Dare to be ugly?

06 May

There are all sorts of ways to be “beautiful”. Putting on make up is one of the means people often use to look beautiful and thus feel beautiful. Peiss concluded that by 1930, women have internalized makeup as a language of self-expression and self-understanding to an extent that makeup became their “hope in a jar” (200). While makeup highlighted the freedom to beautify, some women recognized the undermined self-confidence heightened by the discipline of appearances, as the norm of “looking pretty” does not fit everyone. Ugliness thus becomes something that can be identified, scrutinized and even fixed. The absolute standard of beauty is transferred into a right or a must have for all women (57).

However, does ugliness always corresponds to lack of self-esteem and power? What happens if someone brutally violates the beauty standard in the mass media? People who are regarded as having outstanding physical appearances usually get more attention in the mass media. The ugly ones are only shown when they are able to counterbalance the dominant images by standing out and confidently encourage “all other sisters” who also suffer from the beauty culture. However, I think these “encouraging images” are usually just a little amount of sweetness added to the ocean. The ocean still tastes salty, and the heroines of the mass media are still the “pretty” ones.

America Ferrera who stars Ugly Betty

America Ferrera who stars Ugly Betty

America Ferrera in Ugly Betty

America Ferrera in Ugly Betty

The invention of Internet and other image processing technologies further standardize the “ideal look”, as Internet users are exposed to photographs of idealized appearances all the time. The fact that people can also make their own photos look better and share them online pushes many young generations to an extreme of displaying how close they are to the standard. Plastic surgery becomes the physical solution to the problem of ugliness and further reveal to which extent people have internalized the dominant images of how women should look like.


Candidates in Miss Korean in one gif

In 2009, a Chinese woman named Yufeng Luo gained huge amount of attention on the Internet via her outrageous claims. She not only publically sought a boyfriend who meets excessively high requirements, but also blatantly called her as the brightest human beings for the past three hundred years. These claims drew so much attention as it contrasted with her modest background. Noticeably, she was also regarded as looking excessively ugly. As a woman who is “apparently” ugly, she is not suppose to actually behave confidently in the gaze of mass media (unless the confidence come from a different source, such as power in terms of politic importance). A low self-esteem is presumed for the ugliness. The way Luo gained fame draws contrast to how another Chinese Internet celebrity the “Milk Tea Cutie “ gained popularity. As a student from my high school, she became famous nationally overnight as someone posted her photos online. The media then has enthusiastically reported all possible changes of her life for the past three years though she always seemed indifferent. Here the high self-esteem for a presumed pretty woman is never questioned.


internet celebrity Yufeng Luo


Internet celebrity “Milk Tea Cutie”


Posted by on May 6, 2013 in Uncategorized


2 responses to “Dare to be ugly?

  1. eondich

    May 9, 2013 at 10:11 pm

    Another interesting thing about “ugly” women in pop culture is that they’re often played by actresses who are considered very attractive when dressing as themselves. The pictures of America Ferrera in this post are an excellent example of that, and you also get the classic trope of the unattractive woman who brushes her hair, takes off her glasses, puts on (more) makeup, and is suddenly a raving beauty. Especially in cases like this (where the character is often lovely even with ratty hair and glasses), how subversive is it to give the unattractive character power? I agree that the few strong heroines who are truly portrayed as not fitting American norms of beauty are valuable, even if there aren’t enough of them to make much of a difference, but if they’re contrasted with images of the characters or the actresses fitting those norms, does that diminish their impact? I could see it actually having the opposite effect, telling women that you could be beautiful but you’re not trying hard enough.


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