Wednesday, May 20, 2009

What It Means to Be Unbeautiful, or, Some Notes in Response to Reginald Shepherd's Essay "On Beauty"

I lust after people I wish to be. I love people who I once I was. Or will become.

Beauty is an intelligence.

Salt Lake City contains two kinds of beautiful people: mountain climbers and models , Well-showered, they filled the streets. That’s where they belong. Everyone should have the chance to gawk. They don’t belong indoors, in bookstores, sitting. They have their territory.

The unbeautiful know how to tell jokes. The beautiful live in an unfunny riddle.

Long ago when I searched for men on, I sent phony pictures to men I wanted to seduce. The photos were of a beautiful man. It worked. After a little prodding, they visited me. Some were often angry. Some weren’t. We often had fun anyway. They made the drive, why not? I never felt bad. I gave them hope.

Do not contradict a poet who says he’s ugly. As if he’s suffering from low self-esteem. As if he’s being self-deprecating. He might be right, and then you’ll have told a lie.

I didn’t want a photo on my poetry book. I wanted people to imagine I was beautiful. It seemed unfair to dash their expectations. Especially if they loved any of the writing.

Only rarely does one give the beautiful a second look. The ugly always receive at least two.

Someone told me Phillip Levine said that you had to be unbeautiful to be an important poet. It was weird. I always considered Levine to be beautiful in a working-class kind of way.

I always think that arranging words in the right way will trick people into thinking I am beautiful.

The unbeautiful are unburdened. You can leave your house with food in your teeth or wearing a dirty shirt. No one will notice. We have expectations for the beautiful.

My first love died of AIDS. I met him when he was sick, his beauty already ruined. He had slept with a lot of people. We both knew it. On his deathbed, he took my hand and said, “Be happy you are not beautiful. You’d be sick, too.”

If you are unbeautiful, become a poet. Hide in words. But not for too long. Your body will call you back. It will moan and ache. When you return, you body will be there. The words may not.


  1. it seems to me that your vision of beauty is a marble statue, but ya know if you look at "The David" you will notice his left hand and right foot are grotesquely out of scale.
    i've seen a plain or even ugly man become in my eye an object of desire when he laughted or smiled or showed his intellect or witt... or heart. And I've witnessed handsome men turn to putrifying demons in my eye as they display the sins so common to their ilk. (Don't they all want me? Aren't you helpless before my libertinien charms) I know sex is commodity. I know in this world, nothing pays better than being blessed with beauty. But.. as for my heart... "that moneys no good in here."

  2. I think the thing you neglect to mention here is self-awareness. One's not burdened with beauty or the lack of beauty unless one has some sort of awareness of how their own body moves through space and crowds.

    And I agree with Elizabeth; for many women, male beauty involves these very "indoor/writerly" qualities that you attribute to the unbeautiful. Handsome men, nay all handsome people usually think that their beauty is enough and that belief, in itself, makes them ugly.