The other day I overhead someone in the office proclaim “ugly” as an ineffective insult. It struck me as immediately true, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on why beyond the obvious. Had I always felt that way? An anecdote sprung to mind from last summer, when someone called Harling, our Social Media Editor, ugly, and I’d seen her react in such an interesting way. Because of that and because I love her and her sharp-as-a-tack brain, I asked for her thoughts. At first it seemed like we agreed too vehemently to unearth any wisdom, but after a while we stumbled upon something kind of great:
Haley Nahman: Early on, before we fell in deep and intimate love, I just liked you a normal heaping amount. I remember one day you were recording video for Facebook Live and some piece-of-shit hater vermin commented that you were ugly. You read the comment aloud to me and then laughed. I was shocked (and also confused, because wut) and annoyed. But you didn’t seem to give a fuck. You moved right on. Or appeared to. Do you remember that? I was so impressed.
Harling Ross: I do!! One of my very first Facebook Lives. And my very first troll.
Haley: How did you feel?
Harling: Mostly curious about what would make a random person on the internet say that (it was a woman by the way — I clicked on her profile picture and she looked to be around my age). It didn’t really offend me because it seemed like such a lazy insult.
Haley: You would have been more offended if she was like, “This wasn’t funny or interesting”?
Harling: Yes, or like “You really seem unprepared for this interview” or even calling out a specific feature that I’m sensitive about! The word ugly is meaningless. It’s very pre-school. Especially so coming from someone on the internet. It stings way less than it would coming from someone like…your mom. Or a significant other.
Haley: I talk about this a lot re: comments under my stories. When they’re straight-up mean or misinformed, they roll off my back. But when they’re more thoughtful and pointed and critical and they really get at something that I think is fair, they’re much more likely to get me thinking and feeling something. Have schoolyard insults always been ineffective? Or are we just smart enough to shake them off now?
Harling: It probably depends on how you actually feel about yourself. I don’t think I’m ugly. I’m not saying I’m Gisele Bündchen, but I don’t think I’m UGLY.
Haley: Lol, you do not even need to hedge here!!!! You’re beautiful Harls, but yes continue.
Harling: Thank you. I came here for constant praise of my looks. That ugly comment probably would have stung more at other points in my life. It was surprising that it was from a woman though. Because — although Man Repeller is really lucky to have such a nice community of readers and commenters overall, which feels rare and special — when we do get occasional nastiness, it’s usually from men. Saying things like, “You truly are man repellers,” which is just…so silly. It’s almost funny.
Haley: That’s my faaaave comment.
Harling: Especially because we don’t even use the term “man repeller” literally anymore and also: Do you speak for all men, sir?
Haley: I completely agree. Also, on a lot of of our fashion posts on Instagram, someone will be like “Um..no…sorry…” I’ve never once been bothered when those were about me.
Harling: I love those.
Haley: Same. The time I remember being most bothered by Instagram comments was when, under your post about my No Effort Diet, loads of people were like, “Congratulations……” They were accusing me, I think, of missing the mark with the whole story. Even then, I remember thinking, “Ok, ok, ok, I can take that criticism.” Again, the difference there is that the “insult” was attacking my creativity, my idea, rather than my appearance. Those just hit harder.
I still have plenty of insecurities when it comes to how I look (you remember my self esteem story?). But these days I draw more of my worth from my own perceived level of intellect and emotional intelligence, my ability to think and empathize. That is where I am more sensitive to insults.
Harling: Yes — agreed. As we get older and start to shift which stores we pull our worth from, it’s easier to shrug off appearance-based insults from other people. Or even from your own head. This quote from Leandra’s Why I Don’t Wear Makeup is relevant to this discussion:
“More important than that though, I am comfortable with how I look. I don’t hate what I see when I look in the mirror. Even if legions of others don’t agree. I have accepted the reflection that reliably bounces back at me for its perks and its flaws. I understand that there are thick, dark circles under my eyes. I have grown to appreciate them. I have noticed that my nose grows a little hookier on a near-monthly basis. That’s fine. I know there are wrinkles ready to stake their claim as full time residents on my forehead any moment now. My dad has those, too, and I find that endearing. My eyes will never be blue, my bone structure will never allow for you to mistake me for a Scandinavian model. I am who I am and even if that infers ‘ugly as fuck,’ I think it’s, I don’t know, beautiful.”
Haley: I wonder if ugly is only particularly ineffective in the orbit of Man Repeller. Because our entire business was created as a subversive space. So when someone says that it’s like…that’s the point!! That’s why I’m so tickled by the comments on our IG that say we are “truly man repellers.” It’s like….THANKS!
Harling: So true.
Haley: It’s strikes me as very tone deaf and misguided to attack us in that way. But maybe “ugly” lands differently in a different environments. Maybe it bears more weight in a place where traditional beauty is a more valued currency.
Harling: Man Repeller is not trying to meet the beauty standard. It’s trying to smash it up and remake it in a radically inclusive way that will make you feel better than you did before you got here.
Haley: Exactly. Maybe part of MR’s mission, in a way, is to make ugly more ineffective everywhere. Because it still has power in a lot of spaces. But we’ve reclaimed it in our very name.