University of Sussex Students' Newspaper

Does Anyone Else Feel Ugly?

Jack Timmins

ByJack Timmins

Apr 16, 2024

There are too many attractive students. There. I said it.  Young people in Brighton seem to be in relatively good shape and have decent, luscious hair or even beautifully unkempt, rugged, wild hair that somehow enhances them.  There’s an apparent absence of insecurity; a confident swagger which comes from knowing that you are looking good.  Coming from a small town, I hardly knew or saw these types of people. Now, here in Brighton, I have noticed that there is an increase in the general standard.  Average seems to be the exception and it is rather unsettling. 

It is a completely new feeling. My town has a population of roughly thirty thousand – Brighton has a quarter of a million – and even then, the number of people that are the same age and sex as me is even smaller. Before university, people looked normal. Plain. Harmless. No one looked particularly ugly or bad, but they did not look like an Instagram model or celebrity.  They just looked ordinary. Of course, there were always beautiful people, and I would have crushes and feelings of attraction, sprinkled with occasional jealousy of a guy’s style, or a girl’s clear skin. Now, I find myself feeling SO bloody insecure. Let me be clear, I have always been relatively confident – I don’t wake up hating my body and I’m pretty OK with myself as I am. There is just a noticeable, lingering feeling of inadequacy.

Frankly, I am jealous of them. I’m not resentful, I know I’m being shallow. But if a friend was telling me that they’re comparing themselves to others, and have this lingering feeling that they’re not as good as everyone else, I’d slap them out of it! (Figuratively). I’d remind them that it’s pointless – a menial reduction that achieves nothing. Attraction and beauty are subjective and, honestly, irrelevant. A kind heart and sharp mind are what matter more than preconceived ideas of beauty. Despite this, I can’t deny, I WISH I was beautiful.

Perhaps part of this feeling comes from the emphasis on the “uni experience”. This isn’t just personal freedom from nosey parents, rigorous school/college schedules or paid work.  It is sexual freedom, particularly if you’re queer and haven’t had an opportunity to meet other queer people before. Now, you’re in Brighton, you’re presented with countless opportunities and experiences. But the wild nights out and partying have a subtle undertone of competition. There is a need to ensure that you look good enough to be included, even if you don’t want to take part. It’s an awareness that to be acknowledged among your peers, you have to look good. Because they do. 

The thought of reducing everyone down to what they look like is upsetting. It’s an objectification and ranking but it’s not to degrade them, rather, it’s to compare them to myself. There is a sense of competition, of alienation, of the “other”.  It’s lonely.

It goes against everything that university should be about; wanting to achieve, gain a greater understanding of the world and come away a better person.  Not to come away with a sense of disillusionment from seeing what the competition is.  A “me versus them” mindset becomes isolating, which also affects friendships. I find myself objectifying them and focusing on their looks. Reducing people to a sliding scale of attractiveness. A ranking system of which to compare myself to.  It has noticeably gotten worse since being in Brighton.

While I was prepared for new feelings and experiences that come from university, I did not expect to feel this imposter syndrome, even within academia, the lecture hall and seminar room – places where your arguments and ideas should define you, not your appearance. And yet, I find myself doing just that. I can’t be the only one, and I do wonder if now at university anyone else feels ugly.

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