I got into polyamory via a glamorous life of swinging, but my wife and I found that unconnected sex didn’t do it for us and we started to fall for another couple. Sadly they felt that polyamory threatened their relationship so we started exploring poly groups for more like-minded people. But on the whole the people who attended poly meet ups – whilst being more open minded – were ugly. I don’t use the word as a judgement, I might like them as people but the majority are overweight, nerdy, don’t take care of themselves and behind all that ‘loving everyone’ stance, often pissed off about the society norms in general (which I don’t find attractive quite apart from looks). I realise that my experience is simply that, but looking around on the internet I get the feeling that my opinion is one of many similar opinions.
– Mr. What’sWithTheUglyPolyPeeps
Dear Mr. WWTUPP,
Thank you for your mail. And thank you for saying what I’ve read on the internet several times (in fact googling your question, I even find it on Quora – I’m going to post a version of this answer there as well).
Your experience that poly people are ugly is your experience and I’m not going to invalidate it. But I am going to speak a little about beauty and what it means to me. I have a small daughter who has wonderful blonde curly hair. Unfortunately, the disney princesses (and at this time of writing particularly Elsa), have long straight hair and my daughter – not even six years old – measures her own beauty according to this standard. She does not believe she (or anyone else with curly hair) is beautiful and it breaks my heart a little.
But I do not wish invalidate her opinion either, so instead I try to reframe it. I explain to her that anyone can conform to the standards that our society dictates as beautiful (have a look at the before-after videos on YouTube if you don’t believe me), by wearing enough makeup, wearing clothes that push us into different shapes, by using hair straighteners or grooming products, but not all of us believe that this is really beautiful or that it is worth the effort to erase what you look like or who you are by becoming something (or someone) the world wants you to. To help her distinguish between the two, I call dressing up ‘pretty’ whilst beauty is a much rounder concept and not just about appearance.
For me and many like me, polyamory impacts every choice I make in this world from how I choose to educate my children, to choices I make around my looks. Polyamory has encouraged me to look deeper behind what we are taught and question what I had previously considered true. It has encouraged me to seek to discover the ‘real’ me. And that’s a curious journey.
Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
― Margery Williams,
If there’s one characteristic I find in almost all polyamorous people I meet, it is this desire to be ‘real’. I’m not saying we’ve achieved it more than anyone else, but the desire for authenticity is almost always present because in–at the very least–one fundamental way, we’ve admitted that in our reality, the only way we can be authentic is to embrace our capacity for loving many. When you start to challenge society on something so fundamental and controversial, you wonder what other threads might be pulled.
So perhaps what you identify as ‘ugly’ is the way we try to discover our own personal way to be real, to be ourselves, for example by embracing our bodies as they are – hair n’ all. Whether you think so or not, you are making a judgement about it according to learned values, which are something I personally seek to ‘unlearn’.
When we find something ugly, it generally stems from an unresolved fear about our own survival. Not conforming to society standards of beauty risks exclusion and in our desire to distance ourselves from exclusionary behaviours, some will judge this ugly.
Most of the time, I walk around without makeup, in comfy sweats. I have an extra roll of fat since the birth of my children. I am probably what you would call ‘ugly’. But when I go on television, I dress up. I put on a push up bra, nice clothes and have my hair done. I scrub up pretty good. Because I am aware that my message that ‘loving many can be wonderful’ will get across more easily if I don’t challenge all the things at once. You have already challenged society’s view that monogamy should be the norm, it will be your choice if you ever challenge society’s definition of beauty.
Rest assured, there are plenty of poly people who you will consider beautiful. But I would say that those at poly meet ups are those who are more likely to embrace polyamory as an ethos of authenticity, more than simply a relationship configuration. If you seek polyamorous people who are invested in conforming to the society standard of beauty, then your niche will probably not be found there. You’re better off sticking to swinging where the community as a whole is invested in making themselves as groomed/pretty as possible in a time-limited interaction and ticking the box on your profile which indicates interest in deeper relationships.
[edit: Swingers Date Club might be somewhere where you would find the ‘swolly’* crowd, as I know they have an option for ‘interested in polyamory’]
*Term coined by Ken Haslam as a cross between swinging and poly