Ugliness As Self Reclamation

When I am having a bad day, a fat day, a day on which I feel as if everyone is staring at me and judging my body, as if I am public property, I put on a baggy tshirt and my oldest, comfiest jeans. Sometimes, when I feel like my life is out of my own control, I shave my head or add piercings. I don’t always get positive comments (everything from “you look like a prepubescent boy” to “this is the last piercing right?”), but somehow it always manages to make me feel better.

Beauty is almost always performative for me. I don’t care what I look like more often than not. Oh sure, I don’t like having my hair sticking straight up or getting my skirt stuck in my leggings so that everyone can see my undies, but past a basic level of presentability I don’t care. Beauty has always been about how others see me. I put on a dress and wonder what others see when they look at me. I cut my hair short and thrive on the comments about how adorable I am. But when left to my own devices, I just spend twenty minutes poking at the fat around my waist and ignore anything else.

There is something liberating about hiding my body.

I feel like I’ve stolen away to somewhere that belongs to me, even if that place is just an oversized sweatshirt. I feel like I’m at once invisible and also throwing the finger up at anyone who demanded anything from me. No, I won’t grow my hair to anything like feminine, and I won’t put on my skirts and dresses today, and I will never wear makeup, and I will be comfortable. Because this body is mine not yours, and because I get to do as I choose with it. I get to mark it in every way, permanent or not, that I choose, whether or not someone else sees it as ugly or trashy or bad.

Being ugly is reclaiming myself.

Oh sure, I’m not conventionally unattractive. I’m white and thin and symmetrical enough that I’ve never gotten the crap that lots of people do. It’s a privilege to be able to slip into an unfeminine obscurity. But hell does it feel good to remind people that I don’t owe them the performance, the work of adjusting my posture and sucking in my stomach, of keeping on the leggings that pull everything in just a little too much.

Sometimes I wonder if the reason I left scars on myself was so that people would have to look away, so that I would have an excuse to cover. Even when I am living in the distortion of depression, I know that what I want is to say that this is mine, this body, the way it looks or doesn’t look. Some people find it empowering to be beautiful. They dress up and feel confident. When I leave the house in sweats and a ratty old t-shirt, I feel untouchable. I have made it clear that I give exactly 0 fucks about the people around me and what they think of me, I have chosen to keep my concerns about my size and acceptability out of the public sphere by simply covering them and keeping them private.

Even for people who enjoy fashion and beauty, attractiveness is something that society demands. It’s a way for the world to exert power over you and your body by saying that there are better and worse ways to be. I love feeling as if I’m actively choosing to do something that I’ve been told not to. It’s a juvenile impulse, but one that all of us need at times in our lives, especially when the rules around us are harmful and arbitrary. It’s the land where farms are barren of fucks to grow, where we do things because we want to instead of because we feel some pressure to adjust the most basic parts of ourselves to a larger standard.

It feels good to recognize that I feel like I belong to myself alone when I choose to dress down or let the world see my ugly side. It feels so good not to care.

I Love Selfies

One of my most favorite people in the world, Elyse MoFo Anders, recently started a project called Operation Flawless. Go check it out and participate if you feel the urge. I’m having tons of fun with it already. The basic gist of the project is to intentionally post selfies of yourself looking less than flawless to highlight the impossibility of beauty standards and to recognize how important and powerful self-portraits (selfies) can be. As I’ve participated in this project, I’ve come to a realization: I love selfies.

Photo on 2014-02-04 at 07.50

This might come as a surprise to many of you. I’ve spoken many times before about my insecurities and my unhappiness with my looks. But no matter how much I dislike looking at myself in the mirror, I love seeing pictures of myself. I feel so much more comfortable when there’s a distance between myself and the image of myself, so that I can be somewhat more objective when assessing myself. I would rather look at a picture of myself than see myself in the mirror any day. I can manipulate my pictures, delete my pictures, only keep the pictures I like, only look at the pictures from when I looked happier…I can control pictures.

But more than just the medium, I absolutely adore being able to take pictures of myself. Selfies are sort of like the ultimate form of power over how others see you and over how you see yourself. It’s kind of lovely. When I take selfies I get to decide how I’m lit, what I’m wearing, whether I wear makeup, how my hair is, the background, and pretty much everything else. And on top of that I get to continue taking pictures until I find the one that I think is exactly perfect and how I want to look. I can play model, try to smize, find the exact quirk of my mouth that makes me look snarky/sexy/happy.

Photo on 2013-10-28 at 18.09

Perhaps my favorite part of selfies is that I get to pick what’s important in my life and capture that moment for y’all to see. When someone else is taking the pictures, they’re in the driver’s seat. You’re doing something you think is embarrassing or boring? Oh look there’s a picture! You’re drifting somewhere else and not really present? Yup, picture of that too! You’re stuck somewhere you don’t want to be? Mmhmm, everyone knows. When you’re taking the pictures, you get to pick. Not all of you will understand. Sometimes I take pictures of myself sitting at Caribou, sometimes hanging out at home doing nothing. More often than I should admit there are cats in my pictures. I take selfies when something I want to share is happening. It’s my visual diary. It reveals the things I do often, or the things that are exciting and important.

Photo on 2013-09-13 at 14.22

Unfortunately I often find (especially lately) that I’ve stopped posting selfies unless there’s a “reason”. I’ve internalized well enough the messaging that just posting pictures of yourself is trite, self-absorbed, juvenile, or wrong in some way. On some level it seems to say “I don’t have anything better to post”. Well bullshit on that. Me, myself, and I are worth posting. The times that I care about are worth posting. I don’t need to live up to anyone’s standards of worthiness on my own Facebook page or Twitter. It’s not narcissism to share my own image of myself: that’s the entire point of social media.

Photo on 2013-08-11 at 17.13

I’m taking Elyse’s invitation to personally reclaim the selfie. I love seeing my face plastered all over the internet and if no one else will do it for me, then gosh darn I’ll do it myself!