Musings My Outfits

‘Ugly’ is in the Eye of the Beholder

Ugly is in the eye of the beholder
Written by Jennifer Nini

Artfully applying a nude lippie first thing in the morning was a habit that was hard for me to shrug. So was the straightening of my hair (or perfecting the curls) with my GHD. Every day I flicked the liquid eyeliner up and above, winging it further like the stroke of the Nike symbol. I spent so much time in front of the mirror my name should have been changed to Narcissus.

However this beauty habit has unraveled in the last several years. I have spent less time looking in mirrors and more time self-reflecting; leading me to question the beauty ideal I was striving for. I’m not saying I’m past the point of caring. I’m not. I’m merely saying that rather than being compelled to the unattainable ‘gold’ standard of beauty, my idea of beauty has deviated from this status quo – one that is natural, genuine and real.

‘Ugly’ Ethical Fashion

The ‘gold’ standard of beauty and its relentless striving for ‘perfection’ is tainting other parts of life – including ethical fashion. An ethical fashion blogger recently posed this question about ‘ugly’ ethical fashion clothing:

“Do you ever wish #slowfashion just wasn’t ugly?”

Needless to say the question was off-putting and rubbed me up the wrong way. I believe in diversity in all areas of life, including fashion because unlike this blogger, I view fashion as an expression of one’s self as well as that of the designer. To call something ‘ugly’ implies that you believe not only that the person looks ugly, you are questioning their taste and that of the fashion designer. I take offence just like the time when a model agent thought she was complimenting me by saying Asian models were ‘in’ when in fact, I never thought Asian people were ‘out’. Furthermore, in my opinion, to insinuate that all ethical fashion is ‘ugly’ is just sheer folly.

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So here was my written response to this question (word for word):

“Indeed, although aesthetic is personal good design is good design – what I consider ugly may rock someone else’s boat though. Providing constructive feedback is a start but most designers will ‘get it’ if their products don’t sell. But there are some products that do sell that I don’t quite understand myself. So if they are a successful ‘ethical fashion’ brand with bad design, then it either means:

  • ‘mindful’ people are buying poor ugly design; or
  • the business has really good PR/marketing; or
  • your aesthetic/taste is just different.”

If you are to use the word ‘ugly’ to describe the appearance of another person, a piece of art, a design or any other object, you better be prepared that someone like me will call you out on these opinions.

Challenge the ‘beauty’ quo

One of the benefits of exercising my critical thinking muscles (and probably a side effect of growing older and wiser) is my liberation from the impossible beauty standard. Unlike women who hold on to youthful beauty by pumping Botox into their foreheads, collagen into their lips, wearing impractical heels that cause calluses, wearing makeup that ages them more, clothes too tight (and Spanx even tighter) and nails that look plastic and tartish, I applaud the women who refuse to be subjected to this mainstream notion of beauty.

In her book Let’s Just Say it Wasn’t Pretty actress Diane Keaton went on to describe an online article “Top 10 Female Celebrities Who Are Ugly No Matter What Hollywood Says” written by an obscure blogger who slammed some of Hollywood’s most beautiful actresses such as: Angelina Jolie (“She looks like Skeletor from He-Man”); Reese Witherspoon (“genetic mistake”) and the list even included Diane Keaton herself (“She’s even ugly in the Godfather when she was young.”) This article is proof that in the matters of beauty and ugliness, your opinion is entirely subjective.

Let's just say it wasn't pretty by Diane Keaton

Keaton’s book is an interesting read, exploring the notion of conventional beauty. She writes:

“I respect women who aren’t afraid to push the envelope, women who are inappropriate, women who do what you aren’t supposed to… Each has her own style, her own voice, her own independence, her own stamp, her own method…”

I’d like to think this is why I don’t own a hairbrush or a comb and haven’t brushed my hair for the last two years. Because whether I do or don’t doesn’t really matter – does it? I’ve been to events, birthdays, dinners, fashion shows and brand launches and not once during the last two years have I brushed my hair. And no one has been none the wiser.

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Whilst other women are increasingly brainwashed into thinking they need to do certain things in order to be more ‘beautiful’ and less ‘ugly’ (and by so doing become clones of each other) I am advocating for an idea of beauty that is flawed, that is different, that is imperfect. It may be that I am just naive and my ideas are as far fetched as the ‘gold’ standard of beauty.

I recently wrote the blog post The Thrifted Dress He Can’t Stand in which I tell a story of a favourite thrift summer dress that my fiancé dislikes – highlighting the essential difference of how men and women view fashion. The moral of that blog post is that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Thus it could be said that the moral of this blog post is: ‘Ugly’ is also in the eye of the beholder.

In truth, beauty and ugliness come from the same origin. That origin is you.

Ugly is in the eye of the beholder 5Vintage dress: Dear Gladys Vintage Boutique / Sandals + sunglasses: My own / Photographer: Ben McGuire

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About the author

Jennifer Nini

Jennifer Nini is a writer, activist and the founding editor of Eco Warrior Princess. In 2010, after studying Fashion Business, she launched Eco Warrior Princess to explore her interests in fashion, politics, social justice and sustainability. Jennifer is also the founder of The Social Copywriter, a digital agency harnessing the power of copywriting and content marketing to help mindful businesses reach more people. When she's not perfecting a sentence or coaching business clients, you will find her at her certified organic farm reconnecting with nature.

6 Comments

  • I completely agree with you that standards of “beauty” and “ugly” come from the person. Even if I don’t always agree with someone’s style, fashion, or opinion, I always admire them for having courage and independence in their choices. I also haven’t found ethical fashion to be unfashionable or ugly, I think it can be as stylish and as elegant as mainstream fashion.

    • You are right – we humans have different points of reference, tastes, style and aesthetic however I can also appreciate someone else’s creative expression through clothing. Whether it is the person wearing the item, buying the item or making the item. Great to hear your thoughts on this one! x

  • Fantastic article and… an exquisite dress! Gotta go shopping with you one day my friend! 😀
    I read somewhere there is no right, no wrong..only make or break. One can draw a similar induction for laying the definition of beauty – there is A and there is B, no one thing is prettier than another and if a human is conditioned to believe that a certain look or style is more superior to another, well, they have chosen a path of zero surprises – and we all know life without surprises is boring. Wearing your individuality on your sleeve is what makes world a beautiful place and your article shows us just that. Keep up the good work 🙂

    • How did I miss this comment hun??? Thanks for your support over the years. The blog has grown and it’s been hard trying to keep up with all the comments and emails. This year I’m striving to do better in that category. Hope your 2016 is going magnificently. I will be spending some time in Melbourne and Sydney this year for both EWP and the content agency. Would love to catch up if you’re heading to any of those cities? Let me know xx

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