“Go Fug Yourself” recently named Amber Rose, a model best known for being Kanye West’s paramour, the winner of their annual “Fug Madness” contest, which uses reader voting to name this year’s “fugliest” celebrity. This development reveals exactly how pernicious this silly little celebrity gossip website really is.
If you are not personally familiar with “Go Fug Yourself,” a brief explanation is in hand. In short, “Go Fug Yourself” is a website where pictures of celebrities (mostly women) are posted daily, and made fun of. The factor supposedly guiding the selection of said pictures is the relative level of “fugliness” exhibited by the celebrities’ appearances. “Fugliness” is a portmanteau term; it refers to things or people which have quality of being being “fucking ugly.” You may be forgiven if you find this term to be tiresome at best, since it’s one of the trashiest linguistic manglings extant on the Internet today. The creators of the site, Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan (the self-dubbed “Fug Girls”) make lots of shitty puns with this term–individuals are determined to be worthy of “fugging”; items of clothing judged to be founts of “fug”; outfits that are deemed marginally acceptable are deconstructed in order to figure out how to make them wholly attractive, in a process called “unfugging”; and so on. This cheap wordplay is characteristic of the site’s writing, which tends to mistake heavy-handed sarcasm for wit.
Those of you who are familiar with the site are no doubt asking yourselves why I am bothering to criticize it now, since the “Go Fug Yourself” backlash is “so 2006.” Were it not for recent events, I would agree with you. While I’ve despised the site for a long time, it’s been in the same casual way that I despise gas station point-of-sale cologne displays, or Starbuck’s biscotti, or people who pronounce “forte” like “for-tay”–as one of the world’s many small yet avoidable evils. However, this last iteration of “Fug Madness” opened my eyes to latent sexism and racism hidden behind the site’s usual misogynistic assholery.
“Fug Madness” is run in the same manner as the NCAA college basketball tournament–it is an elimination-based tournament that pits various celebrities against each other in brackets. There are four brackets, each named after an iconic “fugly” celebrity–namely, Charo, Cher, Madonna, and Bjork. Celebrities are individually ranked in order to determine which ones will face off, and there’s an Internet randomizer involved. If this all sounds ridiculously ornate, that’s because it is. The amount of energy that the Fug Girls put into organizing and maintaining this system is symptomatic of their lack of self-awareness regarding the entire exercise. Sports teams are ranked based on their respective skills and performances; “Fug Madness” ratings are based on subjective perceptions of various celebrities’ failure to meet the Fug Girls’ standards of chicness and attractiveness. It perpetuates the idea that it is a woman’s obligation to do a good job of being a sex object; it’s woman-on-woman violence at its worst.
What’s so wrong with Bjork, or Madonna, or Cher, or Charo, anyway? In their own ways, these women redefined what it means to be a woman in the public eye. Bjork, Madonna, and Cher are all incredibly talented musicians and actresses, boundary-smashers who refused to fit into traditional entertainment industry molds. (Okay, Madonna’s not that good of an actress–in movies. But she did a bang-up job of playing herself in the doc “Truth or Dare.”) Even ol’ Charo is a pretty talented guitarist and comedian (and one of the first Latina entertainers to make it in the U.S.)
The point is, these women should be celebrated, not denigrated. And that’s the problem with “Go Fug Yourself” in a nutshell–its most common targets tend to be strong, unconventional women whose only crimes seem to be (in the eyes of the Fug Girls) straying from traditional gender norms. Some of their favorite targets include brilliant actress (and noted androgyne) Tilda Swinton; Oscar-nominated actress (and icon of aggressive female sexuality) Sharon Stone; the magnificent Helena Bonham Carter; avant-garde bastard actress Chloe Sevigny; the delightfully off-kilter musician/actress Juliette Lewis; sly and intelligent actress Maggie Gyllenhaal; performance artist Lady Gaga; fearless musician/actress Courtney Love; and comedian/style icon Sarah Jessica Parker.
What do these women have in common? Well, when surveying the list, the most noticeable commonality is the fact that most of these women are not conventionally attractive. Don’t get me wrong–they’re better-looking than you or me, but by Hollywood standards, they’re straight up jolie laides. They also have extremely distinctive personal styles, which tend to go against the grain of mainstream fashion. Swinton is fond of futuristic, mannish clothing; Stone dresses in a flamboyant parody of old-fashioned stars like Rita Hayworth or Joan Crawford; Bonham Carter tends toward stylized, witchy couture; Sevigny wears bleeding edge styles; Lewis dresses like a rock star, because she is one; Gyllenhaal wears 70’s-style anti-chic; Gaga’s outfits are all elaborate jokes; Love just doesn’t care (in a good way) what you think of her; and Parker takes breath-taking risks.
Making fun of how any of these women look is pointless. None of them are trying to look like Jessica Alba; indeed, their personal style is often predicated upon highlighting their unconventionality. It’s like making fun of David Bowie for not sounding like AC/DC. By mocking Parker or Sevigny for looking “weird,” the Fug Girls are merely demonstrating their cultural illiteracy. Even worse, they’re enforcing sexist conceits of beauty. They reserve their praise for dull, cookie-cutter cheerleaders like Reese Witherspoon and Amanda Seyfried–blondes with boobs and a high quotient of straight white male approval. Through their very popular website, the Fug Girls reinforce the idea that the only valid metric of beauty is predicated upon traditional male standards of desirability. In a culture where eating disorders, cutting, and other self-destructive behaviors run rampant among women, this is a very harmful idea to promote.
“But wait,” you’re thinking. “The Fug Girls don’t just make fun of awesome bitches. They also make fun of dumb skags like Lindsay Lohan and Kim Kardashian! You’re cherry-picking your examples.”
Ah, but I’m not. While unconventional women come under frequent fire by the Fuggers, they’re also fond of a different sort of target–the easy target. They enjoy making fun of clinically depressed, the mentally ill, and the drug-addicted. Like the aforementioned Lohan and Kardashian, troubled women like Mischa Barton, Bai Ling, Jessica Simpson, Britney Spears, and Tara Reid are common “Go Fug Yourself” targets. It’s all too easy to make fun of them, since they often appear in a state of sartorial (and physical) distress.
This needs to stop. It’s not funny that Britney Spears had a nervous breakdown. It’s not funny that Lindsay Lohan is a drug addict. It’s not funny that body dysmorphic disorder has led attractive women like Simpson, Kardashian, and Heidi Montag to undergo surgical procedure after surgical procedure. These women are mentally ill, and by criticizing their appearances, you’re feeding their disease. This is exactly the same as if “Go Fug Yourself” posted pictures of the uproarious outfits sported by mental patients, or the misguided togs of the mentally disabled. In other words, it’s not funny, it’s sick. If you care about feminism at all, you should stop reading websites like “Go Fug Yourself.” They seem like innocent fun, but they’re actually extremely destructive.
Finally, I have to address the depiction of minorities on “Go Fug Yourself.” Beyonce comes under scrutiny by the site often, due to her choice of “unflattering” ensembles. This is another way of saying that Beyonce’s figure is a little fuller than the white, heteronormative standard. Similarly ample African-American entertainers, like Leona Lewis, are sometimes criticized for wearing clothing that makes them look “dumpy” or “squat.” The projecting of white standards of beauty onto these women is more than a little offensive. Worse is the site’s “coverage” of Jennifer Lopez, which often takes the form of monologues written in a parody of Lopez’s persona. These monologues are written in a sort of pidgin, generously sprinkled with Spanish malapropisms. I’m not sure how the Fug Girls get away with this; it’s pretty much verbal minstrelry. Perhaps it stems from the fact that “South Park” went there first? I don’t get it.
Finally, we circle around to this year’s “Fug Madness.” As mentioned above, the winner of this year’s “Fug Madness” was Amber Rose, an African-American socialite and model. The runner-up was Barbadian singer Rihanna. I have a huge problem with this.
Rihanna and Amber Rose are both unusually attractive women of color. Neither of them fit the typical mold for female entertainers of color, much less female entertainers in general. Neither of them can be easily classified–they’re both racially and culturally diverse. Their personal style quotes a number of influences, from Robert Palmer videos to “Mad Max.”
Both women enjoy flaunting their admittedly fantastic bodies. This is entirely appropriate–they are, after all, a rock star and a model, respectively. If rock stars and models aren’t allowed to wear exotic, glamorous clothing, who is?
I’m highly suspicious of the fact that these women were voted the “fugliest” celebrities of 2010. It just doesn’t make any sense. For one thing, both of them are actually quite well-dressed. For another, could you really, rationally, accuse either of them of looking “fucking ugly” at any time? Objectively, the answer is no.
So why were these women voted the winners of “Fug Madness”? The answers, I think, are “fucking ugly.”
I can’t help but suspect that the Fug Girls and their readers find these women threatening. They are amazingly beautiful, they’re culturally complex, they’re unconventionally chic, and they’re leading much cooler, much more fabulous lives then they are–or you are, or I am. I also suspect that tearing these women down online won’t do much to dent their confidence. However, if we really care about celebrating the unique and the beautiful in all of us, then we need to stop denigrating it in the larger culture. “Go Fug Yourself” is stupid. Quit reading it.