Remember The Law That Said You Had To Be Beautiful?

Posted: March 14, 2013 in History's Taboos
Tags: , , , ,

A common saying emphasizes that beauty is different to each and every eye, and if that were true the opposite would be the same: ugliness is in the eye of the beholder. However, the laws of not so long ago saw this differently. According to the almost forgotten “ugly laws” certain people were seen as too unsightly to be viewed in public:

Any person who is diseased, maimed, mutilated, or in any way deformed, so as to be an unsightly or disgusting object, or an improper person to be allowed in or on the streets, highways, thoroughfares, or public places in this city, shall not therein or thereon expose himself to public view, under the penalty of a fine of $1 [about $20 today] for each offense. (Chicago City Code 1881)1

Some might say that this isn’t much different than a law against public nudity. Yet this doesn’t quite seem the same. I couldn’t imagine a law today that refused to allow wounded veterans to walk the streets. Even calling a person ugly is one of those minor taboos we now call bullying. Nevertheless, it is unknown why there has never been a law that kept those who are ugly on the inside out of public view. Perhaps that is really what laws are supposed to do, though.

1 Susan Schweik, The Ugly Laws: Disability in Public (New York: NYU Press, 2006), 1-2.


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