On Ugly

A blog post from November 15, 2007

I was walking to the subway last Saturday to meet a friend for The Chocolate Show in Chelsea, when a man—who was, as far as I could tell, not drunk—put his face right in mine and said, “You are one ugly woman.” I was somewhat stunned, but kept on walking. I hadn’t been called outright “ugly” since junior year of high school, when word traveled through a few people that a kid had said, “Lorrie McCann? She’s ugly.” One of the freshmen I knew had been a witness and felt the need to tell me all about it, though I would have been happier not knowing. Irritated, I searched him out and said, “So you think I’m ugly?” He looked up at me, scoffed, and said “Yeah,” like: didn’t I already know that after 17 years of looking in the mirror?

It’s funny how a few people can tell you something negative about yourself and you believe it, despite the fact that twenty people may tell you differently. Living in New York, I’m finally realizing that beauty really is objective. (New York of all places, I know.) What is that overused saying? “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” I hate that saying, but mostly because I dislike the word “beholder.” (It just doesn’t sound nice!) There are plenty of people who think ugly people are attractive and vice versa. Hell, not everyone thinks Jennifer Lopez is the most beautiful person on the planet (like I do!).

Following my incident outside of the subway, I went about my business, only slightly disturbed. I hopped down the stairs and went to the newsstand on the platform—where was the New York Post? I always read the Post on Saturdays. I looked at the man behind the counter, who’s always so friendly, and asked “No Post today?”

“I run out,” he said. “But you are pretty—take mine.” He speaks so softly, I wasn’t sure I heard him right, but there he was, pulling the guts out of his New York Daily News and handing it to me.

“Wow, thanks,” I said, then asked for a bottle of water as well. I tried to give him two dollars, but he would only let me pay for the water. I guess sometimes it pays to be ‘ugly.’

I don’t actually think I’m ugly—I got past that particular insecurity somewhere around sophomore year of college—but I don’t look in the mirror and say to myself “Damn, girl! You’re fine!” This ugly vs. pretty thing has been popping up in my life a lot lately. Two nights ago on the train home, I was minding my own business reading 1984. When the train was pulling into my stop, I put the book away and the man across from me leaned forward, put out his hand to get my attention and said “I just have to tell you, I have been watching you since you got on the train, and you are beautiful! A beautiful beautiful beautiful woman. You should know that.” Usually a stranger’s compliment doesn’t phase me, but that made me feel pretty good. I don’t even think he was drunk—at least that’s what I’m telling myself.

On the train this morning I ran across a few lines in 1984 that struck my funny bone in light of recent events:

[Winston] looked round the canteen again. Nearly everyone was ugly, and would still have been ugly even if dressed otherwise…

This made me laugh. Last winter our company had a huge meeting in an auditorium to discuss the financial successes and pitfalls of 2006. The meeting was for every imprint that the Big Daddies held, not just the publisher I worked for. My boss at the time (because I was still working in the advertising department) told me to look around at all the people—she told me if I really thought about it, I’d be stunned. As individuals we weren’t so bad maybe, but as a group of people, she said, we were homely as hell. How depressing is that?

I think I could read 1984 twice a year every year. This is my third time reading it, and it gets better every single time. Granted, the last time I read it I was a senior in high school studying Dystopian Fiction as a genre; nevertheless, I’m finding it’s more relevant than ever. If you haven’t read it in a while (or ever) I highly suggest you go out and grab a copy. It’s not that long, after all. You could probably finish it in a weekend if you wanted to.

Thought Police, be damned.

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