Let's define overwhelming majority to mean >75%.
2) The number of people who are physically ugly in a way that will render them unattractive to others no matter what they do about it is vanishingly small.* Let's define vanishingly small to mean <5% of the same population as statement 1.

If these two statements are indeed the case, I think I can generalize, a little, about "most people's experience" with respect to this issue. I'm not talking about the OP's experience. I'm just saying that the answerers are not contradicting the OP in a way that is necessarily inappropriate.

*That statement is in no way intended to disparage or detract from the considerable difficulties that such people must endure daily.
posted by gauche at 9:10 AM on April 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


To clarify, I'm not saying responses should necessarily take the OP's accuracy for granted-- this seems like a perfect situation for questioning assumptions-- just that not questioning them is hardly the same as saying, "Yup, you're ugly." Nobody has seen the poster.
posted by BibiRose at 9:12 AM on April 16, 2012


gauche, I guess we will simply have to disagree—I don't think either of your propositions is plausible.
posted by enn at 9:19 AM on April 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


If these two statements are indeed the case, I think I can generalize, a little, about "most people's experience" with respect to this issue.

You made those numbers up. You can generalize based on made-up statistics, but your generalizations will be completely meaningless.
posted by 23skidoo at 9:26 AM on April 16, 2012 [5 favorites]


Yes. I'm totally up front in both posts about my numbers being a stab in the dark.
posted by gauche at 9:33 AM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yes. I'm totally up front in both posts about my numbers being a stab in the dark.

Why use numbers at all if you're creating a hypothesis?

This is a pet peeve of mine but place holder numbers where a real, researched number belong for the sake of making a point are really the marker of bad faith arguing. When you insert a number, people put some degree of stock into the fact that you put 75% as opposed to 5%. You've quantified a hunch, even if you've just created a ballpark for it to live in.

In reality, you know the number is between 0 and 100%. You know nothing more. If your argument requires stab in the dark math to exist, you should find another argument.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 9:58 AM on April 16, 2012 [5 favorites]


Like parrot_person, I was aggravated by people invalidating the OP's self-assessment. Because I agree with what The ____ of Justice says here:

I dunno, I kinda see this akin to someone feeling discriminated because of "x" and a bunch of people saying, "hey, it's really just in your head."

It might be in her head, but it's also true discrimination because of x not only totally exists, but is rampant and very, very real.


The part that I find particularly annoying is that whether the OP is, in fact, as ugly as she thinks she is or if, instead, she is suffering from a terrible dysmorphia, the advice is basically the same: try not to get too hung up on how you look, make the most of what you have, get some therapy, do not despair, know that people who look all kinds of ways find love often anyway. So, for me, prefacing any advice with "I'm sure you're not really ugly" adds nothing except condescension and insult. It's like saying no, you're not ugly, you're foolish.

I also think that the people who are uncomfortable with the word and concept of ugly are trying to deny a real thing. Like trying to deny racism. I understand that it's hard to call someone ugly or think of someone as ugly and that it is all subjective. I am myself inordinately attracted to men with features that are considered ugly (big noses, crooked teeth, big ears, weak chins). And so, yes, to me, those things aren't ugly, they make my heart pitter-patter. But that doesn't change the fact that I can see, objectively, that they are not features that are prized in our culture (and that, too, some of those features are considered ugly because of racism). And, like racism and sexism, being ugly has measurable, material impact on people's lives (for example). I don't think being "ugly-blind" works any better to change this than being colour-blind does.

(Also, I prefer using the word ugly to unattractive, since ugly can actually be kind of attractive in its own right. I think calling someone unattractive is actually worse than calling them ugly. It's like saying there's no hope.)
posted by looli at 10:15 AM on April 16, 2012 [9 favorites]


Why use numbers at all if you're creating a hypothesis?

If you'll note, I was proposing a bet. Numbers are my way of determining whether a statement like "a vanishingly small number of x are y" is true or not, since there's no objective criterion of what a "vanishingly small" number is or is not.
posted by gauche at 10:38 AM on April 16, 2012


I read that entire thread with a lot of interest. I was raised with three brothers whose favorite insult for their little sister was "you're ugly". That's my default feeling about myself to this day. I acutally feel incapable of an even remotely dispassionate appraisal of my appearance. I was GLAD to read the perspective of "you know, I'm not going to invalidate what you're telling us". I think it made for a balance of perspectives and experiences that could be useful for the AskMe OP. I also understand that we all have so much baggage vis a vis appearance that knee-jerks are happening all over the place.

And I looked at two lights above the sea's profile pic and she is very pretty.
posted by ersatzkat at 11:03 AM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is a pet peeve of mine but place holder numbers where a real, researched number belong for the sake of making a point are really the marker of bad faith arguing.

Totally false. Or I should say, 68.4% false :-) Seriously, this is totally wrong. It's completely legitimate to quantify the strength of your subjective belief that something is true or false. What would be illegitimate would be not changing your subjective belief when presented with new evidence, which hasn't happened here.

Look at it this way: if someone had popped up and said, "hey, i have a study right here in front of me, and it says 71.2%" (instead of the 75% figure as above). Would you automatically put 100% of your belief in that exact figure? Of course not. You would weigh that evidence based on how reliable you think the messenger is, among other factors, and adjust whatever your prior belief was accordingly. If you used to think the right number was about 40%, then you'd likely adjust your belief to somewhere near, but below, the 71.2%.
posted by facetious at 11:04 AM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Look at it this way: if someone had popped up and said, "hey, i have a study right here in front of me, and it says 71.2%" (instead of the 75% figure as above). Would you automatically put 100% of your belief in that exact figure? Of course not. You would weigh that evidence based on how reliable you think the messenger is, among other factors, and adjust whatever your prior belief was accordingly. If you used to think the right number was about 40%, then you'd likely adjust your belief to somewhere near, but below, the 71.2%.

Right, but the difference is there is no study and the number is completely made up. A lot different than, say, a study I haven't seen. Plus, people ask you to cite your source all the time around here. It's one of the things I like here that separates discourse from other places.

There are two sides to this; one, you discount numbers invented out of thin air based on the factors you suggested (therefore rendering them completely unnecessary) or you allow them to have a non-zero effect on your opinion. I think in both scenarios, an invented number should not exist.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 11:32 AM on April 16, 2012


Sometimes, you're so ugly, you're cute.
All the good people know this.
posted by Grlnxtdr at 11:56 AM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


People have given honest and sincere answers, and are responding to the stated question, as well as to what may be perceived as a bias on the asker's part. People are answering a question in a way you don't like, but they're mostly actually answering the question, the best way they know how. Make your own point/post, then move on.
posted by theora55 at 12:12 PM on April 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


> This is a pet peeve of mine but place holder numbers where a real, researched number belong for the sake of making a point are really the marker of bad faith arguing. When you insert a number, people put some degree of stock into the fact that you put 75% as opposed to 5%. You've quantified a hunch, even if you've just created a ballpark for it to live in.

In reality, you know the number is between 0 and 100%. You know nothing more. If your argument requires stab in the dark math to exist, you should find another argument.


This is scientism at its bullshit best. You want to know why people make up numbers? It's because people like you insist on numbers and attack anything that doesn't have numbers attached as worthless: "In reality, you know the number is between 0 and 100%. You know nothing more." That utterly devalues one of the most salient features of the human mind: that we have knowledge that we cannot quantify, or that perhaps cannot be quantified. If humanity had to wait on scientifically proven numbers to deal with its environment, it would have died out before it properly came to exist. I appreciate the value of numbers as much as anyone (I was a math major before I switched to linguistics), but anyone who confines themselves to a cave of scientifically proven numerical confidence and mocks everything outside it as nothing but meaningless "hunches" is choosing to live a sadly deprived life.

tl;dr: Most of what is important in life is not, and should not be, quantified, and we have lots of perfectly valid understanding to which numbers cannot be attached.
posted by languagehat at 2:19 PM on April 16, 2012 [34 favorites]


Languagehat is 94.6% correct.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:21 PM on April 16, 2012 [9 favorites]


No, it's from Old French gorgias 'elegantly or finely dressed, fashionable, gay,' which may (as demiurge says) be related to gorge 'throat.'

As is gorget or so I would like to think.
posted by y2karl at 2:22 PM on April 16, 2012


Rodrigo Lamaitre: "In reality, you know the number is between 0 and 100%. You know nothing more. If your argument requires stab in the dark math to exist, you should find another argument."

Not everything comes down to precise numbers based on pure scientific research. I think it's unrealistic to insist that every hypothesis put forward include such 'facts'. In human to human conversation, we often use 'ballpark' figures that include such intangibles as a 'shit-load' (or, in some countries, a 'metric shit-load') and 'lots' and 'bugger all' and 'five-eighths of fuck-all' and sometimes these are guessed at more closely, such as '<75%'. It would be different if there had been any claim of certainty around the quoted figures, but it was a proposed bet with the value of a cheeseburger, not a peer-reviewed scientific paper, for fuck's sake.

Yeah, I agree that being asked to provide some form of proof for claims here separates us from the herd, but this is no claim of fact and there is no need to cite anything. One of the other good things about this place is that everyone most people here can tell the difference between a claim of fact and fuzzy numbers not put forward as anything more than that. For what it's worth, I wouldn't take that bet, because my guess is that it's not far wrong.
posted by dg at 3:39 PM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


That utterly devalues one of the most salient features of the human mind: that we have knowledge that we cannot quantify, or that perhaps cannot be quantified.

That's true, but this all started from someone saying the person who wrote the AskMe was probably wrong about her ugliness, since the AskMe had a large percentage of answers along the lines of "I used to think I was ugly when I was younger, but I was wrong". Numbers or not, that idea doesn't make any sense, at all, and should be called out.

You can't generalize most people's experience based on the experience's of people who choose to answer one question on AskMe.
posted by 23skidoo at 3:47 PM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Rodrigo Lamaitre, I'm going to need you to quantify how upset vague ballpark numbers make you. I'll need to see a solid statistical correlation between your blood pressure, brain scans, etc and exposure to ballpark numbers. Otherwise I'm going to have to call bullshit on you and assume you love estimations.
posted by fuq at 4:22 PM on April 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


The part that I find particularly annoying is that whether the OP is, in fact, as ugly as she thinks she is or if, instead, she is suffering from a terrible dysmorphia, the advice is basically the same: try not to get too hung up on how you look, make the most of what you have, get some therapy, do not despair, know that people who look all kinds of ways find love often anyway.

It's not wholly the same, though; some people in the thread are strongly advocating for plastic surgery. If OP is actually kind of rad-looking but with a bad case of dysmorphia, or with a bad case of normative beauty standards, she might later regret paying large amounts of money to get pieces of her face altered in order to match those beauty standards.
posted by Greg Nog at 7:04 PM on April 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Most of what is important in life is not, and should not be, quantified, and we have lots of perfectly valid understanding to which numbers cannot be attached."

I agree with your argument, but it's surprisingly cluelessly ironic, given that you're defending someone who arbitrarily attempted to quantify something that needn't have been quantified to make his point.

But, hey — you got to be grouchy and condescending in a drive-by comment, so there's that.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:16 PM on April 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


There actually are a few numbers in the links in my post. And here's an article about girls younger than the OP, 77% of whom think they're ugly. It's really sad. I sometimes think that one of the major things that can hold women back in life is that some waste so much of their brain space thinking about their looks instead of other more important things. I know I did. It sucks. But are we going to take those 77% at their word? I wouldn't, personally. I think when someone's basic premise about themselves may be flawed, there's nothing wrong with gently questioning it. I don't think it invalidates anyone to say "you may not have the full facts here."

When I answered the question, I did so by thinking back to how I felt when I was the OP's age and telling her what I wished someone would have told me. I then didn't appreciate that others, one of whom has stated here that she hasn't actually had that experience herself, felt the need to try to invalidate my and others' answers by stating she was angry on the OP's behalf. However, I've been told I was oversensitive in this and I accept this. In general, though, I really don't think it's valid in questions that are not fact-based like this one for someone to come in and say, oh, you've had so much bad advice in this thread but here's some good advice from me.

Some have said in this thread that they have no problem being corrected in threads if they're factually wrong. That's fine. However I still don't believe I was factually wrong, or that my advice coming from my experiences was any less valid than others' advice. One person said they didn't think people with "baggage" should answer questions. Well there's a very fine line, sometimes invisible, between baggage and experience. And in a question like this, if people with "baggage"/experience can't answer, there will be very few women I think who could answer, because so many of us think we're ugly or have thought we were ugly at some point in our lives. Again, it's sad.

I do appreciate that so many women have shared their own experiences here in such a sincere and heartfelt way. I would never try to invalidate any of them, but I also don't feel that my experience deserves to be invalidated either.
posted by hazyjane at 10:47 PM on April 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


"Most of what is important in life is not, and should not be, quantified, and we have lots of perfectly valid understanding to which numbers cannot be attached."

You understood that sentence, Ivan?
It's nonsense.

I can't get past: if should implies can, then it is do-able; let alone most, lots and perfectly-valid. Gosh.

languagehat! rhetoric?
posted by de at 11:20 PM on April 16, 2012


"I can't get past: if should implies can, then it is do-able; let alone most, lots and perfectly-valid. Gosh."

It's not a statement in categorical logic. There's just an elided "invalidly" in his sentence:

"Most of what is important in life is not, and should not [invalidly] be, quantified, and we have lots of perfectly valid understanding to which numbers cannot be attached."

It makes perfect sense as something interpreted loosely as saying that you don't need to actually measure something deliberately and subsequently produce an apparently precise quantification to be able to reason about it, or even about relative magnitudes involved — such a requirement is absurd, unnatural, and unnecessary and most of life isn't much like that at all.

Your objection doesn't really hold, either, if you think about it. The "should not" and the "cannot" sets can be parsed in that sentence as being disjunct. "Most" is the conjunction of "should not" and "is not" sets. "Cannot" is a third, disjunct set to which "most" doesn't apply. Which would make two separate arguments, one of them mostly implied. That's probably not how he intended it; but how he intended it is pretty obvious to me and that reading is sensible, too.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:23 AM on April 17, 2012


"I do appreciate that so many women have shared their own experiences here in such a sincere and heartfelt way. I would never try to invalidate any of them, but I also don't feel that my experience deserves to be invalidated either."

No, of course not. And I, for one, entirely agree that it's both the case that believing oneself physically unattractive is epidemic among women, especially young women, and that this makes it more likely than not that any random young woman who believes herself to be physically unattractive is partly or wholly mistaken. That should be mentioned in this situation.

But, at the same time, I think that I and others are concerned that there is necessarily still a not-insignificant group of people, especially women, who are unambiguously physically unattractive by this culture's standards, and trying to convince that group that their self-perceptions are wrong and denying their own experiences is not a good thing to do, is insulting, doesn't help them, and probably hurts them.

Also, there's the concern that telling people that they're actually more conforming to a patently unjust and superficial cultural standard than they believe themselves to be is also arguably only helping entrench the underlying problem.

For example, imagine that this question were from and about someone living in a racist society (surely couldn't be our own, right?) where being perceived as "being more black" makes one less physically and socially attractive while, in contrast, being perceived as "less black" make one more physically and socially attractive. The person says, well, I know that I'm seen as very black — I have very dark skin and those other features commonly associated with supposed "black" physiology, and I realize that this makes me less physically and socially attractive to most everyone in our culture, even including other black people.

Now, we can imagine people, especially women, having this insecurity, right? (Not that it really happens in our so very just and non-racist society, of course.) We can imagine them struggling with being unfairly judged in this way, wanting to be seen as more attractive; and because of the widespread, mass-mediated nature of this insecurity and what's at stake (so very much is at stake, from employment to romance), we can imagine that the fear and insecurity about this would exceed the reality of it: more people would judge themselves excessively harshly on this basis than the opposite. More likely than not, their fears and insecurities would be exaggerated.

Would you feel okay telling these people, especially the women, that they are really much more white-looking than they think they are and that their fears are unwarranted? And that some grooming changes and some other things as well as having a more confident attitude would almost certainly make all the difference and they wouldn't be seen as being so black anymore, but would be seen as more white and more physically and socially attractive?

I'd find that very, very problematic. Offensive, in fact.

And it would be even worse in the cases where it's just not true that these self-perceptions and insecurities are unjustified but, rather, completely and perfectly justified. In those cases where this is how most people see them, and that is why most people don't find them attractive. In those cases, such advice would both be helping perpetuate something heinous and be worse than useless — it's gaslighting them, baldly denying to their face their own lived experience.

I spent a lot of time on that analogy because I, personally, have a huge problem with our culture's beauty standard as it applies to women and is involved with sexism and patriarchy. But, if you wish, we can put that aside if this isn't very compelling to you. Perhaps you don't think this whole standard is that terribly unjust. Okay.

But I'm also having a bigger and bigger problem, the more I think about it, with denying the experience of those who actually aren't overestimating their "ugliness". If, say, 70% of women have believed themselves to be "ugly" at some point in their lives, and we are sure that most of them were or became or will be perceived as "attractive", there's still that group that isn't included in "most". How big is that group?

Well, I'm not comfortable with the claim that it's, say, less than 5%. In fact, I'm pretty sure that it's significantly more than just 5% because, functionally, ugly people in our culture are in some weird sense invisible. They're not actually invisible, because many, many people experience them as eyesores, sadly. But they're cognitively invisible. We just don't think about them. We ignore them. We dehumanize them. If they appear in mass media, they appear only to embody ugliness — actual characters who are supposed to be ugly, aren't.

I think this group is larger than we want to believe it is. If you think about it, it almost has to be fairly (relatively) large. The same argument that says that women underestimate their attractiveness because of an absurdly high beauty standard pretty much requires that there would have to be as much an enlarged group at the leftward end of the skewed distribution (the "ugly" end) as the rightward ("beautiful/sexy") group is diminished.

And the part that really bothers me, related to the paragraph-before-last, is that I have a very, very strong suspicion that the experiences of this group are both qualitatively and quantitatively very different from that of the insecure average or somewhat below average groups that we're saying includes the majority. In other words, not all "feeling ugly" is alike. I do think that a majority of women have felt ugly, been insulted by others, and been insecure about it. A not-small portion very hurt and very insecure about it. But something tells me that there's a gap — a big gap — between that and the group for whom this has profoundly and negatively affected every day of their lives since adolescence, or even before.

I think those people are hugely, terribly discriminated against in our culture in almost every possible way. We don't just treat them badly, with a bias that works strongly against them in almost every possible social interaction, but we also deny they exist. We deny they exist by refusing to represent them in any way, to involve them in our cultural self-image (as we have similarly denied other groups in the past, like the non-heterosexual, the very elderly, the disabled). But we even deny they exist ontologically — we tell stories about how no one is ugly, how taking off the pair of glasses, letting the hair down, and some smiles and self-confidence will turn every girl into a beauty-queen. Or at least charm the football quarterback. I think there's a big problem with this.

I think that even putting aside my arguments about the injustice of the beauty standard in the first place, I think there's something very wrong with telling the group who really is getting our culture's most shitty end of the stick, and who surely knows it, that they're actually not and that it's just that they're confused and insecure. Very wrong. It may well be that this is a helpful thing to say to those for whom it's true. But my gut instinct tells me that it's less helpful for that group than it is hurtful for the group I'm talking about.

I'm disabled and physical disability is also not a bad analogue for this: for some group of people, telling them that they're not as disabled as they think they are and that they can do a lot if they put their minds to it is helpful. For another group, it's insulting and hurtful. As a disabled person myself, I'd be very, very careful about giving such advice to someone unless I was very sure about which group that person was in. Whichever group I'm in, I know enough not to assume that every other disabled person is in that group or is like me.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:33 AM on April 17, 2012 [11 favorites]



I think those people are hugely, terribly discriminated against in our culture in almost every possible way. We don't just treat them badly, with a bias that works strongly against them in almost every possible social interaction, but we also deny they exist.


Ivan- I understand your point as a whole and partially agree. But at least part of the "denying the ugly exist" concept is based on reality and experience. How many truly ugly people do you see on a daily basis? My average is 0. And the thing is, even people whose looks are so far outside the mainstream in an aestetically unappealing way to most, can have relationships and friends, as evidenced by some anecdotes in the thread by people who have friends they thought were truly physically ugly when first meeting them, but who become better looking to them over time, and who have lovers and friends.
posted by bearette at 2:22 AM on April 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


"And the thing is, even people whose looks are so far outside the mainstream in an aestetically unappealing way to most, can have relationships and friends, as evidenced by some anecdotes in the thread by people who have friends they thought were truly physically ugly when first meeting them, but who become better looking to them over time, and who have lovers and friends."

I do think that's true. But I'm not comfortable saying that this is necessarily true for everyone, nor am I comfortable in saying that, in this being true, they don't even so suffer a huge amount of discrimination and pain, including within the context of relationships.

It seems to me that there's something extremely pathological about our culture. I don't know of any cultures without any sort of a beauty standard (though I've not much knowledge in anthropology, so maybe there are some), but my sense about American culture, especially, is that it simultaneously has an extremely pervasive and unrealistic beauty standard and has all this, um, contemporary mythology that either physical beauty doesn't matter or that "everyone is beautiful". I think that this paradox is a combination of our collective attempt to sort of wish away something we instinctively know is toxic and wrong, and in lying to ourselves in this way it helps perpetuate it.

I mean, it's so obvious that there is universal and intense discrimination, especially for females, based upon this. And yet, with any sort of systemic bias and bigotry that is comparable, practically no one except the most socially regressive among us would be arguing that it's mostly a state of mind, that one can always rise above it, and the like. We'd be going out of our way to validate just how real such discrimination is and how awful it is to experience it.

But about our female beauty standard? We try to argue that it's not universalized and institutionalized. That people who feel discriminated against on this basis are probably insecure. That it's not really that limiting and anyone can "bootstrap" themselves into making it mostly irrelevant. Whatever argument is available to minimize that this is real and that this causes very painful and unjust effects, we try to utilize. Why?

The thing is, with these other systemic and institutionalized bigotries, it's not the case that people don't find ways to empower themselves and find happiness and all that. People do. In fact, sadly, often the ones who do manage such things end up judging those who don't harshly. All these positive and self-empowering arguments are true in those cases, too. But we recognize that concentrating on those while minimizing the realities of the discrimination and the pain it causes acts as kind of an apology for the discrimination. Ideally, what we always want to do in such situations is validate the experience of suffering the discrimination while helping the person find ways to empower themselves. Denying their experience is not empowering. Validating it is.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:19 AM on April 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is scientism at its bullshit best. You want to know why people make up numbers? It's because people like you insist on numbers and attack anything that doesn't have numbers attached as worthless: "In reality, you know the number is between 0 and 100%. You know nothing more." That utterly devalues one of the most salient features of the human mind: that we have knowledge that we cannot quantify, or that perhaps cannot be quantified.

Way to shove those words into my mouth, buddy.

I don't disagree with you that much of knowledge can't be quantified. My argument is that if you have to invent a quantified measure to present it then you're doing it wrong and that you should find another argument. I never said that quantified research is the only way to understand or present something.

Use numbers if you have numbers, but if you don't, don't make up numbers that are in the ballpark of where your opinion stands. Don't put 75% if what you have is a qualitative knowledge of the subject. That's all I said.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 3:38 AM on April 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I guess the bottom line in this is that our experience of "beauty" and "ugly" is still so generally visceral and so unexamined, that even the more enlightened among us still unconsciously apply a value judgement in connection with it. One of the most radical and incomprehensible things that anyone can do (and which the poster did) is to accept the label of "ugly"...because it's basically impossible for us to imagine that it's not a negative value judgment the person is applying to themselves. The same, with the opposite valuation, is true for beauty. Even the most universally regarded beautiful person is not allowed to say that they are beautiful because we hear that as "I'm better than most people". We hear "I'm ugly" as "I'm worse than most people".

Even though we claim to recognize that this is subjective and varies by culture. Even though we claim to believe that individual people are beautiful in different ways and such.

If we really believed this stuff we're saying about it, then we'd not be made very uncomfortable when someone explains how, because of X,Y, and Z they are badly non-compliant with our culture's beauty standard and are considered "ugly" or, similarly, when they explain how, because of X, Y, and Z they are very much in compliance with our culture's beauty standard and are considered "beautiful". Either way, they're merely describing their physical appearance and how it doesn't or does fit the cultural norms for beauty and are not applying a value judgement to themselves. We'd accept their self-evaluation. Why wouldn't we? But, as it happens, we pretty much don't. What we hear is a value judgement about themselves. Because that's just how deeply entangled our notion of who someone is with their "beauty". Our instinct is to say, no, no, no...you're not ugly because it's almost impossible for us to hear this as anything other than "there's something wrong with me". But what we should be hearing is "there's something wrong with our culture".
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:43 AM on April 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


Ivan, beauty is highly subjective. The fashion industry, adversing for cosmetics and diet products, and the mass media generally, promote a single cultural standard of beauty. But in reality, people vary widely in what they find attractive, and one person's 'unattractive' can correspond to another person's 'cute'. So, while conforming to cultural standards of beauty has advantages in our culture (and I'm not dismissing them), not conforming to those does not mean automatically that mean that no one will like you or date you or find you attractive. It's also true that when people get emotionally attached to other people, they frequently come to regard peculiar traits that person has, like a crooked smile or oddly shaped nose, as endearing or likeable, even though most people wouldn't find those traits attractive.

I think it's totally legitimate for commenters to point out that this kind of variability exists. And pointing this out is not the same as denying that cultural standards exist or denying the existence of a very large number of people who don't conform to them.

If I understand you correctly, you seem to be framing the issue of attractiveness in binary terms, where 'conventionally attractive' is the only kind of attractive, and everyone who's not conventionally attractive is unattractive, and therefore 'ugly'. (Though I may be misunderstanding you.)

I think what most people mean by 'actually ugly' is something like 'almost everyone would actually find this person unattractive'. It is true that a very large number of people in our culture don't conform to our culture's standards of beauty, but it's also that true what many people in our culture find attractive doesn't correspond to those standards either.
posted by nangar at 7:44 AM on April 17, 2012


> I agree with your argument, but it's surprisingly cluelessly ironic, given that you're defending someone who arbitrarily attempted to quantify something that needn't have been quantified to make his point.

But, hey — you got to be grouchy and condescending in a drive-by comment, so there's that.


Apparently you didn't read my comment very closely, because I addressed your extremely important issue explicitly: "You want to know why people make up numbers? It's because people like you insist on numbers and attack anything that doesn't have numbers attached as worthless." You know as well as I do that if someone simply says "Most people are X," someone who prides themselves on their superior, scientifically fine-tuned mind will respond that if they don't have any numbers, it's just anecdotal and they should STFU. In such wise are people bullied into making up numbers so they'll sound more scientific.

But, hey — you got to be grouchy and condescending in a drive-by comment, so there's that. And I got you to say something in less than 5,000 words!
posted by languagehat at 8:07 AM on April 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


you got to be grouchy and condescending in a drive-by comment

linguist, heal thyself
posted by banshee at 9:38 AM on April 17, 2012


banshee, read the thread. He was quoting Ivan F.
posted by y2karl at 9:54 AM on April 17, 2012


"You want to know why people make up numbers? It's because people like you insist on numbers and attack anything that doesn't have numbers attached as worthless."

"People like you"? You don't know me or what I value, languagehat, and for you to jump to conclusions that I value numberless arguments as "worthless" is sloppy and grouchy.

I insist on numbers, if they exist, to be correct. If there are no numbers, that's not a slight on the argument. Expecting rigor in quantifiable analysis when there is quantifiable analysis is not asking a lot, nor is it valuing it over a qualitative argument. It's also a personal preference and not something "people like me" think.

I have degrees in economics with a strong math focus, philosophy focusing on the classical political philosophers and a minor in English lit. I appreciate a lot of things, not all of which involve numbers, and I certainly value an argument that exists without numbers. In this case, numbers were invented and nobody bullied anyone into it.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 9:59 AM on April 17, 2012


Posting in here. I was one of those people that was really frustrated with everyone telling the OP that she couldn't possibly be ugly, mainly for a lot of the reasons that Ivan describes. Because ugly is taken as a human valuation, and it's the last one it is socially acceptable to discriminate against.

I commented on noticing that, because I could imagine the OP feeling gaslighted. For us to say, no, your experience and beliefs are totally invalid, felt insulting. And for us to say "Just wait twenty years and you'll be fine" felt like such potentially dangerous advice that it needed to be countered.

I'm one of those who did advise plastic surgery, because physical appearance is so damn correctable. Imagining someone suffering for years and years, hoping someday it would be better, when it could be better /right now/ was actually painful to me.

If you are physically ugly according to our standards of beauty (uneven or sideways teeth, misshapen facial features, birth defects, etc, you do have a lot of terrible feelings about yourself and your body. If it can be corrected, you are a long way towards also adjusting how you feel about yourself.

I think it's kind of sad that we're all coming from the same place. Everyone here hates women feeling as though they are worthless if they don't meet X standard. But I think the analogy of discrimination really holds here. Denying that racism exists or is hurtful or damaging, doesn't make it go away. Denying that ugly-discrimination exists doesn't make it go away. And our society is far from kind to "confident" ugly people. We mock them, as a culture, for daring to think they are pretty enough to act like human beings. It is awful and shitty, but it's real.

Anyway, I felt as though many posters were saying, "Ugly is a bad thing. You're okay, so you definitely can't be ugly."

I will note though, that it wasn't all one-sided: there was also a lot of arguing against those of us who dared to say plastic surgery might be helpful.
posted by corb at 10:52 AM on April 17, 2012 [5 favorites]


I'm one of those who did advise plastic surgery, because physical appearance is so damn correctable.

I'm one of those who advised her to start with a stylist, because a stylist would be frank about whether her perceived flaws could be easily addressed with non-surgical interventions, or whether plastic surgery would be helpful.

If that OP is reading this thread, please don't start by going to a plastic surgeon. Even if you get someone with the very best intentions in the world, plastic surgeons (like all humans) are going to suffer from the "if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail" tendency.

A stylist is going to be frank with you about a) whether your assessment of your appearance is accurate, and b) what the possible options are for addressing the things about yourself you find unattractive, and c) what the potential costs and risks and benefits of each strategy might be.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:15 AM on April 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


I read that thread with interest. Now I read this:

> Some of us have been called "the dog" and not just once, and not just in high school.

This story made my blood boil. How dare they!?! (And I am not given to exclamation marks, generally.) Someone else had a dog comment higher up they wished they could forget. Forget those scum! I'm pretty sure I was called that once, which is ridiculous, because I can't think of any person I would call that. The elephant man a dog? Liesl from "Fifth Business"? No. I was mocked a lot for my appearance (indifference to, I suppose, ignorance about) as well as "being fat." (Not "having" bit "being"?) This just raised my disgust at people in general. How dare they! It reminds me of when I taught ESL to adults and pretty much any words and discussions were okay - except when someone called someone else stupid. That is not allowed. It's like ugly. It's not helpful. It's not kind or thoughtful. It's a blanket condemnation that is destructive. And it angers me. People! (The ultimate expletive.)

I try to be amused, but sometimes people are just disgusting.
posted by Listener at 11:49 AM on April 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Rage caused me to miss a typo. Should have been: (Not "having" bUt "being"?)
posted by Listener at 11:50 AM on April 17, 2012


I've read it a few times through now, and I'm still having a really hard time understanding where the perception of it as being overwhelmingly hurtful and invalidating comes from. Like, just genuinely missing how it gets read as "everyone telling the OP that she couldn't possibly be ugly"/denying the reality of her experience. But I hear how intensely several people have reacted with that perception, and I really want to understand.

There are 120 answers and only a few dozen of them (I counted) even raise the "maybe you're not really ugly at all" issue and of those, most are saying "maybe you're wrong/possibly you're wrong"-- I have a hard time seeing how just the fact of mentioning it as a possibility is hurtful and invalidating, but is that how those kinds of answers feel? Then there's a handful who say "you're probably not/likely not/I really doubt it" (mostly backed up with examples about how many people they know have thought they're ugly/how ugly they used to think they were)-- is that what's being perceived as condescending/offensive/invalidating, when you go from "maybe you're not really ugly" to "you're probably not actually ugly"? I saw less than ten answers that seemed to go any further than that-- one person who said "you're not ugly," a couple people who said "I don't believe in the concept of ugly," a couple people who said stuff along the lines of "your appearance isn't the problem, your attitude is the problem," and a few saying things like "attractiveness isn't really important."

Or is there stuff that's going under my radar screen when I try to figure out what might bother people? For example, I didn't try to catalog how many people said things along the lines of "being ugly puts you at a disadvantage but it doesn't mean you're necessarily doomed to never find love, being attracted to someone's personality can outweigh their unattractive appearance, and people's perceptions of your attractiveness can actually change when they get to know you"-- is that problematic? Or what else am I missing?

I'm not doing this to try to argue that people shouldn't feel hurt and invalidated by it... I'd really like to understand this better so I can be more sensitive about this in the future. I understand that I probably have a blind spot here and if I don't understand why people are bothered by the responses, then I may end up hurting others unintentionally by saying similar things, and I don't want that to happen. But it's just really confusing to me, because it sounds like some people are reading the thread as saying over and over again "you can't possibly be ugly, and being ugly isn't a big deal anyway" and I just don't follow where they're getting that from.
posted by EmilyClimbs at 3:55 PM on April 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


For EmilyClimbs, here is what I personally found problematic and why.

1) Responding that something is a possibility didn't flag as hurtful to me, but responding that something was /probable/ did. Where it was suggested it was more likely than not, or probable, that the OP was wrong, it felt dismissive. With no data, it did seem dismissive.

2) People suggesting that the problem was attitude, I found wildly, horribly offensive. Maddening, even. Because it suggests two things: one, that the OP doesn't know what her actual problem is, which is patronizing, and two, that if the OP only believed in herself harder, she would have no problem at all. It strikes me on the order of coming up to someone grieving for a dead friend, and saying, "Have you tried clapping your hands and saying "I do believe in fairies"?" It puts the blame for the discrimination the OP faces for physical appearance squarely on the OP for not magically overcoming her stars. It also seemed really unlikely to be useful, and looked like it was setting up for pain.

3) People who said "attractiveness isn't important" I also found offensive. It seemed a little bit like someone with a lot of money telling someone below the poverty line "money isn't important." Yes, having more money, once you're above subsistence levels, doesn't lead to more happiness-but if you're below subsistence level it is pretty damn important. Degrees of attractiveness don't matter as much-but not having any is a daily curse.

4) Some of it is going under your radar. I also found the prevalence of people saying "attractiveness doesn't matter once people get to know your personality" maddening, for reasons related to #2 and #3 above. Because it's like saying "You don't really face discrimination! Also, if you do, it's your fault for not winning them over with charm anyway!"

5) I think what I found most offensive were people who had not experienced the OP's situation coming up with really flip responses that seemed more about their need to show they were a good, not-prejudiced person than actually improving the OP's life.


Hopefully this helps at least a little.
posted by corb at 4:36 PM on April 17, 2012 [11 favorites]


I didn't see that "you might not even be ugly" responses (I think I even wrote one) as being invalidating but rather as being realistic- like I wrote above, how many truly ugly young women are there, even? So chances are, really, that she is not as ugly as she thinks she is. Because personally, I'm not even sure I've ever seen a really ugly 20 year old woman. Besides the fact that "ugly" is subjective, so how can we even say what is ugly in the first place? I know some people have serious facial disfigurements or skin problems that might make them an outlier in terms of appearance, but the OP didn't mention anything like that, so It didn't sound like she was being ostrasized by society for that.

The other thing is, a person is usually not a reliable judge of their own appearance or intellect, especially in our society. We all know this is especially true of women who think they are fat and ugly because they don't look like the airbrushed photos in fashion magazines. Many women who are not fat think they are. I know that there are also women who are fat, and some who would be considered "ugly", but I don't think it's helpful to start advising someone to accept their ugliness when you don't even know what they look like and when it is likely that they are not ugly....and when it is a fact that people who are healthy, mentally and physically, and take care of themselves can look attractive and have happy lives.
posted by bearette at 7:51 PM on April 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


To make matters more confusing, attractive women are sometimes called ugly by men because it is a way to insult and bring them down due to the emphasis our society places on physical appearance for women. Hence, these women believe they are ugly sometimes.
posted by bearette at 7:54 PM on April 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


Where it was suggested it was more likely than not, or probable, that the OP was wrong, it felt dismissive. With no data, it did seem dismissive.

I do understand the point you're making. But I also think we did have some data - the OP's self description. I didn't find anything in that description that I would consider ugly, and if that's the worst the OP can say about herself then to me it indicates she's probably not ugly. Big eyes and small, fat lips sound very attractive. Many beautiful women have bumpy noses. Stretch marks? Who doesn't have a few of those? And nobody is going to notice whether your eyebrows are exactly identical except yourself.

It's not that I think being ugly is so, so bad and horrible that I couldn't possible accept that the OP is ugly. I know plenty of women who don't fit society's definition of beauty and are happy and fulfilled with loving partners. I just think that most young women who think they're ugly are not, actually, ugly, and from the OP's self-description I believe she falls into that category.

About the "dog" thing. I was barked at in the street by some asshole once. He came right up behind me, called me a dog and barked at me right in my ear until I physically pushed him away. Luckily there were other people around so I didn't feel physically threatened, but it was still a horrible experience. The thing is, that asshole does not get to decide whether or not I'm ugly - I get to decide that. I've decided that I'm not, and my wonderful partner agrees with me, as have other partners I was with before him.

It's funny, though. That time I was barked at, I was on my way to an important job interview and was dressed to the nines in my power suit. I believe the asshole felt threatened by a woman who looked confident and in control, and the "dog" thing was his way of trying to take away that power. Well, it didn't work - I pulled myself together and got that job offer. Still, it did stick with me. This was over 10 years ago and I still remember it well.

Anyway, what matters most here is that we're all coming at this from the same basic premise which is that we're all trying to help the OP feel better about herself, and that's a really good thing in a society that so often tries to do the opposite to young women. We're going to have to agree to disagree on the specifics, but I've learned a lot from this debate and can see others' opinions much more clearly now, even though I don't necessarily agree with all of them.
posted by hazyjane at 10:45 PM on April 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


I think that the extent to which your looks matter is SO culturally dependent.

I always tend to think of other English-speaking countries as being less superficial than the US.

I wonder exactly how many people who are arguing that looks don't matter so much are actually outside of the U.S.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 2:17 AM on April 18, 2012


I don't know about that. My US friend who moved to Argentina felt really pressured to fit into their super tan, thin, athletic ideal (she's Irish, so the tan was out, already average weight but she got quite thin).

Don't think it's helpful to make this all about the US.
posted by sweetkid at 6:51 AM on April 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


"We all know this is especially true of women who think they are fat and ugly because they don't look like the airbrushed photos in fashion magazines. Many women who are not fat think they are."

This is a good example and I think it's contrary to your point. Yes, a majority of American women think themselves "fat" and unattractive because of it, and most of them are mistaken. However, a not-insignificant portion of American women are overweight to the degree to which they are, essentially, pariahs.

You cannot equate those two things. Both are non-conforming to the beauty standards prevalent in the US...standards which are unrealistic and unfair. Both get disrespected because of it. All those women at one point or another have been insulted because of their weight. But one group faces deep discrimination in every aspect of their lives, every day, and the other does not. That's a big difference.

You and others keep trying to argue that there are basically no women "ugly" enough to face discrimination at that level. I think you're mistaken and I think you're mistaken because, for one thing, you and others are basing your other arguments on the fact that the US has a strong and unrealistically high beauty standard so as to support the argument that this unrealistically damages women's self-esteem...yet somehow at the same time doesn't pervasively and institutionally discriminate against the minority of women who necessarily are far outside that standard. That makes no sense. But that's the other reason I think you're mistaken: this nonsensical position results from the fact that there's a powerful tendency, even a need, in American culture to deny that the self-evidently powerful and extreme beauty standard is powerful and substantially affects women's lives.

This is in many respects similar to the myth of class mobility and the "American Dream". We are taught in this country to sympathize with the wealthy class because we're taught that we could, if we tried hard enough, be among them. A corollary of this is to be unsympathetic to the poor, because it's their own fault. Everyone can be successful! There are many examples of people coming from the worst of socioeconomic origins and rising to great success. Most of us probably know someone like that personally. There are many routes available to becoming successful, whether it's education or just the good-old American work ethic.

The entire beauty industry, as an industry and via advertising, has as its core message that any woman can be beautiful if she puts her mind to it. If she uses the right beauty products, and uses them properly. If she reads the right magazines and buys the right clothes. If she learns to comport herself properly. If she has the right attitude. They have a message to sell you because they have products to sell you. And American women are immersed in this messaging from their very earliest youth.

Men have a vested interest in telling women, in general, that if they tried hard enough they can be "beautiful". Given that the beauty standard is built around women's sexual attractiveness to men, and that associated to this is ways in which women are practically made more useful to men, then cultivating a general aspiration among all women to achieve this standard generally benefits men.

This messaging amounts to saying that all women can be beautiful. Indeed, it says that since all women can be beautiful, those who are not are to blame for their failure. Maybe they should buy more beauty products. Or ask some friends for recommendations. Or maybe make themselves more available to men so that they will find someone who will validate their need to be seen as meeting that standard.

In none of this is found anything of any actual benefit to women's lives or mental health.

We deny the power that the beauty standard has in our culture, how it does, in fact, very badly damage many people's lives, because to acknowledge how practically powerful it is would be to see revealed before us what it really is, how it works, and who it benefits. Instead, we abide by it and convince ourselves that it's only an influence, not a powerful institution and that no one is "really" hurt by it.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 6:57 AM on April 18, 2012 [10 favorites]


About the "dog" thing. I was barked at in the street by some asshole once. He came right up behind me, called me a dog and barked at me right in my ear until I physically pushed him away.

Those moments when some asshole does a drive-by insult can really stick with you. I remember once when I was about 21, I was sitting near two teenaged boys on the bus. One said, "What about..." and gestured towards me with his head. The other one gave a derisive snort and said, "No!" and they both guffawed. If that happened to me these days I'd lean over and say, "If you boys don't learn to treat women with more respect, you're going to be virgins until you die," and then moved to another seat. But at that age I just sat there and felt terrible.

If comments from passing strangers meant anything, I could reason that the positive "feedback" I've gotten from men on the street has outweighed the negative on a ratio of a hundred to one, but it doesn't work that way. Experiences like that hurt so much. I don't know how shitheads who say mean things to women on the street can possibly think they're justified in doing so, yet somehow they do.
posted by orange swan at 7:28 AM on April 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah this may be one of those eye-opening moments for folks who this didn't frequently happen to, but I think "dog" was the sort of "You're ugly" harassment term of choice for a long time and was hurled pretty willy-nilly (usually by men) towards people they were hassling (usually women). I sometimes wondered if I got hassled like this a lot because I was shy, but I was and am pretty normal looking but I got hassled like this occasionally in the junior high and high school years. I still get nasty things shouted at me from cars when I'm walking around my small town here, which is often (once a week, every other week?). And the thing is, now that I'm older, I can see that this odd behavior is just sort of weird misdirected not-about-me kids-being-assholes nonsense and it helps me reframe what felt like very personal antagonism when I was younger. Again, this is just true for me, ymmv and all that.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:17 AM on April 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


"Horse" is also popular for this purpose.
posted by radwolf76 at 9:34 AM on April 18, 2012


I don't know, it does feel kind of personal that my boss, a 47-year-old man that I worked with every day, saw fit to refer to me in this way behind my back.

I didn't want to be hated quite so much. What we're told is that if we're beautiful, we will be loved. Apparently it doesn't work like that.

Underneath all this, really, it seems to have been about sexual access. I was indisputably ugly as a teen. Virginity past the age of 13 was socially stigmatized at my high school, and I refused to answer intrusive questions about it - which were clearly coming from a place of "who'd have her", but still. The answer to the question apparently would have given my peers valuable information about my worth. To boys. Therefore, as a human being.

Then, later on, beta males would get angry and frustrated at me for being such a privileged princess as to turn them down. They'd accuse themselves of being ugly and me for being shallow for not loving them for their inner beauty (I didn't have the heart to tell them). They'd say, "you wouldn't understand this, but some people are sort of single, and get lonely..." They would try to put me in my place, so that I would realize I wasn't superior to them, and that would be the input that would get me to dispense sex, where kindness hadn't worked. Players would fake professional respect and/or friendliness for as long as they thought necessary, then indicate that if I didn't start giving them the right kind of attention, they had a number of other women who would, so I better not overestimate my market value.

The dog. The princess. The woman who was dumb enough to think that any of these guys might actually like or respect me in any way.

So yeah, Ivan Fyodorovich is right.

Copping an attitude and projecting TOO FABULOUS FOR YUO LOL!!!1!!! emotionally helps me make it through the night, but it's true that it doesn't solve the problem, as corb rightly points out. Recognizing the problem is cold comfort, though, somehow, so I try not to think about it too much.
posted by tel3path at 10:35 AM on April 18, 2012 [6 favorites]


I don't know about that. My US friend who moved to Argentina felt really pressured to fit into their super tan, thin, athletic ideal (she's Irish, so the tan was out, already average weight but she got quite thin).

Don't think it's helpful to make this all about the US.


Um, did you notice I said English-speaking countries?

The pressure to be beautiful/pretty for women in South America and East Asia is even more extreme.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 11:53 AM on April 18, 2012


No, I missed that you said that, sorry.
posted by sweetkid at 1:34 PM on April 18, 2012


You and others keep trying to argue that there are basically no women "ugly" enough to face discrimination at that level.

I know there are women who face discrimination based on the fact that they are "ugly".

I just think we have no way of knowing whether the OP is one of those women.
posted by bearette at 10:08 PM on April 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


Exactly, bearette! I don't think anyone on this thread and I can't recall anyone on the original thread trying to deny the influence the beauty standard has on our culture. Of course Ivan F is right in his diatribe against the beauty industry and I don't disagree with anything he says. I think BOTH things are true - women who are "ugly" face discrimination AND the OP might not be ugly.

The OP gave a description of herself. To me, it seems much more hurtful to the OP for people to assume she is in fact ugly than to say that she may not be. Assuming she's ugly would be implicitly agreeing that those features she described are ugly when it fact there is nothing in that description that says "ugly."

But people are angry for good reason against the society we live in for the sick expectations they put on women and their appearances. People who are angry need a scapegoat to direct that anger at. It's a lot more satisfying to rail against other posters than it is to rage against society in general, and I believe that's what's happened here. But we're not the enemies, we're simply women who have another perspective based on our own experiences.

I'm starting to wonder if the problem is that we haven't defined our terms correctly. What is ugly? To me, there are a vanishingly small number of women who could be called ugly. There are also a small number of women who would be called beautiful by our society. The vast majority of us sit somewhere in the middle. Most of us receive very mixed messages about our looks. For those in the middle, I believe we do get to decide whether to accept what assholes in the street tell us about being ugly or to decide for ourselves to reject this message. It's easy to let hurtful comments affect us much more than kind ones, and I think it's worthwhile to examine this and make a conscious decision to avoid it.

Again, I still believe it's highly likely the OP, based on her description, is not within the vanishingly small number of people who are ugly. That is absolutely not to deny how difficult it is for women in that group.
posted by hazyjane at 10:42 PM on April 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


And the beauty industry plays the same role as the asshole in the street, i.e. telling us that we're not good enough if we're not in the small group of people they define as beautiful.
posted by hazyjane at 10:51 PM on April 18, 2012


... is not within the vanishingly small number of people who are ugly.

The bolded bit is where we disagree. I think it's implausible that their number is "vanishingly small". And I think this statement of yours is an example of why I think your estimate is flawed:

"To me, it seems much more hurtful to the OP for people to assume she is in fact ugly than to say that she may not be."

I think it's extremely important to think carefully about why it would be much more hurtful.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:14 AM on April 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


The bolded bit is where we disagree. I think it's implausible that their number is "vanishingly small".

Exactly, I agree we disagree because we hadn't defined our terms. Do you really see a whole bunch of ugly people walking around every day? Because I don't, although I do see many people the beauty industry would like us to think are ugly.

I think it's extremely important to think carefully about why it would be much more hurtful.

I think we've been over this. It's because, as I stated previously, of how difficult it is for women in that group. And keep in mind as I've stated many times that I do not and have never disagreed with anything you've said about the way society treats ugly women.

I hope you don't mind but I'll end here as I feel we've covered a lot of ground and I'd quite like to move on, but thank you for an interesting debate.
posted by hazyjane at 4:09 AM on April 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Do you really see a whole bunch of ugly people walking around every day? Because I don't, although I do see many people the beauty industry would like us to think are ugly.


I know you're not looking at this thread anymore, but for the record, I've always been pretty shocked at how I'll think so-and-so is an decent or pretty looking gal, but guys I know will say stuff like:

- she's a monster
- she's a beast
- she's scary, etc.

and other stuff that pretty much just shocks me. I mean, really shocks me because I can't believe how far off our opinions are.

And actually, I live in an area where YES, there ARE a lot of "ugly" people walking around every day. (Small town in the middle of nowhere with a high # of meth users.) And pretty much most of us here admit it, too. It's a running joke.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 2:39 AM on April 20, 2012


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