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Pretty Ugly by Abdullah Shoaib

“Pretty Ugly” is a reverse poem written by an unknown gem, Abdullah Shoaib, who shook the internet with this powerful poem four years back. From then onwards, the poem has not lost popularity, nor has its powerful message stopped reaching our hearts. It’s such a probing poem that makes readers see the journey of one speaker from immaturity to maturity and ignorance to self-awareness. Reading the poem in the usual order presents a scenario where the speaker accepts what society “feeds” in the form of conventional ideas of beauty, self-worth, and love.

Whereas, reading the text bottom-up reveals that once the speaker understands the meaning of true beauty that does not deal with one’s external features, he realizes that he/she is beautiful in the way they are. Therefore, they “deserve” to be loved and accepted. If others tend to reject this as an arrogant appeal, they are in a position to accept that they are “ugly”.

In this way, Shoaib shows that when we change the way of seeing things in ourselves as well as in the world, reality starts to take a more meaningful shape. It is similar to reading the text bottom-up rejecting the conventional notion of reading top-down.

  • Read the full text of “Pretty Ugly” below:
Pretty Ugly
by Abdullah Shoaib

I'm very ugly
So don't try to convince me that
I am a very beautiful person
Because at the end of the day
I hate myself in every single way
And I'm not going to lie to myself by saying
There is beauty inside of me that matters
So rest assured I will remind myself
That I am a worthless, terrible person
And nothing you say will make me believe
I still deserve love
Because no matter what
I am not good enough to be loved
And I am in no position to believe that
Beauty does exist within me
Because whenever I look in the mirror I always think
Am I as ugly as people say?

(Now read bottom to top)
Analysis of Pretty Ugly by Abdullah Shoaib


Summary

Abdullah Shoaib’s poem “Pretty Ugly” can be read and summarized in two ways. In the first reading (top to bottom), Shoaib presents us with a demotivated and self-loathing persona who rejects the possibility of being beautiful. The speaker tells others not to convince him as he hates himself in every single manner. He even rejects the possibility of the fact he has inner beauty. Therefore, it is natural that he cannot be loved the way others are. Lastly, the speaker ends with a rhetorical question, asking whether he is really as “ugly” as people tell them.

In the second reading (bottom to top), the same speaker takes a solid stance. The pessimistic self-interrogation now sounds like a declaration; a question directly posed to society. The speaker rejects all the notions of society regarding his beauty and accepts (proclaims) the fact that beauty does exist within him. He deserves to be loved, no matter what. Furthermore, nothing others say matters to the speaker as he has started believing in himself. Their cynical remarks cannot discourage him anymore.

Meaning

The title of the poem “Pretty Ugly” gives us a direct hint at the main idea. “Pretty” and “ugly” are two opposite words. But Shoaib does not use these words to depict two contradictory ideas. He rather fuses them together and forms a complementary idea, like the yin and yang. What is pretty for others cannot be truly pretty.

Similarly, what seems ugly to one cannot appear the same to others. So, it is how humans see a particular thing. For one group, the glass is always half-empty, while others see it as half-filled. They are not totally wrong, nor entirely correct. In the same manner, what society deems as the trademark features of beauty cannot entirely be the touchstone of true beauty within oneself. Hence, the speaker (in the back reading) says, “So don’t try to convince me that/ I’m very ugly.”

Structure, Form, & Rhyming

“Pretty Ugly” is a reverse poem. It can be read both ways, top to bottom and bottom to top. The top-down reading of reverse poetry is often pessimistic. In contrast, the bottom-top reading is optimistic or changes the mood of the entire text. Unlike palindrome poetry that reads the same backward, reverse poetry brings out a contrast through backward reading.

This poem consists of 17 lines that are packed into a single stanza. The lines don’t have punctuation, and the top-to-bottom text ends with a question mark. Besides, this poem is in free-verse, without any set rhyme scheme or meter. It is written from the perspective of a first-person speaker.

Though there is no regular rhyme scheme, readers can find a few instances of rhyming, such as in “day” and “way”. Apart from that, the overall poem can be considered as a single statement, strapped together with several clauses.

Literary Devices & Figurative Language

Shoaib uses the following literary devices in “Pretty Ugly”:

Irony

While reading the poem backward, it seems the speaker has used understatements in the actual poem (top to bottom). For instance, in the first three lines, he tells others not to convince him that he is a wonderful person. It sounds ironic if the speaker himself believes in his worth.

Enjambment

This device is used throughout the poem. Each line runs into consecutive lines forcing readers to go through them all together. By using this device, create curiosity in readers’ minds regarding what will come next. For example, enjambment occurs in the following lines:

I’m very ugly

So don’t try to convince me that

I am a very beautiful person

Hyperbole

Some instances of hyperbole from the poem are:

  • “I’m very ugly”
  • “I am a very beautiful person”
  • “I hate myself in every single way”

The words in bold are used for the ironic effect.

Metaphor

In the line, “There is beauty inside of me that matters,” the speaker implies the beauty of the soul. So, the beauty within is a metaphor for the soul’s grace.

Asyndeton

Conjunction (and) is dropped in the line, “That I am a worthless, terrible person,” for maintaining the flow.

Litotes

This device is used in the line, “I am not good enough to be loved.” The speaker uses an ironic statement in which an affirmative (“I am bad”) is expressed by the negative of its contrary (“I am not good”).

Rhetorical Question

The poem ends/begins with a rhetorical question: “Am I as ugly as people say?” In the top-down reading, this figurative question sounds sad and hopeless. In the opposite reading, this question sounds more forceful and confident.

Alliteration

The repetition of similar sounds, either consonant or vowel, at the beginning of neighboring words occurs in the following instances:

  • try to” (line 2)
  • the day” (line 4)
  • to lie to” (line 6)
  • make me” (line 10)
  • that/ Beauty does” (lines 14-15)


Line-by-Line Analysis & Explanation (Top to Bottom)

Lines 1-3

I’m very ugly

So don’t try to convince me that

I am a very beautiful person

Abdullah Shoaib’s “Pretty Ugly” is about a speaker who seems to be utterly brainwashed by society. His voice reflects a sense of hopelessness, deep anguish, and resentment. He is completely fed up with how others think about him as a person and the way he looks. It is said that when a lie is repeated again and again, it becomes a truth. The same case happened with the speaker. He has been listening to several negative remarks about his beauty or self-worth.

With utter disgust upon himself, he declares in a straightforward manner, “Yes, I’m very ugly.” He is helpless, at the same time, filled with anger. Therefore, he humbly requests others not to convince him of anything against his belief shaped by society’s remarks. There is no need to praise him, saying, “Indeed, you’re really beautiful!” He does not deserve or need such kind of consolation. All he needs is a little space to live in the way he wants.

Lines 4-7

Because at the end of the day

I hate myself in every single way

And I’m not going to lie to myself by saying

There is beauty inside of me that matters

On top of the urge to live in isolation, there is another reason behind his rejection to accept others’ praise. He hates himself each day. The people around him went on to break his self-confidence to the degree that he could not even find anything special in him to be happy with. It feels as if being ugly is a sin, and he is termed a “sinner.” In order to purge his sinfulness, he is required to atone for being ugly.

Alongside that, he does not want to live under the impression that he is beautiful from within. Besides, he tries to say that if there is beauty in his soul, does it really matter to others? So, the speaker, it is better to live with the “truth” of his life and suffer alone, without having expectations of being accepted.

Lines 8-11

So rest assured I will remind myself

That I am a worthless, terrible person

And nothing you say will make me believe

I still deserve love

In these lines, the speaker continues to talk about how he feels. There is an ironic undertone in his voice that can only be felt when the poem is read bottom-up. As the speaker is unwilling to lie to himself about his inner beauty, he is assured that he will remind himself of his worthlessness and ugliness as long as he lives. It is essential to note the fact that if one is not beautiful, society makes them feel like they are “worthless.” They even deem the person as “terrible,” like a wild, hideous creature.

Therefore, he reiterates that it is too late to believe in himself again. He has not only lost hope but also stopped thinking of being loved. In this way, Shoaib points out that a person can only get affection if he is handsome or beautiful. Otherwise, there is no hope for him to find a partner or be loved by others in society.

Lines 12-17

Because no matter what

I am not good enough to be loved

And I am in no position to believe that

Beauty does exist within me

Because whenever I look in the mirror I always think

Am I as ugly as people say?

The speaker describes the fact that one can only be loved if they are good (pretty) enough. As he is not “good enough” according to society, there is no possibility of getting love. In the next lines, the poet uses a repetition of the idea of inner beauty. His speaker says that due to all these negative factors, he cannot believe that there is beauty in his heart. He is so demotivated that he cannot think of one good quality in him.

The last two lines of “Pretty Ugly” are different from the rest of the lines. It is because here, the speaker’s tone becomes a bit critical. When he looks at his reflection in the mirror, it makes him think. The reflection somehow shakes the misconception impregnated into his mind. As it has gone very deep, he struggles to differentiate the truth from the lies. For this reason, he asks whether he is as ugly as others think about him.

Line-by-Line Analysis & Explanation of the Reverse Poem (Bottom to Top)

  • First, read the reverse poem “Pretty Ugly” below:
Am I as ugly as people say?
Because whenever I look in the mirror I always think
Beauty does exist within me
And I am in no position to believe that
I am not good enough to be loved
Because no matter what
I still deserve love
And nothing you say will make me believe
That I am a worthless, terrible person
So rest assured I will remind myself
There is beauty inside of me that matters
And I'm not going to lie to myself by saying
I hate myself in every single way
Because at the end of the day
I am a very beautiful person
So don't try to convince me that
I'm very ugly


Lines 1-3

Am I as ugly as people say?

Because whenever I look in the mirror I always think

Beauty does exist within me

The bottom-to-top reading of “Pretty Ugly” presents readers with the same speaker, but this time, confident, self-aware, and wise. He thinks in stark contrast with what others think about him. Moreover, his tone reflects a sense of rejection. He is not abashed anymore. So, the second reading shows how one speaker’s thinking changes with maturity and self-awareness. All it takes is courage to stand against the established rules of society. Changing the direction of reading presents an entirely different meaning of the same words. Likewise, one has to change the way of looking at things or oneself to realize their true worth.

This section begins at the point where the previous reading ended. The speaker standing in front of the mirror asks himself whether he is so ugly as others say. He emphasizes the fact that beauty “does” exist within. It does not lie in the way one looks. True beauty exists deeper in one’s soul.

Lines 4-7

And I am in no position to believe that

I am not good enough to be loved

Because no matter what

I still deserve love

Therefore, the speaker is not in the mood to believe what others say about him. If others say he does not deserve love as he is not handsome, he simply rejects the notion. It does not matter what they say; he still “deserves” to be loved. Every human being needs and deserves love. No rule says the prerequisite to getting love is to look good.

Lines 8-11

And nothing you say will make me believe

That I am a worthless, terrible person

So rest assured I will remind myself

There is beauty inside of me that matters

The speaker’s voice becomes more forceful as he says, none of their remarks can change his mindset. He is not the person anymore. Previously, he could have believed that he was worthless and ugly. But now, he understands his worth and natural beauty within his heart. He firmly believes that the beauty inside him “matters,” not what others think or say about him. It is he who has to live with himself for the rest of his life. So, if he cannot love himself, how can others love him?

Lines 12-15

And I’m not going to lie to myself by saying

I hate myself in every single way

Because at the end of the day

I am a very beautiful person

People never stop remarking about others. They always judge others’ worth by their wealth, their appearance, and looks. Therefore, it is better not to lie to oneself by believing their remarks. One is foolish to accept others’ lies as their truth. So, the speaker refrains from lying to himself in contrast to what he did before. He will not say to himself he is horrid, or he hates himself in every single way possible. It is because he is aware of his own worth and beauty.

Lines 16-17

So don’t try to convince me that

I’m very ugly

The last two lines of the reverse poem are directly addressed to society. Here, the speaker tells others not to try to convince him. Their tactics are not going to work on him anymore. It is due to the fact that he is self-aware. He could be ugly from society’s perspective. In his own eyes, he is beautiful and fit to be loved, to be accepted, and to be considered a unique human being. Therefore, nobody can convince him that he is “very ugly.”

Themes

The major themes of “Pretty Ugly” are perception, acceptance and rejection, ignorance versus self-awareness, the soul’s beauty, and discrimination. Firstly, the theme of society’s perception regarding one’s beauty, worth, and abilities is criticized in this poem. Shoaib describes how a person’s mind is torn between what others think about him and what he thinks about himself. The clash takes the forefront in the first reading. By using the reverse form, the poet reverts the same perception to another more enlightening one.

The theme of acceptance versus rejection is another central theme in the poem. In the top-down text, the poet explores how the acceptance of conventional lies makes one feel weaker and worthless. In comparison, the down-to-top poem showcases one’s rejection of social lies that previously made him feel inferior. This contrast in the speaker’s thinking pattern implies another theme, immaturity vs. maturity.

Tone

Like any other reverse poetry, “Pretty Ugly” is in a pessimistic tone in the general order of reading. In contrast, the opposite reading reveals the underlying optimism of the speaker. When the speaker thinks based on what others say about him, his tone reflects a sense of helplessness, acceptance, and utter skepticism. As he grows into a mature person, his tone becomes confident. It reflects his sense of rejection of social norms, self-awareness, and optimism. In this way, the duality in tone helps readers understand how a person grows from being gullible to being intelligent and wise.

Questions & Answers

What is the theme of “Pretty Ugly” by Abdullah Shoaib?

Abdullah Shoaib’s “Pretty Ugly” contains a number of themes that include acceptance versus rejection, the journeys from immature thinking to mature thinking, beauty, discrimination, and the fear of being left out. When the poem is read top-down, it presents us with a speaker who accepts others’ perceptions about himself. As he grows mature, thus wise, as projected through the backward reading, he understands what others say about him does not matter at all. At the end of the day, what he thinks about himself only matters.

What is the meaning of “Pretty Ugly”?

The title of the poem “Pretty Ugly” hints at the glass half-filled with water paradox. Shoaib describes how society’s perception of beauty and worth cannot be totally correct, nor what they deem to be ugly is entirely accurate. In this poem, he shows how “pretty” and “ugly” are not diametrically opposite ideas but two complementary concepts of society. The same thing can seem ugly when seen through others’ eyes. When we change the way we look at things, the same thing appears beautiful.

How do you read the “Pretty Ugly” poem?

The poem “Pretty Ugly” can be read in both ways, forward and backward. In the forward reading, it is a pessimistic and utterly discouraging reading. The exact text (or words) becomes inspiring and confident when it is read bottom-to-top.

When was “Pretty Ugly” written?

The poem was written around 2018 by contemporary (Social Media poet) Abdullah Shoaib. It went viral in the same year and never lost its appeal due to its unique structure.

What literary device is “Pretty Ugly”?

The title of the poem “Pretty Ugly” is an example of an oxymoron. Two contradictory ideas are placed side by side to create an artistic effect and to reveal an interesting message.

What is a reverse poem?

A reverse poem is a poetic text that can be read in two ways, top to bottom and bottom to top. In general, the forward reading is pessimistic. While the opposite reading sounds optimistic, as evident in Abdullah Shoaib’s poem “Pretty Ugly.”


Similar Poems with Life Lessons

  • It Couldn’t Be Done” by Edgar Guest — What to tell others when they question our worth and abilities; poet Edgar Guest provides answers to their cynical remarks.
  • Stay Calm” by Grenville Kleiser — In this poem, Kleiser describes how the art of self-control and remaining calm helps us win all the battles, be it mental or physical.
  • The Flower” by Alfred Lord Tennyson — This poem explores the hypocrisy of society and how one creator is never recognized or appreciated for their novel works.
  • I Shall Paint My Nails Red” by Carole Satyamurti — In this poem, a mid-aged woman rejects all the norms and declares her wish to paint her nails in bold red color.


External Resources

4 Comments

  1. Jimoh O. I. Joseph says:

    I am Jimoh Olalekan Idowu (Joseph). I did a pasquinade of Abdullah Shoaib’s Pretty Ugly. Kindly contact me if you would like to see.

    Thanks for the beautiful analysis.

      1. Jimoh O. I. Joseph says:

        DESIRABLE

        Am I as desirable as they say?
        Because every time I consider myself, I often ponder
        Value does not reside in me
        And I am in no place to accept that
        I am still good enough to be desired
        For real, no matter what
        I do not deserve to be treasured
        And nothing you say will delude me to believe
        That I am a valuable and awesome individual
        No doubt, I will always retell myself
        There is no glory embedded in me that counts
        And I will definitely not deceive myself by saying
        I admire myself in every way
        Afterall I am absolutely sure
        I am a useless person
        So don’t attempt to persuade me that
        I am so desirable

        (Re-read bottom up)

        © Jimoh Olalekan Idowu
        20th February, 2022.

        1. Wonderful! Thanks for sharing this with us. We really enjoyed reading your piece. Kudos to Abdullah Shoaib for creating such an ingenious piece that still inspires us to redefine and deconstruct the “self,” a concoction of social conventions and expectations.

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