“Being Dishonest About Ugliness”
“how is a child to grapple with the savage social hierarchy of “lookism” that usually begins in the playground, if adults are so clumsy about it? The advantage of beauty has been long established in social science; we know now that it’s not just employers, teachers, lovers and voters who favor the aesthetically gifted, but parents, too.
We talk about body shape, size and weight, but rarely about distorted features. And we talk about plainness, but not faces that would make a surgeon’s fingers itch.
Even in children’s literature, we imply ugliness is either transient or deserved…
Perhaps it’s the long association of physical ugliness with immorality that we need to unpack. The Oxford Dictionary includes in its definition of ugly in English “morally repugnant.” In Greek, the word “kalos” means both beauty and noble, while “aischros” means shameful as well as ugly. Ugly characters in kids’ books are generally horrible and their physical flaws are signs of other shortcomings. Villains have bad teeth, liars have long noses, zombies have thick skulls. The miserly are bony, the greedy, fat.
And perhaps we also need to spend more time pointing to some of the magnificent creatures who have walked the earth without the need for pageant ribbons or Instagram likes, but who have contributed in enduring ways — think, maybe, about Abraham Lincoln.”