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Monday, 24 April 2017

Would You Just... Remember This?

Walking home last night beneath a sky of spilled coffee, with the sticky sweet smell of blossom in the air and trees poised motionless in the pale glow of streetlights, I found myself thinking about a post I wrote on Friday about self-esteem. At the end of the post I imagined an analogy of a girl feeling so bad about herself that she couldn't even make an effort with her appearance out of fear of being seen, choosing instead to slouch around in baggy jeans with unwashed hair making herself ugly because that's all she felt she was worth.

I have known people like this before. I have been like this before. But more common, I think, is low self-esteem manifesting as the opposite, as a flaunting of bodies, or at least of those parts of our bodies that we feel pass muster, whether naturally, or after honing at the gym, or as the result of augmentation via makeup and padded bras and awkward heels.

I know a lot of girls like this -- though of course the pressures are there for guys as well -- but I know so many girls who seem to only feel of worth when they present themselves in this artificial way, as meat sold to others, albeit meat hopefully sold for a high price, clamoured over at auction. And what a horrendous dark chasm there must be at the centre of that, being so unsure of who you are underneath, what there can be to appreciate before all the plucking and tucking and sculpting and reforming.

I'm not talking here about the people who feel so hopeless that they don't even try, but the people who spend their lives doing nothing but trying, looking glamorous on the surface yet feeling so horrendously lacking deep below.

But if I've learnt anything from my decades-long battles with self-esteem, it is that everyone is most beautiful as the person they can't help but be. Perhaps not majorly fuckable, sure, but truly beautiful.

The thing is, I think we've conflated these two things, fuckability, prettiness, with beauty, and I think this has cost us our very sanity.

There are people among us, a few, who embody the first idea -- archetypes of male or female sexual attractiveness, women whose hair always sways and cascades in rivers of light, men whose chiselled jawlines and dangerous smiles make ovaries throb. And that is fine. Let these mythical creatures stalk the lands, queens and kings of all they survey. Although of course their power is probably as much of a curse as a blessing. I guess it must be pretty lonely feeling separated by prettiness in that way, always aware that eyes ravenous with hunger are singling you out in bars, that when you enter a room attention shifts towards you, and in conversations with you no one seems able to relax and be themselves. And I invite you to imagine the horror of feeling that the one gift you possess is the ability to arouse desire, and then having to age and watch that gift melt away. And obviously prettiness is no guard against the many tribulations of life, hating your job, missing your bus, coming home to find your pet has been hit by a car, being dumped on your birthday, coming across pictures of yourself from your school days and sitting up through the night in an empty room in a cold apartment crying for the person you once thought you would become. And even without all that, pretty people still fall ill, pretty people still grow old, pretty people still all die. Everyone suffers. The particular form the suffering takes is the only variable.

Yet still we place so much emphasis on the need to be attractive. Sure, the biological imperative to reproduce has been solidified through millennia of evolution. But I think there's more. Our society more than perhaps any other (I've done no research and it's late, I'd love to be corrected) blows attractiveness out of all proportion, and it does so because this makes people rich. Practically none of us are effortlessly pretty, but many of us can feel we get close so long as we buy the correct products. Gels, smells, shaves, waxes, clothes, shoes, food, gym passes, painted faces, curled hair, injected lips, smashed and remoulded noses, trimmed labia minora, breasts sliced open and stuffed with sacks of silicon... we are a civilisation utterly lost, all of us taught every day through adverts and articles and television programmes and music videos and practically everything that we see that we should feel fundamentally broken, unlovable, and that the only solution is a rattle of coins, a swipe of card, the plastic-surgeon's hovering waiting scalpel.

But seriously, what the fuck is prettiness? It is but one reason out of the infinite number of reasons to be alive, and a shallow and simple reason at that. So what if boys don't check you out when you enter a room? If girls don't giggle as you pass? You're not a chess master, either. You can't run the hundred metres faster than anyone else. You didn't write To Kill a Mockingbird. You can't breathe underwater, or shoot laser beams out of your fingertips, or turn yourself inside out while dancing the Macarena. You are only you. But that is so very much enough. No one else out there in the vast known cosmos is the same as you. How rare. How precious. And beneath those wondrous differences we all share the same basic fact of existence. Regardless of waistline or pec size or wonkiness of nose, we are all here, we all get to live for a while, to be alive.

You may or may not be pretty, be able to pick up strangers in bars, but you are beautiful, you are here, you matter. Please remember this.

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