I was going to title this post On Beauty, but then I realised that Zadie Smith got there first. Dammit.
Anyway. There were years and years of my life when I longed for boys to tell me I was beautiful. I’ve written before about the impact that my early nightclub experiences had on my life, and wanting to feel pretty was a massive part of that. As a teenager, I wasn’t particularly interested in fashion, but I was precociously interested in sex, and I wanted to be kissing boys. What did the boys want from me? Someone to do their homework.
Am/was I pretty? Honestly, I don’t know. I’m fairly relaxed about the way I look these days – I managed to escape being nominated for a no make-up selfie, but I go without make-up most days at work because I don’t leave enough time to factor it into my routine. When I am made-up, it’s mostly just a bit of foundation, blusher and mascara. So while there were girls out there who couldn’t contemplate putting up a bare-faced photo of themselves, I’d have done it without fuss. If you’d asked me to film myself walking however, it would have been a completely different story. Each to their own hang ups, I guess.
But it’s taken me a long time to feel that way – a long time to know that I’d rather boys fancied me for my personality and my general all-round hotness than for any objective beauty. My mum, helpfully, called the other day to say she’d been sorting through all my old school books.
‘I found that photo in the paper from when you got your Cambridge offer. You know, that one of you, x and x.’
‘You looked the most beautiful of all of them.’
Perhaps it should bother me less. It’s just a word, after all, and she didn’t mean it in that sexist ‘Boys should be clever, girls should be beautiful,’ kind of way. She knows I don’t worry about my intelligence, and she knows I do worry about why I’m still single after all these years. She was just trying to be nice. But uni was a defining few years for me in a different sense – I associate that photo with the first time in my grown-up life when I thought ‘I can do anything I put my mind to.’ For four years, I stopped worrying about what boys thought of me, and started to work out who I wanted to be.
These days, the word beautiful rarely crops up, and that’s fine by me. The boy uses it occasionally when I’m on top, when either he or I are squeezing my tits, or when I’m eyes closed, mouth open lost-in-the-moment. And that is precisely the scenario in which it doesn’t bother me. It’s specific to a moment in time, not to some socially preconceived idea of what beautiful means or to something that I can’t relate to.
The same can’t be said of the guys on OKCupid, sadly. For them, it’s like beautiful is the highest scoring word in Scrabble, something they have to squeeze into a message somewhere, whether it’s ‘Hey beautiful,’ ‘Never expected I’d find someone as beautiful as you on here,’ or ‘Wow ur absolutely beautiful.’ I don’t buy it, not because I’m insecure, but because I bet you say that to (literally) all the girls. So you have two choices. Find something in my profile that tells me you’ve actually read it, and mention that, or tell me you want to bend me over.