Is ugly pretty the new beautiful? Jolie Laide or “Ugly Pretty” is the French expression used to describe someone who is unconventionally beautiful. Jolie Laide is an appreciation for the androgynous that challenges the unrealistic ideals of society’s view of what it is to be beautiful. Beauty has always been subjective; it is a product of the mind. The old saying “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” is never more fitting than when describing a Jolie Laide. For a Jolie Laide it’s the very strangeness of a woman’s face that makes up her beauty. It is the generous of nose or bug-like eye, the buck of the tooth or the slightly too prominent chin. You could be forgiven for assuming such features may not be amongst the most desirable attributes of a woman. In a world where perfection is so often sought after and symmetry is the more traditional guideline for deciphering a beautiful face, the quirky and out of place facial features are at the core of what it means to be Jolie Laide. It’s a nose that’s slightly incongruous to the rest of the face, or a strong jaw that’s surprisingly attractive. It creates debate. Are they? Aren’t they?
But it also recognizes that behind the exterior lies a deeper interest. The literary critic Daphne Merkin wrote about the subject in 2005 for ‘The New York Times’, calling it “a triumph of personality over physiognomy, the imposition of substance over surface.”
In interior design, objects and architecture, the obtuse can be beautiful and more interesting than something classically so. Is this perhaps why historic architecture holds our gaze longer than a perfectly symmetrical modern building. But when it comes to the word ‘beautiful’ nothing divides opinion more than in the art world. According to the academic and art researcher Roger Dunbier “ugly” is the most frequent term of disapproval among the ninety-nine percent of the population outside the “art world”. Dunbier goes on to explain that this reaction could prevail because of the perception that recent art, such as paintings, have to be ugly to be termed art or at least “fine” art. “In this kind of thinking ugly art equals “class”, he says.
Furthermore, take fashion and Miuccia Prada. Prada herself is a Jolie Laide. In June 2011 Prada’s menswear runway show (a collection of bright floral prints and plaids) provoked complaints from Giorgio Armani, describing Prada’s collections as “bad taste that becomes chic”. Would a procession of Chanel inspired classic black dresses hold the same weighting in cool or hold the watchers interest in quite the same way? Thus can it be argued that it is more interesting, stylish and even cool to be “ugly beautiful” this controversial kind of way. Jolie Laide is a deeper beauty, a more interesting beauty, an uglier version of beauty.
Referring back to Merkin and her article, she ends with a quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald,
“After a certain degree of prettiness, one pretty girl is as pretty as another.” So Viva le Jolie Laide, embrace that gap toothed smile, forgo the surgical option and sod anyone who tells you otherwise. Be ugly pretty!
Illustration by Estelle Morris
Words by Fran Sykes