I have three reactions when someone says I’m attractive

frttyldldAre you hot? Handsome? Symmetrical? Sexy? Who knows?

Other people know. They’ll tell you. They’ll look at you and their eyes will show what they’re feeling. They’ll text you, they’ll wolf-whistle you, they’ll whisper it in your ear.

For some people, this is how they find out whether they’re attractive: by waiting for others to make the judgement. And even then, they may not believe what they’re told.

But some of us decide ourselves whether we’re good-looking. We just decide one day: you know what, I’m alright. I’m at least 82% of the way I’d like to be, and that’s enough. If that guy doesn’t find me attractive, it’s his loss; someone else will. This is how I feel, aged 31, having spread out most of my teenage puppy fat and having resigned myself to the fact that unless I do crunches I’m not going to have a totally flat stomach with pecs (I choose books over crunches).

Still… how do I feel when someone says I’m attractive? My friend asked me that recently, and I came up with three answers. Here they are. I said it first depends on the person doing the flattering, and the circumstances.

  1. If it’s a guy who I find attractive, I’ll feel pleased with him saying I’m fit. It’s not that it will make me feel better (I’m already happy with my 82%, remember). But what it does make me feel is promise. We both find each other attractive, so there’s the chance, probably slim, that we might be able to snog. Or maybe more. So I have a simple reaction to a fit guy calling me fit: “Let’s hang out?”
  2. If it’s a guy who I don’t find attractive, I’ll feel no different about myself (still 82% loving it!), but I will feel pleased for him. It’s lovely that I’m the source of his pleasure, even if it’s just a simple, unreciprocated visual pleasure that he gets from looking at me. I love looking at people who I find beautiful. You know the feeling: you can’t take your eyes off them, but you’re in KFC and it’s weird to stare too long at anything other than the menu board. So my reaction to this kind of compliment is: “Close, mate, but not close enough.”
  3. This is the most common way that a person says I’m attractive. It’s when a person compliments you on your look. It’s a colleague who says, “Oooh, you got a hair cut, that’s nice.” Or your sister who says “I like you in that shirt”. Or your gay friend who says “I do think you’re hot, I don’t wanna shag you, because it’s you, but other guys will. Love you!” These sorts of compliments always take me by surprise because they’re always so incidental to everything else that’s going on. They sorta don’t really mean anything. Unlike Type 1 (above), Type 3 is completely useless to me. I mean, it’s nice—but I don’t really receive as anything. I’m already at 82%! I’m good. I’m sorted. I’ll find someone to do Type 1 with.

What do you think? Are there any more ways?

Why is the man in my office who wears shorts mocked for it?

11653362_978250142193349_1852221431_nI’d noticed the shorts. Of course I’d noticed the shorts. We were all in a big meeting, and there they were, failing to cover my colleague’s pale white legs, making his sandals even more obvious. Every other man around him wore trousers. They kept their legs to themselves. Even though it was one of the hottest days of the year, and we were all sweltering. I was doubly surprised: firstly, a colleague was wearing seconds, and secondly, it was Ted, who had always seemed to me to be quite traditional.

“Did you see Ted’s summer attire?” our colleague David scoffed, when he and I were alone in the lift. I knew that he wasn’t really gunning for Ted; it was just light mockery. It’s a form of friendly fire that people dismiss as “banter”.

“Oh, erm…? Oh, the shorts and sandals,” I said, playing dumb initially, to indicate that I hadn’t really thought about Ted’s clothing.

Then I paused. I thought for a split second, and then decided to plunge in and say something. “It’s so hot,” I said. “You’ve gotta do something.”

If I’d had more time to think about my reply, or to write it and redraft it, I’d have said something better. Something like: “On a day like today, Ted’s the smartest man in the room.” Or: “He’s an example to us all: sensible, practical, and unconcerned about gossip in the lift.” Or even: “Yeah, what’s your problem, David?”

In any case, David seemed to be quieted by my response. He must have detected that I didn’t want to engage in the banter. You might say that I won, but I don’t feel like I did. I was still wearing trousers, and I knew then that I would still wear them the next day too.

When I started working with the colleagues I have now, I noticed that the men were fairly uniform in what they wear. They were not as uniform as everyone wearing a grey or navy suit—effectively an actual uniform. But most of them wear a casual shirt and comfortable trousers, such as jeans or chinos. The colours and patterns are subtle. There are no Hawaiian carnivals or African prints.

I was very conscious of this when I started, and although I hate the idea of having to fit in, I made decisions that I wouldn’t have made in my old job. I decided against wearing certain T-shirts or, if I did wear them, I’d made sure it was on a day when I’d keep my plain jumper on over the top. More recently, nearly a year into my job I’m feeling more comfortable at work, and I believe people are aware of what I’m able to do—so I’ve been relaxing my own dress code. What does that mean? It means I’ll now wear a T-shirt without a jumper or shirt over the top. It means I’ll leave my shoes under my desk and walk around in socks.

Of course, the kind of lift-located mockery Ted is enduring is nothing compared to the harassment that women have endured for centuries. And the annoyance I feel when I scan my wardrobe and decide what to wear, and what it means, is tiny compared to what women have to go through. But still, it’s real.

I’m still not as brave as Ted. I wear shorts all the time in the summer outside of work. But the combination of shorts and the trainers or sandals I’d wear them with might be all too much for people like David. I can’t be arsed with that kind of crap.

Ted’s my hero. Maybe one day I’ll be like him.

How’s your love life? (Ahem, I mean your sex life)

It’s lovely when a person asks how you’re feeling. They’re interested. They’re checking up on you. They’re ready to help if you need it. But there’s one question I find hard to hear: “How’s your love life?”

I usually fudge an answer. I’m polite about it. Rarely am I honest when I reply. But this is a blog, and I can be honest here. So here’s my uncensored response to that question:

Continue reading

Boy Stroke Girl: a play without a heart or a brain

boy stroke girl playThere are no two ways about it. Ian Dixon Peter’s Boy Stroke Girl is a terrible play.

The story follows a hip young guy called Peter who starts to fall in love with someone called Blue without knowing Blue’s sex or gender. I should have known this was going to be awful. The premise is bad enough: gimmicky at best, and requiring mockery at worst. (The writer chose the second option.)

There are three main problems with this play, so I’m just going to focus on those.

Continue reading

Does the Boris Johnson and Donald Trump mural rely on our distaste of men kissing?

Screen Shot 2016-05-25 at 07.49.22If you haven’t seen this photo yet, here you go. It depicts a mural that appeared in Bristol this weekend, in which the stomping anti-Brussels brigadier Boris Johnson snogs America’s orange-faced Donald Trump. The presidential wannabe grabs Boris at the back of the head in one of those passionate he-really-wants-me moments.

The point of the mural is to deter voters from opting to follow Boris out of the EU in our referendum on June 23rd. The mural says: you probably think Trump is a bit of a fart, so if you do, don’t give your support to Boris and the Vote Leave campaign because it will only strengthen the connection between these two. This connection is embodied in that lip-sucking snog we see so beautifully brought to life in luscious pinks and oranges.

Continue reading

A letter to Kevin because he’s worried about his body

This post was first published on May I Love My Body.

Dear little Kevin,

Take a breath. It’s OK. You’re OK. It’s just puppy fat.

I know you’re confused and disappointed. What you see when you look down isn’t what you’d choose. You’d choose what the other boys have. Flat stomachs and torsos. You might not want pecs or a six pack, but you definitely don’t want flabby boy-breasts. You don’t want a round belly. You’d be happier if your stomach was smooth all the way down, like you’ve seen on the other boys when you all change for your swimming lesson. What James Halton from the other class has is perfect. You wonder why you can’t have the same.

Continue reading