We just got back our first assignments for the course. I got a 79% overall, which I’m really pleased with. Here’s the piece I submitted. It is very different to the other one (see previous post), and in some ways I wish I had submitted that, but there you go, you live and learn.
I’m so glad I’m not beautiful. Most people don’t believe me when I say that, but it’s true. I mean, I’m not horrible-looking, and I’m glad about that. I’m acceptable, I suppose. Like oysters, I’m an acquired taste, sublime if you like that sort of thing, but not everyone does. Hang on, I’m not saying I look like an oyster. It’s a metaphor. Or an analogy. Whatever.
Anyway, my point is, I’m not beautiful, and I’m glad about that. Let’s be clear about terms here though. When I say beautiful, I’m talking about drop-dead gorgeous, Helen-of-Troy-men-go-to-war-over-you levels of beauty. Something much more than a nice smile, glossy hair and a bit of lipstick. I’m talking levels of beauty that reduce men’s brains to mush. Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, that end of the spectrum.
It worked for them, you’re going to say. And it’s true, they were very successful. But they are the exception that proves the rule. They were operating in a world in which that beauty set the rules, and helped them to get where they were going. But my destination is very different, and those levels of beauty wouldn’t have helped me get there. In fact I reckon they would have held me back.
I have good reason for saying this, because I have a very beautiful friend. We’ll call her Maria. Maria and I used to work together, and she was very good at her job. Articulate, bright, effective, intelligent, funny, kind – she was the whole package. But it was a real shock to see how badly she was treated. I learnt an early lesson in the impact of perceptions. Most people in our office thought she had got as far as she did by sleeping with the right people. The right people thought that she’d sleep with them to get where she wanted to go. Everyone assumed that she was stuck-up, self-obsessed, only interested in her appearance. They couldn’t have been more wrong, but once they had got that idea in their heads, it was hard to shake. She left in the end, ground down by the constant hostility occasionally punctured by a bout of sexual harassment. She set up her own tech company, working from home behind a computer screen, where she was rarely seen, and when she was, no-one could have the slightest problem with the fact she was sleeping with the boss.
I’ll give you another example. I shared a house for a while with a woman called Tessa. Tessa was a water-polo player – tall, blonde, amazing figure, strong yet very feminine. A very striking woman. The house we shared was in the centre of the city, in an area with a lot of nightlife, so there were always people around at night. Usually a good thing, but not always. Several times a week Tessa would come home complaining that someone had followed her home. Some would approach her directly, asking for her phone number, or a date. Others, much more worryingly, would just walk behind her, perhaps occasionally hissing an insult or sexual comment. The barmen in the pub at the end of the road were very used to her sheltering in there so these creeps couldn’t see where she lived. She ended up marrying one of the guys who worked there, as it happens. He was much shorter than her, balding and a bit expanded round the middle. But I guess she felt he had seen her at her worst, scared and vulnerable, and had been there for her. Knowing someone is really looking out for you is an amazingly powerful thing.
So I’m quite happy not being beautiful. More than “quite happy”, I’m really pleased about it. I can walk down a street at night without being harassed. I can get a promotion on merit and no-one talks about me behind my back. When I meet someone at a party, he will generally look me in the eye, not in the chest. And most importantly, I get taken seriously. Marilyn and Audrey might be known for being beautiful, but who knows, maybe they wanted more than that from life. Maybe little Audrey longed to be a doctor, or Marilyn wanted to write films rather than star in them. Mother Nature chose not to give them that option. She’s given it to me, and I’m going to make the most of it.