The Blight of Beauty
Earlier this week a 40-something blonde journalist called Samantha Brick wrote an article for the Daily Mail about why the world resents her beauty. I have watched the fall-out from her candour with appalled fascination. Hate campaigns have rippled through Twitter. 5,000 mocking comments were left on the Daily Mail’s website. Columnists in rival newspapers have lined up to condemn her delusions.
I am a lone sympathiser. For I too am a 40-something blonde journalist and I too know how it is to be condemned for your looks. This is my story.
Fifteen years ago, as I hurried for the morning train to work, a voice hailed me urgently. I turned and saw a handsome young man in hot pursuit. As he drew close he held out a flaccid parcel. It was the egg mayonnaise sandwich that I’d packed for my lunch and which I’d dropped on the pavement in my haste. I knew, though, as his eyes met mine, that the favour was a pretext and the alacrity with which he moved off after handing it over confirmed it. Overpowered by my appearance he had beat a hasty retreat before his feelings betrayed him.
I am used to this. My singular looks have brought me tributes and invitations all my life. In my first week at university, my pigeon hole was crammed daily with fluorescent invites from the Christian Union begging me to enjoy Jesus with them. Throughout my three years there, they refused take no for an answer.
I am called on an almost weekly basis by a gentleman from the Indian sub-continent pretending an urgent reminder about my payment protection policy. He knows as well as I do that I have never possessed such a thing. And when the Archdeacon came to dinner at the vicarage recently he handed me a bottle of Pinot Grigio. I was embarrassed, but not surprised. This mute affirmation happens to me all the time – so much so that the Vicar finished the bottle without rancour while I washed up.
I am no Claudia Schiffer, but I am slim and blonde and my post-natal Mr Whippy whorls are pleasingly subdued by my up-and-over spandex. And yet I bet if you are woman reading this you do not deem me desirable. Throughout my life, my looks have formed a social barrier between me and the sisterhood because of resentment and fear – resentment that I do not look as they do and fear that one swish of my corduroy hem will unnerve their husbands.
At school I stand apart because my contours are so strikingly tweed-clad amid the throng of Juicy Couture tracksuits. The other mothers are cunning at disguising their envy but I can see it simmering as they pretend to discuss Embarrassing Bodies.
I am not smug about my appearance – I rejoice in my looks as a God-given bounty and I truly sympathise with those not blessed with my physical attributes. But it is not easy looking like this.
Over the years, my success has been stymied by countless people I regarded as friends. As a Brownie I was the only one not asked to do a reading during the church parade services. When my mother complained, Brown Owl blamed excessive shyness, but I knew better.
In the decades that followed insecure bosses have barred me from promotion at work. Given my 14 years on The Guardian I should, by right, be editing the paper by now, but Alan Rusbridger’s spectacles were regarded as less as a threat than my blonde tresses and so, instead of taking my place among the movers and shakers of Fleet St, I am writing back-end features on health and safety in the workplace.
But it’s not just jealous bosses who have blanked me because of my appearance. Only last week, as I was posting Holy Week service sheets through parish letter boxes, I waved at the blind woman who lives down the road. She blatantly ignored me, even though I’d helped her out with the coleslaw at last autumn’s barn dance buffet.
Someone I thought of as my closest friend held a dinner party the other week. I wasn’t invited. She claimed that she’d thought I wouldn’t want to face the eight-hour drive to Edinburgh for sausage casserole, but I knew the real reason was her fear that my presence in her kitchen would be a siren call to the husbands present.
So, now I’m 43 and I must be one of the few women who is longing for my similarly ageing friends to embrace tweed and cardigans like I do so that I can blend into the background. Perhaps then people will stop marvelling at how I look and judge me instead on the beauty of my character.