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“We were all ugly,” Amanda, a 22-year-old student from Florida told me, recalling the online community she found when she was 18. “Men didn’t like us, guys didn’t want to be with us, and it was fine to acknowledge it.”
This Reddit forum was called r/Trufemcels, and she commented there under the username “strangeanduglygrl.” Amanda didn’t post very often, but she checked in every day on the community of self-identified “femcels,” or involuntarily celibate women. (I agreed to refer to her by her first name only, to separate her current life from her former internet identity.) They came to complain about the superficiality of men and the privilege of pretty women, and to share their experiences moving through the world in an unattractive body, which therefore disadvantaged them romantically, socially, and economically. They were finding the modern dating landscape—the image-based apps, the commodified dating “market,” the illusory “freedom” to be found in hookup culture—to be unnavigable, and they talked about taking a “pink pill,” and opening their eyes to the reality that society was misogynistic and “lookist.” They could be funny—in 2019, a commenter repeated a pretty friend’s suggestion that nobody really needs to wear makeup, adding five heart-eye emoji and a link to the joke subreddit r/thanksimcured. They could be kind of mean—like male incels, they mocked lucky, beautiful women, whom they called “Stacys.” Mostly, they wrote about being sad. “Normies can’t comprehend real loneliness,” an early post begins. “Guys don’t treat ugly girls like people,” reads another.
“I was the kind of girl in school where it was like, people would say ‘Oh, he has a crush on you’ to make fun of the guy,” Amanda told me. She was anxious and unhappy, but she didn’t want to talk about any of it with her friends. When she first heard the term femcel, it offered some clarity. “In a very literal way: I was involuntarily celibate and female. So I was like, Okay, that applies.” Online, she found thousands of other women who were trying to figure out how to live without the kind of romantic love that our society has deemed a pillar—maybe the pillar—of happiness. “Even though the women in the [subreddit] were pretty depressed and sad, it did give me reassurance,” she said. “At least there are other people out there who are like me. And they weren’t completely weird. They were pretty normal.”