The Freedom of Ugliness

How much effort do you put into your appearance on a day to day basis? In this article we explore the ways we can sometimes constrain ourselves with how we dress. Of course, if dressing up in heels and having the perfect make- up is what gets you going, then that should be celebrated. For some people though, it is refreshing to take a break from that, and taking a day off to look scruffy as hell can be a liberating experience. 

I’m not the type of girl who leaves my room without makeup on. It’s not as if I spend two hours every day perfecting my hair and contour—though I respect girls who do—but I’m generally having a pretty bad day if I haven’t taken ten minutes to brush through my hair and put on eyeliner.

A week or so ago, I was having one of those days. I was exhausted, woke up late, I had too much work to do for my tutorial and not enough time to finish it. I hurried to class, make-up-less, with my hair on top of my head in the most unflattering way possible, wearing the most comfortable clothes I could find because I only barely convinced myself not to wear pajamas. I looked pretty much as ugly as I’ve ever looked and I spent the first half of the tutorial vaguely embarrassed by my unfeminine, frumpy aesthetic.

Then something interesting happened: I got over it. I actually started enjoying looking like crap. I didn’t have to tug on my shirt to make sure it fit me the way I wanted it to fit. There was no awkward maneuvering as I tried to figure out the most comfortable way to sit in a skirt without flashing anyone. I wasn’t constantly worried if my hair was getting frizzy, or if the way I was gesturing made my arms look fat. Once I accepted that I looked terrible, I no longer had to put any energy into trying to convince anyone otherwise. I spent the entire day feeling incredibly relaxed and comfortable as my appearance became irrelevant to my interactions with others.

It was more freeing than you’d expect. I’m a pretty loud, outgoing, opinionated person by default and rarely do I ever feel intellectually intimidated, even when I’m wearing thigh highs and short shorts (which I’ve been known to show up to lectures in). However, accepting that I looked horrible and that it didn’t matter made me feel even more competent and intelligent, and I found myself speaking more clearly and thoughtfully than usual.

Now, I’m not trying to say that looking feminine makes women stupid, or that women are hurting themselves by wearing makeup. I for one am not giving up my eyeliner or pleated skirts any time soon. However, it was eye-opening for me to realize how conscious I was of my appearance at all times and how much energy I put into monitoring myself so that I continued to look nice. It was especially shocking to notice that I felt more confident in myself when I looked less feminine.

I also don’t mean to imply that anyone who doesn’t wear makeup or feminine clothing is ugly—that’s simply how I felt on that day. However, the whole idea that beauty is about looking as 'young and feminine and delicate' as possible is an incredibly flawed one and, especially in a university context, fairly useless.

I think we could all use a reminder sometimes that uni is not a fashion show—no one gets any points for their runway walk. It is, however, an excellent opportunity to engage with people from all over the world who you have something to learn from. In the future, I’m going to try to spend less energy perfecting my hairstyle and more energy on taking advantage of the excellent intellectual opportunities here in St Andrews.