Behavior

You say your face would stop a freight train? Buddy, are you in luck!

SANDRA PEREDO April 4 1977
Behavior

You say your face would stop a freight train? Buddy, are you in luck!

SANDRA PEREDO April 4 1977

You say your face would stop a freight train? Buddy, are you in luck!

Behavior

I wish to contact women who are discriminated against because of their unattractive appearance to discuss what can be done to change the public's view toward us. All replies absolutely confidential.

The ad ran in the personal column of the Toronto Globe and Mail for six weeks. It drew only 25 responses—some from men who gallantly affirmed the beauty of all women, others from curious journalists. Those who replied heard back from a 45year-old Swedish woman who wants to be known only as Inger, and who says: “I’m a

private person, a housewife.” She says she was shocked when she moved to Canada three years ago because of the “dreadful way women here are treated on the basis of appearance.” Inger decided to see if other women felt the same way and placed her ad in the hope that she could bring together women troubled because their appearance was somewhat less than glamorous—as the women’s magazines define it. “I thought people should be allowed to say unattractiveness is beautiful, or being human is beautiful.”

Inger is definitely a harbinger of things to come. Already in the United States, groups of unattractive persons are forming. The best known is Uglies Unlimited— founded in 1973 by Danny Lee McCoy, a college teacher from Fort Worth, Texas. For two dollars McCoy, 32, offers mem-

bership to “secretaries with warts, stewardesses with pimples, policemen with freckles, hostesses with lumps, barbers without hair and businessmen with hook noses.” Says McCoy: “We’re not weirdos. We’re just people who realize that kind of discrimination is going on, and we’re finally getting others to recognize it.” McCoy says he has 450 members, mainly in Los Angeles, Dallas and Washington, DC, but “we do have a few in Toronto.” The main push so far has been economic: picketing airlines, having terms such as

“attractive” deleted from want ads, removing height requirements for police and firemen. “We’ve been very successful,” says McCoy. “You can see more ugly stewardesses on flights now.” They are having problems, however, getting positive support from the U.S. federal Equal Opportunity Commission. “They just don’t want to fool with us. They think it’s difficult to determine what is pretty and what is ugly.” It can be difficult, especially if you have to depend on the eye of the beholder.

McCoy had to weed out some members because “a lot of people had signed up their mothers-in-law or divorced mates as a kind of joke.”

But for those who may have to take lower-paying jobs because of their looks, it’s not funny. Provincial human rights commissions—which legislate against discrimination for everything from marital status to political convictions—tend to duck the subject. “We stress that the only

criterion for employment is competence,” says André Loiselle, communications agent for Quebec’s Commission des droits de la Personne, “so it is in the spirit of our charter. But we don’t have any legal power. Perhaps we should have—I think it must happen quite often [discrimination on grounds of appearance], even though we don’t have any proof.” A personnel assistant who screens applicants at one of Office Overload’s 50 temporary-help bureaus across Canada says, “We don’t turn people away because of their complexions or crooked teeth, but it is true that an attractive person will go farther than a plain jane.”

“It isn’t really something you can legislate,” says York University sociologist Judy Posner. “One of the main problems is that there is a correlation of sin with being ugly. People equate it with being bad and, ironically, if the individual buys this idea it can be a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy— he or she may in fact become ugly inside and perpetuate the myth.”

One respondent to Inger’s ad was Mary Lassance Parthun, a Cobourg, Ontario, social worker who is writing a book on the subject. “This kind of aesthetic is a reflection of affluence,” she says. “In other societies, in the past, survival skills were more important. People couldn’t afford the luxury of having someone around just for decoration.” Parthun believes that the pressure to be beautiful reflects in many of our attitudes. “If her kid calls another child ugly, and the mother says ‘That’s not nice, dear—that’s a terrible thing to say,’ then what she’s implying is that it’s not nice to be ugly. She’s just reinforcing the idea that ugly is bad.” SANDRA PEREDO