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beauty is pop culture // sex rules the world 

  • Ennie Fakoya.

The Good, The Bad, and The Medium Ugly: The Evolution of Beauty Standards of Men.

The nonconformist attitudes towards conventional standards have popularised the terms, “ugly hot” and “medium ugly”. Have we not escaped stereotyping?

Photo Credit: Omighty

In the era of realising the bare minimum, where should we place our bets? Money? Love? Status? Age?

One important impetus not in the above list is beauty. A long-standing relationship between the eye and the beholder. Beauty hasn’t always been a forgiving element of culture, shunning those who refused to adhere to its rules. We’ve come far in developing individual merits of what we desire physically, but too much development is making us conflicted about what we really want. 

Society has undergone many flip-flopping phases of standards, and our current state of living is making everyone a little more honest. Specificity has become inherent to how we pick and choose, be it in the categories of looks or overall aesthetics. From Golden Retrievers, and Black Cats, to your White Boys of The Month, we’ve gone from one box to another, and the same is true for physical attractiveness. 

The origin of categorising and codifying dates back to the 1800s - and probably earlier - but modern terms like ‘Hot Ugly’ have made their mark as early as 2017, communicating the idea that the conventionally attractive are no longer considered attractive to the majority. In return, the term ‘Ugly Hot’ represents the unconventionally attractive as the current gold standard of physical attractiveness. Tomorrow, who knows?

 To simplify, men like Zac Efron and Harry Styles are considered hot ugly, and men like Adam Driver and Pete Davidson are considered ugly hot.

Recently, however, the term ‘Medium Ugly’, has replaced ugly hot, although they mean the same thing. 

The term medium ugly was defined by a guest on Talkricetome’s podcast, and it’s grown into a cultural phenomenon that places a person into a category based on an equal balance of desirability and attractiveness. It’s used predominantly to describe men, where the picture-perfect image of a ‘00s heartthrob is replaced with the un-sculpted, awkward-looking guy. 

Other times being medium ugly is a subconscious thing, where the person isn’t aware of their attractiveness  - not to be confused with people that are very much aware of their attractiveness and say otherwise to fish for compliments. They remain reasonably humble and carry on like a normal human being.

Being a normal human being is the central allure of the medium ugly man. I believe that this category also lends itself to a certain lifestyle. 

Photo Credit: Via @KaitlynBoorn

In a Substack article by Steffi Cao titled “This season's hottest accessory is the medium ugly boyfriend”, she says; “The core anatomy of the medium ugly boyfriend is that he’s just some guy. He’s the scruffy, second-chair clarinet player you went to high school with, or some zip-up hoodie-clad dude who works in tech or supply chain. He likes generic dude things: gaming, dogs, pizza, drinks with the boys. He can’t dress, but he dotes on his partner and can communicate in full sentences. And he’s the blank canvas that makes your outfit really pop when you step out on the streets together.”

In summation, a regular man with an identity outside of his looks. He doesn’t care to appear indifferent and works to communicate. All of which dives back into the subject of desirability. Aside from those traits being desirable to women, women also desire to be seen, to be appreciated. There is no sin in a man allowing his partner to be front and center, and medium ugly men have presented themselves as the kind of men to do this. 

 With the decline of dating and the overwhelming residuals of a global pandemic, most people yearn for more than a pretty face. It’s always been a popular opinion that substance isn’t considered to be a usual trait found in conventionally attractive people, therefore in recent times, women - and some men - have been more honest about their larger attraction to personality. A lot of women go for medium ugly men because of this belief that they have better personalities. If you’re too aware of your attractiveness, it can come off as arrogant. 

Despite the recent attraction of unconventional men, we still have categories for all of them, so what changed? Was it a sudden third eye-opening? A magical awakening? No, we’ve just realised that character influences appearance.

Take, for instance, Pete Davidson. A comedian who has dated seemingly every it girl in Hollywood but wouldn’t been seen on a billboard in 2008. Despite not having the heavily curated image of conventional standards, he has qualities that women would find attractive outside of his physical features.

But I’m sure you’ve noticed by now that in most of the examples I've given where white men have been praised for their average appearances, black men are sparsely mentioned. That’s because the rules are a little different for us.

The reason I’m so interested in the topic of ‘medium ugly’ is because, in the sub-sections of how we categorise these individuals, black people are an automatic anomaly.

As a black woman, I am not conventionally attractive. I’ve built a rapport of being the ‘funny girl’ in most of my friendships with men and I’ve lived with knowing that my personality is my strong suit. But the conversation of medium ugly on a wider scale is never pointed towards black people. We’re shoved into the extreme categories of either the most stunning person on earth or the bottom of the barrel.

Photo Credit: Via @BelovedBaje

The popularisation of average white men is another way of putting them on a pedestal that black men are not. Black people are usually below white people in every societal expectation, and even in the culture of medium ugly this is true. But black men aren’t medium ugly because they’re average, they’re medium ugly because of unchangeable African features.

To some, being medium ugly means not having Euro-centric features, which means this evolution of attraction to anyone but white people is not exactly a good thing.

To conclude I will say that the love of medium ugly men has been nice to see. Women are allowing themselves to be loved by emotionally available people, and the curse of Western conventions is ever so slightly shifting out of the picture. A win is a win, right?

 Are you passionate about exploring the intricate worlds of beauty, sex, fashion, wellness, and culture? Do you belong to a marginalized community and have unique perspectives and stories to share? If so, Nightstand Service is eagerly seeking contributing writers like you! Get in touch:


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