In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal and #Metoo campaign, stories about sexual assault and harassment have been dominating both the media and social media feeds. Generally speaking, there has been a consensus condemning the men behaving badly and in support of the women who’ve been compelled to take a stand. And then there was Mayim Bialik’s Op-Ed piece in the New York Times.
In her article, Bialik talked about her experiences in Hollywood as ‘a prominent-nosed, awkward Jewish 11-year old’ and how not matching up to the industry standards of beauty teamed with her ‘conservative decisions’ afforded her certain advantages. To cut to the chase of why the article caused so much drama here is a quote : ‘And yet I have also experienced the upside of not being a “perfect ten.” As a proud feminist with little desire to diet, get plastic surgery or hire a personal trainer, I have almost no personal experience with men asking me to meetings in their hotel rooms. Those of us in Hollywood who don’t represent an impossible standard of beauty have the “luxury” of being overlooked and, in many cases, ignored by men in power unless we can make them money.’
It’s easy to understand why people were enraged by what they saw as victim blaming and she was pretty much forced to apologise for her opinion. And as much as what she said wasn’t all that clever considering the current sentiment around the issues when I first read the article I did resonate with parts of what she said. I certainly don’t think being ‘ugly’ or ‘awkward-looking’ is any sort of protection from being raped, assaulted or cat-called in the streets. Perverts don’t necessarily adhere to Hollywood beauty standards when it comes to finding victims.
On the flipside though, I think if you read between the lines there is perhaps some value in what she is saying. So let’s just move away from the heavy topic of sexual assault for a moment and towards something more light and fluffy…the perks of being the ‘ugly friend’. For most girls, somewhere along the line when you’re growing you develop this idea that you need to look a certain way to get the boys to like you or show you even just a little bit of attention. Being ‘ugly’, having wild curly hair, looking horsey and generally being one of those socially-awkward kids is never much fun and at the time your only wish in the whole entire world is to look ‘normal’ like one of the popular girls. Yes, everything is a lot more dramatic when you’re a teenager but looking back now maybe being chubby, brace-faced loser with a crooked nose and a lazy eye wasn’t all that bad and here is why:
1. You get to fall under the radar
So what if you are not part of the cool popular crowd? Well, nobody really cares what you get up to. If you are lucky enough to date someone and things come to an abrupt end it goes unnoticed. You are not worth gossiping about. And when you are the kind of person that rather hide that brace face behind a book than deal with people, maybe living your ‘ugly years’ away from the limelight wasn’t such a bad thing after all?
2. You are forced to develop other aspects of your personality
The world is a superficial place and as much as you may not agree with the system you can’t live in isolation forever. At some point you need to make friends. This is arguably easier if you look and dress a certain way (did you notice how groups of friends back in high school were almost carbon copies of another) but if you can’t attract people with sparkling good looks you’ve got to find alternatives. Perhaps by being super nice to people or by embracing your quirks and being the funny girl. Either way you had to work on it.
3. You learn to laugh things off more easily (and develop a thick skin)
Maybe self-deprecating humour is just a Brit thing? But when you are not a popular kid then being able to laugh at yourself every time you do something idiotic like walk into a glass door is key to social survival. I mean if you can’t laugh at this kind of thing, then you’ll end up crying (and that’s not good). Sometimes being awkward, ugly, fat, etc leaves you open to mean remarks but overtime you develop a thick skin and learn to bounce back. This type of resilience serves you well later in life.
4.You become friends with the weird and wonderful (and that exposes you to lots of new perspectives)
They say beggars can’t be choosers. When you aren’t ‘pretty’ and popular you have to be nice to the people that are nice to you. This makes you open to forming friendships with an eclectic bunch of people. Some of the best friendships I have today aren’t conventional (and sometimes I even struggle to understand why they exist) but at least they keep life interesting.
5. By default you are a late bloomer (and being a kid for a little longer isn’t the worst thing in the world)
It’s hard when you are 15 and it seems like everyone and their one-eyed dog has a boyfriend. But seriously, relationships are tough – so why the rush to get coupled up? Of course, there are some people who marry their high-school sweetheart but not having a high-school sweetheart/crush/fuck-buddy is OK as well. Being a late bloomer gives you some figure out what makes you tick – read lots of books, travel the world, etc. I’m not saying people should never bloom (you know my views on 30-something virgins) but eventually you do catch up and realise you weren’t really missing all that much.
So, let’s end by going back to the beginning. Sure, Mayim Bialik’s NY Time’s piece was pretty poorly timed but I think there are somethings (very much unrelated to serious issues like sexual harassment and assault) that many of us awkward kids who grew up watching Blossom can relate to. When you are there, being what society doesn’t regard as pretty, life can be pretty bleak but once the dust settles (maybe a few decades down the line) I think your realise the hardships of those formative years weren’t all that bad. Being pretty and popular comes with it’s own set of issues. I think that’s what Bialik was getting at was that being that unpopular, unattractive, geeky kid isn’t the end of the world.
Rinsers, what did you think of Mayim Bialik’s piece? Were you the ‘ugly’ girl back in the day? Do you look back and think not being part of the ‘popular’ crowd was actually a bit of a blessing in disguise? Comment below. Please and thank you!