Mission & Values
Reclaim UGLY’s Mission: We create educational materials, literature, events, and performances to educate diverse communities about how lookism and uglification collaborates to justify (racialized, gender-based, fatphobic, homophobic, transphobic, and ableist ) violence, hatred, criminalization, and discrimination; and how Reclaiming UGLY can joyfully heal and save lives by creating safer, more inclusive, and more welcoming communities, schools, work places, families, and movements.
Reclaim UGLY’s goals are:
To create safe, joyful, and healing spaces for people who have been uglified and marginalized outside of their communities;
To educate the world about what uglification is and how it functions as a form, tool, and ideology of cross-issue oppression, bullying, exclusion, and self-harm;
To bring together groups and individuals who want to collaboratively work to replace uglification with institutional and cultural practices of love, inclusivity, healing, and transformative imagination.
We believe that more people, including you, deserve to live joyful lives and we want to get rid of the oppressive beliefs and attitudes that interfere with our access to peace.
We host annual, themed conferences, retreats, workshops, sermons, panels, and other events that bring people together to dig deeper into the histories, contemporary systemic practices, socio-cultural behaviors, and internalized impacts of uglification. Through these events, we hope to:
- Heal ourselves and each other from what oppression and violence has done
- Build Beloved Communities that are led by those of us who have experienced the most intersectional forms of marginalization and have done the most intentional work around healing and re-imagining
- Generate increased hope and enthusiasm about a world free from patriarchy, white supremacy, coercive capitalism and classism, fatphobia, ableism, trans- and queerphobia, xenophobia, lookism, and more
- Inspire compassionate self-reflection, forgiveness, community care, and imagination through performance and storytelling, uplifting literature, liberation rituals, and vulnerable+playful connection
- Initiate supportive spaces for groups to collaborate across issues and identity to promote practices and attitudes that eradicate uglification within the community, political, familial, academic, creative and professional affiliations, as well as on a local and global level
- Invite people to creatively re-imagine a more inclusive, compassionate world where all human bodies and lives (including their own) are recognized as inherently valuable and worthy of existence, welcome, love, rest, pleasure, safety and protection.
Between conferences and events, Reclaim UGLY publishes multimedia narratives (articles, books, and short video clips) that center LGBTQ+, BIMPOC, Fat, Disabled, Poor, Activists, and other people who have embraced, reclaimed, and fallen passionately in love with the parts of themselves that have been systemically and intersectionally uglified. We amplify voices that preach and practice cross-identity and embodied liberation, love, and inclusivity. And we create curriculum and other educational and inspirational resources for people who wish to learn more about what it means to implement UGLY and interrupt uglification in their lives, communities, families, professions and organizations.
Reclaiming UGLY is…
…Fat Liberation & Body Positivity
…Migrant Justice is Human Love
…Black & Indigenous Liberation
…Housing for All
…Free Health Care for All People, All Bodies
…Ending the Prison Industrial Complex As We Know It
… Abundant Support for Our Elders, Youth, & Families
…A World Where All Beauty Is Recognized & Embraced
…Transformative Imagination & Radical Inclusivity
…Rematriation & Reparations
…Trans & Queer Liberation
…You Living Your Very Best Life
What is Uglification?
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 xenophobia. Unchecked, it facilitates, normalizes, and validates hatred, childhood bullying, workplace exclusion, criminalization, medical neglect, violence, exploitation, and more.
Ugliness is not real (until we make it real with our actions, thoughts, and behaviors). It is a part of our most traumatized and terrified imagination.
If you are currently suffering from uglification – whether it be in the classroom, the boardroom, your family, out in the world, or every time you turn on the television or social media, please remember: You are not ugly. Ugly is a thing that is done to you. Uglification is a behavioral practice that we were socialized and coerced into. Uglification is a cultural and systemic pastime that was created to justify exclusion, oppression, colonization, slavery, incarceration, and so many other forms of violence.
Reclaim UGLY invites you to Rewrite & Decolonize your understanding of beauty from white supremacy, the patriarchy, and other social hierarchies. Beauty, Attractiveness, Desirability, Thinness, Hetero-Cisnormativity, Able-Bodiedness, Whiteness, and Wealth are not objective and they don’t NEED to be your objective. You get to be free. You get to enjoy and appreciate yourself for everything you are and all the things you’re becoming. Your desires are your own and should be as wide as your imagination is strong.
Reclaim UGLY’s Vision
Reclaim UGLY’s ultimate goal is to collaborate with as many people as possible to summon an era and generation that whole-heartedly embraces transformative inclusivity and loving liberation for all.
WE WANT A WORLD WHERE EVERYONE IS ENCOURAGED, SUPPORTED, AND PROTECTED TO UPLIFT, GLORIFY & LOVE THEMSELVES!!!
Most cultures, societies, and organizations were founded on systems (like capitalism, imperialism, slavery) and principles (like meritocracy) that prioritize the wealth, safety, power, and inclusion of some people without consideration for, and at the expense of, so many other people. It’s why some people and groups are invisibilized and/or universally labeled as monstrous, criminal, disgusting, unacceptable, dangerous, and ugly – so that preferred individuals and groups can easily be recognized, centered, and celebrated.
Reclaim UGLY, however, believes that most people aspire towards goodness and love, and consequently don’t actually consent to these harmful value systems and practices. But power systems like government, religion, and capitalism work hard to suppress and prevent more inclusive and kind alternatives of co-existing WHILE coercively ideologizing their oppressive behavioral constructs as normal and moral. They punish people for behaving outside of these constructs, celebrate those who acquiesce and submit to them, and reward those who enforce and protect them.
As a result, these oppressive and hierarchical behaviors have been replicated and modeled in almost every social, intimate, and esoteric realm of our collective consciousness, including schools (why there are bullies and clique-orders), family (why there is domestic abuse and parental dominance), desirability (why there is intimate partner violence, rape culture and body repression), friendship (why there is peer pressure, loneliness and coercion), and even many liberation movements (why there is ableism, racism, classism, transphobia, and lookism on the picket lines and townhalls). This is how systems use uglification to grow, prosper, and sustain themselves; how uglification translates into overt oppression; and why liberation often feels so inclusive. Hence, Reclaim UGLY’s vision for liberation is one of transformative inclusion.
We incorporate the word “transformative” because we realize that inclusion is not simple. Welcoming and even embracing diversity is unfortunately not sufficient – that’s asking people who have experienced lifetimes and ancestries of exclusion, prejudice, and oppression to walk into an arena that was built on the back of their suffering and adjust. That welcome, while perhaps good-hearted, is actually complicit with the systems of oppression we’re attempting to address. True inclusivity means drastically, lovingly, and beautifully replacing entire structures and systems with praxis rooted in collective liberation and transformative inclusivity. This means examining how our prejudice informs what’s “right,” “good,” “beautiful,” “professional,” “moral,” “valuable,” “normal,” “ethical,” “legal,” “appropriate,” “healthy,” “lovable,” “fair,” and “acceptable.”
While daunting, this opportunity can be a precious gift for everyone involved. If a system is built on exclusion (or even a lack of intentional inclusion), it is most likely not truly accessible for anyone. Be it a society, organization, family, or relationship, centering the success, leadership, and bodies of your most marginalized members means that EVERY BODY is centered, protected, and cared for.
Through our events, programs, and media, we bring together diverse people, helmed by the leadership of those most systemically and intersectionally uglified, to create a world where all people – regardless of gender, race, age, body, health, disability, gender expression, sexual orientation, age and class – are legislatively, systemically, and interpersonally protected by other people (especially those who live in their communities and homes, attend their schools/jobs, and/or are positions of power, leadership, and influence).
Reclaim UGLY envisions a world where everybody’s body is centered, protected, and cared for, and everybody’s personhood is supported to grow, heal, rest, love, imagine, and actualize their dreams.
Reclaim UGLY’s Proposition
We are taught, from the day we are born, to fear being seen as ugly, undesirable, or even different by others. We are also taught which qualities, characteristics, and features are categorized as ugly, undesirable, and irredeemably different – and which are valued, celebrated, wanted, privileged and preferential.
We witness individuals who fall into society’s ugly categories get repeatedly harassed or bullied as children and adults; get depicted as stereotypes or jokes in the media; receive significantly less opportunities to succeed, shine, or be included within their creative or professional field; and experience more street, domestic, and systemic violence than others. In fact, the people who are labeled as ugly the most also tend to experience many other forms of injustices such as: racism, ableism, fatphobia, lack of economic resource, misogyny, healthism, cissexism, xenophobia, ageism, anti-semitism, islamophobia, homophobia and more.
As a result, we are conditioned, coerced and sometimes forced to perform, aspire towards, and do anything necessary to fit into society’s standards of beauty, acceptability, and normality – often at the expense of our own freedom, joy, desires, and sometimes lives. If we cannot or do not succeed at assimilating into and maintaining external standards of beauty or respectability, we are turned into a spectacle, punished with exclusion, violence, cruelty, and told that it’s our fault for not fitting into society’s standard of beauty or normality.
Reclaim UGLY is calling for an end to this cycle – in our lives, our families, our schools, our communities, our arts and entertainment, our workplaces, and even in the way we design and implement our municipal and legislative policies.
But rather than fighting the negativity of the word ugly or what it means to be perceived as ugly, we invite people to RECLAIM UGLY – Uplift, Glorify & Love Yourself And Create A World Where Others Can As Well as lifestyle and movement. We invite people to embrace the potency, freedom, and magic of reclaiming one’s body, body parts, body functions, desires, heritage, health, disability, and struggles from the fear and tarnish of uglification.
Reclaim UGLY is a call to action to examine our own gaze and hold ourselves accountable to stop uglifying ourselves, other people, and other people’s experiences. We recognize that while the government and the media has so much power over influence, WE THE PEOPLE have power over our own brains, our choices, how we treat people, how we love people, who and what we fight for and subscribe to, who we hire and live with, how we raise our children, how we perceive strangers and difference, and how we understand ourselves.
Reclaim UGLY is for everyone who wants to live in a more joyful, loving, and inclusive society. BUT, while Reclaim UGLY is not an exclusive movement, it is critical to understand that it was created by a queer, fat, dark-skinned, Sick and Disabled, Working Class Black woman for herself, her diverse and frequently uglified loved ones, and everyone else who’s bodies, memories, societal access, and ancestry was impacted by the systematization of anti-ugliness.
Reclaim UGLY is an intimate, passionate, precious courtship between the liberation movements that have existed, the mindfulness of current activism spaces, the richness of creativity and the arts, and the radical self-love one MUST practice daily to thrive and share love in the face of uglification.
The Most Important Thing To Know:
Joy Is Our Birthright
One of our strongest forms of resistance is to take back what centuries of intentional oppression has tried to steal from us – our social and emotional health, our embodied well-being, our ability to truly see each other’s beauty with love and compassion, our feelings of physical safety and security, our economic prosperity and sovereignty, our collective unity and governance, our whole-bodied & holistic access to open-hearted liberation. This is why Reclaiming UGLY is Revolution in the most powerful and potent ways. UGLY – Uplift Glorify Love Yourself & Create A World Where Others Can As Well – is the reclamation of all that we are, of empathy for ourselves and others, of the potential of a life without fear and exhausting competition. It is the undressing of white kyriarchal oppression and its perilous institutions. It’s love. It’s family. It’s the tools and support to forgive each other. It’s the impetus to heal collectively and within our unique subgroups. It’s transcendence.
Transformative Imagination & Radical Inclusivity
We aspire for a world…
- Where people can go to school or work without fear of being bullied, harassed, or excluded.
- Where people, all people, are encouraged to Uplift Glorify & Love every bit of themselves AND EACH OTHER by media, legislation, entertainment.
- Where LGBTQ+ People, Fat People, Black and Indigenous People of Color, Disabled/Sick People, Poor people, and others impacted by systemic injustice KNOW what it means to experience safety, welcome, love, joy, rest, care, and pleasure on a daily basis.
- Where all people experience a life free from state-, medical-, police-, intimate-, sexual-, domestic-, peer-, and self-violence.
- Where we celebrate body autonomy, curiosity, creativity, love, and gender & racial diversity!
- Where Black youth grow up to be happy, confident adults.
- Where Trans, Queer, Non-Binary youth grow up to be celebrated, affirmed adults.
- Where all families are protected and provided the resources to stay together and heal together.
- Where communities are provided the tools, skills, and resources to take care of each other WITHOUT police violence + incarceration culture.
- Where rape, intimate partner violence, fatphobia, racism, gender-based violence, and homelessness are a taboo, scandalous, and very distant memory and everyone is happy about it.
We aspire for workplaces, classrooms, social & entertainment centers, and political realms…
- Where all people can thrive, contribute, learn, and build collaboratively, despite differences, and across identities.
- Where privileged people care so much about other people’s wellbeing they relentlessly, joyfully advocate for transformative inclusivity and reject systems and opportunities that center them at the expense of others.
- That do not weaponize our bodies, disabilities, neurodiversities, and ancestral trauma against us.
- That foster curiosity rather than critique, imagination instead of judgement, and collaboration over competition.
- Where Disability Justice, Racial Justice, Gender Justice, and Radical Inclusivity lay the foundation for all structural and systemic development and revamping.
- Where fat, queer, trans, and disabled youth (and adults) witness diverse, joyful, nuanced depictions of themselves and KNOW that they unconditionally belong.
- Where people, despite economic and educational backgrounds, know that they can pursue work that brings them pleasure, grow in their skills, feel valued by their employers and colleagues, and earn enough money to have a happy and joyful life.
- That prioritize humans over capitalism, connection over production, and don’t depend on otherization in order to establish culture or momentum.
We aspire for visionaries, artists, healers, politicians, parents, administrators, managers, teachers and other leaders…
- Who can imagine and articulate beauty, brilliance, culture, productivity, safety, and inclusion without uglifying anyone in the process.
- Who strive to liberate their gaze from white supremacist, ableist, patriarchal, cis-heteronormative, and dominant religious concepts of beauty, acceptability, and morality.
- Who aspire for a global existence where everyone shows love, experiences love, and centers love when making all crucial political, systemic, cultural, artistic, romantic, or professional decisions.
- Who choose the protection and nurturance of human and earth life over money, short-cuts, land-acquisition, deadlines, political squabbles, false legalities, and traditions.
- Who see humans and human potential and not their stereotype or bias about disease, fat, disability, crime, trauma, threat, or struggle.
- Who practice and center love regardless of the cost. Who center their own healing and wellness so they can truly show up for the people they serve.
Do You Believe That Some People Actually Are UGLY?
Ugly is not a quality that someone can possess or perform, rather it is a vicious and mythological label that is placed upon certain people, bodies, behaviors, desires, and spaces for a political or social purpose – usually to control, dominate, and indoctrinate people into submitting to capitalistic, imperialistic, patriarchal, white supremacist, and religiously dogmatic standards and expectations. The concept of ugliness is more related to coercion and abuse than how someone looks.
However, there are SOME body types, features, shapes, sizes, complexions, processes and experiences that have been so uglified for political/economic purposes and by the media, laws, religions, and legacies of oppression that different societies have come to establish “objective” and “universalized” agreements of what is ugly. Similarly, some bodies and experiences have been so privileged, protected, celebrated, artistically-depicted, and glorified that we have fabricated mythological concepts of beauty. Beauty and Ugliness are oppressive binaries that cannot and do not exist without each other; they are both figments of our collective and individual imaginations that are used to short-hand classify, objectify, and oppress people.
What Exactly Are You Requesting When You Ask People To RECLAIM UGLY?
While no one is ugly, many people have bodies, traits, behaviors, desires and features that have been systemically, historically, medically, politically, and culturally uglified. The media, other people in their communities, their families, potential lovers, and sometimes they, themselves, read and perceive parts of their body as ugly. Denying this fact is denying the oppression, violence, pain, trauma, and harm so many of us have experienced. It stands in the way of healing, of fighting back, and of having autonomous and loving relationships with each other, ourselves, and our bodies. It coerces people out of their dreams, out of liberation, and out of an empowered and embodied understanding of their desires, boundaries, and life-possibilities.
Reclaiming UGLY means to reclaim our agency, our bodies, our relationships, and our lives from the impact, potency, and fear of being labeled as ugly; from the violence, trauma, and viciousness of being treated as ugly; and from the depression, sabotage, and despair of perceiving one’s self as ugly or shameful.
Reclaim UGLY asks people to understand what uglification is; to confront their biases around which bodies are worthy of love, safety, and inclusion; to heal their fear of being perceived as ugly and recognize how that fear is connected to the dehumanization of someone else; and to divest from uglifying themselves, their loved ones, people in their community, and other people and ideas they don’t understand or agree with.
Reclaim UGLY is an acronym that asks everyone to Reclaim, Uplift, Glorify and Love Yourself – and create a world where others can as well. It is a merger of liberation and inclusivity, individual and collective healing, resistance and imagination, creativity and the pragmatism of freedom.
Reclaim UGLY is a movement, a demand for the praxis of Beloved Community, a request for systemic and interpersonal change, and an example of what that change can look like.
Reclaim UGLY is an invitation for you to live your best life, to free your mind and behaviors from the dominion of oppression, to lean into the beauty of your imagination and self-compassion, and to love other people so much that you wouldn’t dare participate in someone else’s oppression, violence, exclusion and harm. Reclaim UGLY is uncorroded human empathy. It is compassion and love. It is interdependence and mutual aid. It is human connection. It is the breadth of a world where we can all exist, joyfully, happily, and full of everything we need. It is love.
It Sounds Like You Are Asking People to Claim Being UGLY or Practice UGLY Pride
There are many people who do take pride in being ugly. But that pride is not rooted in the definition of ugly as we know it. It’s a pride born from learning, and sometimes fighting, to love a body, face, illness, gender or gender expression, sexual orientation, ethnicity, skin color, heritage, lifestyle, and aging process so much that you choose to embrace YOU AS YOU ARE over assimilating to someone else’s standards of norm. It’s a pride rooted in refusing to acquiesce to the patriarchy, to racism, to fatphobia, to homophobia, to transphobia, to xenophobia, to classism, and to someone else’s critical expectations about how you should live your life and exist in your body. It is the living, breathing, moving process of choosing physical and psychological liberation over the mind-numbing prowess of uglification.
For Reclaim UGLY founder, Vanessa Rochelle Lewis, it means courageously and willfully indulging in the pleasure of being absolutely enamored with all of the parts of her body, personality, and desires that society and oppression told her was wrong. It’s about the power and resilience of a love that transcends any insult, accusation, or beguilement that the white supremacist, cishetero patriarchy AND that Black or Fat respectability has to offer. It’s the utter joy of knowing that she can build connection with anyone, regardless of how similar or different they are, and see their beauty, their magic, their brilliance, their hearts without the blinders of judgement and assessment.
It is about being able to love herself and the rest of humanity wholly, fully, and happily. It’s a lifestyle that prioritizes collective joy, mutual aid, interdependence, and inclusivity over competition. It’s a commitment to be good to yourself and others.
UGLY Is SUCH A Painful And Triggering Word, A Word That’s Been Used To Hurt So Many People. What If I Don’t Want To Claim That Word.
This is not a request to claim or even reclaim the specific word ugly. This is a call to action; a call to acknowledge the power, impact, and violence that has been ascribed to the word ugly and reclaim our power from its impact and dominion. We recognize that reclaiming power from a word that has been wielded so scrupulously for so long is a tall order. This is why we have created the acronym:
U – Uplift: Affirm that you are worthy of being invested in and advocated for. Your needs, dreams, comfort, value, joy, desires, growth and humanity deserve to be honored. Cushion every thought you have about yourself with compassion, generosity, and care. Celebrate your uniqueness. Honor as majestic the parts of you that someone else may uglify. Be so relentless about uplifting yourself that your joy, pleasure, ease, dreams, and access become your creed, your religion, your daily practice. You get to be your own standard of greatness and preciousness.
G – Glorify: Sing praise and hymns to your beauty, body, brilliance, and passions exactly as they are. Create an energetic or physical altar to the magnificence of who you are in the moment and the glory of all that you can become. Exalt every bit of you – especially the parts of you that have been criminalized, monstracized, uglified, ridiculed, and targeted by other people – piece by piece, pound by pound, inch by inch, as frequently as possible, with adoration and reverence. Recognize that you are splendid and treat yourself as such. Protect the magical divinity of your humanity.
L – Love: Take time to tend to the small, hurt, tender parts of you. Wash them gently. Hold yourself close. Pray sweet soothing words to them, for them. Imagine them happy, whole, protected, and fully actualized. Protect your image of yourself with actions and choices. Protect your sweet soft parts from any force that wishes to disturb, hurt, or interfere with their care and safety. Have empathy for yourself and your process. Get to know you, your true desires, your true feelings, your true pleasure – divorced from capitalism, oppression, and other controlling forces of hierarchy and hegemony. Choose you and direct all your loving energy towards yourself until you are full enough to spill over and love others with the same care and integrity.
Y- Yourself: Choose you, your joy, your pleasure, and your liberation every opportunity you get. There is no shame in choosing yourself. We don’t need you to be a martyr for anything; we need you to live a happy and fulfilling life of your choosing. Your joy heals far more people than your exhaustion, resentment, pain, and frustration. You living in the thick, juicy, fullness of your body keeps other people’s bodies alive in the face of shame and judgement. You are absolutely worthy of your dreams. You can absolutely be the star of your life. While we encourage growth and healing, you do not need to change your brain or body in order to be worthy of love, acceptance, safety, inclusion, or hope. Don’t let anyone convince you that you are not enough. You ARE enough.
And Create A World Where Others Can Do The Same: Your liberation cannot come at the expense of someone else’s liberation. You are brilliant. You are capapble of creating a freedom for yourself that does not depend on someone else’s slavery, servitude, repression, or injustice. You can laugh without laughing at other people, especially people in the midst of pain, turmoil, and hardship. Can you imagine a joy, life, work, dream that uplifts other people alongside yourself? Can you resonate with a glory that holds space for all of us who are trying? Can you love people for who they are, even if they are different than you, even if they don’t make sense to you?
This loving practice of UGLY means collective and collaborative liberation. It means we figure out HOW to work together. It means we slow down enough to honor each other and our diversity. It means we create workspaces, classroom spaces, social spaces, and homes where all bodies fit. It means that you are invested in the freedom of EVERYONE, and especially those of us who are excluded and targeted the most. It means re-imagining what normal is, what beautiful is, what intelligent is, what time is, what power is, what family is, what community is, and what love is. It means we are honest enough to recognize we are existing in a systemic and social structure that doesn’t serve ANY of us except for a small few, and on many levels it’s a disservice to them as well. It means we HAVE to figure out how to create changes that support us to be kind, to create systems of inclusivity, to honor love far more than we can ever love money. It means radical transformation and change.
Reclaim UGLY believes that these shifts can happen, will happen, and are destined to happen. But more so, we believe in you – fellow humans – and your power to make these changes happen locally: in your homes, your relationships, your workplaces and classrooms, and where you commune.
We believe that the world can change – one commitment to the actions of radical inclusion and loving liberation at a time.
Reclaiming UGLY Is Freedom To…
Fall In Love With Yourself Passionately & Unconditionally!
Enjoy Your Body Without Apology!
Embrace & Love Other People Regardless of Their Appearance or Identity!
Say HELL NO to any person, belief, or practice that interferes with your ability to peacefully love who you are!
Imagine a world where ALL HUMAN BEINGS can access the love, safety, and resource they need to thrive and enjoy their life!