We were skating, my son clinging to the plastic polar bear that was helping to guide him round the rink and my ex periodically clutching the barriers while tottering around unsteadily. I was skating round to the exit barrier when I noticed a woman coming onto the ice. She was spraying her hair and then scrunching her wavy curls. The chill indoors and damp outside must have made her feel that her hair needed attention.
What struck me about the moment was that there was absolutely nothing wrong with this woman’s hair, apart from in her eyes and in her head. You see similar things happen on nights out, women fiddling with their skirts thinking them too short or unflattering, or touching up make-up they think needs attention.
What I’ve learned in the last few months as I’ve tried to strip away the social conditioning that expects perfection is that what attracts people, whatever you look like or wear, is confidence. Do whatever you do with the confidence of a four-year-old in a batman T-shirt and you’ll win people over – it’s the self belief that people will notice, not the hair you think is too frizzy or the dress that you think makes your bum look big. Imagine yourself to look beautiful and you’ll radiate confidence and attract people.
It’s not easy to do this. I’ve suffered from a chronic lack of self confidence my entire life. It debilitates you, makes you compare and despair and stops you from making friends as you think to yourself that if you don’t love yourself then no-one else will love you.
What I’ve learned over the couple of periods of my life where I started liking myself a bit more isn’t that I necessarily look any better, it’s just that I stopped carrying the weight of other people’s opinions, and more importantly laid down the mental baggage that keeps my shoulders low and my eyes to the floor. I’ve learned that crucifying yourself doesn’t make your life any better, so why do it – think more positively about yourself and others will do the same.
This weekend I went out with my girlfriends and drank rather too heavily of my homemade cosmopolitan cocktail. On the way out of the club one of my friends tripped and chipped her tooth. It was a really small chip, but for the rest of the night she couldn’t take her hand away from her mouth. In her mind she looked maimed by the tooth chip. I told her that she still looked beautiful and that it was barely noticeable – but her self confidence was so dented that she immediately jumped in a taxi to retreat to the safety of home.
What I did next would have been unthinkable to the old me a year ago. I sat, alone, in the smoke shelter, watching the rain drops fall through the roof. The place was crowded, but still I sat. I can do this I thought to myself. I always dance on my own anyway, so what’s the difference I reasoned? I was right to be confident and stay put as within minutes the familiar face of my mate appeared and we spent the rest of the night dancing. Zero fucks given, as my best mate would say. In an instant the image I had in my head of someone who had been left by her mates in a club, had been turned into the sort of person who when left in a club knows enough people to end up staying out and having a great night. It’s all about perception.