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LEANING INTO INSECURITY AND UGLINESS AS AN ESSENTIAL POLITIC

I want us to know Insecurity as intimately as we know the marginalized pieces of ourselves: as valid, as identities, and as political.

insecure[ in-si-kyoor ]

adjective

  1. subject to fears, doubts, etc.; not self-confident or assured: 
  2. not confident or certain; uneasy; anxious: 
  3. not secure; exposed or liable to risk, loss, or danger: 

insecurity[ in-si-kyooredē ]

noun

  1. uncertainty or anxiety about oneself; lack of confidence.
  2. the state of being open to danger or threat; lack of protection.

For as long as I can remember, I have been taught that insecurities are something to be afraid of; to be ashamed of; to run away from. Taught that the way I felt about my body and my being was my own moral failing, and therefore my own responsibility to hold. I have been socialized into believing that if I was insecure then I was weak, incapable, or ugly—and that all of those things were bad things to be. I internalized that. I believed for a long time that I was ugly, and incapable, and weak. And I internalized the shame and fear associated with those things. It was when I developed a politic around fatness, desirability, and ugliness that I began to form a different relationship to the aforementioned terms and the reality of living with them.

When people make critiques of language and banter that is anti-fat—especially online—many of us are met with claims that what is leading us to these critiques is not our well-developed understanding of fatness and anti-fatness, but rather our insecurities. The tone is always disciplinary. As if we are in trouble or being punished for daring to be insecure; for having the audacity to move through our insecurities with informed opinions. I sat with this for a while before deciding to write this piece and where I have landed is here: insecurities are worth embracing. Insecurities are not a moral failing of the individual, but rather an inadvertent critique of a society that seeks to punish, harm, and abuse Ugly people who dare to name that our perceived “flaws” aren’t flaws at all. In many ways, and in other words, they are a response to the daily violences Ugly people are forced to endure.

“Insecure” is an adjective. It is a word intended to describe or name a characteristic of a person/place/thing—otherwise known as a noun. “Insecurity” is a noun. It is intended to name a state of being; a response to a possibility of danger. While “insecure” does the job of classifying one’s (perceived negative) feelings about their body and beinghood, “insecurity” seeks to name the response to having no protection; the response to being harmed. It lights the path to what leads Ugly people to feeling unsafe, unconfident, and uncared for.

In On The Politics of Ugliness, Nina Athanassoglou-Kallmyer gives a comprehensive summation of Ugliness as a politic, wherein she lays out the history of the Ugly/Beautiful dichotomy in art history, literature, and aesthetic theory. In that same collection, editors Ela Przybylo and Sara Rodrigues write: “Ugliness or unsightliness is much more than a quality or property of an individual’s appearance—it has long functioned as a social category that demarcates access to social, cultural, and political spaces and capital”; that “our aesthetic, political, economic, sexual, and social discomfort with ugliness” even affects and effects our relationship to and “dislike of ugly spaces, ugly buildings, dilapidation, and disrepair.” In Saving Face: Disfigurement and the Politics of Appearance by Heather Laine Talley, she notes that “ugliness matters for us all, but it particularly matters for those with bodies deemed as ugly” and that “ugliness in itself becomes a way for barring a person’s access to status, work, and love, functioning as an absence of capital.”

“Persons” and “bodies” refer more specifically to people who are marginalized by race, class, (dis)ability(-ies), fatness, age, and gender. As such, Ugly is political. It is the determiner for who does and does not work; who does and does not Love; who does and does not die; who does and does not eat.

RECOMMENDED: UGLY: How Beauty Was Built Upon White Supremacy

The only logical step following the acceptance of Ugly as political is that Insecurity, too, must be political. If the politicization of Ugly leads to the social, political, economic, physical death of a person, they are bound to feel unprotected, uncared for, and unconfident. To that point, insecurities are valid. It is okay for us to be insecure in bodies that are constantly beat on and berated. Those insecurities don’t change the reality of what anti-fatness, or overall Ugliness, is and what it does. In fact, those insecurities better contextualize it.

You can’t beat people down forever and expect that they never feel the effects of that continued beating.

Insecurities are not a personal indictment; they are an indictment of the World. Being that this is the case, we should run towards Insecurity. Not as a trauma to inform our politics—as it is dangerous to navigate the world of politics through trauma rather than an informed praxis—but as a political tool that aids in developing our understanding of and relationship to oppressive power structures. 

The World is set up in this way: to be Ugly is to be a Monster; to be a Monster is to be the Slave; to be the Slave is to be the Other; to be the Other is to be Undesirable. A metaphysical, ontological, chain to pieces of flesh never intended to navigate this reality. And while we may not have control over that, what we do control is our ability to reclaim and redefine the meanings of these words. We can learn Ugliness and Insecurity more intimately as parts of who we are—particularly and especially under this imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.

In a speech she gave in 2011, titled “Moving Toward the Ugly: A Politic Beyond Desirability”, Mia Mingus prefaced some important questions with a very important introduction. The excerpt is as follows:

“We all run from the ugly. And the farther we run from it, the more we stigmatize it and the more power we give beauty. Our communities are obsessed with being beautiful and gorgeous and hot. What would it mean if we were ugly?  What would it mean if we didn’t run from our own ugliness or each other’s? How do we take the sting out of “ugly?” What would it mean to acknowledge our ugliness for all it has given us, how it has shaped our brilliance and taught us about how we never want to make anyone else feel? What would it take for us to be able to risk being ugly, in whatever that means for us. What would happen if we stopped apologizing for our ugly, stopped being ashamed of it?  What if we let go of being beautiful, stopped chasing “pretty,” stopped sucking in and shrinking and spending enormous amounts of money and time on things that don’t make us magnificent? Where is the Ugly in you? What is it trying to teach you?”

To this, I say: the Ugly in all of us is trying to teach us that the Insecurity in us is important, too. And so to add to her important questions, I would also ask: What would it mean if we were more insecure? What would it mean if we did not run from our insecurities or anyone else’s? How do we take the sting out of “Insecurity”? What would it mean for us to acknowledge Insecurity for how it has informed our politic(s)? What would it mean for us to lean into Insecurity as a political tool in which we free ourselves from insisting that we perform “perfection” and total confidence in order to advocate for our collective liberation? What would happen if we stopped apologizing for our insecurities, stopped fearing them, stopped trying to shed ourselves of them?

RECOMMENDED: Desirability: Do You Really Love Fat People When You Can’t Even See Us Beyond The Political?

I don’t want to be Beautiful or Desirable. I want us to sit with why the idea of finding Ugly attractive makes us uncomfortable. I want us to interrogate why we ask Ugly people to apologize for our Ugliness, and to find ways to conform to Beauty, rather than divesting completely from Beauty as a political concept. In that same vein, I want us to sit with why we believe Insecurity as a concept must be a personal and moral failing rather than a result of systemic and social domination. I want us to know Insecurity as intimately as we know the marginalized pieces of ourselves: as valid, as identities, and as political.

Da'Shaun Harrison is a nonbinary abolitionist and organizer in Atlanta, GA. They write and speak publicly on race, sexuality, gender, class, religion, disabilities, fatness, and the intersection at which they all meet. Their portfolio and other work can be found on their site: dashaunharrison.com.

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