May 16, 2007 12:30 AM   Subscribe

What, specifically, makes an ugly person ugly.

One of my favorite things to do is to inconspicuously watch "ugly" people to try to determine exactly what makes them unattractive. I try to apply some objective criteria, even though I realize the criteria I choose to use is inherently subjective. Cheek bones too high. Eyes too close together. One nostril bigger than the other.

Often times, I'll liken people to animals. Paris Hilton looks an awful lot like Big Bird and the Olsen Twins look like the ducks.

I'm no (pre-leather face) Robert Redford myself, so I feel that I'm not being judgmental. These are my people. I want to understand them.
posted by HotPatatta to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (48 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Lack of symmetry is one thing: we're wired to respond more positively to more symmetric faces / bodies.
posted by pharm at 12:40 AM on May 16, 2007

I think when I see someone and think "Dang, that person is ugly" it's almost always because that person happens to have traits that I either have now or used to have and disliked in myself. So, because I've had excessive acne, a big nose, funny bad in-between hair, and braces, for example, I dislike them in other people.

It's weird when my boyfriend and I talk about someone and he thinks she looked perfectly great and I didn't notice anything but the pimples. It really puts my standards of beauty in perspective.
posted by crinklebat at 12:46 AM on May 16, 2007

The appearance of disease or defect? Deviation from a certain range of ratios for the distance between facial features, maybe? Some people might say that a resemblance to someone you've hated in the past is what makes a person ugly.

Just some ideas.
posted by hjo3 at 12:54 AM on May 16, 2007

What pharm said, and facial shape.
posted by orthogonality at 12:59 AM on May 16, 2007

Hygiene issues are the number one ugly-flag for me. I used to know this guy who had the crustiest eyelashes, greasy skin and constant dandruff, and he could have looked like Johnny Depp underneath it but no one would have cared...
posted by np312 at 1:00 AM on May 16, 2007

Facial features that are too large/things too small, especially in relation to the rest of the face (nose too big, eyes too small).

Lack of symmetry is the current scientific thesis. This can be tested by holding a mirror in-between a facial photo and reflecting half the face. Does it look better, or broadly the same?

Lack of distinct lines in the face indicates ugliness, such as a lack of jaw line, or cheekbones.

Personally I believe it's all down to confidence. Anybody can be beautiful. Mata Hari is a good example—by all measures she wasn't particularly beautiful, but she managed to lure men by the dozen.
posted by humblepigeon at 1:03 AM on May 16, 2007

posted by Skyanth at 1:05 AM on May 16, 2007 [3 favorites]

There have been a few documentaries on the subject. One involved both some amazonian tribes mostly concentrating on hip-to-waist ratios but also included both of what pharm and crinklebat mentioned. The info is out there but beyond my google-fu tonight...
posted by prodevel at 1:06 AM on May 16, 2007

The ugliest guy I know is a storm of appearance problems all rolled into one. Horrible acne all over his face is probably the best place to start.

However, that in and of itself, is not a deal breaker. I've had horrible acne and I don't assume I'm out of the woods yet, but I don't want to stop here. He also is a poor shaver. Once again, I (and a great many men I know) have been known to miss a shave or two and get some ingrown hairs. But these ingrown hairs grow into the horrible acne. See where I'm going with this?

He also has an expression. I've never seen this expression on anyone else. Eyes beady and half-closed at the same time (if that makes any sense) and mouth agape as if he's exhaling marijuana smoke all the time.

Even then, all these things don't make him a truly ugly person. We must play the phenotypes we were dealt, and there's nothing wrong with that. He's also an asshole. He punched a friend of mine in the balls for being in the room of a girl he had sex with once. This I think is the kicker.

Any one "ugly" trait can be played off as quirky or unique. It takes a combination of bad personal hygiene and despicable behavior to make someone truly ugly. I may have overthought your question, but this is metafilter ain't it?
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 1:07 AM on May 16, 2007

Dude, Richard III - 'cause ugly is on the inside.

A great I.B. Singer short story I was thinking about just this morning - (I read it a couple years ago and can't for the life of me find it now) - asks just this question but from the other side.

A tutor is seduced by his homeliest student... He thinks she's homely, as well as the fact that she is his student. She claims that she is a witch and can't help it. What is her power over him? She taps into who he is and complements him. She's ugly, but to him the most beautiful creature.
posted by From Bklyn at 1:30 AM on May 16, 2007

Lack of symmetry, and lack of conformity to the Golden Ratio. Other than that, stuff that tends to indicate weakness or infirmity -- signs of age, disease, or poor genes.

This is all anecdotal, obviously, but I feel the opposite of crinklebat. I have terrible skin (acne and scarring), and whenever I see anyone else with skin anywhere near as bad, I feel instant sympathy and even connection.
posted by booksandlibretti at 1:31 AM on May 16, 2007

There are tons of people who are not attractive, but in order for a person to rate as truly ugly, in my opinion, requires the combination of the following three features:
1) Bad skin
2) Bad teeth
3) Fat
posted by tumbleweedjack at 1:33 AM on May 16, 2007

Oh, booksandlibretti, don't get me wrong. I feel sympathy and connection, too, but I hated my own acne so much (and still do) that I can't conceive of someone who has a severe case as being attractive. It just doesn't compute.
posted by crinklebat at 1:44 AM on May 16, 2007

The features I do find immediately unattractive are:
chins that seem to recede from just below the lower lip and slide, in hopeless defeat, into the neck area;
mouths that hang open all the time;
thin lips;
ankles and shins that seem to have collided and jammed together into one, tubular "shinkle";
short, fat fingers...
still, I find the more I focus on the unattractive feature, the more attractive the person becomes - I can't help but confuse my fascination with the extraordinary aspects of that face with attraction to that face. "Ugly" people are just too fascinating to be just.... Ugly. (Also, someone could have all those features listed above and still not seem ugly - if you get my meaning.)
But, all that said, I honestly don't think I've ever thought of someone as UGLY unless I've met and disliked them. You can't underestimate the importance of how your ideas about the person change your ideas about their attractiveness (see: my by-any-standards good-looking wife marrying a short, pudgy, balding, crooked-toothed, ugly fucker like me).
Oh - and have a look at Shane McGowan. People who've never heard The Pogues (unsurprisingly) think he's one of the ugliest men alive while for many of us who love the man and his music - well, ugly is the last word I'd use to describe his face.
posted by bunglin jones at 1:46 AM on May 16, 2007

Asymmetry. Bad hygiene. Loud breathing. The appearance of a dullard.

Especially for me: thin hair, unkempt hair. Women with really thin hair squick me out. I'm sorry.

(And if you're a guy with thin hair, there are plenty of ways to cope with this without having your head look like a Daddy Long-Legs eating an egg.)

I'm also very perturbed by women with mustaches. I knew a very cute, intelligent girl with a slight but visible 'stache, but my brain couldn't look past it. She eventually took care of it, and became a real looker.
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:54 AM on May 16, 2007

Physically ugly is the opposite of someone who is young, tall, vigorous, trim, and well-toned; who has smooth, clear, elastic skin; who has a full head of young-feeling (soft, smooth, shiny) hair; who is balanced and poised and clean from head to toes; and who appears to be at the peak of reproductive maturity and has the reproductive equipment to back it up.

Or someone who is not a billionaire. Because love and gold-digging are blind.
posted by pracowity at 1:58 AM on May 16, 2007 [3 favorites]

There's the usual asymmetry, but that can always be overridden with a charming personality and a dangerously sharp wit. That's actually the case with all instances of Fugly that I've met. Good personality makes for attractiveness, I guess. Well, that and hair. Good lord, every geek I've met has looked a hundred times better once he stopped with the bowl cut and got with the short, spiky waxed look.

The place where the personality and looks collide into a big ol' mess of ugly for me is when things look fake. I saw Paris Hilton on the news today, and I'm pretty sure that is not her original hair color, eye color, eyelids, or nose. I was squicked out the first time I saw her, like her visage rested in my own personal uncanny valley. Actually now that I think of it, physical perfection really squicks me out; I feel like people need to have flaws that I can relate to to be attractive. Now THAT I can't get over; it's too weird in my own head.

Oh right, but physically fugly: unibrows, people. Acne and bad facial hair that makes me never want to get close to their mouth/chin.
posted by universal_qlc at 2:11 AM on May 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

I think I'm safe in saying that it's what's on the inside that makes someone truly ugly... but I will say that being obese is that rare thing in the states... many people are obese, but everyone (even obese people) constantly comment on everyone's weight.

It's usually an economic thing, though, which is the sad bit. Why do poorer people have such awful diets, anyway?
posted by chuckdarwin at 2:48 AM on May 16, 2007

Depends on the sex, methinks.... fem-ulgy versus mal-ugly. We've evolved with a predisposition to be attracted to different things in whichever sex we're attracted to.

Ugly is probably lack of beauty, which is much more definable. Consult Helen Fisher and Diane Ackerman for some references to what makes folks attractive (their works contain many references) and negate it.

If 'beauty' is basically a species mating strategy, anything which opposes it is ugly...e.g., indicators of non-fecundity, poor health, bad prospects for the future, weakness, mental/social illness, etc.

IMO, all other things being equal, a beautiful spirit goes a long way towards curing a surface deficit of any sort.
posted by FauxScot at 3:04 AM on May 16, 2007

Just keep in mind, beautiful and sexy are not the same thing, and can come in opposing packages. Many an ugly man I've seen or met that was extremely sexy! Many beautiful men were not. (I can't judge sexiness in women, being without an interest)

Ugly isn't very common, fortunately. At least in my notions of it. Definitly I can agree on weak jaw problem.
posted by Goofyy at 3:05 AM on May 16, 2007

I like the Pogues and all, but Shane McGowan is one ugly fucker.
posted by chuckdarwin at 4:29 AM on May 16, 2007 [3 favorites]

I think that Paris Hilton looks like an Afghan Hound.

Ugliness? Weak chin, horsey upper lip, tiny or goggling eyes, lips too thin or blubbery, whiny voice, the refusal to respect the boundaries of others....a Roman coin of Cleopatra and Mark Antony turned up in the UK a few months ago depicting her as rather sour-looking--according to contemporary reports she had a lovely voice.
posted by brujita at 5:01 AM on May 16, 2007

In my experience personality always eventually overrides physical form.

I've known attractive people I have come to find physically ugly because they are just awful people, and have lusted after people convention would declare homely because they radiate a glorious personality.

However, I think the main thing that renders someone truly ugly - outside actual deformity - is a lack of attention to themselves. A hunched person with stringy hair, mouth open, unwashed tracksuit and giving the impression that they are not really conscious of the world etc. is unpleasant , while in most cases if they dressed nicely (not expensively), stood erect and took an interest in the world they would come across a lot better.
posted by tomble at 5:13 AM on May 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

Characteristic features of the female "sexy face" in comparison to the "unsexy face": (from here)

* Suntanned skin
* Narrower facial shape
* Less fat
* Fuller lips
* Slightly bigger distance of eyes
* Darker, narrower eye brows
* More, longer and darker lashes
* Higher cheek bones
* Narrower nose
* No eye rings
* Thinner lids
posted by djb at 5:38 AM on May 16, 2007

I would like to think that this question is asking for general insights about what drives our subjective assessments of ugliness -- warranting answers about symmetry, ratios, other-ness, inattention, and the like.

Turning it into a forum about particular features that drive us nuts -- "Fat asses! Whenever I see a fat ass, I want to hurl!" -- may not be constructive.

P.S. I may or may not have a fat ass.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 6:11 AM on May 16, 2007

Fatism is the new racism.
posted by chuckdarwin at 6:22 AM on May 16, 2007

awesome. based on reading this thread most of you would think i'm ugly because i'm fat and have bad skin. thanks askme!
posted by misanthropicsarah at 6:58 AM on May 16, 2007

I see plenty of plain people. But I rarely see anyone stunningly ugly or stunningly beautiful. Truly ugly people are so striking that they're almost ... beautiful. I want to stare at them in almost the same way that I want to stare at someone who is gorgeous.

But here's one thing that I find extremely unappealing (though I'm not sure it's the same as ugly). Every once in a while, I see someone who -- for whatever reason -- doesn't attract me. They don't necessarily have to be ugly.

Seeing someone who doesn't appeal to me is no big deal. What pushes things over the edge is when something about them makes me feel like my body is in contact with theirs.

For instance, sometimes when an unappealing person wears a tank-top, and I can see their armpits, I can't stop myself from imagining B.O.

This is my weird neurosis, but I bet I'm not the only one that has it.
posted by grumblebee at 7:17 AM on May 16, 2007

An excellent BBC documentary on the subject: The Human Face, hosted by John Cleese.
posted by The Deej at 7:20 AM on May 16, 2007

A great I.B. Singer short story I was thinking about just this morning - (I read it a couple years ago and can't for the life of me find it now) - asks just this question but from the other side.

A tutor is seduced by his homeliest student... He thinks she's homely, as well as the fact that she is his student. She claims that she is a witch and can't help it. What is her power over him? She taps into who he is and complements him. She's ugly, but to him the most beautiful creature.
posted by From Bklyn at 1:30 AM on May 16

And that story would be "The Witch."
posted by Optimus Chyme at 7:24 AM on May 16, 2007

Asymmetry, aproportional features (Golden Ratio-less), poor complexion.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:53 AM on May 16, 2007

I'm kind of surprised at all the people answering 'acne.' I was pimply when I was a teenager and had zero success with women, but as an adult, many women have said that my acne scars are 'sexy.' Go figure.

I have found that a likeable personality can make even the weirdest face attractive, but one physical feature that definitely repels me is what some would call a 'cruel mouth.'
posted by jonmc at 7:54 AM on May 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

Ugly is probably lack of beauty, which is much more definable.

I disagree with this idea, that ugliness is just the absence of beauty. There is a point, though not an entirely clear one, at which ugliness becomes an almost tangible quality. If you tried to explain it in terms of a lack of beauty, you would surely fail--especially when dealing with some of the most robust and manifestly grotesque uglinesses.
posted by voltairemodern at 7:56 AM on May 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

chuck darwin: Why do poorer people have such awful diets, anyway?

See Michael Pollan's You Are What You Grow.
posted by dseaton at 7:58 AM on May 16, 2007

Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in your joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand.
posted by yohko at 8:00 AM on May 16, 2007 [22 favorites]

As of late, I've grown more and more revolted by several varieties of obvious plastic surgery. Artificially puffed lips make me cringe, as they not only look awful, but they remind me of jamming a syringe into one's lips, as well as the vanity of someone so obsessed with their thin-to-normal lips that they'd shove all sorts of weird goop in there.

The Hollywood Nose also wears on me.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:01 AM on May 16, 2007

Hey, Sticherbeast, have you had a look at Garry Shandling lately?
posted by chuckdarwin at 8:04 AM on May 16, 2007

The Hollywood Nose also wears on me.

Yes indeed, in fact it's quite ugly as it just doesn't look quite natural. The irony of this is not lost on me.
posted by ob at 8:15 AM on May 16, 2007

To me, the most noticable ugly is unkempt ugly. Consider that all the pictures of beautiful people are posed, planned, and touched up. Even the most Shane McGowanish of us can look good with the help of a decent photographer, make-up artist, and Photoshop. So it stands to reason that the opposite of all that care is undesirable.

Most of us take some form of care in our appearance. We bathe, wear clothes that fit right, and otherwise groom ourselves. There are those that don't, and they stick out. Maybe because of all the effort we put into our own upkeep, they stick out even more.

When I think of ugly, I think of a particular person who sits alone in a Panera Bread all day and surfs the web. Her hair is unkempt and ratty, her skin greasy, her glasses thick, her clothing stained and torn, her sideburns and moustache coarse and visible, and she picks her nose with dirty fingernails. She is also overweight and sits on two chairs pulled together. Had she but a few of these traits, I doubt I'd even notice her. What makes her stick out in my mind is that many of those traits seem manageable.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 8:21 AM on May 16, 2007

In the same vein as Shane McGowan (who yes, is brilliant, but also looks like the underside of Satan's ballsack), may I submit for Embodiment of Ugly (while being incredibly talented) - Thom Yorke. Ugh.

For me, I think it's asymmetry (see above) and a general appearance of lack of decent hygiene. But even ugly people can become "unconventionally attractive" if they're totally fucking awesome. At least for me. I would probably make out with Steve Buscemi, and nobody thinks he's good-looking.
posted by mckenney at 8:25 AM on May 16, 2007

That's actually a rather flattering picture of Thom Yorke...his eyes seem to match up.

I have a feeling that Diane Arbus would have something interesting to say about the original question, but I'm not feeling inspired enough to figure out where that assessment (if it exists) would be.
posted by kittyprecious at 9:27 AM on May 16, 2007

Hey! I have an asymmetrical face and a weak chin. *whimpers*

I think greasy, stringy hair and that weird teenage boy face fuzz (haven't figured out it's time to start shaving yet), as well as overly picked at acne are ugly in men.

In women: excessive plastic surgery (fish lips, etc.), and unintentionally over-the-top makeup.

In both: I don't think obesity is inherently ugly, but when really overweight people stop grooming, start smelling, and wear nothing but sweats it gets yucky.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 9:52 AM on May 16, 2007

For m, it's usually bad posture and a lack of grace. Add in an unattractive voice, bad hygiene, and a lousy attitude, and voila! Ugly.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:59 AM on May 16, 2007

Standards of beauty change over time, and have been heavily influenced by advertising. So has our perception of what's ugly...

Super tall, ultra-thin women with small eyes and big-lipped, wet-looking mouths were considered ugly in Victorian times, when small, padded, doll-like women with large eyes and demure mouths were the height of fashion and desirability.

Nowadays, the model look is in: women should look androgenous (if the pages of fashion mags are any indication): tall, ultra thin, high cheekbones, strong jawlines, defined eyebrows. The weirdest thing for me is that smallish eyes coupled with smashed noses and puffy lips are considered beautiful (think Angelina Jolie and clones). I recall reading something by a media critic who thought the current vogue in ads for women with big, smiling mouths full of teeth and fat lips echoes our cultural values. People are represented as sharks because they're famished, greedy, orally-fixated consumers. I think he was on to something...
posted by frosty_hut at 11:36 AM on May 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

Bad teeth. (Which could mean decayed, missing, or just generally misarranged.)

I think this is cultural, though; but if you want TV and movies, whenever they want to portray an "ugly" person, one of the easiest ways to do it is just to have them display bad teeth, the audience/viewer's reaction is predictable and visceral.

Eyebrows and eye-related symmetry are also pretty high on the list of things that seem to feed directly into a person's attractiveness, although not as much as teeth and lips do.

Oddly, for all the time people seem to spend obsessing over their noses and getting them surgically corrected, I think people are much more forgiving about nose shape than about other facial features.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:20 PM on May 16, 2007

See also Matt vs. Kevin: A Comparative Analysis.
posted by rob511 at 3:25 PM on May 16, 2007

Thom Yorke: Odd, I don't find him ugly, he's just not "pretty." To me he's just average.

However, I cannot stand looking at Jennifer Garner. Especially her lips. I hope her lips are fake. I shudder to look at her. Yech.

Jon Voight is ugly and Angelina Jolie looks too much like him for me to find her attractive.
posted by who squared at 6:36 PM on May 16, 2007

Wow, I think Thom Yorke is spectacularly beautiful (and not even a Radiohead fan), as well as his doppelganger, Tilda Swinton.
posted by birdie birdington at 7:39 PM on May 16, 2007

« Older Kickbacks and Shady Business   |   NO MORE T-SHIRTS!!! No MORE KHAKIS!!! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.