Written by Reclaim UGLY Team, edited by Frankie Enzler and Amira Aro
Uglification /ˌəɡləfəˈkāSHən/ : Uglification consists of personal and cultural beliefs, behaviors, practices, and laws that dehumanize people as ugly, undesirable, immoral, and unworthy. It feeds, maintains, and depends on oppression, such as lookism, racism, ableism, sexism, and homo-, trans-, fat-, and xeno- phobia. Unchecked, it facilitates, normalizes, and validates hatred, childhood bullying, workplace exclusion, criminalization, medical neglect, violence, exploitation, and more.
5 things we should all know about uglification:
1. Uglification is systemic: Uglification is widespread and pervasive, informing not just our interpersonal relationships but our systems of government and society at large. It impacts how these systems treat different groups of people – often unequally. We can see uglification used in the media in order to mobilize hate and fear against groups of people deemed “ugly” and can further result in harmful legislation or actions. These beliefs and representations inform our society and shape expectations and norms of how to treat one another based on our identities.
2. Uglification shape-shifts: Ugly is a social construct -a culturally dependent understanding of the world and people in it which can include subjective beliefs and attitudes. Because of this, what (or who) we consider ugly changes over time to maintain power structures in society. Uglification, the weaponizing of “ugly,” is used against many different people to justify actions that would otherwise be seen as unacceptable. Uglification is widespread and insidious. Due to its shape shifting nature, we need to stay mindful and vigilant to end uglification in our communities. Despite its cultural and systemic roots, it can also disguise itself as an individual preference or opinion.
3. Uglification creates and relies on false binaries and hierarchies: Ugly relies on narratives our society teaches and reinforces about who is and isn’t ugly. This false binary of beauty vs. ugly is then associated values like good vs. bad, moral vs. immoral, desirable vs. undesirable. Ugly creates societal norms that dictate who should take up space, who should shrink, who we should empathize with, who we see in their full humanity, who deserves support and who is denied access.
4. Uglification is used to justify oppression: Oppression (systemically disempowering a group of people) and uglification work hand in hand to feed into each other. Uglification convinces us that certain people deserve oppression. It waters the soil of oppression, breeding hatred and fear of the “other”. Oppression is the manifestation of what happens when we justify uglifying people. Uglification is a type of oppression, but also a tool, weapon and strategy to justify other types of oppression.
5. Uglification fuels toxic consumerism: Ugly ruins our lives AND wallets! The idea of ugly is used to convince us that we have a material need to NOT be ugly. Because uglification is used to deny people access to material resources and emotional wellbeing, it fuels the fear of “being ugly”. As a way to avoid being uglified, we are marketed to literally buy into the idea of beauty. Uglification convinces us that beauty is scarce, that only some people can be beautiful, and that beautiful people deserve the best resources. Consumerism feeds off of this scarcity driven mentality, convincing us we can achieve beauty and a place on the social hierarchy through materialism.