“You’re beautiful, in an asymmetric kind of way, your face is not a cliché”
Last year, I wrote this blog post about my experiences with body policing. It came about after a friend wrote a damning blog about something Samantha Brick had said in The Mail. In it, he said how men only find curvy women attractive because it’s “natural” and in my counter blog, I explained how natural women come in all shapes and sizes, not just curvy. To his credit, he posted a comment saying he’d taken what I’d said on board and amended his blog accordingly. Months later, this man became my boyfriend.
It’s true that I’m a lot more comfortable in my own skin since I turned 30 and care far less what people think, but I’ve never been happy with the way I look. Ever. You could argue that nobody ever is. There are many reasons for this and though most of us choose to say it’s not about what anyone else thinks, the way we view ourselves is significantly influenced by what others think of you. I say this as someone who has never been particularly vain or easily influenced. I was one of only 2 girls in my year at high school who didn’t wear a scrap of makeup and to this day, I don’t wear it on a daily basis. Body image issues aside, I know I’m no oil painting. The pictures you see here are filtered and angled to within an inch of their lives. Everyone has certain hang ups about their appearance and I have more than most, but I don’t care enough about them to do anything drastic.
When I occasionally tell people this, they feel obliged to say, “But you’re beautiful,”. It’s kind and well meant, but it doesn’t really change anything where it matters. In my head. With women in particular, who are constantly judged by their looks, it becomes difficult not to put every awful experience down to your appearance.
We’ve all compared ourselves to our partner’s other girlfriends. My ex boyfriend of last year’s wife looked nothing like me. We were opposites in almost every way, from body type to skin and hair colour. I used to joke that I could see him with a busty barmaid type and he’d tell me I couldn’t be further from the truth. When things didn’t work out after we met, I knew that it wasn’t to do with how I looked, but other problems that finally came to the surface once reality set in, but there was always that niggle that wouldn’t go away. Nobody dedicates the time and effort to write a blog about how men are only attracted to curvy women, if they don’t believe it. I’d known I wasn’t his type from the start and had it confirmed when he stopped caring almost overnight after we met. Not just as a boyfriend, but even as a friend. When it all fell apart, he told me he’d never said anything to make me feel unattractive. It was true, he hadn’t needed to. In the end, I know I’m not the kind of person who would change for anyone anyway.
It’s not what people say, what’s telling is how they behave. That goes for everything in life. Words are easy and often empty. He used to indulge in some harmless flirting with women on twitter, often telling them they were beautiful or had pretty eyes, when they were feeling low. Around the time he and I broke up, a fellow blogger was asking women on twitter what they loved about their bodies. I thought and thought about it and eventually confessed that there was nothing. Not one thing. It was a particularly bad time for this train of thought anyway, but I wasn’t saying it for attention. There was nothing I could say I really liked about the way I looked. A few mutual friends and she herself told me I was beautiful and I was grateful for their kind words, but I didn’t believe them.
To make things worse, when I spoke to my ex about it the next day, he told me he’d seen the conversation and it had made him feel “a bit sad”. All I heard though, was him saying he’d read the conversation. He’d read it, but hadn’t thought to say anything to reassure me until I brought it up, like he used to with the other women. I saw this as proof that he didn’t find me attractive. His intentions, nor his actions, were in any way deliberately malicious, I know that. It wasn’t something he did consciously to make me feel bad, I was just good at reading him. I was hidden away from everyone he knew, he didn’t do that with his other relationships. No, he hadn’t needed to say a word.
“I’m beautiful, in an ugly kind of fucked up way. My face is not a cliché.”
He’d always been more than complimentary about the way I looked. It was my insecurities talking. It didn’t help that I had developed an eye infection that refused to go away and I had to make a conscious effort not to hide away in my bedroom. My eyes were the only features I didn’t hate, so it didn’t do much for my confidence. Having a sense of humour about it helped. I’ve always made fun of myself and every aspect of the way I look, maybe in an attempt to see off any criticism by beating them to it.
I turned 35 in February and I’m often told I don’t look my age, but I looked at photos of myself from last Summer and couldn’t help noticing how much I’d aged in this past year. Oddly enough, despite all my hangups, ageing has never been an issue for me. It doesn’t worry me at all and I quite like the idea of looking more mature, but it was the drastic change that was really noticeable. I’d been under enormous stress and hadn’t quite realised how it could manifest itself physically. I’d been plagued by minor health problems for months and I felt exhausted all the time. I was so shocked by those photos, I decided something had to change. Thankfully, in the last few months, I’ve had some incredible people around me who have helped get me through the darker days.
In the last couple of weeks, family obligations have meant I’ve had to spend time with a lot of people I haven’t seen for a while. In a way, it’s forced me to stop hiding away and get back to normal. My confidence has also grown. I’ve always felt a little out of my depth around my large extended family, not having much in common with them and fiercely disagreeing with some of their views, but in the absence of my sisters, I managed to take control and organise things and surprised myself by doing a pretty good job of it. I managed to bat away any rudeness, put people in their place and also earned the respect of my family by doing it without offending anyone.
What inspired this blog however, was going over the events of the past 2 weeks while in the shower yesterday and as I stepped out, I looked in the bathroom mirror. It may have been the steam, or the fact I wasn’t wearing my glasses or lenses, or maybe I was finally taking my own advice, but what I saw was this: A 35 year old body that’s survived a lot, been abused by me relentlessly with my diet and lifestyle, not curvaceous, but not saggy either. A stomach that will never be flat, but firm. Skin that’s still reasonably taut. Skinny limbs, shoulders too narrow, but above them all, a face with a big smile on it. I reached out and wiped the steam from the mirror, looked my reflection in the eye and said “Not bad,” and I meant it.
This is a follow up blog to this earlier post
(Quoted lyrics – Random Blinking Light by Darren Hayes.