Over the past few months, I have heard the phrase, ugly-cry used over and over again. It's usually expressed in a joking manner, or with an eye roll, or in some cases with embarrassment. I’ve heard ugly-cry used among friends. Such as, “I cried so hard, it was the ugly-cry”. Or, “it hurt my feelings so much, that I had an ugly-cry”. Or, “Maaaan, first I was laughing and then it turned into the (shakes head no), ugly-cry”. Each time I hear the phrase ugly-cry, it makes me cringe. It makes me want to shout, “NO!” It makes me want to reach out and hug you. To hold you like your mom held you as a small child when you needed comfort and acceptance, because crying and your emotion expression is NOT ugly. Not one bit.
Have you seen the social media memes about ‘Ugly-Cry LeBron’? Let me remind you. LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers win the 2016 NBA Championship after seven grueling, challenging and passion filled games. At the sound of the buzzer’s seventh game win, elation, joy and relief are poured out in tears and emotion so strong it contorts his and his teammate’s steadfast faces. This out pour of emotion created a series of meant-to-be funny memes of LeBron showing up across social media sporting his ugly-cry. Now you remember? I bet you’ve heard people use 'ugly-cry' or, maybe you’ve even used it yourself.
Ugly-cry has been around as early as 2009, when Michael Jordan was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame after a celebrated career in the NBA. Imagine the stunning reality of having your life's work celebrated to this magnitude. What emotions would you feel? Pride, elation, joy, relief, and astonishment come to mind; but not just average, every day emotion: intense, once in a life-time emotion! Feelings so extreme they make your face contort and your eyes swell with tears flowing down your cheeks. You would show your emotion because your FEEL it, and because you feel (in Michael Jordan's case), you end up the focus of endless GIFs poking fun of an accomplishment that should be celebrated and honored.
Ugly cry is even in the Urban Dictionary!
So, why does this bother me so much?
It's because I want to understand why an intense display of emotion is labeled as ugly, or made to be funny.
How can raw and real emotion, felt deep into one's soul be ugly?
To me, it is stunningly beautiful.
Crying is defined by Vingerhoets and Cornelius (2001), as a unique human experience allowing the eyes to tear when undergoing an emotional event. Crying is difficult to control, hard to fake, and is an intense form of emotional expression from our first to our last breath on earth. We all cry for a myriad of reasons, with varied frequency and intensity, and can cry because we feel either positive or negative emotions (Vingerhoets and Cornelius, 2001).
Emotions make us who we are. Our tears are a form of expressing joy, anguish, relief, fear, elation, sadness, hope, anger, or love; how can this be ugly?! Instead, sharing emotion is gorgeous, positive, relieving, and rightfully accepted! It is a means for celebration and honor.
Please, can we consider re-framing ugly-cry to something more constructive? Like beautiful-cry, or emotion-cry, or happy-cry, or angry-cry. Can we call it what it is, instead of lumping all of our precious emotions into the ugly category? Our emotions and feelings are precious, individual and are a beautiful part of our souls. Let us treat ourselves with kindness and respect and allow one another acceptance and tolerance when emotions contort our faces into a beautiful-cry. It is beautiful, and so are you.
Vingerhoets A. J. J. M., Cornelius R. R. (2001). Adult Crying a Biopsychosocial Approach. Hove: Brunner-Routledge.