Beauty and the eye of the beholder

Growing up I was never told I was beautiful – or even pretty.  In fact my sister seemed to get most of the attention, being blonde and blue-eyed and seemingly fragile.  I grew up rather feeling that I was the unattractive, intelligent, always healthy one with brown hair and brownish (actually greeny-slate) eyes…

It didn’t help much when it came to relationships with men.  I always wondered what they would see in me.  But gradually it dawned on me as I got older that men – or at least some men – found me attractive.  I even got called ‘beautiful’ – at least once – a guy passing in the street near Finchley Road station.  I was with a friend and her boyfriend at the time.  “But you are”, the boyfriend said.  Another friend’s boyfriend called me a ‘Pocket Venus’.  But those comments seemed few and far between and therefore, I assumed, were the views of a solitary few.

Not surprisingly I did better career-wise than relationship-wise for years; looking back I didn’t lack male attention, but my belief that I wasn’t particularly attractive didn’t help me much, and I tended to bounce from one disastrous relationship to the next.  Until I started realising that some men did actually fancy me, and that at times that was something I could use to my advantage.  Even so it always rather surprised me.

Then I met David, who loved me and whose love I felt secure in.  We ended up with our three gorgeous children, and having children in my 40s – and especially Edward, when I was aged 49 – was an enormous confidence-boost.  Life felt good.

But, as many readers will already know, the marriage fell apart.  We drifted our separate ways: I became highly resentful of his untidiness and what I perceived as lack of effort and support.  He felt criticised; belittled; depressed; and closed himself off, making me more resentful.  I was busy writing and singing; we spent little time together and our conversation was only about the children.  The last few months of the marriage I felt worn out and worn down, grey, gaunt, haggard and unattractive.

When we started going to marriage guidance counselling I also went to have a new haircut and colour.  I felt like a new woman; and felt attractive again.  Briefly it seemed to have the desired effect on my then husband; he even said at one point that he was still attracted to me, to my beauty and my grace (there we go – that word ‘beauty’ again).  But ultimately we were no longer in love and we separated.

On the whole it felt great to be single again and I felt attractive and desirable.  I joined a dating website, without any intention of anything more than maybe a few dates and some fun – and got comments that I was ‘gorgeous’.  I did rather wonder if the guys were being misled by my photos, but one even video-skyped me for an hour and said the same.  Men seemed attracted to me and I didn’t think they could all just be desperate, lonely and sad. I fancied someone, then fell in love and was loved in return, and was on top of the world, and received even more complimentary comments about my looks.

Then I crashed.  I was balancing too much; my previous ‘baggage’ (insecurities) came back to haunt me, becoming negative, nagging voices in my head; and I was exhausted.  With some people stress and/or unhappiness leads to anger: unable to deal with their own emotions and admit to what role they themselves may have played in their own situation, they criticise and push away those they love the most, and who love them the most: it’s easier to blame someone else than to face up to your own (probably only minor, but there’s that fear that they’re major) inadequacies and to have to do something to sort yourself out. I, on the other hand, bury my head under my duvet and withdraw into myself: I become stuck in a dark tunnel or worse – as in the most recent case – I fall into a black hole, unable to see any apparent way of scrabbling up the sides.  I have no energy, no drive and certainly do not consider myself the slightest bit attractive.

At the end of last year I also lost a huge amount of weight.  Even some of my favourite dishes hardly tempted me: food, generally something I enjoy so much, had no interest for me.  I found it hard to smile.  Who on earth would be attracted to someone so dull, gaunt and unhappy?

That is why I wrote this post.  Having scrambled, jumped and flown out of the black hole and got just about back to normal – with a healthy, I think, dose of self-esteem now back – it was really nice to have the comment the other night that I was looking well.  It has then been additionally lovely to have the extra and supporting comments on Facebook, and the number of ‘likes’ which that post has received.

And, of course, my starting to smile again has made other people smile at me: and singing has become the joy it should be rather than a physical effort.

Thank you, my friends.  I feel loved, wanted, and supported: and attractive.