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Last Updated: Sunday, 14 September, 2003, 14:40 GMT 15:40 UK
Italy's ugly club defies convention

By Rebecca Pike
Piobbico, Italy

A sign just outside Piobbico in Italy's Le Marche region welcomes visitors to the world capital of ugly people.

Telesforo Iacobelli
Telesforo Iacobelli is thought ugly partly because of his small nose
For this town - population 2,000 - is home to Italy's Club dei Brutti - or Ugly Club.

On the first Sunday of every September, hundreds of people gather in the main square for a rather unusual ceremony.

It is the annual Festival of the Ugly, in which the club's new president will be elected.

Every year the same man, Telesforo Iacobelli, wins the top prize - partly because he has a small nose in a culture where large noses are considered beautiful.

But also because he has spent his life fighting for the recognition of the ugly, in a society that places a high value on physical beauty.

We are the men and women we want to be - we are judged for what we are and not for what we seem
Telesforo Iacobelli
"I am convinced - and others will agree with me - that in the end we will be the winners," Mr Iacobelli said.

"You know why? Because we are genuine, because we are like we are. We are the men and women we want to be, who are judged for what we are and not for what we seem."

Marriage agency

Mr Iacobelli has built a shrine to ugliness inside his house.

A slogan painted on the board reads: "The women of the ugly are always happy."

The head of a wild boar - the club's emblem - is mounted over a door. The club's crest features a reclining man smoking a pipe with the slogan: "Ugliness is a virtue, beauty is slavery."

The club has links with Piobbico that go back to 1879.

It was relaunched 40 years ago with a new focus - as a marriage agency for the town's single women.

They apparently felt they couldn't find husbands because they were ugly. From this auspicious beginning the Ugly Club developed. Today it has 20,000 members around the world.

Before I joined I was terrified of talking to women - now I am less afraid
Ugly club member
It campaigns against discrimination in the workplace based on looks. It tries to make society more aware of ugly people's problems. It also helps people overcome their phobias and, in some cases, to find partners.

"The club helps people by showing them that they may be physically ugly but that they also have other features - that are superior to those of the physically beautiful," said one member.

Beauty's disadvantages

Another said: "Before I joined I was terrified of talking to women. Now I am less afraid and I have a wonderful wife - who also happens to be beautiful!"

Roberta Iacobelli
Fortunately Mr Iacobelli's daughter Roberta has not inherited his looks
Ironically, Mr Iacobelli's daughter, Roberta, also happens to be beautiful.

But she believes that beauty can be a disadvantage just as much as an advantage.

"If you are really beautiful - not what I am, I am a normal person - you can have problems because you always have to demonstrate that you are clever, that you are nice, that you are other things apart from beautiful," she said.

"So sometimes you have do a double job, just to be who you are."

It is surely no coincidence that the Ugly Club was born in a country where to "fare una bella figura" - or make a good physical impression - is of the utmost importance.

But the forces of fashion, design and aesthetics may have met their match in Mr Iacobelli and his followers.

They might just be beginning to counter and dispel Italy's infamous cult of beauty.

The BBC's Rebecca Pike
"What they are trying to show is that ugliness in itself is not an obstacle to a fulfilling life"

When beauty turns ugly
23 Nov 02  |  Africa


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