Laurie Toby Edison

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Ugliness in All Its Glorious Complexity

Debbie says:

The topic of “ugliness” has fascinated me for many years now, and I’ve never heard it discussed better than in this YouTube video by karakamos.

The video is over seven minutes long, and the follow-up video Kara posted after this started getting attention is eight minutes long. Both are worth your time. I’m not going to transcribe the whole thing, but here are some key quotations.

“I think of myself as ugly, and I don’t think of that as a bad thing. A lot of the time it’s just something that I can accept and be cool with, and get on. … I don’t want to call myself ‘unconventionally pretty.’ I am happy a lot of the time to think of myself as ugly. I think ugliness only becomes a problem when you let it get in the way of your life and of living. I can’t say that I’ve never let that happen, but it’s something that I’m dealing with and I’m generally okay with.

“When my appearance really gets to me and I’m feeling really gross about it, I try to remember a few things. One is that I am beautiful in some way because I am a living thing, and I think living things–to me at least–have some inherent beauty. …

“Another way that I console myself or deal with it is by putting things, again, into perspective. I think about the universe and I think about human beings as a species, and how actually ridiculous we look. Other mammals have fur and they’ve got four legs and they have some kind of really elegant gait … whereas humans are covered in hair, but you can’t see most of it, you just see like stuff that comes out of their heads randomly …

“I think about that and then I come back to my face in the mirror and, god, I wish I just had cheekbones or some kind of facial definition. …

“I never want to get into this place where I feel that what I look like is more important than what I do. And it seems like it’s a lot easier to let myself not do anything and to hold back because I don’t feel that I have a certain appearance. For some reason, that exempts me from having to do things, that it makes me any less capable. But it doesn’t. It might make it harder and it might take work on my part. But being beautiful is not an accomplishment. And being ugly doesn’t have to stop you from making accomplishments.”

She goes on to talk passionately about the YouTube series “My Mad Fat Diary” and what it taught her about being okay in yourself, whatever that self may be, leading to her conclusion:

“I can be things, and I can do things, and I don’t have to let my body or my insecurities about it get in the way of what I want. And sometimes I feel beautiful, and I think that’s an important thing to recognize too, that whether anyone else can see me that way, that I can. And ultimately, feeling beautiful or feeling ugly can feel like the same thing, as long as you don’t feel like either one of them has to get in the way of who you can be. Because they shouldn’t, and they don’t, and that is something that I am trying to remember always.”

I love Kara’s willingness to admit all of her contradictory and inconsistent responses to being ugly. She has the rare ability to look at herself from very far away and very close up at the same time, and to speak without artifice about what she sees.

If you follow the link to the second video, you’ll see that other people have uploaded their own responses and are sharing their reactions to ugliness. This has to be one of the first times that ugliness has ever been given its own stage, and it’s touching a valuable nerve in a lot of people. I’m not a YouTube kind of a girl, but I still find myself thinking “I wonder what I would say.”

(Also, while I respect Kara’s preference for being called ugly, she reminds me of my beloved friend Jenny, who died in an accident at 16, almost ten years ago now. So looking at Kara makes me feel warm and special, unrelated to how anyone else in the world might see her.)

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