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The Ugly Baby Fan Club: Personal Indulgences No. 3

Have you considered how rare it is to encounter an ugly baby? Post-six months, that is. But apart from C-section arrivals, the newborn, still supine in its crib or pram, entirely exposed to the gaze of the curious, usually bears for at least several weeks the marks of its struggle out of the womb, a journey it makes provided with no experience to assure it that this, too, shall pass and no concept of future joy. The infant’s physical battle scars–perhaps its psychic ones as well–disappear with time, and time, as well as interaction with other creatures of the human species, seems to make its features harmonize just as its limbs gradually acquire coordination. By the half-year mark, most fledglings are enchanting in one way or another.

But it’s the “ugly” babies that fascinate me. Those with the ears akimbo, the eyes tiny and too close together, the eyebrows perennially in frown mode, the skin sallow, blotched, or irregularly puffy, the expression grave or worried, even in situations promising pleasure.

I have enormous affection and hope for these babies. First of all, obviously, because Hans Christian Andersen was right: Ugly ducklings, occasionally, turn into swans. But even more because, if the uncomely babies never do turn handsome or beautiful, great things may befall them, since they won’t be subject to the distractions of personal beauty. Maintaining and enhancing one’s mirror image can be a full-time job, by definition a superficial one, with a tragic ending brought about by the passage of time. Inevitably, surface beauty fades.

Think of the ostensibly ill-favored, however, who, by their deeds, have become veritable gods: Andersen himself, Eleanor Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, to name just three of my favorites. Variously, their faces project sensitivity, empathy, hard-earned wisdom, a quietly unshakable firmness of purpose–elements of temperament that can transform the world.

© 2007 Tobi Tobias


  1. Katharine Kanter says

    I like this. More power to ugly babies. [Sent October 15, 2007. –Ed.]

  2. Micalyn Harris says

    How interesting! My mother used to tell me, when I was in high school and dating a handsome boy seemed ultra-important, “The handsomest ones don’t stay that way. The ones who aren’t so good-looking seem to change less and look better as they age” or words to that effect. How true! At my 25th high school reunion, I was struck by the fact that the good-looking “popular” boys had become paunchy balding men, most of whom still behaved as if they were as they were in high school. The more average-looking ones looked much better.
    I’m reading “Team of Rivals.” Lincoln was amazing –and he wasn’t the only dedicated, amazing public servant of the era. We could certainly use that level of vision, leadership, and ability to make talented, ambitious people work together to help us out of the present morass. [Sent October 14, 2007. –Ed.]

  3. Marc Salz says

    Thanks for this article. My wife and I will be celebrating the birthday of our grandson Sammy who will be five years old. My step daughter delivered him to us and we have raised him without the natural father’s support. He is a wonderful boy.
    All children, ugly or otherwise should be given a fair shake in this world because we as adults provided the admission ticket. [Sent October 14, 2007. –Ed.]

  4. Mindy Aloff says

    This is very European–and quite in the spirit of Montaigne’s little essay on a child he encountered who suffered a freakish deformity. I rather love it. And, after I looked in the mirror then went back to your second graph, I thought, Wow. Hope. [Sent October 14, 2007. –Ed.]

  5. Do not worry, ugly babies, I’m with you.

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