Capitalism and the Aesthete: the tragedy of being unextraordinary
What happens when you acknowledge that you’re the least attractive person at a dinner party?
As the child of a strident Thatcherite stockbroker and two hardened individualist fathers, I was brought up with the strong notion of knowing one’s own value. As I was, and am, what one boyfriend would diplomatically describe as ‘a very standard sort of girl’, I recognised very early on that I wasn’t going to be able to compete in free-market patriarchy. Which is fine. If beauty is power, I’ve failed hard. It’s fine. Really, I’m fine.
Some people are not extraordinary mathematicians. And I, dear reader, am not an extraordinary beauty. I’m never going to be the woman men crowd round at a party, or walk into lamp posts over. But in its own, strange way, that can be something of a blessing. Because being a plain woman is a bit of a superpower in itself: no one can see you.
I can pass through places, spaces and doorways without anyone noticing me, remembering my face or bothering to talk to me. I can walk right past security guards unquestioned and through airport security like a ghost. No one remembers my name, no one wants to take my number and I’m forever in that beautiful drunken space of the loud pale girl you can’t quite picture at the end of the table.
I can remember the exact moment I had the epiphany that I wasn’t ever going to be a supermodel. It was late 2012 and I, as a cool 16-year-old, had put on my most copious eyeliner and gone out with my friends to sit in the botanic gardens and make eyes at boys in Beiber haircuts. I’d been flirting and showing off in an even more absurd manner than usual when my best friend turned around to me and hissed “You do know you look ridiculous acting like you’re beautiful, right?”
It comes with a mixed bag of rewards. People let me say ridiculous things, show off and stridently voice my obnoxiously millennial opinions out of bemusement or pity. And if, on a good day and a high caffeine dose, I am impressive or interesting, no one is going to callously remark that I got praised on account of my dazzlingly sunken cheeks or freakishly large shoulders. It balances out.
In fact, I’d go as far as to say that beauty is something of a curse. I know women who are so intensely, profoundly beautiful that any kindness, generosity, intelligence or insight they have is swallowed up by flawless skin or soul-crushingly dark eyes. Their worth is constantly compromised by the threat that they are being respected, listened to or wanted on account of some fading biological lottery. Not me. I know, categorically, that if a man chooses to talk to me about my important opinions on Eurovision, it’s because he wants to. Not in some duplicitous plot to get into my knickers.
Am I occasionally hopeful that I’ll wake up looking like a six-foot-tall blonde with the perfect nose? Obviously. I’m not a saint. I’m as vain and as shallow as they come. I still get sad and semi-emotional when I realise it would be laughable to cast me as a romantic lead or ask me to dance, but it’s not something I let define me. If anything, it’s made me work harder on areas I can change and develop in myself: I’m almost entirely the woman I am today because I spent half my childhood in a library in an ugly jumper. I was so staggeringly unpopular with boys as a teenager it was genuinely a joke to ask me out. But hey, looking this mediocre got me a sense of humour, a hardened and resilient strength in sarcasm and I know a hell of a lot about narwhals. And the Sumerian sun god, Shamash. You know, useful stuff.
Looks aren’t everything. Consider it a trade-off, or, if you’re an unpleasant Year 9 music teacher, character building. As unconvincing as it sounds, you will find someone who likes the way you look, and more than that, they’ll like you. Multiple people, even.
So don’t worry. I’m doing okay, and you will too. I’ll finish with my favourite quote: “Funny and smart lasts. Beauty is a decreasing commodity.”