A quick chat with Hillary Rock-Archer, self proclaimed ‘ugliest girl in the world’ and The Ugly Girls Club’s founding father.
Can you tell me a bit about where the idea came from for this project?
H: Sure, so it was actually the result of a lot of “soul searching” that boiled down to one boring, typical lunchtime. I was walking home for lunch, through the crowded Brighton laines, and I was listening to this pretty familiar inner voice that was telling me to get home quick because I was too ugly. For a confident, self-loving young feminist, this was quite a difficult contradiction. My concern for appearance was distracting me, it was interrupting a thoughtful and loving inner dialogue that I had actively crafted for so long.
I basically got home and decided that my appearance was not going to dictate my value anymore. I was ugly and I didn’t care, I had more important things to do. I felt like if I was the first to say it, and be “openly ugly”, I was bowing out of the race. Now my appearance couldn’t shame or distract me, I was already ugly and it was totally cool.
What was the initial response to the idea?
H: It’s probably been about 6 months since that day. I was so excited to go out and tell other girls about it, to tell them they were ugly too, it was very liberating. Like I had found the cheat to get out of the race to be beautiful and young and perfect. I would say to my friends like “heeey what are the ugliest girls in the world doing tonight? Come over”, using it like a compliment to show them they were being valued for more than their appearance. Or if one of them complained about an imperfection like “arr I can’t go to the pub, look at this spot” I would be like “Ohhh who cares, you’re ugly, let’s go!”. I don’t know how helpful this was, but it feels good to reappropriate the word ugly. I felt like it used to be a girl’s worst nightmare and now we can use it to acknowledge our real value.
What’s your inner dialogue like now?
It’s interesting actually, because I really do give myself a lot more slack about how I look, and try really actively to be ‘okay with ugly’. There has been a lot of change in how I value others as well, because I realised it works both ways. There are boundaries to realising a women’s value in a ‘she's-just-a-pretty-face’ way. And I’m so guilty of this. Like, she can’t be that hot and that smart and that funny, it’s gotta be one or the other! Appearance takes away authority from women in so many different ways, I think that is what my dialogue is working on now.
Can you be an “Ugly Girl” and still care about your looks?
Yeah for sure, I mean, I still care about how I look. A lot. I love getting dressed up and wearing makeup and taking selfies. I have a mirror at my desk that faces me while I work. I’m super vain. The difference now is, I know that’s not where my value comes from so I have a lot more fun with it. Looking good still makes me feel good. But it doesn’t define me.
What defines you now?
I watched a great StyleLikeU video of Freddie Harrel the other week, she said "Before I am a woman, before I am black, I am Freddie." Which I think is so perfect, because it takes away a lot of the preconceived notions about who we should be and how we should act, as a women, as an artist, as a wife, as a mother. First of all, you’re you, then you’re the other things. So first, I’m Hillary. And then I’m still trying to pin down all the other things.