This is a current Huffpost series on women and fear. Women of different age groups talk about their fears, or how they overcame fears through the years. I liked the 30 something blog the best, but it could very well be because I actually see that coming. I decided to take this thread and write about it here.
I spent all my teenage years and twenties constantly worrying about my attractiveness. I am still not over it. I don't think I will ever be. Every now and then, a little dark cloud of doubt floats over me. But it is interesting how this complex has given me other strengths.
As a teenager, I was probably the class clown. I had a lot to say (I still do) and I was a brat. But all along, I knew that I was not the subject of interest when it came to rose days, song dedications and dance invitations. I wasn't the class nerd either (Math! I hate you). My parents changed my school just before my eleventh birthday, so I was also struggling to establish my identity. Finally I settled for what I would like to call "the class philosopher". I look back on those days and wonder why I needed an identity so bad. I wondered why I didn't just settle into the background. I don't understand why I wanted to create my own place and I was always deeply hurt when I wasn't categorized as "pretty". Maybe it was because I am an only child. Or maybe because I was best friends with the one of the prettiest (and smartest) girls in class. I had to try hard to keep my jealousy in check and I must have been successful, most of the times, because I am still best friends with her. But I remember how everyone always talked about how beautiful she was as soon as she left the room. And somewhere I was sure that it did not happen after I left.
From the "world" that I have been exposed to, I have learned that although peer comparisons of attractiveness sound really superficial and basic, they contribute significantly to how we turn out as adults. Most of the times, unfortunately, you compare yourself to your closest friends. It is very difficult to keep envy in check and I am slightly ashamed, but also relieved to accept that I spent most of my twenties trying to fight envy. I feel very bad about myself when I get jealous. It is the same guilt I would feel if I eat a large pizza all by myself. :)
My pretty friends tell me how they have always been conscious that they are pretty. And how sometimes, it works for and against them. How it is difficult to separate the appreciation for your work from the appreciation for your looks. How it is easy for them to get drinks if they go out. How the bias worked in their favor at work. I don't remember even a single example where this happened to me, solely based on me walking into a room. In fact, I can confidently say that it never happened to me. Gyah! These last few lines make me sound like a complete loser, but in my head, I look at it very objectively.
I am frequently an important part of my social group. But not because I am pretty.
That last line caused me utter anguish for about thirteen years. But only in the past few years have I realized how fortunate I am, to feel that way. I always identify with Elaine of Seinfeld. I have maintained happy, funny and completely platonic friendships with guys since the time I was in school. Sometimes, by being the agony aunt, sometimes by playing the cupid, sometimes even proof reading their sonnets (ugh!). Nobody had friend zone problems with me in high school. And for that too, I am grateful.
This fear of not being pretty enough (or matching up to the standard) led me to do some stupid fitness mistakes (and my right knee still pays the price for those). But it is only in recent years that I have learned to be grateful to my body. And it makes me sad to accept this, but this sudden burst of positive energy does not come from demolishing my fear and complexes. It comes from the rational realization that I have been given a set of genes. Fighting my biochemistry to achieve some ideal is a waste of my time (and creative energy). No movie makeovers are going to change our lives. We have to learn to get over the feeling that our lives need to be changed.
I still consciously try to lose the extra kilos I put on. But the intensity and desperation has significantly mellowed down. And I am very very grateful for this change in me.
I have also started cultivating sensitivity to the stories I hear from others. A casual, passing comment people make about themselves can say a lot about their lives. I ask my pretty friends if they always knew that they were pretty and how does it feel to be the focus of attention because you are pretty? My best friend from high school opened up about it one day. She told me how her parents made a point not to tell her how pretty she was. The attention she got outside was the only evidence that she was indeed someone who stood out. And flashing her million dollar smile, she confessed how grateful she was that her parents helped her keep her feet on ground!
I have also learned not to share this vulnerability with the wrong people and not to fall into the trap of being "saved" by others. You don't have to get completely cured. Sometimes, focusing less on yourself works wonders. But nothing works as good as learning how to take deep breaths and visualize the flow of life through your healthy body. I am also grateful for that choice. :)