Pretty enough for who?

Violet’s EH considers insecurity regarding appearance and its causes


Pixabay: Prawny

Out of every personal attribute, it’s probably most difficult to praise your own appearance. It’s such a subjective thing. I had no issues at least thinking I was clever, or at least hard-working, when I was doing really well in school (a few more issues thinking I’m clever now I’m at Cambridge), or nice when I’m nice to people, but I’ve always had a problem with ‘pretty’.

Everybody thinks different things are pretty, which is fine and fair, and I hear the word used a lot – that top is pretty, the sky is pretty, that girl is pretty. Very few people I know are keen to call themselves pretty.

It’s easier to pick out things that are wrong with your appearance, especially when they’re funny, or can be made a bit funny. I don’t especially mind that with every second breath I seem to remark on my wonky eyebrows or snub nose (pig nose, if I’m feeling adventurous), or squishable cheeks or something else wrong. It doesn’t really matter if it’s coming from me, because I’m not meant to think I’m pretty. It would be too arrogant.

“History had been my boyfriend for around two years before I came to university, but we had been very boringly committed and I was ready to let loose”

I pick out my own flaws in front of people all the time because it’s better if I say them first. I know that, in all probability, nobody else is going to say anything, but they might think them, and it would be The Worst Thing Ever if they thought I believed I looked at least normal.

Two things to note here. 1) I really, really am aware of my lack of facial evenness, but 2) rationally, I do know that nobody is thinking that because they don’t really care if one of my eyebrows is more bendy than the other.

At the base of it, most people are very insecure about something or other. We are all also probably wrong about what bothers us. It’s just very difficult to realise this if everything you do is catered for somebody else’s gaze. Here we get onto the real problem, which is men (stay with me).

As a feminist, it pains me that I do genuinely care what boys think of how I look. But I do. I care a lot that my face is round with chubby cheeks like a baby’s, and that every body part that can wobble does wobble, and even sometimes that I choose not to wear makeup for most of my life, because I look at people who have non-wobbly bodies and non-chubby faces that they have put makeup onto and I think that, to a male third party, they look better than I do.

I did not care how I looked when I was younger. I can tell this from my haircut (which I had chopped to just above my ears and worn like Leo DiCaprio in Titanic if he was an eight-year-old girl) and my choice of clothes, which seemed to be a lot of khaki (not my colour). I care now, because I go out with people, often on a very superficial or non-permanent basis, and there is not enough chat for the coalition to realistically be based on my personality.

When I first started this particular lifestyle, I basically couldn’t believe my luck.

History had other ideas, wanted all my attention and time, but I tried my best and have been quite successful. But it means that being pretty and thin – something I am not and will never be – has been pushed to the forefront of my little brain.

It is not an especially great place to be, but neither an especially uncommon one, that I counter anything bad I think about myself by saying one of two things. The first is ‘it’s fine if my clothes still fit’ – I don’t eat especially appallingly or well, neither do I do loads of exercise, but everybody has a body they’re most comfy with, and mine is a happy size 10. The second is ‘it’s fine because I can/do still pull’, which is not so healthy.


Mountain View

Respect, consent and Aziz Ansari

But, with less than 40% of girls in the UK having a positive body image, I refuse to believe that anybody is superficial for being worried about their appearance. Even on TV shows that are meant to be hyper-realistic and super #relatable like Friends or How I Met Your Mother, all of the people we see – particularly the women – are classically good-looking and often in enviably good shape.

A key sub-storyline of Friends is Monica being fat when she was younger, as though that’s the worst/most hilarious/most embarrassing thing in the world. It is as if not being the thin, very conventionally pretty woman she becomes is an element of her past shameful enough to want to hide.

Just to be 100% clear, and to ensure I do not sound like I am bitter, I think it is fabulous how everybody looks, even better when they are comfy and happy in themselves. I just think it’s a shame that so few people are, including me, and it’s a very difficult mind-set to pull yourself out of.

Try, though. I’m trying my best to at least tolerate my chubby cheeks and snub nose and these eyebrows. They are mine, for me to like, and nobody else