Mirror, Mirror: What If Someone Calls Me Ugly?

Fairest shmairest! Let’s get real about beauty and body image. Mirror, Mirror is a column running every other Thursday on The Frisky. It is written by Brooklyn-based columnist, freelance writer, and bagel enthusiast, Kate Fridkis who also writes the blog Eat the Damn Cake. You can follow her on Twitter at @eatthedamncake.

I finally saw “Snow White and the Huntsman.” With two guys. They were like, “Sweet.” I, on the other hand, was tormented by the symbolism. Because I’m cool like that. Because I over think everything. I wanted Snow White to talk more—to seize the day. Instead, Kristen Stewart mostly looked frail and concerned. She kept opening her mouth a little, but then it turns out that’s just because she looks sexy in a helpless way when she opens her mouth a little.

You probably could have guessed: The whole deal with the Snow White story, no matter how many evil crows and broad-shouldered huntsmen you add to it, is that beauty is power. In case you grew up without watching any Disney movies (like me, I had a weird childhood), and then continued to never watch any because you were really busy, the Snow White story is about an evil woman who is desperate to hold on to her beauty and an innocent girl who is more beautiful than her no matter what.

Spoiler alert: The most beautiful girl wins.

Beauty is a confusing thing. Because people are always implying that it isn’t that big of a deal. You’re insecure if you care too much, or feel too bad about the way you look. You’re self-absorbed if you look in the mirror too often. You’re superficial. You’re missing the point if you talk about it. You’re getting caught up in the details. You’re shallow. You’re lame. You could be spending your time better. You should be thinking about more important things. And at exactly the same time, beauty is obviously power. I know, because everything that isn’t pretty enough about you is an automatic weakness. It’s a hole in your armor. It leaves you vulnerable.

The Queen was right. She was always vulnerable, as long as Snow White was out there.

OK, OK, the Queen was also crazy and evil. But she had a point.

I know, because from a young age, I learned immediately what about me didn’t fit into the word beauty. I learned what didn’t work. What stood out in a bad way. What made me a little more of a risk.

When I was a kid, this girl said to me, “You should really get your nose fixed. You could be beautiful.”

My big nose felt like an open door, it let everyone in to my most vulnerable places. Even when I didn’t invite them.
I was confident and smart and interesting, I thought. I didn’t want people to comment on my appearance at all. But they did anyway. It wasn’t my personality or my intelligence or my skills that made me vulnerable. It was the way I looked. That was the aspect that was always available for judgment. And I quickly learned how important it was to look right. I grew up, I got a nose job, but nothing was different.

Now, I hear the way people talk about women who don’t look beautiful enough. Heavy women, for example. They get talked about as if they aren’t real people. Someone will comment, even if they spot a large woman from across the street. Someone will snicker. The only relevant information about this woman is her weight. Her appearance. Her failure to fit into the word beauty.

It’s hard not to feel a little afraid, in a world that does that so automatically. Simultaneously, I am thankful that I am not that woman and scared of becoming her. I am aware of the things about me that also don’t work. The things about me that make me a little less powerful.

I realize that what I really fear is someone calling me ugly. Just coming out and using the worst word I can think of to describe me. Not bitch, or c**t. Not whore. Not slut. Not idiot. Not bat shit crazy. Not weird or messed-up or irrelevant. All of those sting. But ugly is somehow worse.

Because ugly is my failure as a woman. Ugly is the way in which I am not worth as much as someone else. The way in which I am helpless. Those other words, I know they’re not true. But ugly, I wonder … Is it possible?

So what if someone randomly says it? Just some guy on the street, for no reason. A homeless guy who needs meds. A toddler. A talking parrot. Whatever. Someone or something might just yell out, “You’re ugly!” the way this woman yelled, “Carpet muncher!” at me when I was at the Pride Parade.

Carpet muncher? Seriously?

Also, I’m an Ally, lady. A straight person can go to a Pride Parade and not automatically be gay. Sheesh.

But more to the point: I hate how beauty is power, because it leaves us all so vulnerable. It leaves us all with our mouths open a little, not sure what to say. I read this article the other day by a woman who was writing anonymously because the topic was controversial. There was a picture next to her article, and immediately the commenters started attacking her appearance. “You’re too ugly to even be talking about this,” they were saying. And the cruder, crueler things that trolls say about what they would do, given a medieval dungeon, a female internet writer, and half a chance. Anyway, it turned out that the picture was a stock photo of a model. Which I thought was funny. I thought it exposed the commenters, who were only saying she was ugly to emphasize that they didn’t like what she had to say.

Ugly is the thing that you say about a woman who pisses you off. Who talks too much. Ugly is what you say about someone when you want to shut them up, dismiss them quickly.

So why would it even matter, if someone called me ugly? Knowing how the word gets slung like mud, just because it’s the first gross thing someone grabs when they start scrounging around on the ground for something to throw.

I’m thinking about it, and I don’t have a great answer. I’m just afraid. Not, you know, all the time, paranoid and quivering. But, like, in the back of my mind, under several layers of other, more confident stuff. I’m afraid that I’m still just a little girl with a big nose like an open door. And that it will be my downfall.

Clearly, if I had to be someone in the Snow White story, I would be the Queen. With a bigger nose. I am thinking about beauty. Snow White doesn’t even notice. But I am looking in the mirror, and I am nervous about what it will tell me.

I am looking in the mirror, asking it questions.

Mirror, mirror, on the wall, why can’t I just be a girl with a relatively cool brain and a talent for making creative grilled cheeses? Why do I have to wear beauty like armor at all? And what will happen if someone calls me ugly?

Maybe nothing. Maybe something really bad. Maybe I’ll get shaky for a minute and then I’ll just keep walking. Or maybe I’ll learn that I need a different kind of armor. Made of something stronger. Made of my own definition of the word beauty. Or not made of beauty at all.