My mother was an incredibly beautiful woman. In her later life when she was bloated with steroids and had both breasts removed due to cancer, she told me that although she sometimes hated the way she now looked, she felt safer and it was actually a relief not to be so observed and objectified.
Some ten years ago I was going through some old photos of mine, with a male friend. He looked up and said, ‘I still think you are lovely, but what is it like to look as you did in your youth, and to have lost that?’
I’ve had many similar comments over the years and whilst being taken aback at the stupidity of men’s loud curiosity (it is invariably men, women perceive things differently and are not as blunt in their pronouncements) it doesn’t bother me.
To an extent I relate to my mother’s views.
It is a relief.
The young are beautiful anyway, but there was a point in my life when my looks created invasive desire. Strangers would feel justified in approaching me; I would have my drink spiked; men offered me money to have sex with them; women would blame or blank me.
Yes, it gave me the ability to survive when I chose more difficult paths in my life within a drug orientated sub culture, but it also created a very blinkered perception as to who I was.
When I came out of rehab, I used to cover my body completely so no flesh was exposed. I always wore my glasses, my hair was tightly pulled back into fright night corn rows; I just wanted men to stay away.
Age helped this process of self protection and though it is oft said that women become invisible after a certain age, that invisibility can bring with it, freedom.
Many years ago a stranger wandered into a house I was living in. He was drunk, and when he saw me he wouldn’t leave saying that I was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. This wasn’t flattering, nor was it affirming. It also isn’t affirming to come out of drunken unconsciousness to find a dear friend having sex with you, because they felt the need to possess you.
I look at myself now and whilst age throws up strange and unnerving physical patterns; configurations and manifestations that can be disconcerting and sometimes grim; generally I roll easy with the process.
Yes, it is unnerving to be ignored by men when I am in the company of a younger and more beautiful woman, but I’m philosophical about it.
When I was very young, I thought that being pretty would bring me happiness and wonderful things; I was thrilled when my grandmother told me that I would grow up to be a ‘great beauty’.
I came of age, I became an object, and I couldn’t deal with it. My happiness and fulfilment came later, when my world was peaceful and I could be me without being surrounded by desire that was often aggressive and invasive.
I have many gifts given to me at birth, some have faded and some have grown. That is the nature of life.
I may not have ‘become’ my mother, but I understand her.