herald

Wednesday 30 July 2014

There's hot and then there's ugly hot

Beauty and ugliness are believed to be opposite ends of the spectrum, but a new book pitches them as team mates rather than mutually exclusive. Vicki Notaro explores the phenomenon that is ugly-hot

Do you ever get bored of beauty? It's a funny question really, because it's supposed to be what we all strive towards and the reason we wear make-up, spend billions on cosmetic surgery and make idols of those we believe to be at the pinnacle of attractiveness. However, in many ways we all know that perfection is boring and even a little irritating.

Flaws are what make us stand out in a sea of faces, a secret the high-fashion industry cottoned on to long ago. I know I struggle to watch the very commercial Victoria's Secret fashion show, not because I'm almost dying of jealousy at the spectacularly attractive women on display, but because it's just an endless parade of seemingly perfect visions of loveliness -- so much so that it's difficult to differentiate between each model specimen.

In this same way, I struggle to fancy seemingly perfect, chiselled male models with abs you could crack nuts on and the kind of perfect hair that looks almost wig-like.

In his new book, commentator Stephen Bayley champions the fact that ugliness exists as a foil to beauty, as without one, the other can't exist. His theory is that just as in life, variety and peril are far more interesting than humdrum predictability and order -- in other words, imperfections are more interesting than bland beauty.

Once thought to be mutually exclusive, however, it appears that sometimes beauty and ugliness are two sides of the same coin, and both can be ridiculous and sublime.

When I read of Bayley's work, I instantly thought of the ugly-hot phenomenon I've been noticing in today's popular culture. It appears we're obsessed with the grotesque, whether real or fake. Enormous bums like Kim Kardashian's, giant breasts like Christina Hendricks', and tiny frames like Victoria Beckham's.

We're fascinated by the unsightly... from Lady Gaga's eyesore outfits, to the distorted features of plastic surgery aficionados such as Katie Price and Donatella Versace.

Reality TV shows such as TOWIE and Jersey Shore have presented us with examples of people who see beauty in gaudy clothes, orange skin and heaps of fake hair, while the Olympics this year was like an endless display of the human body pushed to extremes.

It got me thinking about how beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but ugliness is just as subjective. I don't know how many times I've heard supermodels described as "hideous" or "gross" because they don't fit the notion of conventional attractiveness, despite the fact that these are the women who sell extortionately priced clothes to the rich, and their budget offshoots to the masses.



pointy

I've noticed myself fancying men who are not exactly good looking, but have some character to their faces that is undeniably attractive, like broken-nosed Jake Johnson who plays Nick from New Girl, and his fellow cartilagely challenged actor Owen Wilson.

I fancy men with pointy ears, small eyes, snub noses and pot bellies.

Even Ryan Gosling, the man of the moment, isn't typically handsome -- his eyes are just that little too close together to be stunning.

What's considered ugly and in turn beautiful, goes in cycles and is ever-changing. Bayley cites Marilyn Monroe's beauty spot as an example of this phenomenon.

The brown dot that could have been seen to have marred her perfect complexion made Monroe's face more interesting than just plain perfection, and soon became the It thing to have in the fifties before its popularity waned. In the 1990s, Cindy Crawford brought it back with a bang.

One of the most popular looks at the moment is the gap-tooth sported by supermodels Lindsey Wixson, Georgia May Jagger and Lara Stone, while mere years ago these women would have been told to have their imperfections fixed in order to continue working in fashion.

Fashion is fickle when it comes to what's currently ugly-hot though, and only the most unique and versatile of models continue to work through the decades.

When androgyny was in, so was Agyness Deyn, and when curves were hot Heidi Klum was the girl of the hour.

Right now, freakish seems to be the trend, which might explain why Wixson with her gap-tooth, chin dimple and bug eyes is everywhere, or why Alexa Chung's skinny legs make her such a hit with the fash-pack.

Ugly-hot men seem to be having a real moment, too, and have often fared better than their female counterparts when it comes to being ugly-hot -- just look at the sexual prowess of oddly striking Mick Jagger, Rod Stewart and Steven Tyler.



freaky

In 2012, Dr Who star Matt Smith has a slightly extra-terrestrial look about him, but he is considered a bona-fide babe by millions of admiring women -- ditto fellow actors Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hiddleston.

However, there are also those people that are just so good looking that it's freaky verging on almost-ugly -- think how Megan Fox could perhaps be mistaken for a transexual at her vampiest, the possibility that Angelina Jolie might pass for an alien, and how you think Kim Kardashian's overly groomed yet undeniably beautiful face may actually be constructed purely from make-up and papier mache.

Regardless of personal preference, it's hard to disagree -- ugly-hot is just so hot right now.

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