Pretty Girls Making Ugly Faces

There is a subreddit entitled “Pretty Girls Ugly Faces.”  Thankfully for me, the person at Pleated-Jeans took a bunch of the photos from reddit (which I have no clue how to navigate) and posted them to tumblr.

The tumblr

The subreddit

….I think this is pretty awesome?  Showing how beauty is a performance?  Giving women the social space to discard this specific, enforced performance and adopt another one where they can have fun, be silly, and do different things with their body? (Definitely an overabundance of white women on it, though.)


EDIT: I’m (trying to) think through my reaction in the comments.

17 thoughts on “Pretty Girls Making Ugly Faces

  1. This is awful. I can’t believe we’re actually asking people to look at these photos and comment. Some of these pictures look the way a lot of women look. This is really terrible. Encouraging images like this to circulate doesn’t help anyone.

  2. Yeah, this is silly and makes us laugh. But I know dozens of women who won’t let their guard down for even a moment. For example, some women (and I suppose men) are so mortified of a cold sore on their lip that they refuse to go out, or lift their head up. They think that a flaw makes them less wonderful.
    Beauty is in perception. These women are comfortable enough with themselves to make really terrible faces, knowing that people won’t judge them on an ugly moment.

  3. Okay, that is what I’m trying to think through–whether this still degrading to women who can’t perform the “prettiness” in the first part. I sense the potential for ableism there.
    And I guess I’m avoiding looking at comments on either page because I know some people might have the context of “This is funny b/c at the end of the day, they are still hot.”

    But as to tarabound’s comment, I wonder if the strength of this meme might spur on some people who would not otherwise have the courage to do something silly with their body to let go of that fear of looking flawed (even if just temporarily). Overall I want to say its a good thing to see women breaking out of that you-must-look-perfect performance, though I get that this is obviously way easier for people who can fall back on the but-in-everyday-life-I-look-pretty-hot. So the flipside of this project has to be an expansion of what we see as beautiful and how we socially react to women’s bodies.


  4. I think circulating something that plays into insecurities is loaded and perhaps too loaded to be of use. In this case, I think in any way condoning the “ugly faces” bit is more harmful than anything. What does it say for people who have similar features? I think to have a conversation about it is giving it the power to keep people oppressed because it allows creator of the meme to define prettiness.There are plenty of ways to encourage people to go beyond their comfort zone or expand their conciousness without putting “Aveage” people down. I think what I find so disturbing is the willingness to accept that it is ok to judge physical appearance in a binary dynamic. I think allowing that type of thinking is also disrespectful to the women in the photos. It creates a “well they are just not intellectual enough or they are just too insecure …” to hold them to a standard of respectfulness. Perhaps these women are all brilliant, confident assholes and by honoring their web post, it perpetuates their way of thinking.

  5. Okay and by “it allows the creator of the meme to define prettiness” do you mean “it allows the creator of the meme to endorse/re-enforce the dominant (oppressive) standard of prettiness”?

    I’m also struggling to understand how this is disrespectful to the women in the photos. Am I being obtuse in thinking that by people labeling this meme as “awesome” they are not mocking the women in the photos, but rather encouraging women (who have the privilege to be able to perform “pretty”) to sometimes break out of that mold?

    Is this one of the big problems with it: Seeing women–who can perform the dominant standards of beauty fairly well–make themselves look ugly by those standards is not really subverting the dominant “This is pretty; that is ugly” scheme? It is furthermore not doing anything beneficial or respectful for women (and people in general) who are not able to achieve the dominant cultural standards of beauty in the first place?

    –I should go find stuff to read on this.

  6. Yes, I think (in response to your first question) it endorses/re-enfoces the dominant standard of prettiness.

    In addition to the specific nature of what is defined, it lets the terms of the argument stay in the person’s hands who is defining the standards. They set the standard (in this case the dominent ideal of beauty and ugliness). If someone wanted to bring additional ideals into the discussion, they would be secondary to this imprint. And because of the visual nature of the meme, I believe it makes a strong impression that is difficult to rearrange/alter/expand.

    I agree with what you suggest also, that this form of entertainment for the person in the photo. I am a huge fan of artistic experssion as a type for experiential emotional education. Hell yeah. I am just suggesting that there are less “mean” ways to do it. And I think that using this site as an example is risky because without the lengthy conversation making sure everyone is on the same page about empowerment, it can be mistaken for agreeing with the binary standards standards of beauty.

    I think the idea that these women are “breaking out of the mold” is not necessarily what is going on, though I do understand your point & think it brings up an interesting discussion. We do not know enough about these women to cheer them on. That is my point.

    Maybe they all have body dismorphic disorder and the second photos are really justifications for the internal negative ideas they have of themselves? And just as the “ugly” isn’t a real version of themselves, neither if the “pretty.” Perhaps they are already out of the mold and post these pictures just to share in their excitement that they are the ideal versions of beauty.

    I think what is disrespectful by attributing their participation as a triumph and mold-breaking is the fact that we assume they need it. If they are so empowered by this excercise that allows them to play with boundaries of dominant ideals, then we are looking down on them. “Oh good job! You are exploring the dominant styles of beauty intellectually!.” Or, “Excellent, you made a silly face, maybe now you won’t be so uptight about the way you look!”

    To me, assuming they are either uptight or not intellectual enough to be having this conversation without participating is incorrect.

  7. Okay that is massively helpful.

    I should have more specific in my initial remarks; I was thinking less about the specific contexts of each woman in the photos and more about the context that the meme (as an aggregate) creates, which is something that felt empowering to me. (But I recognize now it’s probably only empowering to people with a hefty dose of privilege already.)

    And I agree, it would be condescending to react to these photos as “oh look I’m impressed that a vapid pretty girl is exploring beauty standards” or “hey this is good for you because you’ll be less uptight.” I think I was assuming that, it’s hard for any woman to feel comfortable with her body and feel like she has the social sanction / agency to adopt any posture she feels like. So these women, when taken together as a meme, are (trying to) prove wrong the ideal that women should be nothing but pretty objects and women should be horrified at the thought of not being a pretty object. But your critiques of it still stand.

  8. Cool. I think it was a great discussion to have. Have you seen Bridesmaids? The main and supporting characters exhibited varying levels of the dominant standard of beauty. It was great.

  9. I’ve been making funny faces for the camera since I was a kid, long before the internet existed and I had ever even watched much TV. I did it because I thought making smiley faces for a camera was weird. Did that mean I was being disrespectful to women who can’t perform the dominant standards of beauty? No. Was I doing it because I was pretty and/or comfortable with how I looked? Not necessarily. I was doing it because a. it was fun and b. I couldn’t seem to help myself (I still have this problem), often to the oscillating amusement and frustration of my parents.

    I agree with the original post that the meme positively encourages women to not take their beauty so seriously, and rather to break out of the mold, be silly and have fun. I think it would be a shame to dismiss this meme by saying that it reinforces dominant standards of beauty, though I understand and appreciate a lot of the expressed concerns.

    What I take exception to is the dichotomy in the name of the meme: pretty/ugly. More apt, from where I sit in my appreciation of what it does (not says) would be something like: pretty/funny…

    Moreover, I think anyone can look pretty when captured with grace, so it’s not really just about women who meet dominant standards of beauty. I think anyone could participate in this (has anyone not??) and find it liberating.

    I honestly find this meme a refreshing shirk of the pressure of women to look pretty all the time and take it dead seriously, not to mention a rare instance in which women are playing the role of the comic. Female comics are all too rare. Bridesmaids is an almost unprecedented instance in which popular culture presents a woman who is a doofus. Loved it.

    I say let the ladies have fun, and don’t spite them IF they’re “pretty”.

  10. First off, I laughed at this – especially the gif. Secondly, although the whole pretty/ugly thing is problematic, I think this could potentially make people rethink their perception that ‘hot’ is a kind of unmoving standard. A lot of people think that someone who fits those dominant standards of ‘pretty’ is pretty all the time, and if someone doesn’t, then there’s no way they could be at all attractive. This shows that a lot of it is about presentation. And also, showing pretty girls being funny (when the standard thing is that if a woman is funny, then it’s because she’s not sexually attractive) is nice.

    People do seem to entirely forget what women actually look like whenever they see pictures of them. I’m thinking of an incident a few years ago when someone I knew was saying that a model in a magazine was too fat. She was sitting on the floor bent over slightly and there was a tiny roll of fat visible. I’m really skinny and have a very flat stomach, and I told him that if I sat that way, that’s what I would look like too. He just looked at me and said ‘No you wouldn’t.’ Leaving aside the fact that this guy thought to contradict me on what I know my own body looks like, it just totally didn’t compute for him that even skinny people have some fat! So showing that women can actually look different in different situations might not be entirely unhelpful.

  11. OH, yes, I too had the mixed reactions. On the one hand, I am rather happy to see anything that disrupts the assumption that beauty resides in entities, so that some individuals are always beautiful and some are never beautiful.

    On the other hand, the way they all change their appearance is by retracting their chins. Those of us without chins are sure ugly. Sigh. In a way, I just feel like my bad self-image was confirmed.

  12. I find it really frustrating, since it’s like pretty girls performing ‘geek’ in movies: at the end of the day they’re still pretty girls, so society can accept them. Likewise, this is not a real reclamation of ugliness but of something the pretty women are permitted to do – which at the same time degrades those of us who have ‘ugly’ faces. This is a messy comment, but basically I agree with what @jallah said. I do understand there’s some power in it but to me it’s not a real empowering message except for the traditionally beautiful girls, who are now allowed or permitted to act ugly when they so wish.

  13. I read the comments before looking at the photos, and I was really hoping to see a fun set of silly faces. I was sadly surprised to see that most of the ‘ugly’ photos include the double chin effect – in essence, making themselves look fat.
    I think that the humor in these photo sets comes from two different places: For one, the silliness aspect, which I suppose is innocuous enough. The other source of humor in these, though, bothers me (and here I’m thinking of the near-ubiquity of the multiple chins in the ‘ugly’ images); somehow, it’s funny when people of privilege mimic target group folks.
    When college students dress up in blackface or as Native Americans or as ‘white trash’ for parties, outrage erupts; I can only imagine that a website devoted to white people doing their best impression of ‘Asians’ or African Americans would be similarly received (I didn’t do a google search, but I really hope that doesn’t exist).
    I do think that it is vaguely refreshing to see young women feeling free to be intentionally ridiculous on the internet, but given that young people these days feel free to put so much of themselves online, I’m not sure how big of a deal it is. And ultimately, it’s sad that the silliness and fun of one group (pretty girls) is at the expense of another (anyone who sees echoes of her own appearance in the ‘ugly’ images).

  14. This is not degrading to women at all. Those women who look “good” in the first photo might NOT look that good if you saw them on the street. The whole point is that the before AND after are curated. I can make ANYONE look hot–it’s not that hard.

Comments are closed.