Valley of The Dolls—Thoughts From The “Ugly Friend”

From the minute we are born we are shoved full of contradicting notions that our bodies are both beautiful and not good enough. We see the images of gorgeous models and wonder why we are not more like them, but then hear campaigns telling us that this is all Photoshopped nonsense and that “real women” are beautiful.

I go through life and interact with people and I find that these “thinkpieces” about real beauty and body image are great for a confidence booster, but they carry very little weight in the real world. I’ve found that there is something that works for me and carries me through because it is the only, sometimes heart-crushing, reality I have. I have accepted the fact that I am the ugly friend.

I see it in pictures, in my social interactions, in the way that people speak to me. I will never ever be conventionally beautiful, especially in the culture that I live in. I am blessed to be friends with some amazing and strikingly beautiful women. I go out with them and I feel the notion from men that I am simply an obstacle to keep distracted while they hit on my more attractive counterparts. So I’ve accepted it.

You see, beauty is nothing more than a social construct created by the people of a certain culture. There is nothing that scientifically says that skinny thighs and long hair is beautiful, but it is culturally engrained in us from day one. So, while we can preach on and on every day about how everyone on the entire planet is drop-dead gorgeous, that is simply not how we were engrained.

It’s always hard to talk about this with my friends, especially women, because naturally we are also programmed to make our friends and even strangers feel good about their appearance. Everyone, down to the most beautiful woman on earth, has insecurities, but to some of us, those insecurities are just cold hard facts. I know that my thighs are too big, I don’t have a very defined face and I could stand to lose more than a few pounds. I know that people see that. I know that it’s looked down upon in western culture.

So, what do we do? Everything in my gut is telling me that writing this is somehow a betrayal to my gender. The idea that anyone could call himself or herself less than attractive feels wrong and somehow searching for attention. But, I choose to believe that my strength lies in other areas. And I don’t want this to be a thinkpiece that tells women how they should define their attractiveness. I think that everyone has a right to value their beauty or any other trait they feel the most pride in without shame.

I’m good at making “30 Rock” references. I’m a loyal friend. I make a mean Funfetti cake. All of these strengths have nothing to do with my weight or bone structure. For those who are conventionally attractive, that is a mere notch on their belt and certainly something to pride themselves on, but since that is not in my wheelhouse, I choose to focus on things I have control over.

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I’m not saying that I never have days that I do feel attractive or that everyone I’ve ever met has thought I’m horrific looking, but what I am saying is that being attractive is not the end-all be-all of life. There are things that are much more insulting than being called ugly. And that’s what chooses to matter to me.

Photo by Flickr/ Marlie Kanoi

 Check out Kristin speaking about her article on Huff Post Live at 6:04!

View Comments (25)
  • This actually spoke to me a lot. I know how it feels to be the “ugly friend”. I’ve been the ugly friend for years and it kind of sucks but I’ve accepted it too… I think you’re gorgeous btw. ♥

  • Your beauty does not have to be a physical state. I find your ability to convey such startling opinions to be extremely beautiful and I feel we are living in a world now where knowledge and intelligence are gaining ever more distinction as desirable traits over aesthetics, which are totally subjective. You are beautiful, you are loved by many, of that I am certain, and you are strong willed. You will live a life of happiness. Those ‘beauties’ that you associate yourself with will grow ever more false as they age and cling to what they once were, you will always have your mind.

  • I’m so glad you are not defining yourself by how attractive you are to men—that’s awesome. But, my dear, you are pretty girl, based on the pictures I’ve seen. And I’m not lying to you. I say that because your skin is smooth and seems glow, you have sparkly eyes, and a smile (with a dimple!) that could like up a room. And look at those full lips!

    One day, you’ll start meeting men who see it, I guarantee you. I know because I’m a 38-year-old former dweeb girl and it happened to me. It has a lot to do with how you carry yourself, and how comfortable you are in your skin. I’ve found in my 30s, that confidence comes a lot more easily. So, yeah, not worrying about it or comparing yourself to others is an excellent plan. But I hope you let yourself enjoy the beauty you do have, inside and outside.

  • This spoke so much truth about my own experience. By the way, as someone much older than you, please realize that someday you will look at pictures of yourself as a young woman and recognize that you were actually quite lovely all the time.

  • I love this article. It really expressed what I’ve felt for a long time. And it’s totally ok. It’s made me much more willing to accept the ageing process as well. As long as you never think of yourself as totally perfect to begin with, fixing things doesn’t seem so critical either. I’m seeing lots of my prettier friends looking into plastic surgery to “fix” body changes caused by pregnancy, and I’m happy to say that I won’t be going down that road, because I just accept that I have gotten this far with “imperfection,” and it’s been totally fine. Thanks again!

  • I saw this post on Huffington with a pictue of 3 women. I did not recognize any of the 3 to be “ugly”. I searched each face and still saw them as equally beautiful. Please use my mirror in the future!

  • Thank you for this post, I thought it was excellent. I think it is taboo to speak truthfully about this issue, as though we have all somehow tacitly agreed to lie to one another via niceties and clichés. I appreciate your bravery and your intellectual honesty. One thought, however, is that you might want to revisit this phrase: “For those who are conventionally attractive, that is a mere notch on their belt and certainly something to pride themselves on…” I would ask: Why should they pride themselves on something that was a result of a genetic lottery? To quote George Carlin (as I often do): “Pride should be reserved for something you
    achieve or obtain on your own, not something that happens by accident of
    birth. Being Irish isn’t a skill… it’s a fucking genetic accident.
    You wouldn’t say I’m proud to be 5’11”; I’m proud to have a
    pre-disposition for colon cancer.” All that to say, making awesome “30 Rock” references and being a loyal friend–not to mention making a mean Funfetti cake–are things a person should actually be proud of. It gives a person value. Keep up the great writing :)

  • After reading this article I had to come look at your picture to see how butt ugly you really are. Found out just hanging out with the wrong people. Get some ugly friends.

  • I love this article and your interview with Huff Post. I wish everyone could read and understand what you wrote. You’re clearly a well-rounded, intelligent, and kind person, which are far more valuable traits than western beauty. That being said, I would never look at you and consider you unattractive. Your energy, smile, and personality shine through and make you attractive, like most people in this world (myself included) we’re just normal/average looking. As you said, it’s up to us to foster desirable traits and be a good person… not our genetics. Once again, this was a honest and well-written article.

  • “beauty is nothing more than a social construct created by the people of a certain culture. There is nothing that scientifically says that skinny thighs and long hair are beautiful, ”

    I wish “feminists” would stop promulgating this lie. There is a large and growing scientific literature that clearly demonstrates that the standards of beauty are objective and biologically based. Look up studies of facial symmetry and hip/waist ratio for the details. To claim that beauty is a social construction is a feel-good rationalization designed to make you feel better — but unfortunately it’s not based in reality.

  • I made it a point to not look at your photo. I’m not going to sit here and say, noooo you are beautiful! Instead, I admire your philosophy and I think your absolutely right. Attractiveness only takes you so far in life. However, what I can say about you is that you are a great writer! I’ve never commented on an article, blog, commentary. I felt the need to praise you for this. Not only was it honest and well written, but it was captivating. If your only in your early 20’s, girrrrl…consider that an extra “notch on your belt.” Amen!

  • “There is nothing that scientifically says that skinny thighs and long hair is beautiful, but it is culturally engrained in us from day one.”

    No. There’s plenty of science exploring why men (just for example) find certain traits sexually attractive. Chemistry, not culture.

    Anyway, you’re being too hard on yourself. You are not the ugly friend; that’s excessive. Alongside some ugly girls, you’d be the pretty one. And yes, as you have argued, there are much more important factors.

  • I think the point in her writing this was not to get reassurance from other people that she is actually “pretty” (and I’m not saying she’s not). That kinda misses the point, well intented or not

  • There’s definitely a truth to this. Back in my 20s when I was going out, I always thought of myself as the fat friend…fat/ugly/whatever, it’s how the world perceives you when you’re out with the skinny minnies. Sure, every once in a while there would be a guy interested in me, but most of the time I just spent the night out drinking and if I danced (rarely) it was just with the girls. I’m a fun drunk (and non-drunk), always had fun with everyone, but never got the date. It was kind of depressing for a few years there. I did finally end up with the guy who has now been my husband for 15 years!

    Whether people realize it or not, they tend to ignore the one who isn’t skinny and/or perfect looking in the group. That person may be the most fun, or the most sincere or the most whatever, but it’s that first visual impression that people tend to play on. Maybe not so much as we get older, but definitely a 20-something in a bar is going to deal with that. Someone has to be “that” friend, I guess.

  • I’ve been the ugly friend my entire life. When my pretty friends try to convince me that I’m not the ugly girl, it more often than not feels unintentionally condescending. And please stop telling me that the guy I’ve been chatting with is interested in me. He’s been asking me about, or staring at you, the whole time! Having to convince you of his disinterest in me until he finally asks you out doesn’t help my self esteem any.

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