Inspired by this post, I thought I’d write something about how it feels for the shoe to be on the other foot. I’m not conventionally attractive – not in the petite, blond hair, blue eyes sense, but I’ve been told over and over again that I’m beautiful or striking, and if I’m being honest, I love what I see when I look in the mirror. Like the author of the original piece, I could definitely be considered chubby – if we go on BMI I’m about 30lbs overweight – but most of this has settled on my hips and boobs as I’ve got a little older, and since Mad Men hit our screens that’s all the rage, right? Even if it wasn’t, I own it. I dress well, I stand tall and I know I look good. Confidence is 80% of the game. So despite this extra baggage, ever since I was a little kid, I’ve been constantly praised for my looks, by friends and family, romantic prospects, colleagues, acquaintances – sometimes even total strangers.
The most bizarre experience I ever had of this was when I was 13 years old. Painfully shy, in the throw of adolescence, and sadly holed up for the week in the intensive care unit of a hospital where my dad was in a coma, waiting for him to die. The woman whose elderly mother was in the next bed kept staring at me. Time after time, she’d come in, sit with her mum while I was sitting with my dad and just stare at me until I became painfully self-aware. Then after about two days, she said to me: “you dad has really great bone structure, you know. You’re lucky; you look a lot like him. You’re a pretty little thing.” That was nearly 12 years ago now, and I still think it was the most inappropriate time, place, everything, to give a girl a compliment. But already as a teenager I was so used to adults commenting on my apparent attractiveness that I just smiled and said thank you.
I’ve become far less gracious in receiving compliments over the years. A few months ago, I was at a Slimming World meeting (because, okay, I don’t always love my curves…) and whilst I was getting weighed, the woman behind the scales said to me, “You’re very pretty”. Without thinking, I replied “Yeah I know”. It helps that as I’ve entered adulthood I’ve developed confidence that Yeezus himself would probably be jealous of, but when you’ve spent 25 years being complimented for the same thing over and over, it becomes hard to muster up enthusiastic thanks, much less do the socially acceptable “you’re-sweet-but-actually-my-nose-is-really-crooked-and-i-could-stand-to-lose-a-few-pounds” thing.
And this is before I even get started on the subject of male attention. In my mid-teens, I went to a school with an 80/20 boy/girl split, which I suppose set me up for a fall anyway, but consistently in school, university, work places, on nights out, and even walking down the street, I’ve found myself subject to unwanted advances. On the plus side, I’ve never found dating difficult, but on the negative, I can count the number of purely platonic male friendships I’ve had on one hand: it’s 3. All the others – even ones I’m still friends with – have tried to make a pass at me or we’ve hooked up – which yes, I admit is partially my fault but sometimes I get flattered by the attention and other times they just wear me down as awful as that sounds. It’s fine when you can keep on being friends despite this, but when your rejection ruins the relationship, or worse, you fall for them and they get bored quickly because they’ve had you on a pedal stool for six months, it hurts like hell.
So why don’t I just stop hanging round with guys? Well partially, I don’t want to. Men are great casual acquaintances and sometimes fantastic best friends. I was raised around a lot of boys; I like the easy banter I have with them and getting a bit of insight into the male psyche. And partially, I find it a lot harder to form connections with women. Friends – women I’ve thought of as really close friends – have suddenly seemed threatened by me when they get a boyfriend, or sometimes in the middle of a relationship (when their SO has expressed they find me attractive perhaps? I don’t know). And women I know casually often don’t bother to get to know me, assuming I’ll be a bitch or a man-eater or just image obsessed.
And that’s the worst thing, really; the idea that if you’re attractive you’re bound to obsessed with the way you is a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you’re constantly being praised your looks, you’re also constantly being reminded that they won’t last forever. I’m already probably less attractive than I was at 21, and in five years’ time I’ll be deemed less attractive still. Very few people I meet care that I’m great at my job or intelligent or funny or even kind and loyal. My looks are the only thing I bring to the table as far as they’re concerned, so if I want to keep people interested enough to learn all those other things, I have to keep looking good or I’ll become worthless.