I was reading Captain Awkward a couple of days ago, and nodding along sympathetically with this post and 500+ comments relating similar stories. While many of the situations sounded familiar, I remember feeling glad that I had not had an unpleasantly forced encounter with a strange man in a long time.
And so, as punishment, the universe smacked me in the head with a textbook case.
I am walking in a busy shopping area and I want to send a text message. Because I am physically incapable of walking and texting on a crowded street, I move away from the general fray and stand by some railings where I am not obstructing anyone. After a few moments I realise there is a guy standing a few feet away, staring at me. I keep my eyes locked on my phone.
Today, I had a mission. That mission was “Go to town, purchase two pairs of black leggings.”
As a teenager, fitting rooms were an intensely stressful experience for me. Things that were not confidence-boosters include: unforgiving bright lights, mirrors angled so you can see your whole butt at once and things that won’t button or zip even though they claim to be in your size. I rarely buy clothes these days, but historically I often gave up around the fitting room stage of the experience, purely because I felt so miserable about my body.
As well as my urgently-needed leggings, I picked up a few tops and also found an incredibly rare pair of jeans – 28-inch leg and 30-inch waist is like the Holy Grail when you have roughly the same proportions as a hobbit – that were 50% off. So I had no real choice but to try that shit on.
And in the fitting room, I stripped down to my underwear and took a good long look at myself.
I am a modern young woman. I think. I am practical. I pick most of my clothes based on how easily I can move in them, which has gradually devolved into never wearing pants. (Ever. Seriously, leggings and ambiguous long top/dresses forever.) I put my money where my mouth is when it comes to feminism, quite literally, in the sense that I won’t let a guy pay for my dinner. Unless I’m paying next time. I am confident. I have the audacity to actually like my body, even though I don’t have a flat stomach and my thighs are kind of massive. I don’t obsessively shave bits of myself that don’t really need shaving. (I mean, honestly, it’s WINTER.) My body occasionally makes strange noises and odours and I don’t apologise for that. I can hold my own. I can take a joke. I have my own goals and ambitions and plans, and none of them involve getting married any time soon. Or indeed, maybe ever.
So this is what I’m like. While I can’t imagine myself being any other way, part of me knows that, at some point, it was a conscious decision. At some point, probably when I was around 14 or 15, I made a value judgement; I didn’t want to be that girl.
And I don’t – in any way, shape or form – mean that as a self-pitying, self-deprecating statement. I am not fishing for compliments. I don’t have low self-esteem.
When I say I don’t think I’m beautiful, I mean it as a matter-of-fact, realistic statement. This does not mean I don’t think I’m attractive. I think I look pretty good most of the time, especially if my hair is sitting right and my skin is behaving and I took the time to moisturise. I’m confident enough to say that I’m attractive, that I like my body and I like my face and I think I scrub up pretty nicely when I make the effort.