Wednesday, July 13, 2011

everybody wants to be ugly

"Every body is beautiful". It's a feminist mantra, it's Dove's advertising campaign, it's the promise made by mothers and cosmetic companies and new age spiritualists. But I don't want to be beautiful anymore. I want to be ugly.

I want to be ugly because I want to be honest. I want the freedom not to be pretty. Not to be cute, or sweet, or interesting. To be tired, or frightening, or plain. To be blatantly, nakedly, ugly ole me. When I talk to people I want to hear their struggles, their challenges, and I want to tell them the truth: that I don't always want to meditate, that traveling alone is often hard and boring and frightening, that I argue with my husband and that I miss smoking cigarettes.

I can't tell everyone I meet everything. And in the online realm, I can't present it all, either. But I aim to maintain digital honesty - the rough unedited rawness without a braying for recognition. When I create blogs or profiles, I open myself up to interpretation. I have a responsibility to decide how much I share and with whom. But I also have a responsibility to be honest.

I allegedly blog, post, Facebook to convey truth, and yet I often strive to share a polished picture of myself. But I also work against this, to make sure my ego's sense of my beautiful self doesn't get out of hand.

Contemplating my relationship to nakedness and beauty led to an exploration of ugliness.

Publicly posted photos have unwritten rules that dictate a sliding scale of acceptablity. Those of pulled faces and intentional blasé are at the top of the pile...

...followed by those we defiantly upload to prove we don't care how we look in fancy dress or ridiculous head garb:
Then there are those posted by friends who we wish had captured us at a better angle. But to ask to remove the photos would be admitting our vanity. (See below for eg1. Smooshed Smile and eg2. Frantic Face). We experience the internal struggle: to Untag or not to Untag.

Next are the unflattering ones where we're caught with a mouth full of food:

And then there are the old selves. Perhaps we've taken them down, telling ourselves they're out of date. But that doesn't explain why our sixth grade photo stays up without an eyelash bat. Perhaps we can see too clearly how we were with ourselves, how we stood and how we looked at the camera.

These are who I was at that time. I remind myself as I write this how I look shouldn't matter.

So what happened when I originally posted all these unflattering photos? Not much. No one cared. There are too many blogs, too many posts, for people to notice a few bad photos. Internally, though, I react to every one. With loathing, with embarrassment, with affected nonchalance, but rarely with an honest equanimity.

They all make me squirm on some level, but they're not exactly ugly. So then I wondered...what if I purposely posted ugly photos?

And there, hiding behind the very thing I thought I was trying to avoid, I found liberation. I found freedom to not just allow my bad angles to be broadcast, but to actively, honestly, try to make myself ugly.

If people see me at my worst, I can stop trying to look my best.

I started looking through my photo archive to find photos of myself looking ugly, seeking to make a horror face horror show. But I couldn't find many.

I'm blindsided so often by billboards and magazines and even friends' cooing encouragements that my standards creep up to photoshopped airbrushed heights. But when I brought myself back down to the realm of normal, I could only classify a few of my past pictures as bordering on bad.

So I tried to take some. Then came the second revelation. I realised: it's actually quite difficult.

I've been so worried about trying to get the right angle when someone takes out a camera that I forgot that it's an effort to be ugly.

As I found more pictures, took more photos, contemplated what I need to do to make myself ugly...
...something unexpected happened.

The next time I looked in the mirror, I didn't see my imperfect skin or my warbling tummy. I saw a reflection of a body, with all these bits that on their own are fascinating. I have two legs, two arms, a waist, a neck. I'm not eating so I don't have to look. I'm not starving or starving myself.

I had to work pretty hard to get ugly.
Most surprisingly, I found it difficult to be ugly naked. I wonder how to digitally bare my base self? Reading a book naked, even with a paper bag over my head, didn't add up to ugliness.

Now when I get out of the shower, or fold over in yoga and see my tummy rolls stack up, or see my skin in a bad light, I don't sigh so loudly. My body is amazing.

Not beautiful, not cute, not pretty, not skinny, not curvy, not special. It might be all of those things. But taking on being ugly means I've taken it apart. And it isn't a sum of thigh measurements or swimsuit sizes or paper bags or Facebook photos. If I can be everything I've been on this page, then I have the freedom to become anything I want.

Friday, July 1, 2011

where I write

I write in the small soft space between bedcovers and eyelashes, in the place you settle into before you drift off. My favourite place to find words is in the sunshine on my duvet, but second place is between the raindrops on the window I see when my head’s down on the pillow.From my bed, I reach my dictionary and diaries off the shelf. I sit cross-legged with notes and rough drafts spread across the comforter. I sprawl on my stomach to tap on my laptop. I sit up against the headboard; the room becomes my head space; I slip into the dream story world. I glance up through the windowpanes when I need freedom from lower case thoughts, but then burrow back into tender down-filled definitions, before finally slipping book covers and laptops shut to go to sleep.

I write in between places, on the subway and sitting down on bridges. I grab words that whizz by like tube stops and slam them down onto the paper before they zoom away again. 

I write up down staircases. I sit on the side and squish against the wall so when ladies walk by with their dogs they become the next character in my stories about shoes.

I write in secret sunshine places, following the light from park benches onto balconies and the roofs of neighbours' houses.

I write in refracted rain, with the silhouettes of the light inside me reflecting on the windowpane and the shiny screen.

I write on cold park benches beside bamboo, where coloured pencils colour my words. All the adjectives a in pink, the nouns bright green. It takes me longer to get it all down, but colour coding helps me remember what I meant.