Monday, October 3

Body Like Beyoncé, Face Like André...

In Denis Johnson’s Already Dead: A California Gothic, the narrator tells us he’s found that ugly women with great bodies never have trouble getting dates because every man thinks he has a shot with them.

(Or something like that…it’s been a while since I read it. And don’t consider this mention to be a recommendation…for better Johnson books, read Jesus’ Son, then Fiskadoro, Angels, or The Stars At Noon.)

In America, the best term for an ugly woman with a great body is “butterface.” As in, “everything looks good…but ‘er face.” The only real problem with this phrase—aside from the wildly insulting fact that it exists—is that calling someone a butterface is likely to be misinterpreted as “possessing a fat face” by people who want to pretend like they know what you’re talking about. If, like me, you’re a well-known wit with a deserved reputation as a latter-day Oscar Wilde, you have to put up with these sorts of hanger-ons and must tailor your bon mots accordingly.

Somewhat related to this is “summerteeth.” (No, not the Wilco album that is criminally overshadowed by their later work.) As in: "She has summerteeth...sum 'er teeth are yellow, sum 'er teeth are green."

As a pre-tween, I would often hear these sorts of women (or, conceivably, men) described as “50 Yard Beauty Queens,” which should be self-explanatory. I assumed the phrase was universal, but a search for "50 yard beauty" yields lots of sports references ("McNabb lofted a 50 yard beauty") but only two results that references a 50YBQ:
  • The first is a Farkish hax0r message board, and
  • the second defines the phrase as a woman “that when they get close you have to run back 50 yards in order to view.” Note that not only is this the wrong definition, it also makes no fucking sense.
Perhaps you remember that the movie Clueless used the term “Monets” for people who look good from a distance but not up-close. Personally, I always found this to be not just unrealistic but something that forcibly took you out of the reality of the movie…the smarmy reference made you realize that you weren’t watching witty teenagers, but actors in their mid-twenties reading lines written by professional screenwriters.

(Also: a funnier reference would have been the pointillist painter Seurat.)

Anyway, it turns out that the “pretty body / ugly face” dichotomy is a far-ranging phenomenon, transcending geographical, cultural, and linguistic borders.

(NB: I really am interested in this topic out of an academic curiousity; I'm not planning on yelling any of these terms out of my T-Bird on the way to my next kegger.)

In Japan, the term for "a girl who appears pretty when seen from behind, but not when seen from the front" is bakku-shan. Note that this phrase is much more precise than the others, in that it signifies a difference between back and front, not just between body and face.

In Spain they call ugly girls with good bodies gambas, which is Spanish for shrimp. The explanation is that, like a shrimp, the body is delicious but you throw away the head.

In North London, the term for someone with a great body is “buff.” (Also, Streets fans, “fit”.) But the term for ugliness is “butters.” (This makes me wonder if “butterface” is originally a British invention.) Therefore, the slang term for a buff woman who is sadly butters is…buffters.

Another British variation is “Body by Baywatch, Face by CrimeWatch". (CrimeWatch is the UK’s version of America’s Most Wanted, and it frequently features hideous mug shots.)

In hip-hop, there’s the term “tip drill”, which supposedly means a woman with, specifically, a great ass but an ugly face. This usage was popularized in the Nelly song and infamous video of the same name.

However, the meaning of the term is a bit controversial, because there’s another definition as well: “pulling a train”…that is, uh, lining up to, er, gang-bang a woman. This definition comes from basketball, where a “tip drill” is when players line up to practice their free-throws. That definition makes sense, albeit horrifyingly so, because I can understand the evolution of the term.

But how did “tip drill” acquire its secondary, butterface meaning? Personally, I think Nelly (who claims he learned the term from a stripper) just got the phrase wrong, and then cemented the incorrect usage with his hit single. I’d be open to other explanations, however.


Now that I review this list, I realize that there are actually differences between some of them. For example, bakku-shan references a dichotomy between front and back, while 50 Yard Beauty Queen is a contrast between far-away and up-close. Perhaps we could draw up some sort of taxonomy from this lesson:

Ways That Women Can Be Revealed As Disappointing
-top to bottom
-back to front
-far and close


Finally, there's a term for a young man or woman who only seems attractive and thin because their picture was taken many years ago, or in obscuring darkness, or with an extreme close-up, or from an odd angle: a MySpace user.