It’s been more than 1½ years since British author Belle de Jour posted an unforgettable blog entry about facial scarring, and the resulting positive impact it has had on her life.
In the meantime, has society eased its harsh condemnation at all of anything that falls outside its narrow definition of female beauty? No, if anything it’s gotten much, much worse.
I was reminded of the issue last week when Dr. Brooke Magnanti, the real woman who has written the international bestsellers using her famous erotic pen name, posted the following June 25 on Twitter:
“Open letter to genre novelists: How about just once, the person with facial scars turns out *not* to be a bad guy? Love, Me”
Last year, Brooke wrote that she was grateful for the "gift" of her scars, that they saved her from being just another boring blonde! Her wonderful attitude underscores her astounding inner strength and fortitude.
I do not have facial scarring, but I was an overweight kid and teen, and was teased mercilessly by other teens, and even strangers who taunted me and, more than once shouted insults at me as I walked down the street.
I, too, keenly remember what it felt like to be judged by my superficial appearance and not my actual self. But unlike Brooke, I am not grateful for those experiences. They did affect my self-esteem, which had already been hammered by suffering sexual molestation for years at my elementary school by the elderly male janitor, and my mother’s worsening alcoholism.
With bullying in the headlines almost daily, and a concentrated attempt to teach teens to accept gays and lesbians they encounter — or to accept themselves if they are gay or lesbian — it seems the perfect time to reassess the pressure we put on kids to physically conform.
Both girls and boys are bombarded with overt and covert messages that their bodies should look so-called “perfect.” They know that anything that deviates on any portion of their anatomies is to be loathed, or at least that they should feel ashamed if they cannot conform, or at least come close to the norm.
Well folks, it’s past time that we mature as a culture here and in the U.K., and start looking beyond the mere physical. We need to start sending the message that scarred people are heroes, and fat girls can be legitimate romantic leads, not merely comedic foils.
Ironically, I grew up to have Lupus, which is taking away my ability to walk. I manage with two canes, and again have drawn the attention and cruelty of strangers and teens who frequently taunt me, even though I'm 55!
Hey Brooke! I am now secure enough to be able to say, FUCK THEM! I am still blown away that Brooke was secure enough as a person to be able to say that when she was a teen. She is one amazing woman.
Brooke wrote about her experiences via a post on her old blog. Since then, she has launched a brilliant new blog, Sexonomics, and has also promised we fans a new book.
In 2009, Brooke revealed her identity after a newspaper was about to disclose it without her permission. Brooke, formerly of Bristol, England who now lives in Scotland with her husband, was a noted scientist whose specialist areas were developmental neurotoxicology and cancer epidemiology. She has a PhD in informatics, epidemiology and forensic science and had worked at the Bristol Initiative for Research of Child Health as part of a team that researched the potential effects on babies of their mothers' exposure to toxic chemicals.
But, from 2003 to late 2004, Brooke worked as a high-class call girl for a London escort service. Her original blog was award-winning, and she penned the bestselling books based on her experiences as a sex worker. Her writing also formed the basis of the TV series Secret Diary of a Call Girl, starring Billie Piper in the title role of "Belle," which is now available on DVD.
I have been a fan, and honored to be a stalwart friend of Brooke’s for many years. Her’s is an important voice that should be heard. As usual, I do not have the writing skills to adequately describe her post from last year, so I am reprinting Brooke’s blog entry here in full:
“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.
POSTED BY BELLE AT 7:29 PM”
Oh, and as for Brooke today — she remains a beautiful woman, inside AND out!
If you have any interest in thoughtful discussions about sex-related and scientific topics, I urge you to follow Brooke's blog. You can also follow her on Twitter.
She is a unique woman, and an equally unique writer whose work continues to dazzle.
Brooke's books include: Belle de Jour’s Guide to Men, 2009; Belle’s Best Bits, 2009; The Intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl, September 2005; The Further Adventures of a London Call Girl, May 2007; and Playing the Game, June 2009.
You can find all of her books at the U.K.’s largest independent bookseller, Waterstones.
Also check out Brooke's op-ed articles on a variety of topics including reforming libel law in the UK, as well as the importance of ensuring the rights of sex workers.
— The Curator