What’s in a face?

Here I am again to debate and agonise over the seemingly inevitable syndrome of woman. I’m not sure why I’ve been picking up on the comments people make about appearance with such a sharp ear recently, but it feels like everyone is talking about it.

(My face, for your time)

It is as though our fate is decided. Our faces and bodies comprise our first interactions with people – the positioning of features on our faces, the shapes of our bodies, the clothes we wear, our haircuts. I find it difficult to accept compliments on my appearance because it’s not something I can really help. I didn’t determine the distance between my eyes, the shape of my nose, or the size of my lips. On occasion when I get enough sleep I look fresh-faced, but that’s largely down to chance.

While I have to admit that some part of me judges others on the way they look, I try to keep the battle going within myself to restrict it. The idea of other people scrutinising me is terrifying – attractiveness is something so subjective that the vast majority of people must look at each other with either indifference or distaste. Perhaps I base my assumptions too much on my own experience. While I can appreciate the attractiveness of others, it is actually quite rare for me to be attracted to other people. Real attraction for me is quite rare as I can look at people and think “that person is good-looking” but seldom think “that person is attractive”.

What really made me think about this again are throwaway comments that people make.

“Do you know so-and-so?”
“Hmm who’s that?”
“Oh, you know, she’s friends with so-and-so and thingy.”
“Is she the not-very-attractive one?”

I guess that in my everyday life, I try not to differentiate people on the basis of attractiveness. I feel as though – being a safe distance from any mainstream definition of ‘attractive’ myself – I’m in no position to comment on the attractiveness of others. Also, defining someone as ‘attractive’ or ‘unattractive’ makes it seem transactional, or as though people only exist for the gains of others. This distinction forces people into the categories of ‘attractive’ and ‘unattractive’ on an arbitrary basis – while I accept that we feel physically attracted to other people, I don’t accept the necessity to comment constantly on the attractiveness of others (and thus constantly create and reinforce a binary of ‘attractive’ and ‘unattractive’). In addition to physical attraction, many people do conform to and perpetuate a convention of what beauty is. The convention also becomes all-encompassing – especially for women, appearance is a fundamental tool in achieving success. I find this so difficult to reconcile within myself. I believe everything I espouse yet still I find myself spending so much money on clothes, make-up and hair products. I sit reluctantly on the fence, caught between belief and an insidious peer pressure.

A person does not exist solely as a sexual or aesthetic object – people are agents of change and progress in whatever they choose to do, yet instead of being encouraged to reach their full potential, they are heckled from every angle for not being pretty or thin enough. So many intelligent, funny and wonderful women lack confidence because they look different to the images with which they are bombarded. I say women because I am a woman and I struggle with the same plight. It’s like an extra responsibility we take on from birth: to look a certain way and, if we don’t, to achieve it and then to maintain it.

This isn’t the most eloquent discussion of this theme. It is difficult for me to articulate my thoughts because it is a subject that becomes so personal. I suppose I’m trying to explain that I’m caught between a rock and a hard place, between upkeep of a contrived physical appearance and the struggle of someone different against a current of pre-defined beauty.

Baby, baby

Going a bit retro today. Back to 1989, in fact. Here I am at one year old – back when my mum used to dress me in cute ensembles from Peter Jones by Sloane Square (pretentious, non?). I’ve been thinking about how we change as we get older, and how we adapt. I don’t just mean physical changes, but also our changes in needs, desires and ambitions. I’m always self-conscious about posting photos of myself on this blog, but I’m slowly coming to terms with it. These photos are from different points in my life, so I guess they’re relevant to what I’m writing about.

One of the biggest differences between me now and me a few years ago is simplicity. The self-consciousness of changing from child to adult was daunting and once I stepped out of the safety of tomboy clothes and the four walls of my bedroom, I dealt with it by being (very) loud and covering myself in make-up, accessories and bright colours to try to distract people from what was underneath. As a teenager, all I craved was to be wanted – for people to want to be my friend and to want to be around me. Not many photos of me have survived the handful of years since then, and that’s probably a good thing. The awkwardness of craving attention and approval is something best remembered hazily, without any hard evidence. The arrogance of adolescence has turned into the panic of realising that I know nothing in the scheme of things.

A friend said to me recently (having not seen me for many months) that I seem less ‘breathless’. I know what he means; I’m not trying so hard anymore. I’m not struggling to be witty or intriguing – not having the energy is a major contributing factor but I guess that acceptance I’ve written about before of never being the smartest or the most liked does have a part to play.

I’m moving to Camden next week. It’s daunting that I’ll be entirely self-sufficient for the first time, but I’ve never felt more ready for anything in my life.