Hating the way I looked was my most haunting experience as an adolescent. I was as blind as a bat and wore thick goggles, had huge strips of wire racing around my mouth, pin heads sticking out of my chest masquerading as tits and legs that were like twigs off the most malnourished gum tree (despite all my best efforts to eat non-stop and turn into a femme fatale)! I had auburn hair with blotches of brown freckles on very pale skin that burnt to a red crisp under the blazing sun, then peeled like a ripe tomato for the next month. How could I compete with my more curvaceous, pretty friends in the male market place? I stood alone at sale; wanted and purchased by nobody like a priceless product except at the football where I could kick a Sherrin along with the lads and pretend life was OK. I had a Giant Inferiority Complex (GIC) with a massive dose of Ugliness, but there was no miracle cure stored amongst the prescribed pills in the family medicinal cabinet. Yet, that was only part of the story because there WERE times when I felt absolutely ‘seductible’, my long, straight, auburn hair flowing down my shoulders and my body garbed in black leggings and a tight black sweater with an equally tight, leopard skin vest. My slinky bod was draped with a cheeky demeanour devoid of the non-designer eyewear (though I couldn’t see who I was talking to, but did it matter as long as it was be-dicked!) where I learned to hide the train tracks monopolising my mouth behind a saucy smile that kept my lips buttoned like a well-fitting glove. My flat, top half I jettisoned to another planet, imagining instead that I looked gorgeously sexy, even beautiful as I danced with abandoned rapture around the party room and the boys. This was the dawn of a new paradise; Twiggy had glorified thinness and I should have been on a catwalk, too! So why did I lose that feeling when I donned my revolting school uniform that sagged over my body and made me feel so shapeless, sexless and sad? Why didn’t The Ugly Duckling stay The Beautiful Swan? Why couldn’t real life imitate our bedtime fairy tales?
Unfair for the female sex? Or the typical, teenage, obsessive lament that casts young girls into the limelight of lust only to suffer the cruel rejection by too many young, would-be studs that were of course, no better looking or endowed with the confidence or self-assurance they so desperately needed? Low self-esteem I can hear you wail; when our looks as females bedevil us from the time we’re old enough to look in the mirror and recoil at the sight! We’re not Supermodels easing through life with the glamorous clothes or even the expensive denim designer jeans with the haute couture hairdresser and all the matte goo plastered on our faces to shadow our chiselled cheekbones rendering them deep and desirable as well as hiding our unsightly blemishes. No, we’re ordinary, suburban young girls decrying our bad hair days all too often and wishing we could afford the whizz of a sleek blow-dry and all the marketed potions and lotions for our skin that promise to deliver us a whole new face. There were no soft, plastic contact lenses way back then, only hard, glass types which hurt your eyes and seemed far more painful, especially when dusty grit blew across your face and it seemed surviving all the gags about wearing goggles was a far safer option. (Learning how to withstand torment at a young age could only enrich my life later, I tried to convince myself). Moreover, bearing the brunt of braces was supposed to enhance my smile and waiting for that magical power seemed like an eternity. Four, long years in fact, with lacerations in my gums and tight friction with the rubbers and I wondered all the time whether the injuries were permanent or even worth it. (Would boys be able to tell when I kissed them?) But the moment my teeth fell off the rails to behold a whole new appearance dissipated all the suffering I had endured; teeth that no longer rivalled Bugs Bunny and equipped me with a clean, gleaming glow to give me a just a fighting chance with the Opposite Sex. And wasn’t that the point of it all?
Isn’t partnering with a male what female fate is designed for; a mate to live out our days happy ever after where we no longer bemoan what we look like because we have HIM exactly where we want him; lying beside us in bed at night and replenishing our bank account when we over indulge in extravagant long lunches and late inebriated nights, ignoring all our physical maintenance procedures to let it all hang out? Who cares whether there are too many ugly bulges and too many wrinkles imbedded around our mouth and eyes? Or broken capillaries and ageing spots, gnarled knuckles and misshapen nails? Can we even be bothered smiling at our good fortune in having captured our partner in a lifelong embrace now all our inhibitions and complexes have been relegated to the past? Does the GIC just disappear when we say “I do”? Is that indeed the miracle cure I kept forking out too much money for that I could ill afford during my teens and early 20s which was farcically called beauty therapy but really just an excuse to rip off gullible desperados. Well, it didn’t work for me as I never met my Prince Charming (though there were a few cheap copies) who I wanted to love, honour and cherish until death do us part, so I had to contend with my GIC and struggle with not low self-esteem but a conflict of self-esteem; the good, the bad and the ugly fighting for supremacy inside me. There weren’t many boyfriends either, as I always found too many young men just as riddled with the same complexes and insecurities as I had to deal with, and while there were many married men who wanted a fanciful fling, they were already written off by the beautiful photo of their Loved One taking pride of place at their desk of work, reminding them that guilt could be costly so just don’t get caught! Of course, my mother tried to appease my pitiful angst by telling me I looked interesting (and what the hell did THAT mean?) adding real beauty came from within. More mythical madness I believed as who had the time, energy or inclination to look beyond the surface? I soon found out not too many people bothered with the greater profundities and challenges of life; few were at all interested in pushing the boundaries on the outside to really see what was on the inside. One dimensional perspectives based on the superficialities of who we were seemed to capture their attention.
There was some solace in achieving good marks at high school; I knew I was bright and reasonably intelligent and was naive enough to think that counted for Something (or was it Everything?) Whatever, it would have to do as I worked too hard and too often let myself slip out of the beauty regimen while I continued to worry about my looks, weight and everything else that pertained to my appearance ad nauseum. It was a depressing albeit oft too repeated scenario; would I ever conquer my GIC? I kept arguing with myself (and whoever else would listen), that beauty WAS only skin deep and there was far more to life than carousing on a catwalk. But I’m not sure even I believed that. Looks WERE important as what attracted us to some men and not others when we didn’t even know them? Somehow I had to develop an innate skill to appreciate who was REALLY interested in me as a whole human being instead of just being infatuated by what I looked like and seemed to be. I had to learn to tell the difference between a man with a one dimensional perspective and others who espoused more multi dimensional attitudes.
Eventually, I’m not quite sure when the light sparkled through the mirror and shattered it into a meaningless heap of useless shards, but the GIC seemed to shed its intensity and I could acknowledge for the first time in my life that I not only felt as good as I wanted to, but also looked good, too. (For many years I thought if you looked good, you felt good but as I grappled with that understanding, I came to realise it was all the other way around. Feeling good about yourself was the Number One Priority-and of course, being fit and healthy instead of a flat slob helped- and looking good flowed from that sense of well-being). These life changing insights seemed to arrive at the time I stopped chasing men (wanting? needing?) and my career, and all the other accoutrements of our material world. I started living for myself; what I really thought and believed to be important and not what others had supposedly predestined for me. I stripped away the layers of deceit, hypocrisy and lies others perpetrated in the guise of love; I tossed out all the sentimental accolades of family being sacrosanct and I realised career could be just a testament for the approval of others. Some of this was conscious; much of it otherwise, wandering around my unconscious psyche as I spent long hours of analysis and reflection in the sanctuary of my private abode, trying to comprehend the fallacies of many of my friendships and relationships with others. Too often based on what I did, not who I was. Too often based on what I looked like, not who I was. And when these layers unravelled in my mind, so, too, did the GIC; I no longer cared what others thought important or chose to ignore; I no longer needed or sought the approval of others but only what I expected of myself; for myself, no one else. Each to their own, I acknowledged, no longer expecting anything from others and whatever I got was a bonus; the new friendships I made instead of living in a web of deceit and disinterest with my past so-called friends and family. I wanted people to like me for who I was; without the labels and without the pretence of whatever it was they secretly believed. Honesty was the name of the game; and even though I didn’t look like a Million Dollar Babe; there were times I looked once more into the mirror and felt good; looked good, too, despite the imperfections and ravages of many years of heartache and pain. There are happy memories too; joyful experiences caressing the landscape of my life, shaping my visage, my persona, however scarred with the conflicts of battle. But the GIC is dead and buried as I understand the frailty and humility of being human and moreover, being a woman.
Cosmetic surgery might be top of some women’s agenda; so be it, but I can’t afford it or even to think about it, if I had spare money the only thing I’d do would be to have my teeth whitened and refilled so little kids don’t ask what happened to your teeth as a friend’s five year-old daughter once remarked. I kept smiling at her (mouth revealing all – murky yellow teeth the complement of excessive caffeine and nicotine that even Colgate could not regenerate), but it did hurt. Honesty yes; kids know no boundaries at that age while another so-called female friend I’ve known for forty years recently remarked – you’re so thin and its ageing! (Was this now another GIC to contend with? No, I wouldn’t fall prey to that one!) I didn’t respond, realising that if I looked my age, so be it; I’m not a teeny bopper anymore! Life can be full of hurt and pain, but as we get older and acknowledge all our achievements of a personal nature and feel at least happy with whom we really are then that to me is what is most important. So we’re not beauty queens, we’re not famous or rich or powerful as our society might applaud us, but we are real human beings and as women of an older generation, we can feel proud of where we’ve come from and where we are today. And our lives aren’t over yet!
Despite our society worshipping at the fountain of youth, there is still so much for us to do, so much for us to say, and still so much for us to learn as we traverse the avenues of life. A life lived with mistakes, misunderstandings and at times, miscarriages of justice but then, whoever said life should be any other way? The old cliché – grow old gracefully – is what I adhere too; without regret, rancour or recrimination. A life well lived with all its complexities, conundrums and confusions; an ageing Femmosexual who can still laugh (particularly at herself) and in love with the elixir of discovery about life and all its weird and wonderful offerings.