“You are ugly.”

There is something uniquely jarring and sinister about this phrase. Hearing someone say this to us may cause us to believe it, or at least respond strongly to it.

If someone said to me “You are covered in blue feathers,” I would say that a conversation defining the terms “covered,” “blue,” and “feathers” was in order. On its face, that statement is a lie. Yet why is it that “you are ugly” has such weight?

Perhaps because it is a comprehensive expression of worthlessness. “Ugly” simplifies the complexities of another person’s physical experience and expression into a sharp, piercing word. No matter how tender your heart, no matter how competent your mind, if you are “ugly,” you are worthless.

Too often, we allow the perceptions of other people to affect our experience of reality. We need other people who will speak truth to us, who see our beauty and declare it. Otherwise, we will believe the ugliness we hear. The one thing more chilling to hear than “you are ugly” is “I am ugly.”

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