I’m not sure how many of you have followed the Samantha Brick saga, otherwise known as Brick-gate or, as I’ve decided to rename it, Beauty and the Brick. She’s a 41-year-old woman who wrote a piece for Femail, the Daily Mail’s women’s pages (where I’ve appeared a few times this year), talking about how women envied her beauty and men showered her with compliments and gifts. The original story is here, but if you want to know what all the fuss is about, it’s best to read her second-day article, or the latest piece on the woman who has become an Internet sensation. And there are countless stories about Samantha Brick and the reaction to her all over the Web (including this talking brick on YouTube).
Now, if you’re not interested in Brick-gate or if you think clicking on these links is feeding an unhealthy, divisive debate or turning a non-story into a story, I totally respect that. There’s part of me that feels the same. But having read some of the comments and Tweets in response to her original piece, I thought the furore raised some interesting points. So I waded in yesterday with my personal take on the saga on the Huffington Post: Whatever you think of Samantha Brick, it’s time we women start celebrating our beauty.
And I’ve just come back from being interviewed on Sky News, on the Boulton and Co programme (I’ll post a link when I find one), about the saga.
In summary, while I accept some of her comments were divisive, probably deliberately so, and I don’t agree with the tone of the article that seems to pit women against each other, I felt the barrage of criticism hurled at Samantha Brick specifically about her looks (“you’re ugly, you’re deluded, you need glasses, your facial features aren’t symmetrical” etc) proves that a rigid concept of beauty is still alive and kicking and that anyone who doesn’t meet that but still thinks they’re attractive is deluded. In other words, we’re only allowed to say we’re beautiful if we look a certain way.
And the response to her article also reminded me that we women are often our own worst enemies. We criticise ourselves and we criticise each other. We slate our looks, the size and shape of our bodies, our hair and our skin tone. We poke and prod at ourselves and, in more extreme cases that are sadly becoming the norm, we have parts of ourselves surgically changed or enhanced. It’s a shame more of us can’t declare our beauty, whatever we look like, to ourselves and to others. It seems it’s a cultural taboo – akin to big-headedness or boasting. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a friend say, “I look great in this dress”. More likely, she’ll be pointing out how it’s a little tight around the waist or the fact her upper arms aren’t toned enough to be on show (I know I would be).
The point I wanted to make on Sky, which I may not have got across as eloquently as I’d have liked (that’s live television for you), is that Samantha Brick does have a point: I do think women who are insecure about their own looks can feel threatened by women they deem to be more beautiful. I know this from my own experience.
But the answer isn’t to rip the beautiful ones to shreds, to dislike them, envy them or exclude them from our circle. The answer is to focus on ourselves and to build our own confidence in our looks so that we don’t feel so intimidated by others. We can’t change the way we look or the way others look (without expensive surgery), but we can change the way we feel about ourselves and how we relate to others. If we’re comfortable in our own skin, accept the way we look and rejoice in our own beautiful uniqueness, we’ll be more able to celebrate the beauty of those around us.
I admit I’m one of the worst offenders when it comes to this kind of insecurity. Despite my self-acceptance challenge in Lent last year and continued efforts to embrace my looks, I still struggle to do so. And of course, when I watch back the Boulton and Co programme, I’ll be scrutinising myself to see if my face looks puffy, my hair looks a mess or if I need to lose a few pounds, as much as I’ll be judging myself on whether my arguments were coherent and intelligent.
But the good thing is at least today I’m aware of how my mind works. The side of me that envies other women’s attractiveness and belittles my own is a very young part of me – it’s the little girl inside me who thinks there isn’t enough love to go around. She thinks she’ll be neglected or abandoned if she’s not pretty enough or good enough, a fear that’s exacerbated, and understandably, by the presence of beautiful girls. But I now know I don’t have to react to those thoughts or allow them free rein. I just need to reassure myself that I’m OK, exactly as I am, and that there’s enough love to go around for all of us, no matter what we look like.