Ask Glenna: I Fear I Might Be “Ugly” And It’s Causing Me Pain
We’ve been getting some great questions. Keep ’em coming. This is the third installment.
Love your advice column. I am writing to in the hopes you will help me find a new way to think about my looks and how important it should be to me. I am 48 years old now and still sensitive to the fact that me, and the rest of the world (apparently) doesn’t seem to think I am attractive.
I’ve had various therapies in the past such as counseling and hypnosis to try and help me ‘not care’ about it. That’s all I basically want. I understand nobody is universally attractive and the logical part of my brain tells me that it means nothing if the majority of men I meet do not give me signals that they like me, but almost every encounter with someone of the opposite sex leaves me questioning myself as to why they didn’t flirt with me. It’s not about men. It’s about me.
The weird thing is, I don’t actually walk through this world feeling unattractive and self-conscious. I know that the only one judging my appearance is me, and I usually avoid mirrors because I feel happy and confident until I look in one. I have often visited nightclubs and restaurants on my own, and gone into places where I know I could be judged on my appearance, and it never used to bother me. But things have changed in the last ten years or so and it is harder for me to socialise because I now have genuine anxiety that someone is going to say or do something that will crush my confidence.
I’ve had a couple of very mean things said to me by drunk men, and I’ve been mistaken for a man more than once, partly because I am very tall, and I guess partly because I am not very feminine. Those things damaged my already fragile ego but I try and balance out any negative self talk about that by reminding myself of the times in the past that men have been instantly attracted to me.
I am also separated from my husband who ignored me sexually and romantically for the last ten years of our relationship. I would blame my obsession on him except that I’ve been dealing with insecurities about my looks since I was a teenager. On one occasion, when I complained about the lack of sex in our relationship, he looked me up and down and asked me who would want to sleep with me. My reaction to that was to feel hurt but, within about a month of that happening, I went out and had casual sex with a man I met in a club, partly to prove to myself that there were men who wanted to sleep with me, and partly in defiance of my husband’s attempt to cripple me with insecurity.
During my twenties and thirties when I socialised a lot, I had lots of male attention but, as flattering as that was, I put it down to men looking for casual encounters. Let’s be honest, those kinds of men don’t particularly care what their conquests look like so it did little to bolster my confidence and, in fact, made me worry that they only approached me because they subscribed to the notion that ugly girls are easy because they are desperate.
I spoke to a street seller the other day and, as I walked away, I heard him look down at his dog and say “what a gorgeous looking lady”. At first, I was flattered but, as I obsessed about it for the rest of the day, I eventually decided that he’d only said it in the hopes that I would buy something! You don’t have to tell me how crazy it is that I can’t take a compliment at face value. I know!!
I am not one of those who can’t leave the house without make up and I only wear it when I am socialising. I don’t particularly care what people think of how I look, because I know it won’t change what I think of myself. I think the main reason I don’t make more effort is because I don’t look the way I want to when I get dressed up and put make up on, so why bother? I do feel blessed in some ways. I am kind and intelligent with a good sense of humour. I am a little over weight but I have a strong body and a well balanced physique, good skin, nice eyes and an attractive smile. But I also think, deep down, that the things that are ‘wrong’ with me are so wrong, that they cancel out the positives.
I am comfortable with the idea that I might just be one of those people you would call ‘plain’ or ‘homely’, but my fear is that I might actually be ‘ugly’, and that is what is causing me pain. How do I get to a place where I let go of what I can’t control and start being kinder to myself?
First of all, you are not ugly. I know this because it is not possible for anyone to be ugly to everyone, except for those who exemplify horrific, truly evil behavior. The aesthetics of looks, alone, are purely subjective. As I am sure you already understand this on an intellectual level, I am guessing it does not help relieve the immense pain that your worry has been causing you.
It seems like convincing yourself not to care about looks results in you not having a reason to put effort into looking your best, going out, and meeting new people. Not putting effort into looking your best, going out, and meeting new people results in isolation and a lack of male attention, which results in negative self-talk, which you attempt to overcome by convincing yourself that looks don’t matter…and repeat. However, when you do make an effort to look your best, go out, meet new people, you are still dissatisfied, because you already decided that you should be. Men may very well be flirting with you and you may even take one home, but, since you have convinced yourself that they are all on some sort of blind flirting rampage or are just out to sell you products, you completely discount any and all signs of genuine interest. If you find that most of the men you meet don’t flirt with you at all, consider that:
A) You probably don’t flirt with them. The purpose of flirting is not to compliment someone, it is to express interest in pursuing a relationship. If someone is unavailable or are under the impression that you are not interested, there is no reason to flirt.
B) Flirting is really hard to do. Subtle attempts to get someone’s attention are often too subtle to notice. Flirting takes courage and there are billions of great people who just do not have enough confidence to make a move. Seeing as how you are a part of this vast majority, I am sure you can empathize with shyness.
C) Flirting is weird. Most of the time it is inappropriate. It would be scary if every male you encountered were to start drooling.
For the above reasons, flirting is an unreliable way to measure your attractiveness.
Teresa, I just do not think that you can free yourself from the loop you are stuck in by trying to justify or reason your way out of it. This is more than just insecurity. You suffered the neglect and emotional abuse of a very broken individual for a whole decade. It seems as though your ex-husband’s incredibly cruel words have become a part of your inner monologue.
Please understand that what you went through was absolutely trauma. This could be the root cause of your negative thinking, and healing from that experience could give you back your sense of self-worth. Finding a good therapist who specializes in emotional abuse recovery and joining a support group for survivors like you are good first steps. You may have to shop around to find resources that work best for you, but you are not alone, and the help you need is definitely out there. I promise.
To have your question featured in “Ask Glenna”, write us at: yourenotprettyenough [at] gmail [dot] com. All questions remain anonymous.
Have anything to add? Leave it in the comments below!
Follow Glenna on Twitter.