Thursday, May 05, 2005

Beautiful Fugly

"He's so ugly, he hurt my feelings" - Moms Mabley

The other day someone waxed rhapsodic on how ugly someone was (a guitarist in a band, to be specific), and it brought to mind my past ruminations on those who are aesthetically challenged. (For the record, I consider myself dead average in appearance, though at my age I have to be up in the morning about an hour before I get back to average anymore.)

Science has tried to examine and measure exactly what constitutes or is the basis for our judgments of beautiful and ugly, and the short version is most people judge a symmetrical face as pretty and one not as ugly. Since I read that a long time ago, I've kinda done an informal survey, and have seen plenty of people I think are pretty who would not fit that criteria and ugly folks whose faces seem pretty symmetrical - which is sad in a way because both sides are equally ugly, removing all chance for a possible "get my good side" photographic reprieve.

Now bear with me here, this is not a bash the fuglies of the world post at all. In fact, it's the opposite.

I've come to the conclusion that many ugly people are just as interesting looking as pretty people are.

But, in coming to that conclusion, I noticed there are many different kinds of ugly, and sadly, there's a kind of ugly that only rewards close examination with seemingly infinitely recessing levels of ugly, sorta reminiscent of that cosmological view that asserts: "It's turtles all the way down."

Here's what I mean: Some people are ugly because of a single, but significant flaw. Some because individual features are nice, but they don't fit together well (I knew a girl in high school like this - gorgeous brown eyes, aquiline nose, cupid lips, but together they made her look like Alice the Goon from Popeye cartoons). Some because a feature or two is bad, but still doesn't gel with the good ones, and so on. Most of those people, however, typically fit into the category I'm suggesting here of people who are so interestingly ugly that they're almost pretty again.

So, there are a few poor souls out there that are hyper-dimensionally ugly - that is, ugly any way you look at it. For instance, I once saw this guy whose eyes were so deep set that it always felt like he was looking at you from under a rock. Worse yet, he had perpetual dark circles around them - sorta like a Terry Gilliam/Monty Python cartoon character - exacerbating the deeply recessed eyes appearance. But to top it all off, when he smiled, they shockingly pulled deeper into his head! The orbits of his eyes had this bizarre dimpled area just off the temple, and those dimples pinched and his eyes literally went deeper into his head - which I verified when I got a side view as he smiled. Then, he had a nose that - well I can't really describe what was wrong with it because I spent enough time on the weird eye thing and didn't want to give the impression I was staring, so let's just throw out the descriptive "porcine" call it good. He had one of those lipless mouths that just reduces to a slit when closed. All of these swam in a roundish, jowly face, that was alternately ruddy and then yellowish in complexion. He made me think of the Moms Mabley quote at the top of this post.

But, enough about those at the far end of that particular bell curve. Let's just leave them alone and hope that their denial skills are top-notch and take comfort that everyone can find someone who loves them, if they so choose.

The foremost interesting ugly person I can think of is this girl I had a pretty bad crush on in college. When I first spotted her, whatever it was that was wrong with her was visible from a distance. She looked as though at some point in her life, she'd been left out in the sun too long, and like a wax figurine, had just melted and flowed a bit slightly everywhere, but was rescued before collapsing into a puddle, and rehardened in this melted state. She carried herself oddly, too, giving the impression she was a marionette on strings; it was graceful, but disconcerting just the same. To the point: She looked like a melted Catherine Hepburn, and had a force to her personality that furthered the comparison. Close up, the illusion of having melted was even stronger. She didn't have burn scars, but every single plane of her face was somehow off. Every one. I don't recall why I had the opportunity to study her long enough to complete such a survey without her becoming uncomfortable, but I did somehow, and recall that after reaching that conclusion, I double-checked a couple more times later to be sure. Her eyes were green with asymmetrical brown flecks in them, so no feature was without the inclusion of some slight flaw. She's the only person I've met whose appearance came so close to repulsive without actually crossing that thin scar of a border. I never got the courage to ask her out, partially because, like a lot of guys, I was a wienie in the sense that I preferred loneliness to potential rejection, but also because there was a hint in her personality that what was underneath the hard candy shell of her public personality was something that would take some managing. Like the song says, it appeared whoever did crack that shell would discover that "to love me you have to climb some fences." At that point in my life, I'd had enough fence climbing (see other posts on my dating experiences). It would be interesting to see how she aged, though. Maybe she melted back into place over the years.

A buddy of mine from college was another one of these beautiful ugly people. I remember slight shock first time I encountered him because of his smashed face, but the second he said anything his overwhelming charisma wiped out any impression triggered by his physical appearance. He had reportedly endured nearly daily beatings as a kid walking to and from school, which left his nose almost completely flattened and odd cysts on his lips caused from being punctured by his own teeth. However, even though he's striking upon first view, he's one of those whose features actually gel into something almost handsome, in a latter day Hemingway sort of fashion. This guy has always had girls literally throw themselves at him, which is a testament to his charisma and the odd way his looks work(ed) for him (though he's happily married now, not that the female self-flinging has ceased).

To give you a clearer idea of the kind of strangely attractive fugly people I'm talking about, let me chuck some celebrity examples atcha:
- John Malkovich - This guy can pull off attractive enough to be cast as Michelle Feifer's love interest, but a close look really gives one pause - and maybe a fantod or two. This guy is the classic example of someone whose features on their own are all kinda nasty, but they work together to make something greater than the sum of the parts. ...with soft focus in dim lighting, and after a couple strong drinks, after returning from half a year marooned at the South Pole...
- John Turturro - What a mess. But he's one of those who can clean up well, or be made to look so bad you expect someone to show up with a retarded guy playing a banjo announcing ya'll've got a purty mouth.
- Barbra Streisand - OK, some would say she's obviously pretty - like buttah, even. I would agree, but take a close look. We won't go within sniffing distance of the obvious, so let's look at that mouth. It can do this weird thing where it can be sensuous, but then fall apart into a Frankenstein mouth that might be constructed from the lips of deceased collagen injection victims. (Please, no hate mail from the Babs-lovers of the world; I am one of you.)
- Cynthia Nixon - From Sex in the City. At times, I wondered if they'd put her on the series just to do the terrible old coyote ugly and/or double-bag (one over her face and one over yours in case hers came off) ugly jokes. But, ain't she striking somehow?
- Sandra Bernhard - The perfect example of what I'm talking about. She's just got this thing where a casual glance lights up the ugly column on your mental list, but take a while longer to look, and somehow her looks just work for her. Were I single and she decided she dug guys - me in particular - I'd board her yacht, baby.
- Steve Buscemi - Here we have the poster child for this post. Dear lord, what a strange looking man. But, I've read that he has quite the devoted female following who think he's just the dreamiest thing since Ben and Jerry's Cookie Dough ice cream (perhaps since they're both very pale with incongruous doughy chunks throughout).
- Whoopi Goldberg - I have had a thing for Whoopi since I saw her original one-woman Broadway show (on tape). I almost didn't put her here because I think she's just cool looking, but her face fits my premise: Odd enough to be strikingly interesting. She's another one were she and I available and she gave me the nod, I'd fall.
- Lyle Lovett - The alternate poster child for this post. Clearly Julia Roberts sees some things the way I do (or at least did). I think God made Lyle like this because if he looked like Mel Gibson with his talent, he'd have been clusterfucked to death by female fans by now. It was just a safety measure, I'm sure.

But see? These are all people that more or less are kinda sorta ugly, but they're all fascinating looking at the same time, right?

Hence, I launch the meme (with apologies to the Poor Man) "Beautiful Fugly."


Yahmdallah said...

For the record, I consider this a failed posting. The fun of a blog, to me anyway, is the ability to do little experiments and see if you can pull it off. I don't think I achieved my intended result here. (What appears ugly on a surface pass can turn out to be an odd sort of beauty, if you look for it.) Most humble apologies to anyone who finished this post scratching their head, or heaven forbid, slightly miffed.

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