Look up “ugly” on Google and you will see a man with many gills, an extra eyebrow and no teeth; another man who has only two (yellow) teeth; recent photos of Dennis Rodman, Willem Dafoe and Donald Trump; a baby with an eye malformation; a monkey; an old woman smoking; a girl disguised as a zombie; another monkey; a boy with his eyes made up and a Hello Kitty tattoo on his forehead; and Adam Driver, the actor who played Lena Dunham’s boyfriend in Girls. He is included, predictably, on a list of ugly sexies. I’ve gotten here because I was going to write about resolutions. The first was to be deleted from Instagram, but the admired colleague who had done this has just returned to the network.
So, I’ve decided instead to talk about 2017, the year that fashion allegedly glorified ugliness (including meat-coloured executive socks). I recently read an article in the Financial Times that addressed the issue bluntly. “Why is fashion so ugly?”, asked the journalist, and then tried to answer the question: it may be a matter of irony, or collateral damage from the artificial beauty that social networks have imposed, or maybe we now value individuality more. The article also pointed to a new range of problems. Sometimes it’s impossible to know if the boy in front of you wearing an ordinary sweatshirt is a computer repairman or someone who is very fashionable.
Whatever the causes, I like the fashion of the ugly. But this acceptance has come to me at a bad time, since my second resolution was to dress better. And it contrasts strongly with a cultural moment in which conversations that include the words “Botox”, “capillary implant”, “crossfit” or “non-invasive interventions to redefine the jaw” line begin to emerge – that is, more-or-less sophisticated ways of taking care of yourself or, in other words, not getting old. The effect of a 16-year-old model wearing short pants, moccasins and executive-coloured socks is not the same as you, in the tender years of middle age, trying to look like him. Or, really, what’s the difference?
The problem is that we do not know what is ugly. For Google, if we are talking about human beings, it has a lot to do with not having teeth. Clothes and objects are another thing. Jim Walrod, the recently deceased New York interior designer, said he wished that he had a dollar for every time a client told him that a piece of furniture was ugly and, years later, called to ask if he still had it. He also said that “time is the only critic that matters”.
Last month, I spent a week in São Paulo. I met a friend who organised a party for people with more beauty, intelligence, money and/or followers. The local public relations rep was a very nice guy who wore three diamond bracelets. My friend, who does the same kind of work in Spain, thought that she was faring very badly if the job paid so well in Brazil. So she asked the local rep about the bracelets. “I do not have a car, I do not have a house, I do not have anything. Everything I have is here,” he replied, waving the bracelets. They were indeed pretty, compared to accessories this season. Diamonds with deliberately old shoes. Diamonds with fanny packs. It is an epidemic. Open a magazine and you will see pictures of garbage bags in the middle of the street. Even I put ugly pictures on my own Instagram. A friend told me when we considered deleting our accounts: “I think I need a new social network to start from scratch.”