My brain is almost totally dead this morning so I apologise if this post is a bit rambly. Oprah’s Soul Sunday sadly isn’t on British tv anymore, but occasionally a full episode appears on her website and this week I watched an interview with Glennon Doyle who briefly touched on how being pretty affected her life.
Everyone thinks being beautiful is a great thing and that attractive people have it made but for me, on the whole, being pretty has been challenging and has negatively affected how I see myself and interact with other people.
All my life I’ve been told I am beautiful. I was everything a girl is supposed to be: small, slim, fine boned, with big blue eyes and soft, flawless skin (Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome has to have some consolations and nice skin is mine!). As a young child my Mum called me her “piece of Dresden China” and men often felt very protective of me (little did they know I’ve never needed their protection as I’m perfectly capable of looking after myself).
I first started fending off men’s sexual advances when I was 11 years old, long before I knew what a ‘sexual advance’ was. During my teens I was hit on by old men, young men, single men, married men, even a school teacher. And later I was hit on by my boss, my co-workers, my friend’s partners, tradesmen who came to my house, random passers-by as I sat in my garden – I’ve even been hit on by girls when, as far as I’m aware, I’ve never given the impression that I ‘bat for the other team’. I have been groped and technically molested and certainly found myself in situations which were scary. I’ve had teenage boys threaten to kill themselves because I wouldn’t go out with them (which frightened me stupid) and been bullied mercilessly by girls who didn’t like the fact I received more attention than them, even though I didn’t want or ask for it. Before I even started school at the age of 4 I knew that people were obsessed by how I looked and not the slightest bit interested in my mind or who I was as a person. It’s always baffled me. I can no more help how my bones are arranged on my face than I can help my skin colour or my height, yet HUGE judgements have been made about me simply by how my DNA came together at the moment I was conceived.
When you look ‘perfect’ on the outside, there is an expectation that you will be ‘perfect’ on the inside. I wasn’t supposed to make mistakes. I wasn’t supposed to be a gobby mare. I wasn’t supposed to have strong opinions. I was supposed to be deferential, weak, quiet and feminine. I am none of those things and I soon found out this made me unpopular with the opposite sex, who were then torn between liking and wanting the outside skin of me, and disliking and rejecting the inside soul of me. You can imagine how confusing this was for me in my teens.
Girls, for the most part, hated me. I always tried really hard not to be too friendly with their boyfriends and husbands to the point where I mostly ignored them, but that didn’t stop them flirting with me which of course was always my fault as far as their girlfriends were concerned. I’ll give you an example of something which happened a couple of years ago: I attended a beer festival with a friend from my village. Everyone was drunk but of course I’m tea-total so I was stone-cold sober and the designated driver. We met up with a another lady and her husband from our village who were with a large group of friends of theirs that we didn’t know. The girls split into one group and the boys into another. As I stood there I could feel eyes on me and every time I looked up I found this man staring at me. And I mean really staring, and grinning like the village idiot. After 45 minutes it was making me so uncomfortable I made an excuse to go to the loo and when I came back to the circle made sure I stood with my back to him so that we didn’t make eye contact. Later on, one of the girls in our circle who I didn’t know and who was worse for wear decided I needed a boyfriend and pestered and pestered me to say who at the festival I found attractive. There really was no-one, but to shut her up I said “well, there is one bloke who has been eyeing me up all night but I don’t fancy him in the slightest!” She asked me to point him out and as I did my friend said “shit, don’t say another word cos that’s her husband!”. I wished the ground would open up and swallow me. The woman just laughed it off but later on that night she and her husband had a huge argument and the following week the 2 ‘friends’ I had gone to the festival with from my village unfriended me on Facebook. The fact that this man was a bit creepy and treated his wife with zero respect was, apparently, somehow my fault. I could give you dozens of examples of situations like this all of which have served to make me wary of both men and women and, in truth, a bit of a hermit.
When men drink they become much more bold and I got to the point where I didn’t want to be around alcohol in any way, which makes my Mum’s recent alcoholism harder to deal with. Drunk people scare me because alcohol makes people’s behaviour unpredictable and someone you thought you knew can suddenly turn into a stranger you realize you don’t know at all.
I got asked out, or propositioned, a lot and I have to tell you that most men don’t take rejection well. Lust can very quickly turn to hate and where you were once the object of their desire you become the object of their wrath. When this happens in the workplace it can make your life hell and I’ve had to develop a very thick skin in terms of ignoring jibes, pranks, malicious rumours and downright nastiness. If that happened these days I’d be reporting the man for sexual harassment, but 30 years ago we didn’t have the same laws we do now and anyway I wouldn’t have had the confidence at 21 to take on my boss.
When I was in my late thirties, I remember going to visit a friend of mine who lives in the city. We went to do some shopping and as we were walking down the high street my friend said to me “bloody hell Jak, everyone stares at you – like, really, everyone!”
“I know” I replied “it’s happened my whole life. These days I don’t even notice, I just have to blank everyone out which is why I often seem to go through life in a daze.”
“I’d hate everyone constantly staring at me.”
“I don’t have much choice. I was really quite shy as a kid, but that was knocked out of me very early on – it’s impossible to be shy when you’re constantly the centre of attention everywhere you go.”
I wouldn’t care if I tried to draw attention to myself, ie I wore loads of make-up or low cut dresses or short skirts. But I’ve never been like that – I wear the occasional knee length dress but usually team it with boots. Because of my lovely skin I’ve never worn foundation and because of the flushing from my MCAD I’ve avoided blusher like the plague. If I do wear make-up it’s a bit of concealer, mascara and lip gloss. The first night I attended my Camera Club three years ago I actively dressed down, not even covering the dark circles round my eyes or combing my hair – I tried to look as unattractive as possible because I was worried that, if there were girls at the Club, they wouldn’t like me if I looked pretty 😦 In other words, if I just looked like me.
There’s an expectation that pretty girls struggle with getting older and losing their looks but I’ve found liberation in age. My beauty is fading at an alarming rate and I’m tickety boo with that. I can wear pretty clothes now and a bit of make-up and not worry too much that it looks like I’m drawing attention to myself. I get ignored now in the street which means I can go about my business without scrutiny. I don’t get hit on quite as much, so I’ve recently made some male friends and am more hopeful they will stay friends, not want more from me. I’m grateful that I have female friends whose husbands couldn’t care less about me, which makes me feel more secure in the friendships. I am happy in my anonymity.
I’m lucky in as much as I’ve never bought into my looks myself. I’ve always been aware that my outward appearance doesn’t say anything about me as a person and I’ve never based my self esteem on my physical genetics. Thank God, because that would really have fucked me up. The attitude of other people towards me, however, has had a profound affect on how I interact in the world and my relationships with both men and women. As a consequence I’ve struggled with forming friendships with women and trusting men. I sadly know how 90% of men really think and it absolutely is with their willy. I’ve been hit on by committed Christians, countless married men whose wives think they are completely faithful, professional men who everyone in business look up to, old men who should know better than to grope a child ……….and it’s kind’ve destroyed my faith. Men, on the whole, are pretty bloody stupid and will chuck away everything for……..what, exactly? To kiss someone who can’t help how their face is arranged?! When you put it like that it’s ridiculous. Pretty girls often see the dark side of the male species and the ruthless, possessive bitchiness of the female species, neither of which is pleasant.
Even as I write this it sounds whiney to me. You’re not supposed to moan about something which the whole world sees as a positive. It’s somehow ungrateful. And I’m hesitating to press the ‘Publish’ button because, if I’m honest, I’m concerned about the reaction to this post. Before I do, let me make one thing clear – I’m no angel. Have I ever used my looks to get me something I want? Hell to the yes, I’m not stupid!! But the negative far outweighs the positive and these days I’m happy to just be average and to finally feel happy in my sagging, aging, wrinkled skin.