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Introducing My Beauty Advice Column, Ask Ugly!
Read the first installment of my monthly column at The Guardian — plus, exclusive advice for Unpublishable readers.
Each month, I’ll send a preview of the column to you here — plus answer a few more rapid-fire questions for Unpublishable subscribers only. It’s all free.
Below is an excerpt of the inaugural installment of Ask Ugly (and yes, I explain the origin of the column name, lol). Click through to the Guardian to read the whole thing — and if you decide to share it with friends or on social media or whatever, please share it via the Guardian link!!!
It’s happening. I am turning 40 next year and I realized all my friends and acquaintances are getting younger looking. I don’t know if it’s the rigorous food habits, Botox, or what have you – but folks are tightening up. The Indigo Girls have a great line: “Every lesson learned is a line upon your beautiful face.” But also, maybe I should be more proactive about anti-ageing?
– Ageing Indigo Girl
Hello and welcome to the inaugural issue of the Guardian’s new beauty advice column, Ask Ugly! I’m Jessica DeFino, former editor for the official Kardashian-Jenner apps (I’m sorry) turned repentant reporter. These days, I research how glazed doughnut skin is the death drive incarnate and how collagen supplements are contributing to the climate crisis. Oh, and I believe beauty culture is a public health issue. (See? I said I was sorry.)
I’ve been called “the woman the beauty industry fears the most”, but you can call me Ugly. My readers do!
Really. They do. When I critique modern beauty standards – like, for instance, positioning Botox and Xeomin as cutaneous manifestations of ageism – I tend to get one of two dismissive responses: you’re too young and/or beautiful to know what you’re talking about or you’re too old and/or ugly to listen to.
I love it. I crave it. Call me gorgeous! Call me grotesque! Prove my point!
My point being: “beauty” is a culturally constructed illusion, and yet it affects how a person is perceived: what opportunities they are afforded or whether they succeed socially, financially, even politically. It is meaningless, but it matters.
You won’t get suggestions for the best new niacinamide serum from Ask Ugly. Just eat a sandwich. I won’t recommend some celebrity-loved surgery for sucking the fat from your face – it needs fat. Instead, I want to dig into capital-B Beauty here: what it is, what it means, and how it’s been industrialized and assembly-line machine-squeezed into billions of plastic bottles. (I like to think of it as the world’s first beauty advice column — because everything else is just about appearance.)
But back to your question, Ageing Indigo Girl….
My answer includes:
a story about the time the makers of Botox took me on an all-expenses paid vacation and offered me free injectables!
a full-on rejection of the “wrinkles are signs of lessons learned thing” (I can think of quite a few men in the U.S. government who are very wrinkled and very stupid)!
the line “Anti-ageing is a disappointing pursuit. It has been since Ponce de Léon went searching for the Fountain of Youth and found Florida”!
Ask Ugly is part of the Guardian’s just-launched wellness section, Well Actually. The whole project is phenomenal and I am beyond honored to have my writing sit alongside the work of Estelle Tang, Jessica Reed, Madeleine Aggeler, Elle Hunt, and Shayla Love. I def recommend checking out some of the other Well Actually pieces while you’re over there:
‘We’re sedating women with self-care’: how we became obsessed with wellness by Katherine Rowland
‘Just take a bubble bath!’ Why faux self-care won’t solve our problems by Ellie Violet Bramley
And now, just for readers of The Unpublishable, a rapid-fire advice sesh I’m calling Little Uglies — quick-and-easy As to your burning beauty Qs.
Q: I struggle with under eye concealer. It frequently ends up looking streaky, patchy, or immediately creasy in my fine lines under inner and outer corners. Like, I usually look better without it, because at least it doesn't look like I have crunchy, creased makeup on. Help!
A: Don’t wear under-eye concealer.
Q: Is it rude to be asked by someone if you’ve had anti wrinkles or fillers, or is my lack of transparency around doing it the problem? I’ve been getting anti wrinkle since I was 30 and I’m now 38. Only a small handful of people know I get it done but these are people I trust, and who get it done themselves. A co worker and friend asked me outright in a one on one conversation if I’d had it done. I replied honestly but I was offended to be asked that because I don’t think you should put someone on the spot with something like that. Only a few days earlier at work she’d been chatting to a group of women who were talking faces. The specifics I don’t know as I wasn’t directly in the conversation. I heard this person say “ (insert my name) doesn’t have a line on her face”. I think what you do to your face and body is your choice and as a non influencer, non celebrity, I don’t think I have a responsibility to be transparent to others.
A: Yes, your lack of transparency is (part of) the problem. What you do to your face and body is your choice, sure, but also: When we make individual choices to adhere to societal beauty standards, we do so in response to cultural pressure and beauty norms (I call it “coerced modification”). Our own participation then increases the cultural pressure we and other people feel and further normalizes those norms (I call it “aesthetic inflation”). That pressure/those norms contribute to widespread issues like age-related anxiety, depression, dysmorphia, risky beauty behaviors, and obsessive thoughts — the kind of obsessive thoughts that make people ask their co-workers if they’ve had cosmetic work, for instance. It’s not your fault! Sexism and ageism are very old, very bad systems! But still! You are part of the human collective! Your actions affect others! You have a responsibility to your community! Transparency is the least we can offer one another.
Q: Wedding makeup... why can't I do it myself? If natural faces photograph so badly, why don't men need it?
A: Because natural faces don’t actually photograph badly and no one, of any gender, actually “needs” makeup.
Q: I'm a fairly new mother to two kids and I fantasize about a boob job. My breasts, ever since I stopped breastfeeding, have deflated and suspended much lower than they were before. They are droopy and sad. I really want to get a breast lift but I also want to hold myself accountable to what that could mean for me in terms of succumbing to society's impossible beauty standard. I wish I could tell you I'm confident with how they look, and the nourishment they've provided for my kids, but I'm not! It's hard for me to look at them, especially since I always found them to be so pretty and perky before. It's almost as these postpartum boobs are a change that I refuse to accept. Would I be succumbing to society's impossible beauty standards if I give in and go for the boob job?
A: Yes. That’s not to dismiss the complicated feelings you’re having about your body, or even to say “don’t do it,” or but just to say… Yes, 100%, that is the exact definition of succumbing to society’s impossible beauty standards.
Q: I need to know what you think about the Kim Kardashian/SKIMS hard nipple bra.
A: The fact that so many people have asked me to comment on this is proof that the world probably doesn’t need me comment on this. You get it! It’s obvious! The SKIMS hard nipple bra (if you don’t know what that is, don’t look it up, you’re better off not knowing and I wish I was you) shocks for the sake of shock factor, which is to say, it’s boring. Aesthetically, Kardashian is peddling no-makeup makeup for your tits. Entrepreneurially, Kardashian is inventing a problem that doesn’t exist — nipples not getting hard anymore (due to climbing temperatures from climate change) — in order to provide the “solution” (classic). The thing that upsets me here is that the billionaire venture capitalist parodies climate change education to market her mass-produced polyester, when climate change is happening because of billionaire venture capitalists and mass-produced polyester. What upsets me more is that the media — Vogue, Teen Vogue, The Cut — is eating her shit up. Proof that Kardashian, an aspiring shit-eater herself, truly is a trend-setter.
Have a question for Ask Ugly? Submit it anonymously here — and be as detailed as possible, please!