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Uglyism and Discrimination

By: Beth Morrisey MLIS - Updated: 10 Oct 2015 | comments*Discuss
Uglyism Appearance Beauty Prejudice

Uglyism, a form of discrimination based on people’s physical beauty, is a type of thinking and behaving that is widespread yet rarely acknowledged in our society. Treating others differently due to appearance is just as shameful as discriminating against others based on race, religion or gender, but rarely is uglyism even named much less challenged. Understanding the basis of uglyism, how prevalent it is, the effects it can have on those involved and how to confront it are all important steps towards ending uglyism for good.

Basis of Uglyism

Uglyism is predicated on a belief that somehow more attractive people are better people, and people with less obvious beauty are less worthy or even evil. Those who engage in uglyism treat more traditionally attract people better, with more respect and dignity, than they do people who are plain or otherwise less traditionally attractive. But what is ugly? Generally society believes those who do not meet the mainstream standards of beauty, for example due to perceived flaws in features such as eyes, nose, teeth, hair or skin, are less attractive. With no standard definition of beauty, however, anyone may be subject to uglyism at any point in their life.

Prevalence of Uglyism

Sociological studies conducted in North America have concluded that uglyism is perhaps society’s most “invisible prejudice”. This means it is more prevalent in Western society than prejudices such as racism and sexism which are talked about much more easily. Unfortunately, without uglyism being acknowledged in society it means that others may not take it seriously and that no education programmes about it can be undertaken.

Effects of Uglyism

Like any form of discrimination, uglyism effects both those who engage in it and those who are victimised by it, as well as society at large. As long as people who hold prejudices about physical beauty it means that:
  • Individuals with traditional beauty will be valued more highly.
  • Traditionally attractive people will become better socialised due to more social interactions.
  • Victims will be viewed as less intelligent, sexy, kind and trustworthy.
  • Victims will be passed over for employment, promotions and other career advancement.
  • Victims will experience emotional distress, anxiety and even fear.
  • Everyone will be required to meet conventional standards of beauty to receive better treatment.
  • Offenders will continue to contribute to an unequal, unjust society.
  • No one will be free from discrimination and prejudice.

Confronting Uglyism in Society

Confronting uglyism in society is not an easy thing for individuals who are faced with disbelief at every turn. Refusing to purchase magazines which support narrow views of beauty, boycotting television programmes and websites dedicated to beauty of fashion “makeovers”, lodging complaints when you witness uglyism in action and challenging jokes, gossip or taunts about personal appearance or beauty are all easy steps confronting uglyism. Also, educating others about the harm of uglyism, the appeal of many different types of beauty, and the disconnect between physical beauty and true worth should all help spread the message that uglyism as a form of discrimination and prejudice is unacceptable.

Uglyism, or treating people different due to perceived physical beauty, is a lesser acknowledged form of discrimination which nevertheless permeates society. Understanding the thoughts behind uglyism, its prevalence in our world, the effects it can have on everyone and how you can confront it should all help you challenge and eventually end uglyism in your community.

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I am ugly and find this all the time.I have a horrible disfiguring condition.People treat you like a second class citizen.I am struggling to get a job because no one wants to look at my ugly face and neck all day long.
J - 10-Oct-15 @ 9:36 AM
I'm glad people are starting to recognise this -ism now. I'm not very unnattractive, or ugly, but have been called ugly regularly from a young age. It most definitely affected me, I was quite promising as a primary school student but ended up going off the rails at about 12 years old when I realised that people thought that way about me. From peers and teachers I experienced this hate, always getting the blame for just about everything that went wrong. It has never stopped. Are equal opportunities going to do something positive about this?
Ali - 30-Sep-11 @ 10:46 AM
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