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Self-Knowledge • Fear & Insecurity

On Feeling Ugly

We unexpectedly catch sight of ourselves in a mirror and, in an instant, are thrown into despair: the odd nose, the unsatisfactory hair, the sickening skin tone, but most of all, the only too familiar, deeply gormless needy expression.

It feels at such moments as if every worst fear about us must be true. All our efforts to run away from our monster-self have failed. A hideous spectre is, for our brief time on the planet, truly whom we are fated to be.

Crucially, feeling ugly is entirely independent of what anyone actually looks like. There are beauties who are sickened by their looks and grizzled munchkins breezily at ease with themselves.

There are always an infinite number of reasons to find oneself pleasant or hideous, clever or idiotic: so what decides the matter is never in the end the judgement of our eyes, but the condition of our souls.

It is the inner mood that guides our gaze in its assessment of the face in the mirror and that projects the atmosphere of selfishness, sleaziness and furtiveness we locate in our features. Therefore, we don’t, when we are sad, ever really need a new set of clothes or a haircut. We require – to put it naively and grandly – to be looked at through the eyes of love, by someone whose generous assessment can rescue us from the depredations of self-hatred.

It is all the more unfortunate that – precisely when we feel disgusting – it can be so hard to ask another for their help. We hate ourselves too much to dare to hope that anyone else might like us – and may, in response to kind enquiries, simply attempt to prove our dislikable nature through monosyllabic avoidant grunts.

We need – in our curdled state – for someone else to explain our condition to the world, to make the case that we are lost and ashamed, not monstrous or mean. We may need (for a time at least) to let someone else’s words do the work.

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