U-G-L-Y, you ain’t got no a-li-bi

How much of your psyche is imprinted in the first few hours of life? The first few weeks? The first few months? Does it matter whether your mom had a difficult labor, or whether she was Scientologifically quiet? And how important is it, during that first year, to encounter a warm and accepting world looking down at you in your stroller?

I think of this question whenever I see a cute little tot, and also when I see one dressed in whimsical clothes. I’m convinced that when parents put a floppy-bunny-ear hat on their kid’s head, or dress them in little cowboy outfits or funny t-shirts, they’re doing their children a huge psychological favor. What could be better than spending the first year or two of your life wheeling around with smiling strangers bending down to exclaim, “Oh my god! You’re SO CUTE!!”

Exhibit A: Random cute baby in floppy ears. Who wouldn’t love this kid, even with his prematurely furrowed brow?

random cute baby in bunny ears

By contrast, consider the plight of the ugly baby. Some would argue that there’s no such thing as an ugly baby, but they are wrong. Some babies simply have peanut-shaped heads, puffy eyes, wispy tendrils of hair, multiple blobby chins. I know, because I had all of these things. I was the butt-ugliest baby you ever saw.

I didn’t know this until a few years ago, when my father scanned all our old, long-unseen family slides into his computer and burned CD copies for us. It was Thanksgiving, so the whole family was together – my brother, his wife and three kids, my parents, my partner and me. We crowded around my dad’s computer and watched the photos as a slideshow, oohing and aahing at shots of my mother in miniskirts, my dad in his Navy uniform, my toddler brother dressed for church in an adorable little bow tie and plaid jacket.

Then, I was born. When the first “ugly baby” shot came on the screen, the room erupted with shrieks of horror and delight. My nieces and nephew couldn’t control their giggles, though they did glance furtively at me to see whether I was laughing with them, or perhaps crying.

ugly baby 1

Wow. Surely, I thought, this photo must be the result of a bad camera angle – or perhaps a bad batch of baby formula. But no! As the photos kept coming, it became all too clear that, for a presumably humanoid baby, I had oddly alien features:

ugly baby 2

This discovery was not helped by the fact that my brother, two years older than me, was heartbreakingly, impossibly cute in every photo. The contrast was astonishing:

ugly baby 3

With every snapshot, the level of hilarity increased. By now, my nieces and nephew were flopping about on the floor, gasping for air. “I can’t believe this!” I shrieked in (mock) dismay, egging them on to greater paroxysms of laughter. “I was the ugliest baby ever! I was the ugliest baby in the HISTORY OF THE WORLD!”

To which my mother suddenly blurted, “You weren’t ugly!” We all turned to look at her. Was she serious?

“You were my beautiful little girl,” my mom said.

Bunny ears, shmunny ears. When your mom’s got your back like that, the world can gape all it wants at your peanut-shaped head. Thanks, Ma.


17 responses to “U-G-L-Y, you ain’t got no a-li-bi”

  1. i think you were much, much cuter than that little rodent baby in the first picture. i’ve seen you make that face–with your tongue sticking out–on more than one occasion, and i think it’s adorable.

  2. Trixie Honeycups says:

    yep. adorable.

  3. reddog says:

    All babies look like Winston Churchill when they emerge. Fortunately, like a fine wine, you improved with age. Lots of people with peanut shaped heads have gone on to live productive and meaningful lives. If you ever tire of ghost writing you can get a job as Ms. Peanut and dance on the side of the road shilling for salted nuts.

    Keep up the good work.

  4. andrea says:

    Lisa…you are, and always have been, punk as fuck.

  5. PB says:

    As the proud mother of a baby who had a four year old’s face at birth (“oh look at the . . . baby!”) and a baby who must have gotten his baby face genes from a magazine layout and not from his parents–it truly does all work out in the end. The one who had to work at his accolades by being charming rather than “adorable” currently works the room with ease. You compensate until the face catches up with you. By four years old, he was a rock star. Great post as always, had a crap day and yet laughed out loud. Thank you!!!!

  6. […] Listen, let’s not stop now. Imagine, if you will, that you were the world’s ugliest baby, You grew up a skinny, geeky child of geeky parents. Your signature personality trait was uncertainty, coupled with a profound desire to be liked. You finally gained a measure of self-confidence in college, after discovering an unexpected truth about your sexual orientation, and have slowly, methodically, built an adult life, culminating in your alternatingly scintillating and dull career. Your crowning moments — book parties, interviews with fascinating, powerful people — are satisfyingly triumphal. Your low points — yet another afternoon spent at a coffee shop that smells oddly of fried sandwiches, staring at your laptop while sucking down your third watery latte — are dismal. Is this what life is about? Is this what your life is destined to be? […]

  7. Ashley Hahn says:

    You guys are mean to these little children. This children are cute. The Bible says, “Children are beatiful in his sight.” And it also says, “All children are beatiful all the way Through.”

  8. Scott Godfrey says:

    Some kids are ugly, and the invisible, old man you may credit with writing the novel, the Bible, doesn’t exist. So sorry.

  9. bryan says:

    scott wins again.

    this is THE funniest comment ever.

  10. Dave says:

    I thought you meant #7, but that’s not sockpuppetry, it’s a real post from teh Brevard County school system in Florida. Somehow I never read the part where God goes “All children are beatiful all the way Through.”

  11. oh no. i meant scott’s comment.

  12. by the way, i think god said that one right before jesus said, “i never said it would be easy. i only said it would be worth it.” isn’t that in matthew somewhere?

  13. shilo says:

    i think that baby is beautiful!!!!!!!

  14. sorry. i just read #8 again and couldn’t stop laughing. scott: the gift that keeps on giving.

  15. Lisa Parrish says:

    Thank you, Shilo. Without the support of you and my ma, where would I be?

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  17. Stephanie says:

    If you don’t mind, I’d love to feature your picture on my new blog…I think it’s perfect =)