Joan's Blog

"Watch Me Pull A Rabbit Out Of My Hat"
SEPTEMBER 7, 2010 9:39AM

Resurrecting Ugly

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I appeared from the dressing room modeling a blue and white Florence Eisman dress. I twirled a couple of times.  I thought I looked beautiful.  Boy, is she ugly, my father leaned over and whispered to my mother as I gave my final spin. How does a seven year old remember the name of the dress she was wearing?

I remember because that was the day I learned I was ugly. Whatever I thought of myself up to that point had been a mistake. An illusion. I was ugly. No expensive dress could make up for it.  They bought the dress anyway.

Why the three of us were shopping for a new dress that day I do not remember. The words spoken that day I have never forgotten. 

Those words have haunted me throughout my life at different times.

I didn't have a shortage of boyfriends and my husband thought I was beautiful.  Still, deep down, I knew. My father had proclaimed his daughter ugly. The words had been spoken. They lay buried just below the surface.

 This weekend they were revived. Brought fully back to life by an illness I contracted.

 I developed an oddly disfiguring condition called Bell's Palsy. It paralyzed one side of my face. I look disfigured. I am self conscious, and yes, I am hearing ugly once again.

Bell's Palsy is not life threatening. It is though, a threat to my psyche.   There is nothing shallow or vacuous in wanting to be attractive. I'm "no great beauty" as my mother would say, but I'm presentable.

Seeing my face twisted in such an unnatural way is startling and unnerving. 

As I write this I am aware of my lips feeling pouty and Angelina-like. My reflection in the mirror mocks me. It says otherwise. Boy, is she ugly.         

The voice I had not heard for quite sometime is back.

My "ugliness" is temporary. I am told it could be days or weeks or months. I will not go to work for a few days.  I will try to avoid all mirrors. 

Boy, is she ugly, has resurfaced.




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I know this sounds contrived, but honestly, I don't perceive people's beauty based on their outer appearances but on their personalities. It takes a lot of vindictiveness and cruelty for me to consider anyone ugly.

It's sad that someone would have the audacity to call someone else ugly, even if that person thought he or she would not be heard.
People have no dea how they damage their children. Be well. I think you are beautiful too.r
Duane, hugs, thanks for your comments.
Jane, I'm going to catch up on Real Housewives of New Jersey. They tend to cheer me up.
Positive energy thoughts for you to get better soon ... I'm sure your students miss ya.

I have no words to describe what your father said. "Appalling" doesn't seem strong enough. Just remember that everyone on OS knows your beauty. Get well soon.
Damn. How could anyone say this about their own daughter. Been there and not though with that either. You have a different audience now, so be free and enjoy this audience of husband, lover and friends those that see you as you are. Without all the baggage. Twirl, Joan, you have earned it.
Inquisitive, I appreciate your kind words.
Craze, I can hear it now...Ms.H! What's wrong with your face? You're scaring me!
Alcoholic fathers all seemed to use the same playbook. We were children, the easiest targets in the world. We could be mocked and demeaned and weren't able to fight back. We were never perfect enough. It made them feel better about themselves to put us down.
Darling Joan, there is not one shred of ugliness in our about you except for the ugliness of those lies that taunt you. It is a grave injury to produce such a sense of inadequacy in a child and a mammoth job as an adult to banish such belief. You are not alone in your struggle but in your perception of yourself as anything less than magnificent, you could not be more wrong. I think you are stunning. Period. And I am serious, you ballerina you!
I weep for the child that heard such an awful thing from her own father. I could never see ugly in you.

I'm sorry that this recent condition has brought those feelings back to the surface.
I can't imagine what I'm going through. But when I look at your picture--no, when I read you words and discern your spirit through them--I can't fathom the connection to the word "ugly"
Of course your father's comment was insensitive beyond belief and I know that feeling myself. It wasn't a parent, but I grew up in an environment where I was only one of two black girls in my school and the other students occasionally referred to me as ugly. For me, it was the whispered "she sure is ugly" that I will never forget, no matter how often I hear the opposite today.

I can imagine that a disfiguring condition must be painful in more ways than one. No matter how mature or philosophical you try to be about it, of course appearance matters. I've seen your picture so I know just how beautiful you are. I can only wish you a speedy recovery.
I am so sorry you heard those words at all, especially from a father's lips. How horribly wounding. But we all know that you are radiant and stunning and that you light up the lives of all you touch.
Maybe cover the mirrors and see how beautiful you are through your family's eyes for awhile....quick healing wishes to you!
I meant your family around you now...your husband who finds you beautiful...we who read your stories -- we find you beautiful!
@I so appreciate these incredibly kind comments.
@Bonnie, you make me laugh and feel hopeful at the same time. Katie Holmes? How come I never heard about that?
I'm sorry that has resurfaced. If you are taking it in, however, you will find many here who are shaking their heads in disagreement: your dad did not know anything, he didn't see you. Twirl and be happy and remind yourself your husband knows beautiful when he sees it!
@Naw, George Clooney and Pierce Brosnan? Well, now I'm just going to get googling this information...
This is so sad. I have now read two posts about emotionally abusive fathers ( I had one too) . I know someone with Bell Palsy and she is beautiful.
Three hundred and fifty words on the nose, and 350 words that capture as well as anything that I have ever read the complexity of the entanglement of our physical appearance with our inner selves.
Words scar us forever. I was called a "dog" all through high school by a gang of male bullies and, although I am objectively good-looking and have been told so many times, it's hard to believe it.

Your Dad is a wretch. Ignore him!
Boy, was he so wrong! I want to take your father and, at the very least, wash his mouth out with foul tasting soap. Then I want to turn him around and make him look again and see the lovely, graceful ballerina who at seven was loving life in the moment. Then I want him to breathe in deeply and not focus on what fills him with anger. I want to free him to see the wonder and the beauty of his little girl.

I can't make your dad see what was there right in front of him that day, but I can offer you what I see when I think of you in that dress on that day. Wonder and beauty and life and grace. Look in that mirror again, Joan. Can you see what I see? Laugh and smile and rest til you are ready to twirl once more.
It may have resurfaced, but just kick its ass right out the door. I see your photo there -- your graceful face, swan neck, perfect shoulders ... classic chignon, knowing smile. I read your heart as you lay it out. I know those shoulders are capable and sturdy. Ugly lacks confidence. Ugly is not you, my friend. Not at all.

All the best with your BP. I have heard that REST is the best cure. xoxo
Parents can be so toxic. I feel your pain, even though you are altogether lovely.
I just can't fanthom a parent saying something like that in the presence of his daughter! Are you sure you didn't misunderstand?! How could any parent be that cruel?
For what it's worth, I think you are very attractive and have from the first time I saw your profile picture. I'm sorry you are being burdened with this facial palsy. I am grateful it is temporary for your sake. You may not feel attractive because of it, but those who know and love you will have no problem looking past the palsy and noticing the beauty that is always present on your face and within your heart.
I simply cannot conceive the mind of a man who would say that to or about a daughter. And yet he too was once a vulnerable,loving child himself, so I suppose something awful must have happened to him for it to turn out that way.

I'm ugly too. Not by my father's declaration, but by my high school classmates, who greeted my fiery outburst of hormones with the taunting term "pizza face." I've been told different many times since, but it never sticks the way that teenage assessment did.

More recently my face was rearranged by eyelid and eyebrow surgery so that I could see better, and the immediate result was to make me look like I'd lost a bar brawl with Mike Tyson. Gradually it has settled down into acceptability again, so I no longer feel like the Elephant Man when I leave the house. And my new profile picture, taken just a couple of weeks ago elicited comments from some ladies of "handsome," "strong," "open," honest," and "GREAT!"
Sorry, that was a premature launch...

In spite of the compliments, I still FEEL ugly. That's the legacy of childhood cruelty, the icky feelings that just never quite go away.

I do hope the Bell's palsy clears quickly, beautiful.
I wish parents knew how horrible it is to say such things - my father regularly made comments about my weight when I was growing up. You're right - no matter who else finds us attractive or how much we love ourselves, those comments never leave us. The good news is, you write so beautifully and have such a beautiful way of thinking, that no matter how you're temporarily disfigured on the outside, I think that will shine through, and it's definitely what you need to focus on. You have people who love you and see your inner and outer beauty, and will see it no matter what. And just think about it - when your face returns to normal, it could make you appreciate your regular appearance that much more. Rated with sympathy and support.
From what I have read here on OS, you have made a practice of learning from each challenge you have faced. And so now you are faced with the challenge of evicting your father's statement . . . deflating it from the "statement of truth" you took it to be, to a pffffffffffft statement. And chica, having come this far, I have no doubt that you will make an amazing recovery from the Bell's, as well as from the impact of "Ugly."
Maybe this has come up so you can finally put it to rest.
Banish the thought and replace it with the truth of your beauty.
@I was more than a little concerned that this would sound like a great big whine of a post. But every comment here has been so kind, so helpful, so generous. I just have to say thank you so much for coming by and giving me some much needed encouragement. I'd give you all a big smile, but of course you know my face is frozen. Kind of like a bad batch of Botox...
Our parents can do so much harm that is so difficult to undo. I think sometimes that if a child does not favor the one parent's side of the family, they express their disappointment in such ways. I saw this at work in my brutal MIL who hated her one grandchild which did not look "like a Noblitt".
Is that you in the avatar? Looking just gorgeous.
What I have done in the past is, when I look in the mirror, I say aloud to myself--YOU are just Gorgeous. Say it enough times and you can drown out that despicable voice that returns from the past.
From your photo, you look beautiful, & from your writing, you are a beautiful person as well! One of my best friend's had Bell's & she is usually a non-stop talker...for her, the worst part was that she couldn't communicate to everyone what she would come out as "Ell's Alsy." ...Hope you feel better each day!
Joan, I'm so sorry! I grew up feeling ugly, too, & still have trouble getting past it. It is just the worst feeling, & even when all the photos & flattery says otherwise, there is that nagging evil little voice in the head that tries to beat down the reality. In your case, you can even put a name on the voice, & unfortunately it's "Dad" & that makes it even worse because Dad is supposed to be your first Prince Charming, not the freaking dragon.

I think -- I KNOW -- that as adults we are harder on ourselves than anyone else. If your friend had Bell's Palsy you would still see your beautiful friend behind the condition, you wouldn't find your friend ugly or believe they should hide out. Treat yourself like you would a friend.

(Easy to say, but I'm paranoid about my looks, too, & would probably hide out & whine to my husband & stare in the mirror trying to will the stupid palsy away. If you can -- while your home anyway -- try to find a book called Minding The Body. It's a book of essays about the way women view themselves & deal with issues like beauty & muscular dystrophy -- sounds depressing but is really inspiring/enlightening.)
...YOU'RE home, not your home...
not much i can add that others haven't said already. words can really stick with you...i know this. get well soon. sending good mojo your way...
All I can think (and it's no excuse) is that it would take a man with a lot of demons to say something like that to a child. I have seen photographic proof that you were NOT an ugly little girl, and you certainly aren't ugly will just have to get through this, moment by moment, and mine it for all of the insight and humility it brings. Also sulk a lot, watch trash TV and eat Cheetos.
oh dear heaven (((joan)))
Joan... I was wondering if you have ever approached your father about the comment. There was a saying when I was a child, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." I learned later that this is very much untrue. Words can very much indeed hurt and leave painful mental scars and memories.

I hope that you quickly recover from the Bell's Palsy condition. I have known someone to have the condition and recovered in a couple or so weeks.

Sorry for your pain!! MsDawn
Joan, forgive me, but I am as pissed off right now. What the hell was the wrong with your parents?!?!?! Together they seemed to be trying to destroy you emotionally. But justice prevailed. In spite of THEIR ugliness, they produced a beautiful, talented, and kind human being. Jeez.....

ouch- Jesus. What was your dad thinking? ((Joan)) you and Cindy today. I am so glad I'm not a parent...the damage they can do. :(
Beauty is an inside, not an outside thing. Know that you are beautiful.
I can see your avatar picture, and I really can't see how twisting up one side of your face in any way could make you ugly.
Once my dad said something about how my sister and are "rangy farm women." I actually think he meant it as a kind of compliment, but it didn't exactly make my day (and, like you, I never forgot it either).

I like what David says here about how your dad was once a vulnerable child too, hoping for his parents' approval. It won't assuage your own hurt to remember your dad was likely crushed over and over again as a child himself, but it may help you to to remember that his cruel words were hallmarks of his own upbringing and personal misery--they had NOTHING to do with you or your appearance. Best wishes for a speedy recovery, my dear.
He was a horse's ass to say that - even had you been ugly. You weren't and are not, as we know, unless all these photos you've put up are of somebody else and you're really the spittin' image of George Bush - and even then, saying that to you only made him the ugly one.
Oh, geez. He's wrong. You're beautiful. You could coat yourself in ash and innerds and be beautiful.

The voices we hear; the voices we ignore. It's something, isn't it?
What possessed him to say such a thing I do not know. All little girls are beautiful.
I hope, I do hope, you remember how precious you are to all of us. Sending thoughts of speedy recovery your way.
Much love.
oh Joan.

I wish there was an Undo button for life.

In your posts and comments you transcend ugly and beautiful, to the Better Place of truth and ideas and meaning.
It's amazing how quickly a cutting 'aside' can come back to haunt us in times of vulernablilty. On a completely different note: my mother used to love those awful Florence Eiseman dresses (which you can probably tell I ABSOLUTELY HATED!!!!). Just about every photo of me at a birthday party is in one of those terrible dresses. Are you sure your father didn't say the dress was ugly?! Otherwise what an uspeakably damaging thing for a father to say. My heart goes out to the seven-year-old you.

Wishing you a speedy recovery. Take care, Joan.
Oh! And another thing, Joan -- I agree that watching the real housewives of new jersey -- is a great, guilty pleasure/distraction when one is feeling really crappy. Go for it!!!!!!!!!!!!! I do!
@Thank you again everyone for such gracious comments. You are some wonderful people, you know.
@Nellie, can you imagine how different my entire life would have been if I had simply misunderstood? That he was really talking about the hideous Florence Eisman dress all that time? Mind blowing thought, but nah, probably not... a cool thought though.
Ugh, makes me want to find out how he was talked to as a child. I hurt for that little girl! Can you imagine whispering something like that?! So sorry, Joan. So thankful that you have broken the emotional abuse and are such a loving parent. xoxo
Joan H. thanks for reminding me about Florence Eisman dresses. Not! Little yellow duck and chirping birdie appliques on pique yokes of dresses make every poor child look awful....especially when combined with white anklets. I have seen your bereted tres chic sunglassed white gloved harbinger of hip self. Dad was esthetically challenged, poor man.

I hope the droopy face aligns itself soon. Getting older kinda does stuff like that to one's face anyway, but you got it all in one hit. Knowing you, you will heal from this with even more empathy for those with physical disabilities.
I'm sorry to hear that your father's extremely insensitive comment harmed you so deeply.
Yikes! The only hope for the human race is if we learn from our parents not to do these things to our children.
Oh, Honey! Hang in there!!! This happened to my beautiful young niece a few years ago and it did go away after a few months, I believe it was. You are NOT ungly! Damn! Those words our parents speak to us when we are so young and impressionable are a lifetime of self battering mockeries. No good. My mom did this to me but I overcame it after I grew up and discovered mascara and lipstick. She told me I had a great personality but was plain and would always need makeup and lipstick to be pretty. What ever!! Sure, we all look a tad better with a little war paint on but to hear those meanie voices come back into our heads is poop! Hang tough! This, too, shall pass! xo
Well you look beautiful to me! I can empathise with you a little as one day when I was about 11 and a bit gawky the photographer came into school and said, gesturing to me and my friends, "Right, let's have the ugly ones first!" and everybody laughed. I realize now that he was probably only joking but it has always stayed with me and affected my self confidence somewhat as did the fact that I never saw my Father again after he and my Mum split up-did he not try to trace me because he thought I was ugly? There is no such thing as an ugly person!
bell's palsy, i know it well... it's temporary; your beauty is forever.
You could never be ugly but I understand the old scripting resurfacing. I was once a pedestrian hit by a hit and run driver sustaining some facial injuries. I too knew ugly in that sense. It's tough on the self esteem. I wore sunglasses for weeks. I became aware of how people who are permanently disfigured must feel. A lot of old family shit surfaced. Believe it or not, there is an opportunity for healing. I think you will come out of this loving yourself in a better way. xo
Joan, I feel you are beautiful. I have never met you, I see only a small picture, which with my eyes, probably does not tell me a whole lot. In it I see a smile and bright eyes. I cannot know, but I look inside the words you write and feel. There are many ways to hurt people, when they are young, when they are old. What we know and tell ourselves matters more. I hope you are well soon. I must tell you this, I have seen many beautiful people who when they spoke were not so. I have heard many melodic voices say terrible words. I have been told lies, by the most educated and wealthy individuals. I have seen grace pour out of the most afflicted person, who I just glanced at on a train. The soul is the mirror of our beauty. Think of what is beautiful in nature and recognize your own unique beauty, glow. I am going to forgive your father, for his stupid remark. I assume his life unfolded in a way that you or I would not desire. So much hate is of no value. You are beautiful. Ugly is a word which is a reflection of emotion. NO one who is beautiful can say another person is ugly. Just how I think, sorry for the ramble. R
@Are we absolutely sure we are remembering "Florence Eisman" dresses correctly here, people? I remember them as uber sophisticated and very dignified. (I cannot imagine my mother having it any other way...)
I'm so sorry that you're going through this, Joan. I know it's only temporary, but your post is a huge reminder of how feeling unattractive brings up all sorts of unpleasant memories and thoughts. My ugly years were traumatizing. I guess I'm lucky that my parents never brought it to my attention!
Oh dear Joan, I just know what this feels like. And then the Bells palsy on top of it all, even the name is so, I don't know, just creepy and scary.
You poor thing, you deserve a huge hug. Here it comes!
P.S. Seen your pics on FB, thats a lovely woman, I'm seeing.
I think your HAWT, Joanie. Just say'in! ;~)
joan, there are so many wise & supportive comments here--I will just add wishes for a speedy recovery and hope that you let all the love from your real life family & os fans erase old messages...
wait, my wording just sounded a little funny, but, uh, I hope you get the jist of my warm wishes...
Forgive me, but WTF? Horrible doesn't begin to describe it. I hope you get well soon. Some people cannot stand the resplendence of a child's soul, your father was one of those people.

@Amy, thanks! You made my day!
Caroline, I completely get what you are saying and thank you
Lady Miko, your righteous indignation on my behalf is very much appreciated.

@Thanks again for ALL of your generosity~
Sorry to hear about your illness and your dad's comment.
my father was just as kind.
that dragon has hunted me all of my life.

forgive me for saying this, I refrain from commenting on appearances, but you are one of the most attractive women on OS.

It must have been a bad hair day.
Trudge, thank you for that.
wschanz, I thank you for your kindness and your humor. Both are sincerely appreciated.
Joan, I am so sorry that you are feeling this way and that your father's hurtful words have resurfaced. You are a beautiful person.
We all wonder how parents can be so, so hurtful to their own children, yet so many of us have experienced it in some way. I may not know you that well, but the person I see here, in photographs and words, is beautiful to me.
I don't want to address your superficial beauty, or lack thereof, because some people are not good looking. But does that mean they are worth less? I mean, what if you, or me, or him, or her, is plain or downright unattractive? Do you or they deserve to feel bad? Let's not buy into the trap your father laid with his awful comment by putting our foot in it.

I think the issue with your father is rejection and insensitivity and a lack of nurturing in terms of your inner child. He did not care for your feelings. This powerful figure reduced you to ugliness. Nothing inside could combat this condemnation and instead, over time, the ugliness became the language you used to talk to your self about who you were.

As for Bell's Palsy, been there, done that, got the residual symptoms. I was 28yo and thought it was guilt manifesting itself as a hysterical manifestation. Too much psychoanalytic thinking, me thinks.... Most people seem to recover very well. I still have nerve weakness in my left eye when I yawn. It is possible you will have a lasting legacy, but who knows? Funnily enough, they say that people get used to acquired deformity because they are still capable of enjoying life, and thus relatively quickly adapt to the reality of their condition.

I hope you can nurture yourself and learn to reject your father's pronouncement. What does this experience say about him? This should be the focus of the memory. He's an insensitive man. Take something positive from the past. Have empathy for the displaced and alienated and deformed. Rather than focus cripplingly on yourself, look outside. Find strength through relationships, meaningful acts, compassionate regard and pleasurable activities. Write down things you are grateful for regarding what your body is capable of doing. Extend yourself beyond the female prison of the beauty/ugly dichotomy.
Ah, this is a little off topic but... that picture of you gardening the other day? I'd ask you out for coffee. (And you would then tell me you were happily married of course.)

Just sayin'.
Joan, every time I look at your avatar I think of how beautiful you are. Really. Don't give cranky ol' dad rent space in your brain.
You are beautiful. So beautiful, that no ugliness, even that which is connected to you by blood, could mar it.

Get well soon.
I'm beginning to see a trend around here. There are more fathers who did more damage to their daughters and produced beautiful women of strength, resilience and courage as their punishment. You are one of them. Maybe, that's what they were afraid of....
You're beautiful, beautiful, beautful. I wish if I said it enough it could undo all the brainwashing.

My step father told me when I was young that if I kept eating like I did that I'd be fat. To this day, when I eat, I hear his voice. It haunts me. Not the same as yours, but your story reminded me of this.
The love all women measure their male relationships is based on that first one. Why do you think so many girls --too young for thoughts even--seek love when they are 10 or 12 from boys with fewer thoughts than they have--because Daddy isn't there to make them feel like the prettiest girl in the world--listen up future fathers---THAT IS YOUR JOB--to make your daughter feel like the prettiest girl in the world!
The palsy thing sucks, but someone with your grace could never be ugly.
Ah, Joanie-what a cruel, stupid, and untrue thing to say to a child. If you heard someone say that to a girl now, what would you say?
Your writing is so smart, so on point without being sentimental. You are talented and beautiful.