It’s an old adage but the further I advance in years, the more poignant it becomes. I wouldn’t say I envy young people because I had my time and pee’d it up the wall quite nicely (the way you’re supposed to) and had the kind of fun that only youths can have. But sometimes I do wish that I’d had the more mature head I have now on those young shoulders; I would have done things differently – thought differently.
From childhood I was convinced I was ugly and fat. I would stare longingly in the mirror on a daily basis and wish I’d been given a different exterior. I wished my ears didn’t stick out, I wished that the birthmark/mole bang in the middle of my right cheek didn’t exist. I dreamed of a straighter nose and poker straight hair. Why had I been given all this to contend with? Why was I funny-looking? Even ‘plain’ would have been better than this. My mother used to swear blind that I was beautiful. My siblings used to insist I was pretty. I thought they were all raving mad or were just being polite or just had very bad taste in what beauty ought to be.
In my teens and early twenties – I spent my life on crazy diets (mainly consisting of not eating at all) just so my legs would be thinner, just to try and even out that weird pear-shape I’d been given; just to be more like my skinny friends. I bleakly read glossy magazines and stared at the pop stars, actresses and models and wondered why I didn’t look the same way. Basically, I was just like every other young girl – convinced by the popular media of the time that I just didn’t fit the bill.
It is only now that I am in my forties and look back at the photographs of my childhood and teens and twenties that I realise that my mother was telling the truth. I was pretty. My body shape was perfect for my height. In my twenties, I was perhaps not beautiful but that strange-looking girl in the mirror was actually attractive (certainly not plain). My hair was long and thick and curly, and facially, I was interesting. I was just right. But it’s too bloody late now!
My youth has gone and with it has gone that pretty girl. Honestly, I’m not fishing for compliments; I look okay for my forty-three years. I take care of myself, I exercise, I eat balanced meals (on the most part), I cut my hair short because it was getting thinner and it accentuates my face better than when it was long. I wear clothes that suit my short stature – I like to think I dress well. The minute I turned forty, I raised my game because I knew I had to work harder. But that fresh-faced beauty that only youth can possess has faded away – and I didn’t even appreciate it when I had it.
I’d hate for my kids to be like me. So my aim is now to ensure my nearly fifteen-year-old daughter realises her potential. She is beautiful, she really is. She has the added bonus of her father’s height so I know she will be stunning (and tall). And I tell her every day just how beautiful she is. I’ve been telling her since she was born. It’s not that ‘looks’ are everything because they’re not – brains and personality have far greater significance. But it’s also important that you recognise that your exterior is aesthetically acceptable (not to others – to yourself). You shouldn’t mope away your entire youth striving to be somebody completely different. But I fear that my daughter doesn’t believe me, just like I didn’t believe my mother. Because mothers are supposed to say that. Mothers always think their kids are beautiful just because they’re their kids.
As I push my glasses further up my nose to write this, my eyesight worsening year upon year (I didn’t appreciate that either when I was young!), I want to reiterate that I’m not being vain or shallow to write a piece like this. It’s not about attracting the opposite sex or how others perceive you. All I’m saying is, I was a good-looking girl when I was young but the society I lived in persuaded girls like me into thinking we just didn’t make the grade – and that is only getting worse. We’ve got to teach our kids to like themselves; we’ve got to convince them that it’s okay to be a bit nerdy or a bit idiosyncratic and that their outer image is just perfect for them. I’m not encouraging kids to be arrogant or ‘looks’ obsessed – just to be happy in their own skin. Because it’s so true, youth really is wasted on the young – they’ll never know how wonderful they were until youth as passed them by. I guess you just can’t have that kind of wisdom or maturity on young shoulders. You can only learn that with time. And d’you know what? When I’m old and grey, I will probably look back on the forty-year-old me and wish I’d appreciated her more too.