the extreme importance of letting yourself be occasionally ugly

First, winner of the bra giveaway is M, from comment #51! M, please send me an email and I’ll hook you up! HAHA! Sorry. 

I was hanging out with my mom and her friends from high school the other day, and they were like, “Are you going to write about this?” Because people always say that to me. And then they said, to each other, “She’s going to write ‘They were so old! It was kind of sad. They seemed to be trying to look good, but they were just so old and sad…’”

In reality, I thought they were awesome. Fantastically witty, playful Jewish women who do voices and gesture big and tell lots of jokes that start “So a rabbi and a priest were on a plane…” I got that wonderful feeling that I want to always get—that one that goes “God, I have a lot to look forward to.”

But anyway, we started talking about body image, because my mom was like “so Kate is writing this book about body image!”

And I was like, “Um…sort of. But we definitely don’t need to talk about that.” Because it is embarrassing to just start talking about how I learned to hate the way I look. And how I got two nose jobs. (For some reason, writing about it feels completely different.)

I like the part of the story where I start this blog and start to feel good, but it takes a while to get there. Which is what makes it a story, I guess.

But my mom wanted me to talk about body image. She’s got to be proud of me, she’s my mom.

And we all ended up in this big conversation about beauty and everyone was talking about how hard it is to convince yourself that you look good, especially if your mom told you things like “honey, you should really go on a diet.” And how it continues to be hard for a very long time. Maybe your whole life. How do you even get to that place, where you feel beautiful?

I think you have to work on it, like anything else, I said.

Some of the women seemed a little skeptical, and I was embarrassed. Here I was, telling a roomful of fifty-somethings to “work on it.” I had this niggling, jittery sense that I was forgetting some critical piece of the puzzle.

I looked down at the tablecloth. I muttered something about self-acceptance being a journey. And then I remembered.

“It’s not just about feeling beautiful,” I said. “It’s about letting yourself be ugly, too.”

And everyone looked at me. Because that maybe sounds stupid.


Sometimes I think letting myself be ugly is one of my biggest accomplishments. Which makes it sound like I will most likely not go on to win the Nobel Prize at anything (remains to be seen! You never know!).

As a kid, I thought that I was gorgeous, in part because girls were always gorgeous in books and movies, so I figured that was an important part of the whole girl thing, and I figured that I was probably the real deal. Even little girls in books are often described as beautiful. Beautiful is a sizable part of being sweet. Of being saucy. Of being a girl sleuth. And of course I could picture myself as a saucy girl sleuth, both with and without the floppy hat.

So it was a serious invasion, defeat, and colonization of my entire identity when it occurred to me that I might not be beautiful after all, and later, when I realized with dawning horror that everything was definitely wrong with the way I looked.



(run, innocent blue Kate! source)

The main problem with beauty for girls is that it gets conflated with just about every other good thing. Even the nerdy smart girls we gratefully identify with in our favorite books get played by typically lovely actresses with shiny hair, slender limbs, and delicate, even features. It’s OK to be endearingly dorky, as long as you can transform into an angelic vision of ideal femininity the moment you put on a prom dress!

We love it when beautiful, famous people tell us that they were an outcast, a dweeb, a rebel. Look at them now! It’s all so sweet and humanizing! They might even be people, too!

But what if you take the beauty out of the equation? What if the nerdy girl is truly awkward-looking? What the spirited, impertinent girl is also very fat? What if the gentle, sensitive girl has a big, beaked nose, and lots of acne? What if none of these characters have clear, pale skin, round eyes, and hair that ranges between white blond and shimmering chocolate brown?

Well, then that’s real life.

But so many of us go into it poorly prepared. We go into it hoping desperately to look like the girl who was made for a prom dress. We go into it panicking at our faces in the mirror, our alien bodies with their strange, maverick goals involving the sprouting of thick arm hair and the inappropriate placement of fat in areas where Taylor Swift would never dream of having any. We go into it already fighting a losing battle that will involve overfunded armies of cosmetics and a legion of too-expensive haircuts. Eager, helpless belief resembling religiosity in the endless litany of rules concerning how we should and shouldn’t look. The never-ending string of almost-diets. The persistent, perfectly audible voice that presides over all things food related, and murmurs immediately after, “You shouldn’t have eaten that. You really shouldn’t have eaten that. Now you can’t eat anything tomorrow. If you have any self-respect.” And then, when you eat just as much the next day, it’s reading off this prepared speech about how your lack of self-control is obviously the reason why you suck so much, in general.

Ugh, what a prison being a girl can be.


What a colossal, constant trap.

I felt like I’d stolen the key off of one of the wardens, the day I looked in the mirror, felt massively unattractive, and didn’t give a shit.

The day they told me I needed another nose job. A third one, because he’d messed up the first and then the second hadn’t fixed it. The day the NYC surgeon in his glassed office overlooking the world told me that I was pretty enough anyway, but that it would really “help.” That I should sign up now. And I said no and then I left feeling utterly ugly and weirdly free. I walked fifty blocks, reveling in my freedom. I felt like I could walk anywhere. I am ugly, I thought. I have a big, ugly nose, and it doesn’t even matter. I am awesome.

It’s not that I’m really ugly. That’s not even the point. The point is that we’re taught that these ideas are so essential. Beauty, ugliness. They are the things that are supposed to be us. They feel so large sometimes that there isn’t room for the rest. Beauty, success. Ugliness, failure.

God, I’m thankful for the ugly days when I am busy with my life. When I catch a vaguely disappointing glimpse of myself in the subway window and keep feeling good anyway. When I look bad in everything I try on and I am in love with this chapter I’ve just written. When I am full of my own potential, and the promise of the rest of my life, and the knowledge I’ll acquire, and the sense that I’m making progress, and if anything, the clumsiness of my appearance is sort of compelling. I am a quirky, interesting woman. I look quirky and interesting, too. I have a nose that wouldn’t give in. I have a lot of other stuff going on.

“Oh, honey,” said one of the cool, Jewish women in her low, droll voice, “I’m all over that. I can feel ugly just like that—“ she snapped her fingers.

“No,” I said, my voice going high and excited like a little kid, “It’s about it not mattering. So that it’s not all about beauty, about having to be beautiful, to feel beautiful. Because you might keep thinking that beauty is the really important thing. And the really important thing is liking yourself.”

OK, honestly, I’m not sure if I said all of that just that way—I have a terrible memory and I am probably much less succinct in person. But that was the gist.

And that is the gist here, too.

It’s not just about beauty—it’s about letting yourself not care about beauty. It’s about being comfortable with the occasional ugly day. About taking the corrosive, toxic helplessness out of unattractiveness and replacing it with moving on. It’s about the fact that everyone has ugly days, where nothing looks right and it’s impossible to imagine that it ever did or ever will, but they don’t have to mean anything more than not looking good.

Because there are women detectives who aren’t ridiculously hot  and there are nerdy girls who look awkward in a prom dress but kick ass at physics. And there is so much more to being alive than being pretty. Holy shit, there’s so much more. All of it, actually. All of the rest of it. Adventures and passionate love and brilliant research and delicious food and the steady struggle and satisfaction of getting better at something, and impacting other people’s lives and creating something new and cool. Rollercoasters. Waterfalls. Those awesome old falling-apart globes that they sell at flea markets.

I am ugly, I thought, on my fiftieth block. I can be anything.

I am not ugly. I am, like most people, a combination of a lot of things. Sometimes I look great, sometimes I don’t. I’ve spent a lot of time wishing, even as I was doing other things, living my life, that I would look better. And now, after a great deal of consideration, I think I’d rather care less. I’d rather allow myself to feel ugly, to feel unattractive, to be non-attractive, to operate without beauty, to be in my clever, self-directed body without being afraid of it, to write another chapter and admire the mind that puts these words on the page. What a cool mind. Watch what it does next.

(bring it on, subway window! source)

*   *  *

How do you handle an ugly day?

Unroast: Today I love the way I feel in slouchy pants.



Kate on September 3rd 2012 in beauty, being different, body, fear, nose, perfection, uplifting

59 Responses to “the extreme importance of letting yourself be occasionally ugly”

  1. San D responded on 03 Sep 2012 at 12:47 pm #

    How true Kate! Words like “beauty” “attractive” “cute” “handsome” are only charged with emotional consequences if WE assign those feelings with them. I prefer words like “confident” “original” “radiant” and “stunning” to which I have assigned positive brain and heart responses.
    You meet all of those descriptors!

  2. Kate responded on 03 Sep 2012 at 12:49 pm #

    @San D
    Thank you!! Means a lot.

  3. Kori B. responded on 03 Sep 2012 at 1:35 pm #

    I loved this. You are a fantastic writer!

  4. Kate responded on 03 Sep 2012 at 1:37 pm #

    @Kori B
    My day is made! Thank you!

  5. Kori B. responded on 03 Sep 2012 at 1:48 pm #

    @Kate For the record I usually think that about all your pieces, but today I decided to creep out from my lurker-dom :) How is your book coming along?

  6. Emily G responded on 03 Sep 2012 at 2:07 pm #

    I had an ugly day yesterday. I was wearing my favorite t-shirt which is oversized, and, well, ugly. I have really long dreadlocks and they just hung down. My face was bare and plain. And I thought, there is so much more that I can be than being pretty. And I think about “pretty” as being a type of beautiful; they’re not synonymous. I have a big nose and giant, past-my-butt dreadlocks. I’ll never be pretty! But I feel freed by that. I’m allowed to be silly in public, and spontaneously say things to strangers (which I’m prone to) because, hey! I’m weird loooking! I’m more than pretty.

  7. TrueMountain responded on 03 Sep 2012 at 2:17 pm #

    Another wonderful piece Kate!

    I love the way that you are working through issue of beauty = worth. It is such a dominant narrative. A Japanese male friend told me years ago that in his view Americans are much too focused on physical attributes in the selection of their mates, which in his opinion was a very passing quality. At the time, it made me realize how ridiculous it was to hang our worth on physical beauty.

    As I worked on diverting myself from this beauty focus, I began to practice with appreciating my wholeness- my overall health and functioning rather than how I “appeared”. I celebrated being able do things that I enjoyed- to walk, to see, to listen, to be empathetic, to be wise, to create, to taste and enjoy my food, etc…

    So many things are beautiful about our lives and what we offer to the world, and these are so easy to take for granted unless you get sick and are not able to do these things as easily.

    And I still get caught in the beauty is worth narrative. It is hard to get away from this culturally. Our environment matters, so thank you doing what you do to reconstruct a new narrative.

  8. Katrina Blanchalle responded on 03 Sep 2012 at 2:20 pm #

    Surely there is a Nobel prize for audacity in the face of assumptions, expectations, and stereotypes, in which case, you should have already won it.
    A doctor once told me that if I had some work done on my jaw, I would be “a lot prettier.” I was so amazed that he thought this would be a good sales technique that I burst out laughing. How rude.

  9. Chris responded on 03 Sep 2012 at 2:24 pm #

    I’ve felt ugly ever since I was told I had a big nose in middle school nearly four decades ago. It’s been downhill ever since :) It’s refreshing to find your website and read about these things, even as I become one of those circle of women in their 50s you hung out with and ponder the fact that if you don’t have a lot of looks to lose as you get older, you don’t obsess about it so much!

  10. Sarah S responded on 03 Sep 2012 at 2:52 pm #

    Great post, Kate. I think you’ve got it figured out:

    “And now, after a great deal of consideration, I think I’d rather care less.”

    I spent years growing up being a little bitter that I was the smart, quiet, quirky girl, not the “pretty” girl. How subjective! I tried to convince myself that because I had a brain I didn’t need to be conventionally beautiful. Eventually I grew up, went through a divorce, and went from being squishy-yet-strong to being wiry-thin. I started to fit popular culture’s mold of beauty here and there. The “prettier” I got, the more vapid, self-centered, and vain I became, until I finally found that an eating disorder had taken over my life and buried the brain and personality that made me Sarah.

    After over a year of hard work and therapy I still struggle, but I’ve realized the key is, as you wrote, to simply not care so much. I’m proud to say I can pick up a fashion or celebrity magazine and be bored to tears by it. I have a tummy and that annoying mid-thirties hormonal acne and try not to give a damn. It mostly works. Defensive pats on the back help: I am accomplished in my career as a musician (I even know some major concerto rep only a handful of people in the world can perform)! I own a home! I bake a mean cake!

    But when it comes down to it, I can really only say I’m quirky, smart, kind, and occasionally, deliciously-ugly me. :)

    That is all.

  11. Rosanne responded on 03 Sep 2012 at 4:11 pm #

    Great post, Kate, loved it. I agree that this is something you can/have to work on. Maybe sometimes make a conscious effort to *not* do something about your appearance, and then slowly but surely get to the point of simply not caring anymore. My skin always was (and sometimes still is) an insecurity of mine and I tried to change that by going out of the house without any make up on sometimes, when grocery shopping or to the gym or something. It’s not that I was a big make up princess to begin with, but I would always at least cover up with foundation and concealer, and then would have to get out the blush in order to get some colour and shape back on my face ;) I can’t say that I’m almost ever completely make up free (when outdoors) but over the years I’ve gotten so much better at realising that a)it might not be so bad anyway and b)I feel much better taking the time and energy I would have taken to care about how my skin looks and focus it on something I actually want to care about. I wear very little make up these days, saves a lot of money too!

  12. Tasmia responded on 03 Sep 2012 at 4:15 pm #

    Hey there! I love reading this blog + the comments. I’m just starting my junior year, and your blog has really made me more comfortable with beauty and body image and crap like that in general. I just wanted to say this is an AWESOME article! I know that the majority of my girlfriends would benefit from being wholeheartedly okay with “teh ugly.”

  13. Amanda responded on 03 Sep 2012 at 4:50 pm #

    I could not possibly love your blog any more. Thanks for being you and for sharing you with the rest of us.

  14. Dee responded on 03 Sep 2012 at 4:55 pm #

    Kate, I have read almost every post on this blog since I started reading it about a year ago.
    This is my favourite post you have ever written. I feel that you have really gotten to the very core of what this blog means to people. It is not about feeling beautiful at all, it’s about putting perspective on beauty, which has been inflated beyond all that is sane and tasteful in the media and I suppose in our culture and consciousness. It is a huge, important, deal to remember how much it doesn’t matter. Thanks you for this fabulous post.

  15. Fanny responded on 03 Sep 2012 at 5:22 pm #

    Great article Kate! “there is so much more to being alive than being pretty”. Thank you for this!

  16. Sara responded on 03 Sep 2012 at 5:47 pm #

    Oh Deirdre, you put my heart’s thoughts into words. I have also read I think the entire archive of this blog, but this one just made me sing inside with the truth of it all. I didn’t feel ugly today but I know when one of those days come along, I’ll come back to this post. Love to you Kate, I know it can’t be easy to write about the things you write about. I think you’re helping to make us all more honest and open with ourselves and others

  17. Sheryl responded on 03 Sep 2012 at 6:22 pm #

    What I’ve started to realize about days that I feel “ugly” is that it’s usually that I’ve put no effort into my appearance – maybe my hair’s dirty, maybe I forgot to wash my face the other night and I feel like I’m all splotchy, or maybe I just feel bloated and gross and so I’m wearing baggy clothes that don’t really flatter my body.

    And you know what? Some days, my appearance isn’t worth the effort. If anyone other than me gives a crap about my splotchy skin or stringy hair then they’ve obviously got to get themselves a life, because my slouchiness has no effect on them. The idea that I always need to care about how I look or put effort into it is rather perposterous.

  18. Amy responded on 03 Sep 2012 at 6:23 pm #

    Wow. What an amazing post. Thank you for the reminder that there’s so.much.more. All the rest of it. I seriously want to do a happy dance around the office for that paragraph alone. Well done.

  19. joceline responded on 03 Sep 2012 at 6:27 pm #

    Ah Kate, you speak to all my frustrations about how we turn beauty into this currency by which every other personal virtue is measured. I hate when we tell little girls (and it’s almost always little girls) that if they think nice thoughts and are wonderful people, it’ll shine through their faces and make them beautiful. It’s like all roads have to lead to beauty to make it worth the effort of being happy or confident or smart or kind.

    Thanks for this sweet post–it’s so liberating to think, ugly is not the end of the world! There are so many worse things!

  20. Anna responded on 03 Sep 2012 at 7:29 pm #

    I love my ugly days. No make-up, baggy t-shirts, $2 cotton shorts with paint stains, and all of the tacos I want.

    This post really hits home because I used to be the fat girl who rocked at math and singing. But I didn’t appreciate myself for those things. I always wanted to wake up and be thinner. Prettier. I wanted to be thin like everyone else and be able to borrow my friends clothes and not feel huge or have to lie about changing my mind about borrowing them when they didn’t fit. I wasn’t brought up to appreciate myself.

  21. Suzie responded on 03 Sep 2012 at 8:40 pm #

    When I feel ugly I usually buy myself something, which really probably isn’t the appropriate response. Many of the things I buy are about relaxing though, (soaps and lotions that smell pretty and whatever, its nerdy) so maybe it’s ok. I mean, I earn my money right?

    I’m working on not telling myself I’m ugly or stupid though. It’s crazy but when I’m feeling down I actually say those things to myself in my head. Lately whenever I find myself thinking that I am trying to counteract the thinking by saying something good, or closer to the truth.

    It is crazy how much we beat ourselves up about things we can’t even control. Thanks for writing blogs like this.

  22. Deb responded on 03 Sep 2012 at 9:52 pm #

    Love the passion in this post!

    I was watching a segment on travel to Asia for plastic surgery on TV last night and a woman came on who was 65 – she’d had lots of work including a face and neck lift. I felt sad for her. I hope by the time I’m 65, I’ll have got to the stage where I can look 65 and its no big deal. As your article says, there has to be much more to life than what you look like.

  23. SolariC responded on 04 Sep 2012 at 1:30 am #

    This post was really interesting. People do conflate female beauty and almost every other possible female characteristic, which is sad really, because beauty really has little to do with grand and memorable accomplishments. After all, even Cleopatra seems to have had a big nose, and yet she successfully overthrew her usurping brother, ran an entire country, and kept the two most powerful men in the world for lovers.

    Anyway, I had sensible parents who complimented my looks, certainly, but also complimented everything else that deserved notice. That gave me a good basis for a healthy outlook on myself, I must say. Of course I went through the usual ‘I’m so ugly, I hate myself’ feelings of any adolescent, but eventually I realized that it was cooler to be smart and capable, because I can be smart and capable till I’m 80, even if I never look good even once. Amazingly, once I accepted this about myself, I became quite satisfied with how I look. I’m not beautiful, but I think I have a nice angular, active face, and a strong, flexible body.

    Thank you for the thought-provoking ideas. I agree we should strive to embrace who we are and not run after an impossible standard of beauty.

  24. Vaecordia responded on 04 Sep 2012 at 7:49 am #

    I this this may be my favourite thing of all you have written.

    It’s not about ugly or pretty, it’s about diving into life and living that sucker for everything it’s worth.

    Well done. Well said.

  25. Erin responded on 04 Sep 2012 at 8:15 am #

    I am coming to this realization slowly. Grad school, if nothing else, has helped me put in perspective the things that matter (the pride I feel in my smarts) with things that don’t (ugly days). Because really, I can feel pride in my smarts any day that I feel ugly or any day I feel pretty; it doesn’t have to be one or the other. And I like not feeling restricted on my smarts.

  26. margie responded on 04 Sep 2012 at 9:16 am #

    reading this reminds me of when I first met my husband and how we ended up married. I have always been told I have a “pretty face” because obviously that is the most polite thing to say to a 5foot overweight girl? Anyway, I have never thought of myself to be ugly, but I did always know that people clumped me in the group of nerds/weird kids/losers throughout my years in Jr. High and High School. Anyway…. so yeah, some days I know I am not looking hot or attractive but some days I do feel attractive and put together. Those days feel really good to me. Not like I have completed a goal of standards, put together by society or even a city poll, but like I feel good about myself and I am happy and it feels good to smile and so what if the UPS guy was extra chatty today ;)
    So yeah, when I met my now husband, he was tall and super thin and very shy. He wasn’t nerdy at all, being from a background of heavy partying and loud rap music and car clubs with alcohol and drug filled custom car shows… but some how we clicked. After a few months of just getting to know each other, we had become best friends. We told each other secrets and dreams and fears… I could tell him anything. I never found him attractive or even handsome. When I thought about him I only had thoughts of him as a best friend, nothing more. But then, one day, all of a sudden, I fell in love with him. And he fell in love with me. And the more I fell in love with him, the more attractive and beautiful he was! It wasn’t because his body or appearance changed physically or anything. It was because I had fallen in love with HIM. His soul. His whole being. I couldn’t see his body, just his spirit. He had fallen in love with me too during this time. And for the longest time I had a heck of a time believing that he was in love with me for real and really wanted to marry me for real. Why would he? Has he seen what I look like? And then it hit me. Why is it ok and acceptable for me to have this amazing experience with falling in love with him and not his body and think that the same thing couldn’t have happened to him? Who am I to think that he didn’t have the same experience towards me? What right do I have to assume that he only sees the physical me? Some days I still struggle with why he still loves me. I know that I love me. I know that I am ok with me. But maybe because I never had guys “like me, like me” I always have this feeling in the back of my mind that I will forever be the kind of girl that no guy will ever be able to “like, like”. That’s just the way it is. But then there is Raymond, who every day tries to convince me that I am beautiful and deserving of that title. So, even on my “ugly days” he still calls me beautiful! And don’t get me wrong- he’s not the kind of guy who will lie if my pants are waaay too tight and say I look good! No, he will tell me. But I am ok with that. I love that he is honest. And I wear the tight pants anyway ;)

  27. T.K. responded on 04 Sep 2012 at 9:22 am #

    This is one of my favorite posts by you :) Amazing! And so so true.

  28. Susan Rich Friedman responded on 04 Sep 2012 at 9:33 am #

    I’m glad lunching at my home gave you the spark for this blog post which, by the way, is a great read. There’s something I wanted to add to the discussion that day (but alas, I was refilling the salad bowl and the opportunity was lost) and it’s an ideal that comes with being a fifty-something mother who has seen more ropes than Ali. It’s really pretty simple and while it may appear idealistic to some, it’s a mantra for me. I CAN ONLY BE UGLY ON THE INSIDE. Huh? What? Yup, it’s as you read it. Here’s the deal – at the end of the day, only I know what I REALLY thought and what I REALLY meant. If I can look at myself and say that I didn’t have any ugly thoughts, then I am beautiful.
    During adolescence this is impossible but as we age and recognize what does and does not matter in this life, we are able to know for a fact that it is who we are inside that defines what we look like on the outside. We can’t get in trouble for what we think, but we can certainly wittingly or unwittingly wear it on our faces and THAT is how we get in trouble.
    Ugly is something you WEAR, not something you ARE. And so, my beautiful Kate, this fifty-something chick has made it her goal to never, ever wear ugly again.

  29. bb beauty responded on 04 Sep 2012 at 9:34 am #

    Thank you Kate… why didnt you go to high school with us???/ Loved it and love you! Excellent writing – but of course!

  30. margie responded on 04 Sep 2012 at 9:37 am #

    Sorry my response was so long… but I also wanted to point out that my husband Raymond is no longer the guy I described when I first met him. He is now out going, involved in church, helps lead our church young adult group, works as a Family Counselor at a local Catholic Cemetery, and is no longer involved with the party scene. We have both come a long way from 5 years ago!

  31. Sara responded on 04 Sep 2012 at 10:07 am #

    @margie, what a lovely story :)

  32. Kimmy Sue Ruby Lou responded on 04 Sep 2012 at 10:21 am #

    Radiant and stunning is definitely a more fitting description of beauty, which happens when your soul is showing! An ugly day is when your inner beauty takes a nap…whatever your feeling on the inside will definitely show up on your face, and people respond to that more than anything, I think. Good blog…good topic!

  33. Kate responded on 04 Sep 2012 at 5:28 pm #

    thank you so so much for these incredibly kind comments! I want to respond to you individually, but I’m hanging out with my visiting mother-in-law, so I don’t have enough time. But I want you to know that I’m reading them all and they are making me so happy and touched.

  34. Hillary responded on 05 Sep 2012 at 12:33 am #

    Hi Kate,

    This is my first visit to your blog — and what a find!!! Thank you for writing so clearly and personally about something I’ve often struggled with; something I continue to try to balance now that I have daughters. Hearing the experiences of others in the community has given me heart for the continuing journey.

    Thank you!!!

  35. Caitlin responded on 05 Sep 2012 at 8:10 am #

    This feels like a cousin of what I wanted to write for you (but couldn’t). I love it.

  36. Amy responded on 05 Sep 2012 at 2:27 pm #

    I just discovered your blog and I might have a wee bit of a crush on it. Loved this line (and shared it with my sisters): “I felt like I’d stolen the key off of one of the wardens, the day I looked in the mirror, felt massively unattractive, and didn’t give a shit.”

  37. Tanner responded on 05 Sep 2012 at 5:39 pm #

    You can’t appreciate your beauty if you can’t appreciate your ugly. When you see yourself ugly and then you fix up, you appreciate your polished self even more. So you look better to yourself.

  38. Dot responded on 06 Sep 2012 at 3:50 am #

    I love every single one of your posts, and then there are some that I love even more, and this is one of them. I think the most dangerous thing about beauty as it is defined for women, as you point out again and again on this blog, is that it is supposed to be the most important thing for and about them.
    The assumption I started to believe somewhere along the way is that it’s not enough to look beautiful occasionally, either because I just happen to feel very good or because I’m wearing my favourite fancy clothes and spent hours in the bathroom. Apparently, I have to be beautiful all the time, and when I fail to do that, I will automatically fail at everything else. As you said, beauty equals success, and success without beauty, for example being really good at something while looking really ugly (or just really plain), is somehow worth less. And that is just not true: There are plenty of days I start thinking how horrible I look, but since I have a life that I can’t put on hold because of bad hair or skin, I do whatever I was supposed to do that day anyway. And when I succeed at these things, I realize that it actually is possible to do so without looking great. That is an experience I would have never made if I had not dared to go through my day looking ugly. It takes a lot of the pressure out of being a woman.
    And sometimes, at the end of days like these, when I have accomplished something I’m proud of, I look into the mirror and it suddenly turns out I do look beautiful. Isn’t that magical?

  39. Christine responded on 06 Sep 2012 at 1:11 pm #

    Thank you SO much for this post! It really resonated with me. Any time I am having an ugly day I am going to think about this post, or just go back and re-read it to remind myself that beauty and feeling beautiful is not the whole world and it is different than what society tell us it is.

  40. Rachel responded on 06 Sep 2012 at 1:17 pm #

    I’m just going to tell you here and now that I think you are really pretty and beautiful. Unfortunately, the reason I know/think this is when I first started reading your blog, I was quite a bit jealous of how great you look in all your photos and I personally love your style!

  41. Kira responded on 07 Sep 2012 at 6:56 am #

    Hi -

    Found your site from Escher Girls.

    I have a question. I recently went through a long period of unemployment, and though I’m both an old veteran and letting myself be ugly and employed in an industry where looks matter not at all, ‘having’ to care about my appearance for interviews was utterly demoralizing. I can’t even imagine how it must be for women in client-facing positions or service industries – in which appearance has no effect on quality of service, and yet can dictate so much of your success or failure!

    How do we deal with this – with being ugly and letting ourselves be ugly – when we’re down and out, out of a job, and aware that while we may personally not equate beauty with goodness, a whole lot of people around us do; and aware that that perception, the conscious or subconscious thought that ugly people aren’t smart or skilled or disciplined, may be the deciding factor in whether or not we can make rent?

  42. Megan responded on 07 Sep 2012 at 12:17 pm #

    Wow, I loved this post. I’m dealing with all these issues. I got diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma last month, and I’m in for at least a year’s worth of ugly days. I lost all my hair, and I’m constantly worried what my boyfriend is going to think, because I’m just not what I used to be. :( I wonder if guys with cancer have this lovely extra layer of stress.

    I shouldn’t have to worry about putting on makeup and hair when I’m going to the freaking hospital.

  43. Miss. Pennynickle Churchgoer responded on 07 Sep 2012 at 4:06 pm #

    This is perfect.

    Personally, I think it’s rude to comment on the aspects of someone’s physical appearance that are [mostly] beyond their control. (“that outfit looks amazing on you” is an okay compliment, “your waist is soo tiny, I hate you.” is not.)

    In addition I would like to pose this question: If you call a pretty girl ugly, or an ugly girl pretty, ( or an ugly girl ugly, or a pretty girl pretty) does it change the way she looks?


    But it will impact the way she treats you.

    One thing I’ve noticed is that whenever someone remarks on my appearance, whether their comment is a positive or negative one, it’s usually done by an individual who is deliberately trying to manipulate my behavior in some way….

    The (misogynistic) reasoning being that if you tell an ugly woman that she’s pretty, she will be nice to you… but if you tell a pretty woman she’s ugly, then she’ll be nice to you.

    I like to think of it this way; most misogynists see women as completely interchangeable objects and really don’t care what she actually looks like, the most important thing is that she meets his needs.

    So when random men comment on my looks, my usual response back is along the lines of “Huh… I prefer to think of myself as a decent human being” and then I’ll walk away.

  44. Julien Brightside responded on 07 Sep 2012 at 6:59 pm #

    I think you wrote a pretty good article.

  45. Plucky responded on 07 Sep 2012 at 8:42 pm #


    Honestly, I doubt many interviewers care all that much about what you look like outside of how professional you look. Looking professional is thankfully a matter things you can easily change, i.e. suit, dress shoes, nothing too wild with hair and makeup (if you wear it). (Although it is obnoxious to fit this standard as well.)

    There are a few studies that show women a less likely to hire women who are pretty, and both men and women tend to judge very attractive women as dumb. But I’ve read nothing on if people associate unattractive with lack of intelligence nor do I know anyone who truly cares about the looks of other people.

    My point is: I think you may be giving beauty more value that is actually has. If you are in an area where the culture is still requires some shitty beauty standard, then you are either stuck or you have to change things by being that change.


    Men and women stress out a lot when something about them changes in a ways they don’t want. Men are pressured by society to conform just like women are. It is just in different ways. For example there are plenty of men who feel like they have no self worth if they suddenly can’t support their family.

    You don’t have to worry about putting makeup on or fixing your hair. Not to go to the store, not to visit a friend, not to go to work, and certainly not to go to the hospital. Getting yourself to truly believe what you already know is a struggle. Keep pushing until it gives. You have more important things to worry about than some superficial beauty standard. ^_^


    I came here via Escher Girls. Wonderful article.

  46. octochan responded on 07 Sep 2012 at 10:03 pm #

    I think a large part of the reason I never really let my looks bother me is 1. I’m perfectly happy with looking average on a day to day basis. If I want to be noticed, THEN I’ll do my hair, put on makeup and a pretty outfit, etc. This is related to 2. I’m lazy, and I have finite amounts of money, time and energy I’d rather not devote to making myself look fantastic all the time. I have things to make, books to read, school to attend, friends! Very few of my activities will be around people who will care deeply about how I look.

    Or maybe because I never developed the kinds of values that prioritize appearance enough to make all the money, time and energy spent on looking good worth it?

    And yes, even when I do put in the effort, I’m never going to be as beautiful as the people in magazines say I could be if I just tried harder. But I know I still look pretty damn good, and that’s good enough for me.

  47. Kate responded on 07 Sep 2012 at 10:56 pm #

    I don’t know that there’s a good answer here. I think the only thing to do is to go out in the world as comfortable in your skin as possible. It’s true that people, especially women, can be evaluated negatively for not fitting into a certain idea of attractiveness, but it’s not true for every job and every employer. Not even close, I hope!
    And it’s also true that often women feel worse about their appearances that is warranted. I am not trying to be patronizing at all here, but it’s possible that you look better to other people than you imagine. And even if you don’t, and you’re not getting a job immediately, it might have more to do with the job market than with your appearance.
    I think if you continue to be true to yourself and feel good about who you are, regardless of your appearance, that you will present yourself in a way that other people can appreciate.
    I feel like I could’ve answered this better, but that’s all I’ve got for now!
    Also, I didn’t know about Escher Girls. Interesting stuff!

  48. Montag responded on 08 Sep 2012 at 2:17 pm #

    I really loved this article, very well written and it feels familiar. Thank you for writing this. It reminds me a bit of how I started to realize this myself, and I am honestly still fighting my own thoughts. Being ugly is something I’ve always been in my mind.
    I was 14 years old and was on my way home, all of a sudden two boys yelled “You’re so damn ugly!” towards me and then ran away.
    I had never met them before, I didn’t even know who they were and I still don’t. But it left me in tears and ever since that day I’ve always had the belief that I am extremely ugly, so I never bothered to do anything with my appearance. Just wearing whatever I wanted and not caring about make-up, the older I got the more free I felt as I watched the other girls get into the bathroom and fix themselves up for 15 minutes. But while I felt a lot more free, that nagging feeling of being the ugliest out of us five was still there.
    My female classmates asked me many times about why I didn’t wear make-up, sometimes the answer “Because I am ugly” appeared in my head while other times I just couldn’t give an answer. Over my teen years I constantly beat myself up mentally for not being pretty, and I often used that thought as to why people gave me weird looks.

    And then everything got turned upside down for me because a guy confessed that he found me beautiful and pretty and cute. This is a thing that has never ever happened to me. I didn’t feel the same, and we had just met so it was a bit weird afterwards.
    But this was something that has thrown everything I thought I knew about my appearance, and made me realize that I can be pretty. And I can be ugly. It doesn’t really matter as long as I am me. I never made friends with the help of my looks, I was just being me.
    It felt like a weight was lifted away from my shoulders.
    And I’m sorry for this long post, I have never told anyone about this. I guess it’s one step in the right direction in a way.

  49. Sarah responded on 08 Sep 2012 at 5:46 pm #

    My ugly days are every day. I’m just not an attractive person. I struggle with being OK with it, but I’m not there yet. I was teased for being ugly as a child and even as a teenager. But you know what? Being “ugly” means that I don’t have to rely on my looks. Since no one expects me to be beautiful, I can rely on my great sense of humor, my intelligence, my compassion, and my sense of honor and respect.

    A funny thing is that I have a very attractive boyfriend. We’ve been together for 14 years now, and he’s EXTREMELY good looking. He gets looks wherever we go and it makes him uncomfortable. Waitresses flirt with him (right in front of me, which is both insulting and funny), girls follow him around at the grocery store, and he’s even had girls offer him sex. Not fun for a nice, down-to-earth guy. He always tells me that he’s fine with the way I look, but that he wishes I felt better about myself. Whenever I complain about being ugly, it makes him sad. It makes me sad, too.

    Your article made me feel empowered, though. I feel like I could walk around out in public, throw my head back proudly, and face the world with my ugly face. LOL! :)

  50. em responded on 09 Sep 2012 at 4:26 pm #

    As I age – and I am not “aging well”, because I have a dozen health issues of types and symptoms which work together to rob me of what beauty I did have through my teens and 20′s though I didn’t know it and why didn’t people TELL me I was so gorgeous or maybe I just didn’t listen – I am facing this more and more. Having to go out and face the world when I KNOW objectively that I do not look very pretty. Having to find a “new” way to “be” pretty that is somehow independent and disconnected from all the uglifications afflicting my face, hair, and body. I am 36; I think anyone being aware of this and addressing it so healthfully at a younger age is totally awesome!

  51. ngoilan responded on 13 Sep 2012 at 3:41 pm #

    Love the way you are working through the issue of beauty = self worth. I am – approaching 60 – now struggling with that one and with aging, too. Why is it so hard for women to remind themselves that being ourselves no matter how we look or how old we are, is our most valuable asset? We waste so much time and energy we could be spending on more important issues.

    Thanks so much for reminding us of who we really are!

  52. Link Love (18/09/2012) « Becky's Kaleidoscope responded on 18 Sep 2012 at 4:24 pm #

    [...] “It’s not just about beauty—it’s about letting yourself not care about beauty. It’s about being comfortable with the occasional ugly day. About taking the corrosive, toxic helplessness out of unattractiveness and replacing it with moving on. It’s about the fact that everyone has ugly days, where nothing looks right and it’s impossible to imagine that it ever did or ever will, but they don’t have to mean anything more than not looking good.” the extreme importance of letting yourself be occasionally ugly – Eat the Damn Cake [...]

  53. SAMK responded on 20 Sep 2012 at 2:52 pm #

    Thanks for this! I gave up on caring awhile ago. I cut my hair really short because I love the convenience of really short hair. I have not put makeup on in at least two decades. Dressing up for work means I put a bra on under my t-shirt. And you know what? Nobody else cares either.

    I don’t think we as women are going to get anywhere until more of us stand up and say, “This is my naked face; it is as good as yours. This is my posture and my build and I do not need to torture myself with heels or clothing to fit some imagined ideal. ” Comfort clothing can be fashionable. Let’s all rebel.

  54. Delanie responded on 20 Nov 2012 at 12:35 am #

    You are extremely awesome. Thanks for this. This blog should be required reading for every adolescent girl. And probably every boy as well.

  55. A Bunch of Links » Two Wishes responded on 10 Dec 2012 at 3:18 am #

    [...] When I was young I didn’t care much about beauty, body image, and the like. Turns out I was so easily able to “get beyond” those issues specifically because I was young and slim and reasonably pretty. Now that I’m old, sick, and heavier, I don’t have any of the skills for dealing with appearance uncertainty. I recently discovered Eat the Damn Cake and am in love with this smart blogger’s discussions of body image. Suspect most women know the feeling that life would fall into place if they could just drop the last 10 pounds or find that perfect hairstyle: Stop Waiting to be Prettier. And I could stand to go back and re-read this one frequently: The Extreme Importance of Letting Yourself be Occasionally Ugly. [...]

  56. Mary responded on 02 Apr 2013 at 10:20 pm #

    Thank you! I’m reading through all of your posts, and I’ve never read anything so close to how I feel. I’ve read body positivity things before, but through the feminist perspectives they just were as relatable as I needed them to be. I’ve been considering trying to get the money to have a nose job, but when I read what you’ve written, I just want to let that idea go. It’s enslaving – constantly worrying about how you look, whether you are facing people with your “good side”, etc. It’s exhausting. Anyways, thank you!

  57. Eat the Damn Cake » Get your body back!! (and sandals giveaway winner) responded on 08 Apr 2013 at 2:27 pm #

    [...] A RANDOM, IMPERSONAL UNIVERSE WITHOUT A GOD.” My new tactic is better, I think. I tell myself, “So what? So what if I’m ugly?” And that is always more helpful. But at that particular moment there had been much talk of [...]

  58. Eat the Damn Cake » Jennifer Garner and me responded on 12 Jun 2013 at 5:01 pm #

    [...] to myself. And increasingly, that feels more relevant, somehow. It means just a bit more. Do I actually need to look consistent? Is that important? Do I really need to look like anything? Maybe, just maybe, I don’t need the world to look at me the way it looks at Jennifer Garner. [...]

  59. Eat the Damn Cake » what older women should look like responded on 02 Apr 2014 at 10:15 am #

    [...] fine. I think that would be fine, if we could all agree that looking “worse” isn’t a big deal. Actually, I can imagine a world in which everyone agreed that we all look crappier and crappier [...]