Growing up as a young woman, there’s numerous insults that can send your whole world crashing down. Being called ugly is one of them. Through puberty and the years that follow, women are taught that their appearances are the most important and most valued parts of them, especially while they have that quintessential “youth” that our mothers, aunties, step mums, cousins and more crave. Being called ugly robs us of that power. The Ugly Girls Club , a monthly underwear subscription service and feminist collective, want to reclaim ugliness for women and femmes everywhere.
This kind of mentality feels as though it’s easier said than done; while it’s very easy to preach self love and to ignore traditional beauty standards, practicing these in reality can be a lot harder
“We’ve found there is more solidarity in the female experience of ugliness than there is in the experience of beauty. It’s a story that rarely gets told, yet it’s so central to almost every aspect of being female. Even when you are experiencing beauty, it is more the lack of ugliness than the presence of beauty.” Hillary and Alice, the team behind The Ugly Girls Club explain, “Ugly has been used to threaten women, to silence them, to disregard them. But by re-appropriating it, we can leverage the power it has held over us to empower us. This was why we developed our range of Ugly Girl and Legalise Ugly products; to wear the word is to openly take back control of it.”
Taking back control of ugliness has been done in a number of ways by the team behind The Ugly Girls Club. First of all by their monthly underwear subscription – currently on hold while the team focuses on other aspects of the collective – which features a different feminist artist each month. On other times of the month, the site has “Legalise Ugly” and “Ugly Girl” emblazoned products available – not just knickers – so anyone can wear their ugly all year round.
Artist Lois Orchard kicked off the first subscription pair “SEX” which played into Orchard’s already sexual themed work. “When I read the Ugly Girls Club manifesto I knew that it was definitely something I wanted to be involved in,” comments Orchard, “ As a young female ugliness is something I am very aware of. There’s this silent pressure to look flawless at all times which in reality is just not possible. [But] my ability as a creative is not dependent on if my eyebrows went well that morning – it’s just ridiculous to rate yourself based on someone else’s beauty standards.”
She continues, “Your success and happiness is not dependent on whether you put enough highlight on that day or if you shaved your pussy. Other people’s opinion on your ‘ugliness’ is irrelevant. Be confident in what you’re doing and work hard at it – make sure you are valued for your brain and talent rather than your beauty.”
Specifically, Orchard decided to focus on consent and consensual sex for her underwear
For her month, artist Liv Thurley empathises with a generation of women taught to hate themselves and the never ending “HEARTBREAK” of it all.
“The thing that I notice when I research areas of the online world for my work are that these young girls posting blog posts are obsessed with their image, striving for a particular ‘perfection’ portrayed by the media. It’s concerning because there is proof that having body dissatisfaction at a young age you are more likely to have ongoing concerns when you are older.”
“It definitely has it’s ups and downs. If the rise in social media hadn’t happened I question whether I would be doing this interview right now. Platforms such as Tumblr and Instagram have allowed me to make friends and contacts in places I never imagined I’d reach out to. It’s also given the chance for less represented communities to be able to raise their voices and challenge the mainstream flow. There’s still a long way to go though.”
As an online collective and brand, The Ugly Girls Club use their social media and website to promote the reclamation of ugly for all – or at least anyone with internet access. Even if you can’t afford the panties, you still get to be part of the club.
And for the year ahead, Alice and Hillary are pushing to spread the ugliness even further. “We’d like to start some honest conversations around our monthly themes away from social media, maybe set up a bad haircut help line and save some precious self esteem while we’re at it.”
“There is just so much to be said for the Ugly Girl, we’d like to keep hearing her voice, a podcast or a daytime talk show would work. The project is a combination of the playful and the political being used to spread a powerful idea; ugly women are valid.” The pair finish, “The future belongs to ugly girls. It’s our turn.“