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Sarah Britten

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

The Flattering Angle

I am not beautiful. “Attractive” is about the best I can hope for. I’m one of those women who will always have to be photographed from a flattering angle. One of those women who will always have to be careful how we smile, who grimace when we catch our profiles in a changeroom mirror or see ourselves tagged on Facebook in photos in which we’ve been caught in the middle of chewing or laughing or some other grotesque act. We are those women whose hearts soar when by some chance we catch ourselves looking almost pretty, who have to work hard to make the most of what we have.

I don’t have thick ankles, but that’s about it.

Life is easier for beautiful people; countless studies have reinforced what we all know through experience to be true. I have always resented this. There I am, trying to get a huge clattering sack of self-loathing through passport control, and they just sail through, the fuckers. I have loathed myself for most of my life, and my lack of appealing physical attributes has been an astonishingly fecund source of misery. This is ridiculous and silly, but true.

I imagine it’s even worse for girls growing up now.

To not be beautiful in a culture obsessed with looking at things, especially faces, is a state of being that is fraught with angst. It’s not just models and actors who need to look good; now, increasingly, professors and politicians enjoy more success if they are more attractive (South Africa being a notable exception here). Twitter might have made it easier for the clever, bookish types who were outcasts at school to cultivate friends now. But social media is also all about the image; you need to look good in that avatar. Scroll through your timeline and see how much care people take to present themselves in the best possible light. As for those of us who value the power of words, look at how artfully authors pose for their book jacket photographs. You can tell which ones were taken from flattering angles.

(All of my profile pictures, whether on Facebook or Twitter, on my blogs or speaker biographies at conferences, were taken from flattering angles. Your virtual self might as well look good, even if your real self doesn’t.)

Now I’m reaching an age where, exhausted by the impossibility of ever liking myself, I’ve learned to care less about not being beautiful. The advent of the cougar stereotype has made things harder, of course, since we’re supposed to be hot and have rock hard abs into our fifties. But you reach a point where you don’t have the emotional energy to care, and since the inexorable lure of gravity is going to be harder and harder to resist, I have to reconcile myself to my flaws or give up bothering to get out of bed ever again.

But I can’t pretend that not being beautiful doesn’t matter. And that I wouldn’t still trade those 20 IQ points in an instant.