Friday, December 19, 2014

The Power of Ugly

For one of my finals I am writing a series of blog posts. Each one will focus on a different reading or topic from the class.

When I was reading the Mia Mingus piece, Moving Toward the Ugly, it struck a cord in me. The pressure to be beautiful has always been a heavy weight. All of my life I felt too pale, too large, and too...wrong. My teeth were crooked, my nose was crooked, and I was covered in freckles. To make it worse I was too loud. Always too confident in my opinions and unwilling to “behave.” I was often the “smart” one, but never the “pretty” one.

I struggled for a long time with my relationship with my body. Of course I could never admit I was so self conscious. Somehow admitting I longed to be seen as beautiful was wrong. It was a weakness that the “smart” part of me rejected. What would my relationship with myself and those around me look like if I had embraced that struggle like a badge of honor? If I looked at the struggle to be beautiful as a tough outer layer that's made me stronger, more magnificent.
...We must shift from a politic of desirability and beauty to a politic of ugly and magnificence. That moves us closer to bodies and movements that disrupt, dismantle, disturb. Bodies and movements ready to throw down and create a different way for all of us, not just some of us.

The magnificence of a body that shakes, spills out, takes up space, needs help, moseys, slinks, limps, drools, rocks, curls over on itself. The magnificence of a body that doesn’t get to choose when to go to the bathroom, let alone which bathroom to use. A body that doesn’t get to choose what to wear in the morning, what hairstyle to sport, how they’re going to move or stand, or what time they’re going to bed. The magnificence of bodies that have been coded, not just undesirable and ugly, but un-human. The magnificence of bodies that are understanding gender in far more complex ways than I could explain in an hour. Moving beyond a politic of desirability to loving the ugly. Respecting Ugly for how it has shaped us and been exiled. Seeing its power and magic, seeing the reasons it has been feared. Seeing it for what it is: some of our greatest strength.

Because we all do it. We all run from the ugly. And the farther we run from it, the more we stigmatize it and the more power we give beauty. Our communities are obsessed with being beautiful and gorgeous and hot. What would it mean if we were ugly? What would it mean if we didn’t run from our own ugliness or each other’s? How do we take the sting out of “ugly?” What would it mean to acknowledge our ugliness for all it has given us, how it has shaped our brilliance and taught us about how we never want to make anyone else feel? What would it take for us to be able to risk being ugly, in whatever that means for us. What would happen if we stopped apologizing for our ugly, stopped being ashamed of it? What if we let go of being beautiful, stopped chasing “pretty,” stopped sucking in and shrinking and spending enormous amounts of money and time on things that don’t make us magnificent?

Where is the Ugly in you? What is it trying to teach you?
Over the years something interesting started to happen though. I began to feel like beauty was something I could claim for myself. I rejected the idea that my fat body was unlovable. That my crooked nose was a flaw. I decided I didn't care about beauty at all. That I would be powerful and bold and unapologetic.

And the strangest thing happened.

People started to see me as beautiful. Suddenly I was desirable. And now that I'm beautiful, maybe I don't want to give it all up. It's taken me a long time to get here and I wonder at how easily Mingus asks me to walk away from it all. The world has told me my fat body is ugly and yet it also celebrates my curves. Am I doing my fat sisters a disservice by rejecting the desirability of my body? Am I somehow reinforcing the idea that my body is inherently ugly?
If you leave with anything today, leave with this: you are magnificent. There is magnificence in our ugliness. There is power in it, far greater than beauty can ever wield. Work to not be afraid of the Ugly—in each other or ourselves. Work to learn from it, to value it. Know that every time we turn away from ugliness, we turn away from ourselves. And always remember this: I would rather you be magnificent, than beautiful, any day of the week. I would rather you be ugly—magnificently ugly.
I try to remember that if beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then it isn't something I own. It's something that has been given to me. Something that was long denied and can be taken back at any moment. My beauty is not my own. It is something I merely wear temporarily. So maybe the problem is not with how the world sees me. It's how I see myself.

I don't need the world to see me as ugly. I just need to know that I will not be destroyed by the word “ugly.” That even if the world does see me as ugly, I am still powerful and strong and beautiful.

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