Some days "pretty" is not gonna happen

When my sisters and I were kids, we got into a kick of saying we wanted to be little and ugly. I’m not exactly sure what that was about. To be fair, it wasn’t me who started it, and it began after my father’s sudden passing, so there’s that to consider. This phase was definitely the fodder that keeps therapists in business.


Anyway, ugly has been on my mind a lot lately, so I’m forcing myself to write this challenging post because it’s necessary. Necessary in a society that’s obsessed with beauty and rituals and weight to examine whether or not the self-care model is working and if, perhaps, it has failed us utterly—the bandaid that keeps deep repair at bay. You see, ultimately what I’m confessing is that even with all the facial massaging, the slathering of decadent oils, the complete and unabashed focus on feeling good, I don’t feel much better at all. Actually, some days I feel ugly.

Ugly wears many disguises, usually phrases we tell ourselves while sneaking a peek at our reflection in storefront windows or said to partners with deer-in-the-headlight expressions who don’t know whether to agree, deny, or stay extremely quiet and secretly hope they can crawl away somewhere unobserved. “I feel like a cow.” “What’s that gross thing on my face?” “This looks awful on me.” “GAH, what is my hair doing today?” “Maybe if I turn this way.” “Well, I can always buy shoes….” “This serum is going to be the one.” Or how about this comment while gazing at an older photo: “Wow! I used to be pretty,” despite the forgotten fact that pretty was pretty elusive even then.

It doesn’t help that the media still idealize perfectionism. The word “flawless” in a headline promises instant clicks. Most of us don’t have hours or funds to devote to expensive facials or shaping a model-worthy body. It’s cheaper to use a great Snapchat filter and pretend it all away.

Thanks to the overloaded writing schedule the last couple of years, exercise has not made the cut. Instead, I’ve spent hours immobilized, chained to chair and computer while sipping dangerously estrogenic soy lattes and consumed by the effort to embellish a balm or a serum or other elixir. Which means that I’ve put on some extra pounds; 20 to be exact, though I had not weighed myself until I was forced to stare at the shocking number at a recent doctor’s visit. (Small wonder I don’t frequent the paper-gown fixated offices where all manner of ugly naked let loose.)

Most days, I don’t want to enter my closet to choose a skirt that won’t rise past my hips or a shirt that resists buttoning. That loose-fitting sweatshirt you always see me in (or don’t see me in because I’ve been in hiding) is an everyday go-to because it actually zips all the way up. And don’t even bother trying to get me to dress up for a wedding or something. It would be like dipping a cat in water. (Try it. You’ll see.)

But nobody talks about the days of ugly and I think ugly feels a bit neglected. Ugly is our dirty little secret. She’s like Beauty’s illegitimate sister who cowers in her wake but lingers, sniggering in the background.  Ugly gets a bad rap. It’s true that when I’m wearing her, I don’t feel good about myself. Then again, covering her up with a dozen beauty rituals doesn’t always feel that good either. They feel forced and disingenuous and quarrelsome.

It is like an episode of the Honeymooners playing out in my head as I’m tenderly working in a fragrant, this-will-make-me-feel-beautiful body oil. One side of me knows better and tries to squelch the inner critic. The other side is completely irreverent and berates every sign of excess skin and ingrown hair while not-so-secretly wishing I could exchange it all for somebody else’s flab-free body. (Freaky Friday swap, anyone?)

Sometimes pretending anything other than gross, unflattering words hurts like a dull pounding on the head because it’s glaringly untrue. I don’t even have the urge to offer some sort of resolution, the Rx to feeling prettier that will whisk the ugly away. After all these years of swallowing every beauty pill out there, I don’t have the secret. Not even close.

So I’m just going to hang out with my Ugly and give her some attention. I may even send her a note of acceptance and appreciation, like a diploma or an award, for beating out every other adjective for Most Resilient. Nobody offers her that. Yet my Ugly has stood by me for decades, chasing away escape-artist Beauty—Coward that she is!

No. Nobody wants to acknowledge ugly. Yet Ugly deserves her moment too.

* * *

Note: This post was inspired by shadow work that I’ve been doing. “Shadow” is a term originally used by Carl Jung to describe the repressed or denied part of the Self. A way to embody our fullest essence is by drawing these parts of ourselves into the light. As this page* says: “the core of every shadow contains a nugget of strength and power. Your shadows are like a gold mine of creative, useful energy.”

Ugly is a repressed side of me. Though ugly is the extreme, there are some days that I definitely do not feel pretty, so giving my inner ugly a voice feels very therapeutic. Drawing out the parts of myself that I’d normally deny or “try to work on” helps me bless them and release them. They no longer have the same tug on me as they did before writing this piece.

*I’m not familiar with the work that this group does, though I resonated with its descriptions which is why I used it as a reference.

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