Maybe it was my conservative Midwest upbringing, or the fact that I was raised by a very reserved family, but I was always taught that it’s not polite to stare, you never call someone ugly and while others might be different, you just don’t talk about it. So when I heard Robert Hoge on NPR talking about his book “Ugly”, it certainly caught my attention.
Robert was born with a tumor on his face and deformed legs and went through several surgeries that left him ugly and disabled. I was fascinated by his story and how he grew up so far outside the bounds of what society considers to be normal or even beautiful. So fascinated that I immediately hopped online, found him and asked him to do an interview! He was kind enough to agree and we had an awesome chat that you can listen to here.
I was excited to pick up the audiobook version of “Ugly” and started listening to it right away. First of all, I highly recommend the audiobook version since it is Robert himself reading it. But also be sure to check out the hard copy version, brilliantly illustrated by Keith Robinson. What I consistently loved was Robert’s open and honest way of talking about his challenges and even him describing himself as “Ugly”. This is in clear opposition to my upbringing and very refreshing.
It’s also fascinating to hear his stories about growing up. Whether it’s his earliest days at the hospital, selling grapefruits in the neighborhood, bonding with friends over sci fi, or wanting to be part of a team sport, it’s amazing how despite our differences, we can all relate to that wonderful, terrible period of our lives we call childhood.
Also not to be missed is his top 10 list of hurtful names he was called growing up. This brutally honest list details not only the nicknames, but their origin, originality, hurt factor, laugh factor and how he overcame them. Very insightful and very useful for anyone who is or has ever been bullied.
I recommend this book for anyone and everyone, but especially kids. And especially kids who might feel like they don’t fit in for whatever reason. It’s had a profound effect on me as an adult, so I can only imagine the effect it would’ve had on me as a child.
I was born unable to smile normally due to nerve damage and have always considered myself “different”. I wish there had been a more open dialog when I was younger about accepting the differences in others and in myself. Like Robert says, it’s really just different differences. Regardless of our imperfections, we need to own our face and realize that our appearance does affect who we are but it’s not the only thing that does. This is a vital message for all of us in this beauty obsessed, perfection driven society we live in. By openly talking about our differences and our likeness we might find we’re really not so different after all. So go out there and see how beautiful ugly can be!
Ugly has it all. Humor. Horror. Action. Romance. Doctor Who. Life changing perceptions. And an incredible, incredible story.