beauty

"The coffee date with a friend that turned my self-esteem upside down."

Image: iStock.

Lately, I’ve been wondering something that I’m almost too embarrassed to think about, let alone write about: Am I the less-than-sparkly friend, appearance-wise, in my group?

It’s not like me to worry about my appearance. I’m actually very secure and confident in the way I look most of the time. But lately, a few things have happened which have rattled my confidence, and I’m not sure if I’m over-exaggerating or not.

It all started a few weeks ago when I was having a lunch with my friend Maree. There was a very attentive waiter, who kept checking to make sure that we were happy with our meals.

After we had both paid, the waiter smiled from behind the cash register and said to Maree, “I’m sorry but I have to say this, you are very beautiful.”

It’s true, and it was one of the first things that I noticed about Maree when I met her. I smiled, because I was proud of her. I mean, there are other things I admire about her, such as her tenacity and kindness – but I can appreciate the way she looks.

I waited for the waiter to compliment me, but it seemed like he’d forgotten that I was there.

“What’s your background?” he asked Maree, his eyes fixed on her.

“Uh, I don’t know…” she replied looking embarrassed.

Marnie (Allison Williams) from "Girls" is always told she's beautiful.

“But your hair, it’s so black and shiny,” he enthused.

Maree started to look uncomfortable and I kept waiting for questions about my heritage, but they never came.

As the conversation between Maree and the waiter progressed, I tried to keep a smile on my face, I really did, but inside there was a horrible feeling that was bubbling.

“You don’t need to worry about me,” the waiter told Maree. “I’m a married man. But I just wanted to let you know that you’re extremely beautiful.”

Sure, his comments were a bit creepy, but either way I was jealous of the attention and adulation that Maree received from him. Suddenly, I felt like a bore. Suddenly she seemed more interesting, more desirable and more valuable.

Both Maree and I left the café with smiles on our faces, but hers was the only genuine grin. I couldn't stop thinking about what the waiter had said about her looks.

Yes, I knew how incredibly pathetic my feelings were - how could I think in such a shallow way? How could I tie up so much of my worth in my looks and over one small comment?

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I kept up the pretence of being cheerful, but as soon as we had said our goodbyes, I got into the car and called my husband. I felt like crying.

“Chris?” I asked him. “Do you think that Maree is prettier than me?”

Of course, Chris assured me that I was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen and that I was better looking than Maree.

When someone loves you, they're supposed to think you're perfect...just like in "Love Actually".

It felt good to talk about it, but sadly, his words didn’t help. As my husband, he said exactly what I’d expected him to say. It's his duty to tell me that that I’m beautiful. In fact, it was the compliment of a stranger that I truly craved.

I felt insecure and unhappy for several hours after. I couldn’t remember the last time a stranger had singled me out as beautiful. I felt hugely envious of Maree.

My feelings then turned to shame - why was I wasting my energy on this? As a grown woman of almost 40, surely I should be able to rely on myself for self-esteem these days? It was ridiculous.

I thought back to my awkward teenage years. My best friend was a girl named Peggy, who I met in high school. The first thing I noticed about her was that she loved chess as much as I did. But the thing that everyone else noticed about her was that she was beautiful.

“I wish I was pretty… like Peggy,” was the common refrain of our year group.

Ja'mie (Chris Lilley) from "Summer Heights High" struggled with being hot in high school.

She lived the cliché of having model agents approach her at the shops, to ask if she’d “ever thought about modelling”. Once we were 18, she’d always get free drinks at the bar.

But I never cared that she might be "prettier" than me because I was confident in myself and I valued Peggy for the person she was, not for her looks. Where had that girl gone? (Post continues after gallery.)

It has been embarrassing to realise that I care so much about my looks.

I don’t know what the solution is. Perhaps I need to be aware of handing out compliments to people that aren't centred on their looks.

Perhaps I need to accept myself - the good and the bad - fully and find things that make me happy so I'm not so reliant on validation of my features. Either way, my reaction to my coffee date scared me.

Am I overreacting?

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