Beauty might be a 511 billion-dollar industry, but there’s no putting a price tag on goofing off in front of the camera. The internet can’t be all about professional photoshoots, top-tier model pics, and carefully edited images—it needs to be about fun and humor, too! That’s exactly what the members of the r/PrettyGirlsUglyFaces subreddit understand. The online community, founded way back in 2012, has nearly 90k members who know that the incredible photos you see while scrolling through social media are well-curated and represent an edited version of reality. The fact is that the beautiful women you see featured online can make you laugh with their incredibly funny expressions in a heartbeat if they choose to look derpy and use an unflattering camera angle. And they’re competing to see who can make the ‘ugliest’ faces.
In an in-depth interview with the founder of r/PrettyGirlsUglyFaces, redditor Sinkingfast, Bored Panda learned all about the friendly and diligent community, how the Covid-19 pandemic has affected the entirely communit-driven subreddit, as well as why we tend to focus so much on appearances in the modern world.
"The community itself has stayed consistent and loyal. We get a lot of users who see positive reception to their posts and come back as repeat posters. Creating a safe and fun environment to post weird pics in judgment-free was always the goal and I'd like to think we've maintained it, especially with the help of our loyal user base. Our community is great. I want people to be comfortable enough to share and have fun. The subreddit really belongs to the users and wouldn't exist without them." Read on for their other insights, as well as for our follow-up interview about beauty with historian Dr. Jane Nicholas from St. Jerome’s University at the University of Waterloo.
As you scroll down, upvote the photos that got a smile and a giggle from you. When you’re done, check out Bored Panda’s previous articles about the subreddit here, here, and here. And a small heads-up before you ask: there’s a male version of the subreddit called r/HandsomeGuysUglyFaces right here.
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Beauty historian Dr. Nicholas explained to Bored Panda that the beauty industry continues to change and grow all the time; wanting to appear effortlessly natural is a popular trend that ebbs and flows. In time, it will be replaced and, eventually, will be in vogue again. "The move toward ‘naturalness’ comes and goes and you can trace it throughout the last century or so," she said.
"Perhaps though we shouldn’t confuse looking natural with actual naturalness. Skincare, for example, focuses on perfect skin that is poreless, hairless, and filtered to give a youthful, creamy glow, but still looks like real skin. The thing is real skin has blemishes, pores, and imperfections. The new natural is an image of natural that few, if any of us, can actually live up to," the historian said. "Being on-screen helps with the ability to control lighting and use filters. A silly photo or one that looks unposed and spontaneous adds a sense of charming realness and briefly interrupts the highly curated images to help make them relatable."
Meanwhile, subreddit founder Sinkingfast's opinion, there's a limit to the number of people we can know, so judging them by their appearance, clothing, and behavior is all we really have, even if we don't choose all aspects of our appearance. "My opinion loosely follows something like Dunbar’s number, the theory that we can only know so many people. We used to live in hunter/gatherer tribes as a species and as cities grew, well, people don't know people anymore. You can't know everyone, especially not within a massive city. Even in the age of social media you can only peek into so many lives."
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They continued: "As an example, I might wear a specific band t-shirt and in that instance, I would be doing it to advertise to others I am a fan. Someone could judge me on the shirt and I may get a friend out of it. Someone could also judge me negatively. I chose to present myself that way, though. I don't choose my face."
Redditor Sinkingfast explained that nowadays people assume that if others present themselves a certain way, that's the way they want the world to perceive them. Even if we can't control some features like our faces. "You see it all the times in film where someone like Steve Buscemi (Did you know he was an FDNY firefighter?) who may be the nicest dude in the world, is hired to play a certain role or type because of his physical appearance. What if he wasn't an actor who was typecast all the way to the bank? If he was just a unique-looking dude on the street? Might someone have harsher opinions of him because he's not the typical standard for beauty? Over attributes he cannot fully control," they mused.
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Nonetheless, Sinkingfast remains optimistic about the future of humankind, despite our propensity to jump to conclusions. "I think even the most diligent people can't help but slip up and sometimes be biased or judge a book by its cover even if it may be unfair to do so. Hopefully, over time as a society, we don't snap judgment about someone over something they can't control. Humanity could stand to be a little nicer in general.
Members of the r/PrettyGirlsUglyFaces subreddit are urged to stay vigilant and report any rule-breaking, hateful posts and comments. The members of the community are urged to participate in keeping the online group clean and welcoming because the moderators can't check every single thread themselves.
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The founder of the subreddit, Sinkingfast opened up how over the years they had to introduce stricter rules for how content is being monitored because of a small handful of persistent trolls and offenders. "We just opted to move straight to permanent ban at the first sign of trolling It feels harsh but the rules are really as simple as, 'Don't be a jerk' when you break it down. If it was a genuine mistake the ban can be lifted in the future," they said.
What's more, Sinkingfast shared how r/PrettyGirlsUglyFaces grows by around 10k members each year. However, after a jump to 80k members in mid-2019, the inflow of subscribers had recently slowed down a bit. "I would have assumed more people are at home, taking bored-out-of-your-mind selfies, but in reality, my silly subreddit probably isn't at the forefront of their concerns during the global pandemic," the founder quipped.
According to moderator Sinkingfast, Reddit, being anonymous, urges people to let loose while more 'traditional' social media like Facebook and Instagram makes some of its users act more reserved when they share photos of themselves.
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In a previous interview with Dr. Nicholas, I spoke to her about the history of beauty and the changes in the beauty industry over the years. She told Bored Panda that the beauty industry has grown “substantially” over the previous century, its expansion showing just how important beauty is in people’s lives, shaping their identities. “Especially in regard to gender,” Dr. Nicholas said.
According to the beauty history expert, the modern culture that we live in is a visual culture. Importance has become more important than ever as more and more of us live in increasingly dense, anonymous cities where we can feel insignificant. When there are fewer tight-knit communities and you’re seen as a stranger by most, they’ll judge you only by your appearance.
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“So how one appears is often presumed to be who one is. Historically, the rise of the modern city was seen as the place of quick judgments on appearances in places that were crowded but also built for observation. Evaluation by one’s appearance, then, took on new importance. This has only intensified,” Dr. Nicholas detailed.
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Beauty is both a deeply personal thing, as well a culturally driven phenomenon. That means that the beauty industry is relational to the consumer. “It provides products and images for consumption and how consumers take those up largely determine its success. Beauty products and practices have to resonate with consumers, who are not simply dupes but often thoughtful and measured in what they want and can consume.”
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Dr. Nicholas explained that gaps in services and products lead to further innovation. “Throughout the twentieth century, for example, women of color struggled to be appropriately represented and struggled to find appropriate products. In multiple ways, the industry was forced to grow and expand to respond properly to their needs. Black entrepreneurs often led the way,” the historian told Bored Panda.
What’s more, the beauty industry continues to innovate, shift, change, and improve. So much so that what seemed completely ordinary just a decade or two ago can look very weird from a more modern perspective.
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“When dislocated from their context, what was typical in one time period seems strange in another. Today, we see the highly filtered, fully made up selfie as quite ordinary. When you pause to consider it though, it is interesting to think about how those reflect changes in technology (both digital and in cosmetics), as well as in dominant presumptions of what is considered beautiful. It can also be reflective of the democratization of techniques in lighting and makeup application that were historically reserved for insiders within modeling. Now, anyone can use them.”
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Beauty, for Dr. Nicholas, is deeply interwoven with the wider social and cultural contexts that we live in. “Using X-rays for hair removal, for example, also reflects the fact that technology emerges before the full impact of its use is known,” the historian gave an example of what she meant.
Furthermore, what we take for granted today will most likely seem weird to future generations. “It’s quite ordinary today to inject a form of botulism into your face or to dress in the skin of another animal. Over time, though, as our collective beliefs and values change, these ordinary acts might come to be seen as extraordinary.”