The first time I thought of myself as ugly was in second grade, after receiving a particularly bad haircut. It was the first time I had even noticed the distinction between what was perceived as pretty and what was not, and in that moment I launched into a society that never stops noticing.
There is not a person in the world that has complete confidence in the way they look, and it’s important to remember that everybody experiences self-consciousness. However, I have noticed that for women self-consciousness appears to be encouraged, intended and even institutionalised.
It’s not news that the corporate gain for preying on insecurity is enormous. Images of flawless skin and thigh gaps scatter magazine covers like confetti. Even in more alternative publications and art communities that proudly claim counter culture, the archetype of the skinny white model remains centre stage. A statistic from dosomething.org states that, “over 70% of girls age 15 to 17 avoid normal daily activities, such as attending school, when they feel bad about their looks.”
Speaking as a teenage girl myself, that is something I can definitely attest to. All throughout middle school and a significant portion of high school, my insecurities hindered me hugely; another hair out of place or another pimple meant another class spent completely lost because I was too self-conscious to raise my hand and ask for help. It was not until my junior year, when I began to learn about feminism, that I stopped letting concerns about my looks hold me back from opportunities.
I became inspired by powerful women like Courtney Love and Kat Bjelland, who bend and twist the infrastructure of femininity. I became in awe of artists like David Bowie and Grace Jones, whose avant-garde apparel was no where near the typical beauty standards, but instead a form of art and expression. I obsessed over photography of teenagers with oily skin and split ends and pouts that proclaimed confidence in their coolness. I found liberation in “ugly”.
The flaw of this way of thinking was that I did not extend that same admiration to myself. I often complained that my eyeliner was not smudged the right way. I was perplexed by how that girl could look like the queen of the neighbourhood, but I appeared out of place when I wore my most Enid Coleslaw-esque outfit to school. It was then I realised I had been applying the exact same mentality I had been so caught up in when I was endlessly consuming glossy magazines – when I was counting the ways I could be prettier or skinnier. The comparisons to others had not ceased, just altered and taken to an even higher degree.
There’s truth in the mantras of self-esteem. No eyes should be rolled at quotes like “everyone is beautiful in their own way”, because the message is sincere. I believe that everybody is beautiful – not because everybody fits into the confines of what is deemed by society as “attractive”, but because everybody is different and interesting and so much more than their looks. In conclusion, a quote from the book Eleanor & Park that got me through many of my insecurities: “She never looked nice. She looked like art, and art wasn’t supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel something.”