Hitting the ugliness jackpot

John Servante has never been happy with his appearance. Here’s why that should change


In a few days time I’ll be 24 – that’s 8768 days on Earth. And sadly, I can’t remember a single day on which I was happy with my appearance.

I’m in my twenties, I’m white, I’m middle class and I have a penis. I would never dare to argue that I’m not privileged. I can’t begin to imagine how my mother, sister or partner feel when they open a magazine, get stared at on the streets or go for a job interview. I fully appreciate that body image is a more pronounced problem for women and yet, I know that I too am made to feel inadequate.

I have ginger hair, pale skin, I wear glasses and I’ve always been chubby. Subsequently, I have hit what society would call the ugliness jackpot.

Day to day, this means that I can’t look in the mirror. It’s too distressing. My reflection serves only as a reminder that I’m not “ripped” enough, that my face isn’t “chiseled” enough. And yes, I know it’s a pathetic cliché, but my reflection is not that of a “real man”.

The idea of a “real man” or “real woman” is a joke. I know that. As does anyone with a quarter of a brain. What the media dubs a “real man” is the result of photoshopping, expensive stylists and spending every waking hour in a gym. To be a “real man” it seems you have to be a raging narcissist. Sadly, being a “real man” too often seems to entail being a bad human being – the kind of macho “lad” who treats women as inferior, brainless objects born only to be disposable pleasures.

Infuriating as it is, knowing all this doesn’t help. Every day I’m confronted with unobtainable ideals, leaving me depressed and self-loathing. My body image has become so bad that I don’t really bother to buy clothes anymore. In fact I don’t bother with my appearance at all which, of course, makes everything so much worse. I’m caught in a perpetual downward spiral.

But there is one person in this world who helps me – my partner. She thinks I’m beautiful.

My partner encourages me every day. She encourages me to put an outfit together, to put weird products in my hair and to stand a little taller. It doesn’t matter to her how I dress, nor what hairstyle I have. All she wants is for me to have some pride in my appearance, to feel more happy and confident with how I look. She holds my hand and, step by step, guides me closer to being able to look into a mirror.

But still I remind myself that I’m privileged. I don’t know what I’d do without my partner and I know not everyone is as lucky as I am. That’s why I talk openly and honestly about my struggles – because the world needs to change. Nobody should ever feel ugly. No one should ever be ashamed of their appearance. Negative body image is a disease created and maintained by society. It’s as debilitating and miserable as any illness.

No child should ever grow up believing that they’re ugly. The world doesn’t judge you by whether or not you’re a caring, charitable or a decent human. Instead, it judges you by something superficial and constructed – whether of not you’re fashionably beautiful. That’s wrong.

Don’t forget, our ancestors considered chubiness sexy – society’s notions of attractiveness are as fickle as our tastes in music or art. What’s in fashion one day might not be in fashion tomorrow. Isn’t it about time we stopped making people feel miserable over something so flimsy and changeable?

We could live in a world where no one feels ugly. It’s simple: the next time you or somebody you know feels ugly, say those three magic words: “you are beautiful”. Because we all are! It might seem like a little thing, but those three words could help change the world.

John Servante is a student and blogger currently completing an MA in writing at the University of Warwick. He can be found on twitter @donkeyokay

The image accompanying this post shows a person standing in a snowy forest with a paper bag over their head. The paper bag has a sad face drawn upon it.