Friday, September 13, 2013

What Is Ugly?

Behold the lowly blobfish!

Voted by the public as the ugliest animal on the planet, it is now the mascot of the Ugly Animal Preservation Society.

Now, clearly ugly, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.  I  happen to react to this photograph with a soft and empathetic Aw-w-w-w-w-w.

Hooray for the blobfish for daring to be ugly—though evidently not with impunity, for so-called ugly animals have as hard a time of it, if not harder, than 'ugly' people. Even on the wildlife programme called 'Monkey Life', which takes place in a primate preserve in the South of England, the stump-tailed macaques are affectionately called 'Uglies'.

Who is going to save the uglies—human and animal? Well, evidently the Ugly Animal Preservation Society, which started out as a joke (rather like the New York Turtle and Tortoise Society) but now has found its purpose, which is summed up in its name.

The animals have an advocate, but who is going to watch out for the ugly people in this society obsessed with impossible figures and faces, plastic surgery and frozen doll-like looks? It's a well-known fact that all sorts of people who are not fashionably 'beautiful' are discriminated against in all sorts of ways, from the way they earn their livelihood to the way they are served in a shop to the way they are cared for in hospital.

And don't think these so-called uglies don't know it.

Maybe we need a 'People Preservation Society'—no questions asked.


Blogger changeinthewind said...

This fondly brings to mind one of my favorite politicians, American senator, now deceased, Hubert Humphry.

3:09 pm, September 14, 2013  
Anonymous sgl said...

looks a bit like kilroy to me (WWII era symbol).

apparently not the only one to notice this:

12:11 am, September 15, 2013  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

You are absolutely right. It does look like Kilroy!

8:42 am, September 15, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, I agree that the blowfish does look like Kilroy/Chad (in UK). WHat struck me was that whenever I've seen portrayals of this character they've always been hiding behind a wall, or something. You might see this as a deliberate ploy by the artist to not have to draw the rest of the character, I admit, but making the link between ugliness, this character, and Maggie's statement about people who are perceived as "ugly" by many in society knowing this about themselves is interesting. How much do they hide themselves away, like Kilroy, afraid of ridicule, or how they will be treated? It's as if they perceive they've been placed on the margins, out beyond a wall of "acceptability", over which they peer, longing to be allowed in, but knowing they won't be. When looking at the blowfish or Kilroy in that way what I see isn't ugliness (not that I did in the first place - more like Maggies Awww!)but deep sadness.

But I'm also left wondering who puts them behind this wall? Are they pushed out, or do they go there as a defense against the pain of being badly treated. Is it both and? If so, if we were to stop the bad treatment might they not go behind the wall in the first place, or gradually find the courage to return inside?

11:05 am, September 16, 2013  
Anonymous AM said...

The "bad treatment," aside from being a form of self-inflicted violence already is a projection of fear of ones wounds and vulnerability, and the paradox of the "blobfishes" in this world is the humility even at the expense of self-pity at times in absorbing the denial from the "righteous". Their "going behind the wall" may not be the total sign of Goffmanian stigmatization: it is "unknowing" that most refuse to surrender. Or wiped off by subscribers of plastic surgeries.

2:39 pm, September 16, 2013  
Anonymous sgl said...

Part 1/4
re: ugly people knowing how other's see them

I'm sure I've mentioned in comments before about Maggie Doyne, the young lady from New Jersey who founded a children's home in Nepal, one of the 5 poorest countries in the world, while still only 19. She's now 25, and Mom to 40 kids, and also founded a school for 350 kids. The school is only about 4-5 years old now, and is already the top ranked school in the district. Her charity is called BlinkNow ( ), and her school and children's home are named Kopila Valley.

You can read her story here:

or watch the linked video to the story above. She won the "Do Something" Foundation grant of $100,000, and used that to build the elementary school in Nepal. The video is the "Do Lecture" (~20 min) where she describes her story one year after winning the $100k and building the school during that year.

or the last of 4 stories in this NY Times article:

90% of her blog posts are positive stories, complete with lots of pics of cute kids, school plays, school athletic competitions, etc. However, about 10% show the gritty side of life there.

One of sequences of posts was about Juntara, a 9 year old girl in a remote village who had a brain/eye tumor that made her eye bug out, making her lose her vision, and also made her ugly. (I can't embed pics, but you can see pictures at the links below.) She commented that "I spend most of my time inside so that people don't have to see me."

Someone saw the blog post, and forwarded it to the "Facing the World" charitable foundation in London, which does surgeries on children with facial deformities, which took on Juntara's case. In describing the risks of the operation and the possible outcomes, Maggie described Juntara's reaction: "She’s excited about showing her new face to her village. As she put it, “they’ll all say ‘before your eye was so big, and now it’s small. ’They’ll think I’m nice again.”"

And yet this little kid was quite amazing, very bright with a very good memory. Very happy and loved to sing. Watch the video of her singing and giggling in London:

Yet none of these talents would be visible if you can't get past the 'ugly'.

One reader of the BlinkNow blog put links to all the Juntara stories on one page so they're easy to find (some only have a brief reference to her:

some excerpts related to either being ugly, or to what an exceptional and amazing little kid she was:


Ugly Beautiful

I met this young girl just a few weeks ago in a remote village. She's lost vision in her left eye. If she can be operated on she'll be up as one of our next candidates for surgery when I get back. I've been trying to do some research in the meantime. What is this? How does it happen? Can it be fixed?

There was an entry a few weeks ago on shutter sisters about the French expression "Ugly-beautiful." When I was looking at this photo today it immediately reminded me of what Andrea Scher suggested in her entry. She challenged readers to "Find the messy, the dirty, the discarded, the forgotten, and transform it with your lens. See it into beauty."

Look at the photo again. It's easy to see the ugly. The fact that this little girl hasn't visited a doctor since this started 5 years ago. You can feel the physical pain of it. You can hear the teasing and the taunting. "I can't see," she told me. "It really hurts," ""I spend most of my time inside so that people don't have to see me." She hasn't been to school.


1:37 am, September 17, 2013  
Anonymous sgl said...

Part 2/4

Juntara and Facing the World... Part II

Her friends? “I don’t have any friends anymore,” she said. [....]

Why did I meet her on the path that day in that village? What kind of life will Juntara have after this operation is complete? Will she have friends again? Will she see again? Should we really go through with this?

I gave Juntara a pack of cookies today to hold her over while we were sitting in one of the waiting rooms.

“These are the same cookies that Manisha gave me,” she said smiling when she tasted them.

“What? Who’s Manisha?” I asked.

“You don’t remember Maggie? Manisha’s the girl who sat next to us on the bus on the way back from India.

That was two months ago. I hadn’t even remembered the girl telling us her name. Actually, I hadn’t even remembered that there had been a girl sitting next to us. Juntara remembers the name of everyone we meet, every doctor, every nurse, every driver. She knows the name of every place we’ve been to, every hospital, every hotel. She often brings these names up in conversation with others. [....]

Juntara is ready and willing to go through with the surgery and seemingly unattached to the fact that she may never see again. She’s most excited about getting to go to Kathmandu, and Delhi and England, all places that people from her village could only dream about. She’s excited about the people she’ll meet, the names she’ll remember, the newness of it all. She’s excited about showing her new face to her village. As she put it, “they’ll all say ‘before your eye was so big, and now it’s small.’ They’ll think I’m nice again.”


1:38 am, September 17, 2013  
Anonymous sgl said...

Part 3/4

Big Ben

Juntara's favorite thing about our apartment is the bathtub, which she refers to as our "tato pokari" or "hot lake." We usually spend about an hour in there every day chatting and singing away. It's amazing to me how self-sufficient she has become. Most people she meets can't even believe she's blind. We had an assessment with someone from the blind association on Thursday, who said that she had unbelievable and extremely rare social skills for a child with as limited vision as she has. She's bright and seems to be picking up on everything she learns really quick. We've been spending a lot of our time cooking. Juntara will literally go into the cabinet, take out the potatoes, tomatoes, onion and garlic- chop them all up on the cutting board, fill the pot with water and add the rice, set the table, and do the dishes. We are a great team in the kitchen. She's memorized where everything is and navigates her way throughout the apartment, downstairs, and to the toilet. There is a french bakery and deli downstairs and Nicolas, the owner brings us pastries and little treats daily. bless!

I was pretty down in the dumps yesterday. Every time I looked at Juntara I would feel tears come to my eyes. I kept thinking about how unfair all of this is for her, how much I hate this disease, how frustrated I am with her father, how this was all supposed to come to a happy ending. We thought we could get rid of this tumor in one swipe, we thought her life would be normal, and everything would be perfect. But it's not. Things are far from perfect and things will be far from easy. Then I look at her and she's smiling and laughing and content and I start to cry even more. And it doesn't make sense that I'm crying, but I am.

Then Juntara looks at me straight in the eye and touches my face and dries my tears and says "yah but Maggie, what can we do?"

She’s wise and calm. She knows this is far out of our control. It's not in our hands, so we just have to live and make due, and laugh and sing, and laugh some more, and be patient and love. And when all is said and done, we’ll remember our days here and how we got to ride on a huge red double-decker bus, and go to Buckingham Palace, and get our picture taken in front of Big Ben. We’ll tell everyone in Nepal what a bathtub is and how wonderful hot baths are. We know that there are more adventures to come and we’ll see where our life takes us next.


1:39 am, September 17, 2013  
Anonymous sgl said...

Part 4/4
not related to "Ugly" per se, but I found it interesting what someone from a very remote Himalayan village thinks of London. (Eg, in referring to a microwave: "And how in the world is it that you can cook food without fire?") And it also contrasts how readily Juntara adapts to London and loves it, compared to her father, who has major culture shock while in London.


On the ground again

Padam, Juntara’s father, is here and doing much better. He’s back to his normal self. There’s no doubt in my mind that he really lost his mind while he was in London though. I’ve talked to a few people who deal with ex-patriots (particularly Nepalis) arriving to new countries, and supposedly this is quite a common occurrence.

It was interesting to hear Padam tell his stories too; his impressions of that other world he’s been living in for the past two months. I listened intently, working hard to decipher his village dialect as he told everyone stories about the microwave, the washing machine, the shoes with wheels on the bottom, elevators, escalators, big machines that clean the streets—the streets, that are black and shiny with not a single piece of garbage on them. There’s hot and cold water that comes out everywhere too, and buses with wings that fly in the sky.

He says he doesn’t know what happened to him but somewhere in the week that Juntara was getting her operation, he got sick, and felt like we was going to die, and that life there for some reason just wasn’t suitable for him. He couldn’t sit down for more than a few minutes without feeling anxious. He couldn’t breathe fully. He couldn’t see the sky. There was no sun and where were the mountains? Why the heck weren’t there any mountains? And how in the world is it that you can cook food without fire?

What surprised me the most was that he didn’t stop talking about the kindness everyone showed him and how much love everyone gave to his daughter, that people there were like “Gods” to them, how Juntara was the first Nepali child Facing the World has ever encountered, and how lucky she was to have the doctors and the operations she had.

He had been so rude and crazy and short with everyone just a few days before that as I listened to him today, I had a hard time believing that he was the same man. I’ve taken back a lot of the anger, resentment, and frustration that I’ve been feeling these past few days.

Sadly, the tumor was too advanced, and Juntara died after the second surgery:

Maggie and her sister make a long trek back to Juntara's village to give the family her belongings, gifts, and pictures:

The new school was named after her:

Maggie notes in her blog how the idea for the school came about while in the ICU with Juntara:
"The idea for the school came when I was sitting with her in the I.C.U. I told her all about it. I pictured her coming to visit some day and wrote the grant application for the Do Something awards while she slept and recovered from her surgery. I was so devastated when she died, I barely had it in me to hit the submit button on the application. But I did and just a few months after she passed, I found out that we won the $100,000 to build our school. I still think she had a lot to do with that."


1:40 am, September 17, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

RE AM's comment:

The "bad treatment," aside from being a form of self-inflicted violence already is a projection of fear of ones wounds and vulnerability, and the paradox of the "blobfishes" in this world is the humility even at the expense of self-pity at times in absorbing the denial from the "righteous". Their "going behind the wall" may not be the total sign of Goffmanian stigmatization: it is "unknowing" that most refuse to surrender. Or wiped off by subscribers of plastic surgeries.

and specifically "it is 'unknowing' that most refuse to surrender."


I've been trying to put my finger on this 'unknowing' - although so much of God is paradoxical and elusive and so perhaps such an endeavor is inherently futile. But is the 'unknowing' perhaps linked to the trustfully freefalling? It's important to God that we don't know when things will happen. It's hard to let go of control. But the Reality is that we don't have control, God does. This is a good thing. We can choose to accept that reality. Why is God's love so scary to us? Sometimes it seems piercingly sharp. Sometimes just thinking about it makes me want to hide under a table. Makes no sense. I don't want to hide anymore. I am willing to be 'done unto' and open to whatever that means.

2:54 pm, September 19, 2013  
Blogger changeinthewind said...

This new Pope surely is not ugly. Rather he notices what is so and speaks out for beauty.

How long will the Catholic church tolerate such as this?

5:47 pm, September 19, 2013  
Anonymous AM said...

I doubt if "CONTROL" is a fit metaphor as to the kenotic nature of God...

4:39 am, September 20, 2013  
Blogger changeinthewind said...

Kathleen Norris wrote an essay entitled The Necessary Other which addresses the topic of why society needs the "other" point of view. It can be found is in her book, The Cloister Walk.

1:54 pm, September 20, 2013  

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