"I don't think that being a strong person is about ignoring your emotions and fighting your feelings. Putting on a brave face doesn't mean you're a brave person. That's why everybody in my life knows everything that I'm going through. I can't hide anything from them. People need to realise that being open isn't the same as being weak."

- Taylor Swift

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


You may find it weird that one of the many people I admire is a former high class escort.

True story.

Dr Brooke Magnanti is a research scientist who worked briefly as an escort during the period between submitting her PhD. thesis and being awarded her doctorate. Whilst working as an escort she blogged about her onorthodox and controversial profession using her professional name/blogger psuedonym Belle de Jour. She has since become a published author, publishing her blog as memoirs and writing fictional continuations of her experiences as an escort. These books have since become the basis of a TV series, The Secret Diary of a Call Girl, starring Billie Piper of Dr. Who fame.

I haven't become a new admirer of prostitution. I am still with everyone who agrees that prostitution is normally borne out of abuse and extreme poverty. However, as a sex-positive feminist I admire Belle and her attitude; surely a modern, liberated woman would take the same gung-ho approach to sex and sexuality as she does to more traditional elements of women's rights progress, like voting and education. Belle's justification of prostitution as a viable profession is also intriguing: in other jobs, we sell the strength of our bodies of the intelligence of our minds. We sell wombs, organs, blood, sperm. We sell our souls, so what exactly is wrong with selling sex?

You wouldn't think that a former escort would be the sort of person to challenge the hypocrisy of female beauty, but the thing about Belle is that she's not the world's most beautiful woman.What might surprise you about Belle is that she values what all modern women should value in themselves: education, confidence, sophistication and intelligence.

Here is something from her blog, The Sex Myth (no copyright infringement intended.)

On Scars

It was slightly surprising - but not altogether unexpected - that on the weekend when my book The Sex Myth has its first excerpt and interview in the Telegraph that "feminists" would immediately take objection. Interestingly though the shape this appears to have followed, rather than an actual criticism of work I have done or books I have written, is a number of nasty "terrible skin" remarks about me from lady columnists who really ought to know better.

It speaks volumes about the preoccupations of critics that when faced with a woman whose attitudes, thought processes, and life experience are almost orthogonal to their own their first response is to criticise her looks. I am not conventionally attractive, but to
paraphrase Steve Martin: when presented with all this, that's the best you can come up with?

Last year I wrote a commentary on the ubiquitous blogging that was going on surrounding the bullying of feminist bloggers. As I
pointed out then, bullying does not only happen to feminists, and some of the people who were getting group hugs out of being the victims of trolling have themselves trolled other people. (Top tip: just because you write above the line doesn't make you not a troll. @'ing someone in to your insults of them on Twitter? Does.)

So to make explicit in case it was not clear: I will never ridicule someone I disagree with because of their looks. If you can't craft a sensible argument against someone's thoughts and actions and have to go for the low-hanging fruit instead, you have failed at rational debate.

I wrote previously about the experience of having facial scars on my original blog but have since taken that content down. However
Emily Hornaday archived it and so I reprint it here. If you are someone who is going through a rough time confidence-wise, please know that while haters never, ever change, how you feel about yourself will. It really does get better.

mercredi, janvier 13

Let me tell you about the best gift I ever received. And it's not a bit of sparkly jewellery, or a shiny car, or even a thoughtful trinket of affection.

I'm talking about my scars.

I had terrible acne as a teenager. By the age of 16 it was so bad a dermatologist said it was the worst she'd ever seen, which, ya know, is not super encouraging. At the hospital where I volunteered mothers pulled their children away from me, convinced I was plagued with something contagious. Strangers avoided making eye contact.

It was so bad I could not wash my face without bleeding. Many mornings I woke up stuck to the pillowcase. And oh yeah, it was only on my face. Not one blemish anywhere else on my body. To this day, I still never have seen a photo of anything like it - apart from some daguerrotypes of smallpox patients.

It was a very long, and very expensive, journey to improving my skin - remember, this all went down in America where having a disfiguring condition you have no control over is not covered by health insurance, and duh, there's no NHS.

Long story short a lot of Roaccutane and Dianette did for the acne. And more importantly here's what I learned:

1. Beauty is fleeting. Thank fuck for that.

I had a narrow escape from being just another boring blonde - not to mention an early release from the cycle of self-hatred and frantic desperation that plagues many women as they age. Corollary 1a: The larger part of how people perceive you is how you present yourself.

2. People can be hurtful to strangers. That's their problem.

My best childhood mate had spina bifida. She walked on sticks and refused to use a wheelchair for reasons I only started to appreciate years later. Looking like a medical oddity gave me, for a very brief time, a very small taste of what she encounters every day of her life. It made me pity people who equate someone's appearance with their value as a person. This generalises magnificently to strangers judging you for, in fact, anything at all. Corollary 2a: The most vocal critics are often the most insecure.

3. Other people have things you don't. Big deal.

There is no such thing as the Most Beautiful Woman in the World (sorry Buttercup). Who cares? What is considered desirable is not especially worth getting hung up on. You may not be a six-foot Amazon so will never have legs up to your neck - but for all you know, that same supermodel would give her left arm to have your hair. This concept generalises to wealth, success, talent, and intelligence as well. Corollary 3a: Envy of other women's looks is a zero-sum game, and uses far too much time and energy to be bothered with.

4. Quality of love is not a function of attractiveness.

Elizabeth Taylor, for instance, has been married eight times. Beautiful people have dry spells and get their hearts broken like everyone else. The most worthwhile and loving relationships in my life all happened after my skin problems. And for what it's worth, I've been fortunate to date some pretty nice, smart (and attractive) men in my time. See Corollary 1a above.

5. Confidence doesn't come overnight.

It also doesn't happen in a vacuum; it requires nurturing. As with anything else worth having it's work. But let me tell you, it is so worth the work. A mate recently told me about a magazine 'happiness quiz' in which one of the questions was, "are you comfortable with your body, and do you exercise regularly?" If you can see why this should not have been a single question, you're on the way. Corollary 5a: Confidence happens when you let it happen. No one gives it to you, which is great, because it also means they can't take it from you.

6. When someone says I am beautiful, they really, really mean it.

There is something about knowing someone sees you, quirks and all, and likes what they see... something rare and kind of overwhelming (in a good way). 'Beautiful' is one of those words (a bit like 'awesome') that has lost meaning in being overused as a generic affirmative. We call all sorts of people beautiful in one sentence and tear them down in the next. I'm happy to be different enough that anyone who uses it to describe me sees more than just hair and makeup.

You have no idea how much something like this means to me.

Over the years I have collected an impressive collection of scars. I used to be very self-conscious of them; I'm not anymore. I'm not going to say that the above blog post was the sole cause of my recent confidence, because I read it after I had a little revelation, but it does reinforce what I've been trying to teach myself for a little while.

The biggest scars I have are my surgical scars. I have a scar on my chest that finishes about two inches from my belly button - it's actually three scars, one on top of the other, from when I was three months, five years and fourteen years old. I also have another scar across my ribs from where they had to drain blood from my operation when I was five, and a dimple over my pacemaker from a pipe that had to be pushed through my skin. Contrary to popular belief, I don't think my scars have ever been red - the most recent one is still faint purple, but the rest are bone white against my rather dark skin. Another very slight imperfection is that my pacemaker protrudes slightly, and feels very weird; it's even more pronounced now that I've lost quite a lot of weight. I just noticed it yesterday. Damn.

I have some very weird memories surrounding these scars: when I was five, I had to lie on the kitchen table with my hair draped over the edge so that Mum could wash it; I also remember sitting in a hospital bath with about half a centimetre of water and being told to stay very, very still so I wouldn't splash water onto my cut. My scar when I was fourteen also put me off having a C-section, ever - most women see it as a kind of easy option, but trust me, there's nothing quite like having your stomach muscles cut. You don't know how much you use your stomach muscles to do everything; even breathing is agony - the kind of agony that defies even the most vicious painkillers (morphine headaches are really not fun). My scars have also taught me not to be very squeamish about blood and other lovely things; everyone was very surprised when I casually peeled off the bandage by myself, without a peep.  

When I was younger I used to go out of my way to try and cover up these scars - wearing high necked tops and very modestly cut singlets under my uniform; that was before I realized that turtlenecks are even more unflattering than an inch of scar peeping out from under a more low-cut top. But now, I'm fine with it. I even showed up to school wearing a bustier - long story - and, ahem, my scar has become a very popular conversation starter amongst boys...

My medical experience as a whole has taught me that people can be very judgemental. I have - rather understandably, in my opinion - developed a severe phobia of needles, and it's very hard to explain to people that I've been through things and been to some very dark places, and trypanophobia is a rather mild side effect of that. I also don't like it when people try and trivialize my heart condition - I know it's nowhere near as bad as terminal cancer or something, but my brother is a tree in a memorial garden and I may very well have ended up as another tree next to him. I always have that in my mind.

Most guys seem to be under the impression that girls only get stretch marks during pregnancy. Not freaking true, buddy! I look like I've been attacked by an alien - at one point I had deep purple tears as a result of acquring hips overnight; now they're kind of faded. They were the scars I hated the most.

When I was younger I had horrific acne. It was big angry red itchy patches - It was huge purple God-knows-what erupting all over my face. Nothing I did could get rid of it, and I remember countless tantrums and teary rages over how unbelievably ugly I looked. I now know heaps of people with really bad acne, even worse than mine was, and it's not such a huge deal - but it is a huge deal when you're an insecure, vulnerable little girl. After being told this and that by one useless doctor after another, my current doctor finally gave me something to kill the most vicious acne, and now I only have to endure what could safely be called normal teenage breakouts. But now I have scars all over my face, and they're more than just a lingering reminder of some seriously annoying skin problems - every day they remind me of my depression, which occurred around the same time as the acne. It's not always a pleasant thing to see in the morning, but I'm not afraid of my depression. I wish I could have been stronger, but I also wish other people could have been stronger for me. My acne scars remind me that that was something I had to pull through entirely alone. 

I am like most girls when I say that there was a time when I was obsessed with image, and how I was perceived by others. I've had to deal with a makeup addiction, depression, a ridiculously low self esteem and a weight problem as a result of that. But my scars helped me pull of of that, perhaps a little younger than some other girls; my scars made me realize that I'm really okay, that I really look okay, that I'm beautiful in my own scarred way. And, as Belle said, imperfections are a blessing; because then you know that whoever says you are beautiful really thinks that you are beautiful. It really is a blessing to have that kind of assurance of sincerity.

My scars used to make me needlessly self conscious about how I looked. My scars also make me feel a little guilty, because I feel like so much time and resources have been spent on me and I have no way to repay that; I was just telling my friend that I feel a little guilty that I'm probably not the most ideal blood donor, but I've used a lot of blood in my lifetime. But my scars also make me very proud. I'm a fighter. Whenever I doubt myself, I remember that I've been through worse and came out of it okay, and I have the scars to prove it.

Beauty is fleeting. Thank fuck for that.

1 comment:

Adelaide Dupont said...

Hi Lady Solitaire!

I'd like to add that scars can bring us together.