TIME Culture

In Praise of ‘Ugly’: Modeling Agency Ditches the Airbrush for ‘True Character’

Founded in 1969, the Ugly modeling agency has long been home to extraordinary characters; twins and triplets, the short and the huge, punks and thugs, the multiple-pierced and the wildly inked . . .

As a recent Photoshop project by a young reporter reminds us, beauty standards differ significantly across cultures. That said, certain physical traits have long been celebrated and coveted—a slender frame; fair skin; long, full hair; symmetry in facial features—leaving little room (in the West, at least) for those with “unusual” looks to break into modeling and entertainment.

To fill a void in supply and demand, the Ugly Models Agency was born in London in 1969. Its mission was to recruit and promote “ugly” women and men of all shapes, sizes and personalities for niche roles and markets. The agency’s philosophy: “Any beauty can be airbrushed but we want our look to have true character.”

Though the agency has since expanded to include more traditional beauties in its sub-label, Rage, it remains a home not just for the average-looking, but for the extraordinary; Ugly represents twins and triplets, the short of stature and the huge, punks and thugs, as well as the Guinness World Record-approved tallest man alive, most-tattooed man alive and the most-pierced man and woman alive. “We like our women fat and our men geeky,” Ugly declares. “We like the extremely tall and the shockingly small.”

Ugly makes its name on outsiders and character types, but it also holds up a mirror to what society deems unappealing—that is, men and women who can’t or won’t live up to the outrageous beauty standards found on billboards and in magazines. It’s wonderful to celebrate the Ugly models’ courage and originality. With any luck, one day we’ll be able to celebrate their wonderful normality, too.

Male models from the "Ugly" model agency in London, 1969.
Loomis Dean—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Ife Olujobi is an undergraduate student at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts studying Dramatic Writing with a minor in Film Production. She is also an editor at the campus newspaper, Washington Square News, and writes frequently about television, film and music.

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