The Role of Ugliness and the Need to Address the Topic Head On

A couple of weeks back I posted my point of view on the recent film, Beauty and the Beast. Honestly, I didn’t think many would read it too closely, let alone comment on it.

Well, I was wrong.  And I’m thrilled!

What’s even better is the conflicting point of view that I sparked. Certainly not everyone agreed with my argument, and that was fine by me.  The sheer number of views and comments reinforces the opening point I made in that post: the movie and the subject of beauty, which is clearly part of the story, generate a lot of interest.  My question was why?

Many of the commentators on my post explained that the story line around inner beauty touches us all and the fact that the Belle character is even more nuanced elevates the story even more.  I buy that.  But I was more interested in why the subject of beauty in fairly tales still resonates.  Period.  A few years back I wrote a post about the animated movie, Brave, and how I appreciated that fact that she was not regarded as beautiful or ugly, but rather stubborn, athletic, loving, etc.  In other words, beauty didn’t enter the equation.

I concluded that the subject of beauty has a key role.  It isn’t something to ignore, but a topic we should raise and discuss.

And this means we should also encourage the topic of ugliness.  This is the other side of beauty.  Can someone look or be ugly?  I notice that I dissuade my children from describing things or other people as ugly. But in doing so am I am I shutting them down entirely.  Is that right?  Shouldn’t we invite the discourse?  Doesn’t Beauty and the Beast do just that?

Here’s a reason to talk about it.  I recently read a fascinating article by Mindy Weisberger of LiveScience, Beauty and the Beast: Why We are Fascinated By Human-Animal Mates?  As you can tell from the title, the story delves into the role of half-human half-animal characters in fairy tales.  Interestingly the half-animal characters are mostly male.  I won’t summarize the whole article but share one reason.  In the times of fairy tales, young girls, say around 14 years old, would often be betrothed to much older men.  To these girls, older men were obviously bigger, harrier, more muscular, perhaps even animal-like in their eyes. To assuage their fear of their future husbands, stories would often depict the princes as part animal.  And as we all know, everything turns out all right and we live happily ever after.  What an interesting explanation to share with our children!  And you can imagine the profound discussion that this explanation would lead to around women’s rights, equality, strong partnerships with romantic partners, and the list goes.  But without the freedom to pursue the topic of beauty and ugliness, we may never get to broach those issues.

We are innately interested and appreciate beautiful things and beautiful people.  And in an effort to shield girls and boys from placing too much emphasis on beauty, of course we shouldn’t elevate it to the only, or the primary source of conversation.  As an aside, there’s a book that just came out this week by Renee Engeln about our attention on beauty as a form of sickness, aptly named, Beauty Sick, How the Cultural Obsession with beauty and Appearance Hurts Girls and Women.  The analysis shows the ramifications of too much thought around beauty.  Obviously I don’t endorse that.  But I also believe that we shouldn’t ignore the subject all together or even downplay it.  Let’s embrace beauty, the uniqueness of it, and the bad and the good that come with it.

Week in Review: 7/1-7/7

Finally back to normal this week.  Here’s what we shared:

The new movie, “Brave”, offers a refreshing take on female relationships and the role of beauty Weekend Observations: Finally A Fairy Tale That Depicts Beauty Right

The hideous but also fascinating side of beauty in a new show Pic of the Week: Beauty Isn’t Always Pretty

Can the very act of cutting your hair makes you more attractive? Cutting Your Hair Makes You More Attractive Than You Think

Another curated reading list More to Love: Additions to the Reading List

Happy July!

More to Love: Additions to the Reading List

Some more juicy reading:

  • Drug, alcohol, marriage break-ups — all types of interventions for the world to see on T.V.  Now Tracy Gold attempts to do it for those with eating disorders.  Think it can work?

  • Why must Lisbeth Salander be portrayed as a sex symbol?

  • A fascinating exploration into how our favorite fairly tale characters would be depicted on the covers of the top fashion mags

  • New show, “Scouted”, shows that becoming a model isn’t easy-peasy or all about luck despite the industry’s vapid reputation

  • Some good guidance for buying safe cosmetics
Comment or add to the reading list


Weekend Observations: Mirror Mirror on the Wall

“What?!  You don’t have a full length mirror?!,” I exclaim with astonishment.
“Nope,” says my good friend and neighbor, Taryn.
This came up because I wanted to model my new online purchase and get her advice on whether to keep or return it.
Now, if she were someone who didn’t concern herself with beauty and fashion, I wouldn’t be at all surprised.  But she is very passionate about her appearance.  I’m not trying to paint her as some fashionista.  She’s a mom who spends most of her day running after her son and managing the day-today life of her family.  Even so, she always looks great.
Hence my shock when she told me she didn’t have a one.  How can you not have a full length mirror to check if the boots match the pants or if the skirt is looking a bit loose or tight?
Then it hit me: the absence of a mirror signifies more than a lack of space in a New York apartment.  It’s a powerful sign of inner confidence and strength.
In “Look at My Ugly Face,” Sue Halprin’s discusses, among many interesting topics, the cultural meanings behind fairy tales.  One of these is “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” a story I read frequently to my daughter btw (her request).
As we all know, a key aspect to this story is the evil stepmother’s relationship with her mirror.  The mirror doesn’t just reflect back an image of the queen; it verbally responds to her.  And it’s power eventually ruins her.  Halprin writes:
“Gazing into the mirror, the step-mother becomes obsessed with the beauty that has been used to define her by her culture.  Mistaking appearance for reality… she has no inner experience of beauty, but must rely on her mirror to know she is the most beautiful.” (p.86)
The mirror is a dangerous tool.  It forces the viewer to inspect, critique and potentially obsess over his/her aesthetic beauty.  Also, it only reflects on part of our beauty — our outer beauty — and thus limits our appreciation for the full personal beauty we all have.  Of course, no one wants to walk out of the house with a huge deodorant stain or an undone zipper, but maybe if we stopped looking so much at ourselves and just BELIEVED we looked great, we’d feel so much better about ourselves.
During our conversation I promised to buy Taryn a mirror.  But I think I’m going to take that back and buy her some of her favorite wine instead.