Laura LeMoon
7 min readOct 10, 2023


How Being Called Ugly in Public Led to a Better Relationship with Myself

Christina Applegate as Kelly Bundy in Married…with Children

I should have known it was coming. I posted a video on social media asking for donations for a trip I am taking to testify on human rights abuses at the UN headquarters in Geneva this month. Something that was somehow far less important than whether I was wearing makeup. A guy I had slept with several years back and rejected was trolling me online, but it felt highly personal because of the fact that we had sex.

“What happened? I thought you were hot?” He exclaimed in a question more like a statement that only white cis men get to make. A little earthquake started inside me, as organs and cortisol began to undulate with the familiar feeling of deep shame and failure as a woman. It was a small signpost to my greatest fear being true: That I’m not enough. He found me out.

My first instinct was to take the video down and run and cry in my room vowing to never again appear anywhere in life without full makeup and hair and losing at least a hundred pounds. But I waited until the feeling passed, and it did, and I left the video up. But not without feeling the resilience of my profound shame at not being “hot.” Or even worse, not being hot anymore.

Growing up, Pamela Anderson was the epitome of beauty to me. Even as a pre-teen, I knew the way men talked about her, the way her breasts bounced suggestively in her red bathing suit on tv when the camera panned to follow her running in slow motion with the wind in her hair were all suggestions on womanhood to me. The first music video I remember seeing once my family got cable was Van Halen’s Hot for Teacher, and I distinctly remember a leggy blonde in a leather mini skirt dancing for David Lee Roth on a table. Then there was the way the audience of Married….With Children wooed everytime a teenage Kelly Bundy came on screen. It cemented in my mind the lifelong belief that beauty is the ticket to love. I would sit and watch MWC after The Simpsons on Thursday nights and note the reaction Kelly elicited and think to myself, “THAT is what a woman is supposed to look like, and that is what I’m going to look like.” I consumed ‘80’s and ‘90’s pop culture like they were studies far more important than my actual studies. Because for me, who was so desperate for male attention, they were. Everyone likes pretty girls, and if I can just be pleasing to men, I can get back everything I’ve ever lost.

When I stared down the eye of ugliness this morning in the form of an ugly video on social media, for a moment I felt hugely inept as a person. I had failed at something massively important to being a woman. I had failed to make myself evergreen attractive to every man on the planet. And there truly is no greater sin for a woman. Even if you are going to testify at UN headquarters, like I am in two weeks, even if you are getting your masters, even if you have a heart as big as a mountain, nothing matters like being who men want you to be. But rebelling against beauty doesn’t feel good to me either. I enjoy my little bottles, creams, and potions a la the beauty industry, and I like to think of myself, if not conventionally attractive, than beautiful in my own way the way all dogs and babies are beautiful, even when objectively ugly. When we aren’t labeled “beautiful,” and being ugly isn’t an empowering alternative, where can women — or really anyone who isn’t a cis man — go to hide from the viciousness about our looks? Where is our refuge?

For me, it’s been helpful to do a few things: One is to remind myself (easier said than done) that this is just a single person’s perception of beauty. Two, I am many things other than the ways people perceive me, my identity, and my value. I am most importantly how I perceive myself, my ability to not just tolerate but maybe even one day actually like being who I am, ugliness at times and all. Whether I am in fact “ugly,” isn’t even relevant. And while I know this logically, rationally, unlearning valuing myself via the male gaze is something that I do not believe is ever completely achievable for me. My looks, especially as I get older, will probably continue to be a sore spot.

At almost 40, my body is different. My face — crepe-like wrinkles already around the eyes already formed, a giant forehead (or what Tyra Banks calls, a “five-head”), and a weird combination of skin that is both too dry and too oily at the same time. I started to get gray at the temples in my early 30’s and yes, I dye the shit out of my hair, so I don’t have to look at it. A feminist failing to embrace who I am. I am half a woman. Maybe a quarter. I’ll have to ask a man to be sure. The change of my body, my face, the increasing fatness of my mons pubis and labia as I get old and fat cells have nowhere else to go… My stock is low. I fail more and more everyday.

I never pick a male cashier at a register if I can help it. My worst nightmare is having to go to a mechanic, where toxic masculinity and men reign supreme and I am certainly fat and ugly, my very existence a joke among men. At a grocery store this weekend I couldn’t look the cashier in the eye once. I could tell out of my periphery that he was about my age, and probably not terrible looking. He was a peer of sorts, like the guys in grade school who never, ever noticed me because I was fat; a “bubble butt fatty Jell-O butt.” There was a brief moment in time where my “thickness” was acceptable, which I have narrowed down to be precisely the time where my tits and ass were as huge as my waist was tiny — like Scarlet O’hara. I was acceptable once, but I failed. I changed, and it changed, and suddenly I was once again no longer the right type of fat before I had even finished my cheeseburger. I was in the city walking to a coffee shop last month. As they do, men passed me on the sidewalk and as I do, I looked down and avoided all eye contact. I never look, not even once. I stare at my feet. A complex web of sexual and physical trauma and verbal abuse are to blame. I am afraid in the most basic of existential ways, yes, but also afraid that when my gaze meets theirs I will see my ugliness in their eyes. I will be able to pinpoint their lack of holding doors, or smiles or tilts of the head as they pass as confirmation that I do not deserve to exist. That I have failed to be beautiful.

The online comment is still there and it looms in my mind, leaving branch-like cracks that emanate from the center like a nervous system. Everytime I think of it, I feel…apologetic ….for how I look and for who I am. I want to have value and please men because that is what all of us who are not cis men are supposed to do, right? I was on my way to buy hair dye yesterday to cover up my grays for a national news interview I was doing. The cashier at the Walgreens on Pacific Avenue looked at me, smiled slightly, and asked me if I had found everything okay while he moved seamlessly in that way you do when you are utterly so bored at your job. I handed him a 20 and made sure to look directly at him while he handed me back 47 cents in change; dropping it indifferently into my cupped palm. “Thank you, have a good one” I said as I looked into his soft brown eyes. I thought I saw a twinge on his upper lip that could have been a sort of quarter smile, or just an anxious twitch. As I got into my car, I let the tears come even though I fucking hate crying and never let myself do it. My jaw released itself slightly from its shitty perma-clecnched state of existence. My body was giving way to the natural disaster I felt inside of me, but it wasn’t a bad thing. You gotta get through to get to. I looked in the rearview mirror to gauge how red and puffy my eyes would be and noticed the rich coffee brown in my own eyes. Eyes that are now heavy with dark circles and cracks around the corners like looming fault lines I can’t escape. And in that moment, I didn’t feel afraid of the impending earthquake.



Laura LeMoon

As seen in HuffPost, The Daily Beast, Bitch Magazine, Insider, and more. Former peer policy advisor to UNODC, USDOJ, CDC, City of Seattle and WHO.