This article was originally published on VICE Germany
"You can call me ugly," Del Keens assures me when I try to come up with polite ways of describing his looks without insulting him – "interesting", "different", "unconventional".
"I just look the way I look," says Del. "And I sell my face in the same way Heidi Klum does." Del is 45 and an ugly supermodel – he has worked with brands like Diesel and Calvin Klein, among others. He was discovered by a photographer a little over 20 years ago, while working as a motorcycle courier in London and was subsequently signed by UGLY Models – a modelling agency specialising in very extraordinary faces.
In 2006, Del moved to Berlin, where he continued his modelling career by doing an ad for Sixt. The campaign featured him posing in a golden bathing suit in front of a car, with the words: "Something went wrong with the model, but at least the price for the car rental is attractive." In 2012, he founded his own agency – Misfits Models – for individuals who don't fit the mould of traditional beauty standards. So far, he has signed over 600 people.
Of course, inner beauty is much more important than a tiny waist or silky hair. But our culture still guides us to judge other people according to what's on the outside. I asked Del what it's like to go through life without the benefit of being remotely conventionally beautiful.
All photos of Del courtesy of Misfit Models
VICE: Is dating more difficult for you than for other people?
Del Keens: I'm single at the moment, but I've had a few girlfriends in my life. It was more difficult when I was younger. Teens are mean and shallow. My looks filter out the idiots, which is a plus. They force me to look for interesting people, instead of those who value others depending on what they look like. As a teenager, I used to hang out with the outsiders who rode BMX's and smoked behind the gym. I never touched a cigarette, though.
How is Tinder working out for you?
When I tried it out, it wasn't bad. I had a few matches and a couple of dates. A lot of people asked whether I really looked like that, or swiped right because they knew my face from somewhere and were curious. But in those cases, the conversation died out pretty quickly.
Has anyone ever told you that you're ugly?
Sure, and much worse things too. I come from a simple background, my dad was a truck driver and my mum was a housewife. I grew up in a pretty run-down area in South London and there were loads of bullies around. But if someone says, "You're ugly," I think, "Yeah, so? That's nothing new to me." Generally, I don't have a problem with the word, it just depends on the context in which it's used. If someone says it in a private context then I do feel hurt. But I have no problem getting booked as an "ugly model". I look strange. Clients want me because people remember my face.
Do you think your life would be easier if you were prettier?
It would definitely be more boring. Recently, I was back in my old neighbourhood and met some old classmates. A lot of them never made it out of that place, they have boring nine-to-five jobs. Even without the modelling career my life would be more interesting than theirs. My looks have forced me to work harder. You have to work to be funny, or develop a talent of some sort – or at the very least have something to say. Conventionally beautiful people are often boring, because they never have to struggle for anything.
Do you ever hate beautiful people just because they have it easier?
They only have it easier when it comes to superficial matters. How you get through life has more to do with your self-confidence than with the way you look. I've always been very confident and never really had a problem with the way I looked. Even as a teenager I didn't have as many issues as other kids, because I had to learn to draw confidence from things besides my appearance from an early age.
Do you turn around to check out good-looking women on the street?
As a model agent I usually turn around for faces that have character and could fit in well with Misfit Models. I find them far more interesting. But unfortunately it doesn't work very well for me to approach potential models on the street. First of all, my German isn't good enough. But besides that, a lot of women can't imagine that I have a modelling agency and think I'm just after their phone number. It might have been easier if I'd been a slick guy in a suit.
Would you date someone who's conventionally unattractive?
If I see a perfect-looking, done-up woman I usually wonder how much time they've spent in the bathroom that morning. But I am very susceptible to beauty. I do like a nice face and a nice figure. Most of my girlfriends weren't conventionally pretty but they were relatively good looking.
Is it harder being an ugly man or an ugly woman?
I think it's harder for a woman. In our society, women are still judged harsher by their looks, their clothes, their haircut. Oftentimes, women can judge other women more harshly than men. But it's not the end of the world. This might sound banal, but fuck whatever anyone else thinks.
Can ugly people also be vain?
I'm not vain at all. I don't care if my jeans have holes in them or a few stains. My Elvis quiff is my only beauty routine. And like any model ,I'm sick of constantly talking about my looks and my job. If someone at a bar asks me what I do I often say I'm a cleaner. That way you can talk about more exciting things.
Are there moments, when you enjoy being ugly?
Knowing I'm ageing physically doesn't affect me as much as it does other people, because I've never really looked that great. I think I have far more exciting adventures, because I never have to worry about what I'll look like the next day. Same goes for if someone punches me in the face in a bar.
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