Thursday, April 5, 2012

Samantha Brick's piece and a Guardian response

Samantha Brick in The Daily Mail (April 2, 2012) --

On a recent flight to New York, I was delighted when a stewardess came over and gave me a bottle of champagne.
‘This is from the captain — he wants to welcome you on board and hopes you have a great flight today,’ she explained.
You’re probably thinking ‘what a lovely surprise’. But while it was lovely, it wasn’t a surprise. At least, not for me.
Throughout my adult life, I’ve regularly had bottles of bubbly or wine sent to my restaurant table by men I don’t know. Once, a well-dressed chap bought my train ticket when I was standing behind him in the queue, while there was another occasion when a charming gentleman paid my fare as I stepped out of a cab in Paris.
Another time, as I was walking through London’s Portobello Road market, I was tapped on the shoulder and presented with a beautiful bunch of flowers. Even bar tenders frequently shoo my credit card away when I try to settle my bill.
And whenever I’ve asked what I’ve done to deserve such treatment, the donors of these gifts have always said the same thing: my pleasing appearance and pretty smile made their day.
While I’m no Elle Macpherson, I’m tall, slim, blonde and, so I’m often told, a good-looking woman. I know how lucky I am. But there are downsides to being pretty — the main one being that other women hate me for no other reason than my lovely looks.
If you’re a woman reading this, I’d hazard that you’ve already formed your own opinion about me — and it won’t be very flattering. For while many doors have been opened (literally) as a result of my looks, just as many have been metaphorically slammed in my face — and usually by my own sex.
I’m not smug and I’m no flirt, yet over the years I’ve been dropped by countless friends who felt threatened if I was merely in the presence of their other halves. If their partners dared to actually talk to me, a sudden chill would descend on the room.
And it is not just jealous wives who have frozen me out of their lives. Insecure female bosses have also barred me from promotions at work.
And most poignantly of all, not one girlfriend has ever asked me to be her bridesmaid.
You’d think we women would applaud each other for taking pride in our appearances.
I work at mine — I don’t drink or smoke, I work out, even when I don’t feel like it, and very rarely succumb to chocolate. Unfortunately women find nothing more annoying than someone else being the most attractive girl in a room.
Take last week, out walking the dogs a neighbour passed by in her car. I waved — she blatantly blanked me. Yet this is someone whose sons have stayed at my house, and who has been welcomed into my home on countless occasions.
I approached a mutual friend and discreetly enquired if I’d made a faux pas. It seems the only crime I’ve committed is not leaving the house with a bag over my head.She doesn’t like me, I discovered, because she views me as a threat. The friend pointed out she is shorter, heavier and older than me.
And, according to our mutual friend, she is adamant that something could happen between her husband and me, ‘were the right circumstances in place’. Yet I’m happily married, and have been for the past four years.
This isn’t the first time such paranoia has gripped the women around me. In my early 20s, when I first started in television as a researcher, one female boss in her late 30s would regularly invite me over for dinner after a long day in the office.
I always accepted her invitation, as during office hours we got along famously. But one evening her partner was at home. We were all a couple of glasses of wine into the evening. Then he and I said we both liked the song we were listening to.
She laid into her bewildered partner for ‘fancying’ me, then turned on me, calling me unrepeatable names before ridiculing me for dying my hair and wearing lipstick. I declined any further invitations.
Therapist Marisa Peer, author of self-help guide Ultimate Confidence, says that women have always measured themselves against each other by their looks rather than achievements — and it can make the lives of the good-looking very difficult.
‘Many of my clients are models, yet people are always astounded when I explain they don’t have it easy,’ she says. If you are attractive other women think you lead a perfect life — which simply isn’t true.
They don’t realise you are just as vulnerable as they are. It’s hard when everyone resents you for your looks. Men think “what’s the point, she’s out of my league” and don’t ask you out. And women don’t want to hang out with someone more attractive than they are.’
I certainly found that out the hard way, particularly in the office.
One contract I accepted was blighted by a jealous female boss. It was the height of summer and I’d opted to wear knee length, cap-sleeved dresses. They were modest, yet pretty; more Kate Middleton than Katie Price.
But my boss pulled me into her office and informed me my dress style was distracting her male employees. I didn’t dare point out that there were other women in the office wearing similar attire.
Rather than argue, I worked out the rest of my contract wearing baggy, sombre-coloured trouser suits. It was clear that when you have a female boss, it’s best to let them shine, but when you have a male boss, it’s a different game: I have written in the Mail on how I have flirted to get ahead at work, something I’m sure many women do.
Women, however, are far more problematic. With one phenomenally tricky boss, I eventually managed to carve out a positive working relationship. But a year in, her attitude towards me changed; the deterioration began when she started to put on weight.
We were both employed by a big broadcasting company. One of our male UK chiefs recommended I take the company’s global leadership course, which meant doors would have opened for me around the world.
All I needed were two personal recommendations to be eligible. As everyone in the office agreed I was good at my job, I didn’t think this would be a problem.
But while the male executive signed the paperwork without hesitation, my immediate boss refused to sign. When I asked her right-hand woman why, she pulled me to one side and explained that my boss was jealous of me.
Things between us rapidly deteriorated. Whenever I wore something new she’d sneer at me in front of other colleagues that she was the star, not me.
Six months later I handed in my notice. Privately she begged me to stay, blaming the nasty comments on her hormones. She was in her early 40s and confided she was having marital problems. But by then I’d had enough.
I find that older women are the most hostile to beautiful women — perhaps because they feel their own bloom fading. Because my husband is ten years older than me, his social circle is that bit older too.
As a Frenchman, he takes great pride in hearing other men declare that I’m a beautiful woman and always tells me to laugh off bitchy comments from other women.
Yet I dread the inevitable sarky comments. ‘Here she comes. We’re in the village hall yet Sam’s dressed for the Albert Hall,’ was one I recently overheard. As a result I find dinner parties and social gatherings fraught and if I can’t wriggle out of them, then often dress down in jeans and a demure, albeit pretty, top.
But even these ploys don’t always work. Take last summer and a birthday party I attended with my husband. At one point the host, who was celebrating his 50th, decided he wanted a photo with all the women guests. Positioning us, the photographer suggested I stand immediately to his right for the shot.
Another woman I barely knew pushed me out of the way, shouting it wasn’t fair on all the other women if I was dominating the snap. I was devastated and burst into tears. On my own in the loos one woman privately consoled me — well out of ear-shot of her girlfriends.
So now I’m 41 and probably one of very few women entering her fifth decade welcoming the decline of my looks. I can’t wait for the wrinkles and the grey hair that will help me blend into the background.
Perhaps then the sisterhood will finally stop judging me so harshly on what I look like, and instead accept me for who I am.


Tim Dowling in The Guardian (April 5, 2012) --

Last week I was waiting at a bus stop when an attractive younger woman reached out, touched my elbow and pointed at a pound coin lying on the ground near my foot.
"That yours?" she asked.
"Probably," I said. "My keys sometimes make a little hole in my pocket." She giggled nervously as we both glanced down at my slim-fit chinos. I blushed a little as I bent over, with her watching, to retrieve my money.
You're probably thinking: "What a selfless act of random kindness!" It may have been kind, but it was hardly random. Ever since the hole appeared just after Christmas, this has been a regular, almost weekly occurrence.
As a fit, good-looking man I'm used to women coming up and finding excuses to talk to me, to touch me. In fact, if I had a pound coin for every time it happened, well, you can do the maths. Don't forget to factor in all the pounds I would have lost if those women hadn't said anything.
This other time, when I was caught travelling on a peak-time train with an off-peak ticket, the (female) train manager smiled and said to me: "I should charge you the full single peak rate, sir, but this time I'll just charge you the difference." My savings, in this case, amounted to nearly £12.
It's not always about money, though. There was the lady on a flight to New York who, apropos of nothing, suddenly turned and offered me a breath mint. Just last November a woman I've never met stopped me outside a supermarket to give me a poppy. The incidents may be varied, but the reason is always the same: my exceptional outward appearance. While I admit I'm no Philip Schofield, I'm tall, slim, brooding – and very easy on the eye.
If you're a woman reading this – or, more importantly, looking at the pictures – you will know exactly what I'm talking about: you probably feel like telling me there's a wasp near my hair, just so you can reach out and muss it up a little.
If you're a man, on the other hand, you've doubtless already formed an opinion about me. You almost certainly find me a threat – a threat to your career, your relationship, your masculinity. It's not something many men will dare to speak publicly about, but being terribly, terribly handsome is a double-edged sword. For every female Starbucks employee who made it her business to remember my name, there was a male employer telling me to do up my top three shirt buttons in the office. I can't tell you how many male acqaintances have stopped speaking to me over the years for petty "reasons" (unpaid debts, being alleged source of unpleasant rumour, refusal to appear as character witness), when jealousy is the transparent cause. I'll probably never know how many women have been too intimidated by my looks to talk to me, but I know exactly how many men have been angered enough by my face to try to punch it.
I don't invite the attention. I've come to dread the sarcastic, whispered comments in the gym about my physique, my chiseled jaw, my loose-hanging tank tops. At times I've found it so stressful that I've even taken steps to play down my physical beauty. I tried wearing a hoodie all day, but they wouldn't let me into Harrod's food hall, where the lady at the cheese counter sometimes gives me free samples, even though I hardly ever buy anything. More recently I decided to grow a beard, just to blend in with "normal" men. It helps a little, but there are only so many parts of a face a beard can cover. You can't grow hair on soulful, beseeching eyes, for example. Also, stuff gets caught in a beard – food, small leaves, postage stamps – which just gives women another excuse to strike up a conversation, and their jealous partners another reason to roll their eyes.
Perhaps you're quite a good-looking bloke yourself, and have experienced a fraction of the bastardness I've encountered at the hands (and once or twice, the boots) of insecure, embittered males. Maybe you can in some small measure empathise with how difficult it is to live in a society where a man is constantly expected to look his best, but is then punished for looking better than anyone else. Is it any wonder that Piers Morgan has moved to the US?
I know some people (men) will feel obliged to cast aspersions on my looks – believe me, I've heard it all before – but I won't apologise for the truth. I can already anticipate the global backlash my courageous honesty will generate: the nasty tweets, the threatening emails, the bad-mouthing from Jeremy Vine (it's beneath you, Jeremy, it really is). That won't stop me. I'm prepared to meet my critics face to face, on social media, to put my case. I've dug down and exposed an issue very few gorgeous men are prepared to talk about. And I intend to keep right on digging. After all, your hatred only proves my point.

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