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“Erase the ugly voices in your head”: Lucy Mangan on why feeling beautiful starts with your thoughts


I once went out for six months or so with a very good-looking man. People used to eye him appreciatively across the pub and then, when they caught sight of me, their expressions would change to ones of slight bafflement and concern. What, you could see them wonder, was going on? What hideous defect was he hiding that secretly evened the score between us? Or was he a kind volunteer on some sort of genetic outreach programme, seeking to redistribute the world’s attractiveness resources?

A friend of mine, meanwhile, was going out with an even more handsome man (he was French, which automatically puts you ahead) – so handsome that as they walked down the street, women (and about one in ten men) would actually cross the road to talk to him and ask him out, my friend apparently rendered invisible in the glare of his beauty.

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So it will have come as no surprise to anyone in receipt of similar experiences to hear of the recent research by Harvard sociologists revealing that – dun-dun-duuun! – beautiful people tend to have shorter relationships and get divorced more often than us mere mortals.

It’s not rocket science, is it? People who are so gorgeous that other people throw themselves across traffic to get to them have more opportunities to upgrade their partners and so... do.

But it is fascinating to think of how different our lives could have been if our double helix had bolted itself together to the very slightest different effect. I remain convinced that all my problems would be solved if I were four inches taller – 5ft 6 instead of 5ft 2. I could dress properly. I would be confident. I would be visible to bar people. If I didn’t have the world’s greatest Resting Bitch Face, I would have more friends. If I had dramatic hair, I would have become an actress. If I had decent-sized boobs, I would have had more sex. And more unwanted advances, but I think my Resting Bitch Face would have pre-emptively struck against most of them. If I didn’t have cellulite, the mental energy not spent agonising over this fact would undoubtedly have allowed me to become the UK’s Sheryl Sandberg by now.

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This is, of course, madness. (Apart from the boobs thing. That’s totally true.) But like most madnesses, there is a germ of truth at its core, which is that our personalities are shaped – in part – by how others respond to us, and that those responses are shaped – in part – by how we look. This dynamic is at its strongest during our teenage years, which is why most of us feel our self-development arrested then, and we have to spend the next few decades recognising and unpicking the harm the aesthetically-led cruelty of adolescence hath wrought.

The further you get from those formative years, the freer you become. You begin to see that you didn’t become you in a vacuum. When you can trace the origins of your low self-esteem to others’ thoughtless reactions (or deliberate inflictions) rather than any actual flaw in yourself, you can begin to uncouple from them. Or, of course, get some breast implants, learn to walk in heels and only go out with ugly men. But if you can manage to erase the ugly voices in your head instead, I think a more beautiful day awaits.



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