Saturday, February 6, 2010

What does the US media imply makes a woman ugly?

To try to answer this question, I googled "ugly women".  Some of the pictures I found were of women with asymmetrical faces or very crooked teeth.  Some were obese.  Interestingly, some simply had hair in their armpits, and that made them qualify as "ugly".  Another showed an African tribal woman with long thin breasts. 
Susan Boyle, the English singer who has become a sensation was among the ugly women as well.  It's as if people can't get their heads around the idea that "ugly" women can be talented and out in the world and can make profound contributions to society as well. 

One of the perceptions of ugliness that is particularly difficult for me to stomach (pun intended) is belly fat.  I seem to be innundated when I'm on hotmail with ads intended to help me flattened my belly.

There are many different variations on this ad, but all of them show an expanding belly and a much more attractive woman with a slender belly. 

The reason this one gets to me more than most is that when I was a young girl, my father constantly told me to hold in my stomach.  He apparently thought my mother's stomach was not thin enough (after giving birth to 3 children) so he told me to hold it in or I would end up looking like her.  That made me do 200+ sit-ups a night when I was in high school.  I kept an obsessive record of the number of sit-ups by my bed each night to make sure I wasn't starting to look like her.  At the time I was 5'6" and weighed 98 lbs.  I wasn't anorexic, I don't think.  I think I was just naturally thin, but I did have a little pooch I was very, very ashamed of.  It was the hugest part of me and absolutely awful, something to be gotten rid of no matter what.  It didn't help that my siblings were rail thin and called me "fatty fatty, 2 by four, can't get through the bathroom door!"  I took it on and was ashamed of my body and how "fat" I was for years.  The more accurate truth of it is that I have always been slender, if not thin.

In recent years, I've done a lot of work around body image - obviously that's the reason I'm so interested in this series now - and learned that the belly is the seat of power.  I'm wondering if my father was threatened by my mother's power and by my growing sense of empowerment.  I wonder if Madison Avenue is threatened by women's growing self-esteem and empowerment and is trying to suppress it physically by suggesting a fat belly is awful and ugly and something to be done away with?  Just look at the models the clothing designers use!  There just isn't any belly on them!
In older times, a voluptuous woman was considered very attractive!  It meant she had enough to eat and was healthy and wealthy.  I don't know if empowerment was a piece of it or not.   I know many women who wish Ruben's ideal of beauty were still the ideal today.  This picture is his conception of Venus - the goddess of beauty.  Check out her fleshy back and bottom.  She isn't obese at all - just wonderfully round and saftig!

So...  back to the question - what does the media imply makes a woman ugly?  Where do you think that comes from?  Do you think it's true? Do you think ugliness varies societally?  through the ages?  What does Madison Avenue get from having us hate our bodies and think of ourselves as ugly?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts...


  1. well, I have certainly had to rethink my statement that I find most humans beautiful. I'm also realizing I've rarely seen an "ugly" person, when compared with some of the images you've found. So, am I not exposed to ugly? Do I not get out enough? Do I have a different standard of what is ugly? Do I avoid ugly? Where do you draw the line on ugly? If you know someone who is ugly, do you look past that (become accustomed to it) and no longer see ugly?

    my brain hurts.

  2. Great questions!
    I'm finding as I present this information that nothing is obvious or clear like it seems before I start to look more deeply into it.

    When I see someone whose face is different than most - i.e. severely irregular or scarred or whatever - I want to look intensely and gawk and get my fill of how they look, but I'm shy about doing so because I don't want to see rude. Instead, I look at them less directly than I would others. I'm even shy about looking directly at the blind woman I know. I wonder if it makes them feel isolated? Direct eye contact is so important for establishing relationships.