My daugh­ter’s so much pret­tier than I was at her age. So why don’t I feel jeal­ous?

Daily Mail - - Life - by Tess Stim­son

LAST week my 13-year-old daugh­ter, Lily, came home with her school photo. She threw it down on the kitchen ta­ble with a scowl: ‘It’s ter­ri­ble. I hate it.’ I felt a twinge of ir­ri­ta­tion. I re­mem­ber only too well what it was like to be in that aw­ful chrysalis stage be­tween child and woman, all gawky limbs and buck teeth.

But Lily is stun­ning, with pil­lowy lips, peaches-and- cream skin and star­tling blue eyes. Yes, she has braces — her ‘metal smile’, as she puts it — but she has been lucky enough to in­herit her fa­ther’s gor­geous looks, not my plain fea­tures.

I picked up the pic­ture and just stared in amaze­ment for a few mo­ments: I could barely be­lieve the beau­ti­ful, con­fi­dent girl smil­ing back was my daugh­ter.

‘Are you kid­ding me?’ I said crossly. ‘You should see my school pic­ture at this age!’

I looked truly hideous in my early teens — splayed teeth, goldrimmed John Len­non glasses and lank, hip­pie tresses. ‘At least your hair’s a nice colour,’ my mother used to of­fer fee­bly, as she searched des­per­ately for some­thing suit­ably en­cour­ag­ing to say.

I’ve al­ways known I’d never make my for­tune from my looks. My younger sis­ter was the pretty one; I was the clever one. But I can’t pre­tend it didn’t colour my life, even mak­ing me fear­ful of hav­ing a daugh­ter of my own.

I was in­wardly ter­ri­fied I’d be jeal­ous of her, watch­ing her bloom into wo­man­hood just as I lost the last of my lim­ited at­trac­tive­ness. The cruel irony be­ing that just as a child be­gins to blos­som, her mother’s lus­tre wanes.

But the re­al­ity, I find, is quite the con­trary. In­stead of feel­ing en­vi­ous, I wal­low in the re­flected glory of my daugh­ter’s beauty. I feel a vi­car­i­ous thrill of plea­sure when­ever some­one com­ments on her pret­ti­ness.

It’s as if, through Lily, I am fi­nally the at­trac­tive girl I al­ways wanted to be. I take ev­ery com­pli­ment per­son­ally, glow­ing with pride.

At the same time, dis­tant alarm bells ring as I worry what the fu­ture holds for a girl who is praised for her ap­pear­ance from birth. Will it skew her pri­or­i­ties in life?

AF­TER all, only now am I re­al­is­ing that the sil­ver lin­ing to be­ing plain is I’m far less both­ered about age­ing, hav­ing found other ways to boost my self­es­teem long ago. Lily is re­ally smart, but will to­day’s selfie- ob­sessed so­ci­ety, plus a child­hood pep­pered with com­pli­ments, teach her that looks mat­ter above all else?

When I was her age, in ad­di­tion to hav­ing a face only a mother could love — and she did, I never doubted that — I was al­ready 5ft 10in in my bare size nine feet.

Tow­er­ing over my class­mates, forced to be the boy dur­ing ball­room classes at my all-girl con­vent school (I still strug­gle not to lead when asked to dance), I felt like Cin­derella’s ugly sis­ter.

My mother promised valiantly that I’d ‘grow into’ my big nose, and that ‘hand­some’ women kept their looks longer than pretty ones.

She’d tell me I was beau­ti­ful on the in­side, and I’d fire back: ‘Who wants pretty kid­neys?’

Shy and in­se­cure, I buried my huge nose in a book so I could pre­tend not to no­tice that boys never gave me a sec­ond glance. I didn’t bother with make- up be­cause — as harsh as it sounds — who puts lip­stick on a pig? I didn’t cry my­self to sleep at night over the way I looked, but I did sadly won­der what it would feel like to be beau­ti­ful, just for a day.

As I grew older, I be­gan to re­alise that sex ap­peal and at­trac­tive­ness have lit­tle to do with looks and ev­ery­thing to do with at­ti­tude.

Anne Bo­leyn re­put­edly had six fin­gers, a sal­low com­plex­ion and un­sightly moles, yet se­duced Henry VIII and turned Tu­dor eng­land up­side down. (Ad­mit­tedly, she did lose her head in the process.)

I dis­cov­ered that laugh­ter and sex­ual con­fi­dence went a long way to­wards mak­ing up for av­er­age looks, and that by spend­ing money on a good hair­cut, learn­ing some wily make-up tricks and dress­ing well, I could make the most of what I had.

That’s not to say there weren’t wob­bles of self- con­fi­dence along the way. Take when my pretty younger sis­ter mar­ried aged just 20; I se­cretly won­dered if any man would ever want to make a plain Jane like me his bride.

FOOL­ISHLY, I mar­ried the first man who asked me, con­vinced I wouldn’t get another chance — and such was my frag­ile self­es­teem, I wasn’t re­ally sur­prised when he soon left me for another woman and I had to raise our two young sons alone.

But light­ning did strike twice and I re­mar­ried two years later, this time to a won­der­ful man way out of my league in the looks de­part­ment. Tall, blond and blue- eyed, he re­sem­bles a Norse god.

friends call him ‘The Viking’ and tease that I used witch­craft to snare him. But he tells me I’m beau­ti­ful on a daily ba­sis and I know, to him, I am.

When I learned I was preg­nant again in 2002, I hoped it would be another boy. Apart from ev­ery­thing else, I didn’t want a daugh­ter who looked like me — I’d sur­vived the death by a thou­sand cuts that is be­ing plain. Be­ing beau­ti­ful opens doors, no mat­ter how much we pre­tend looks don’t mat­ter.

The homely girl doesn’t get in­vited to the best par­ties or picked as a Bond girl. If there are two can­di­dates for a job with equal qual­i­fi­ca­tions, nine times out of ten the pret­tier girl wins out.

All my life I’d swal­lowed the hurt of re­jec­tion and learnt to make up for my lack in the looks de­part­ment by be­ing smarter and wit­tier than any other girl in the room.

But it had been a painful learn­ing curve, and one I didn’t want any child of mine to have to fol­low. So when I found out I was ex­pect­ing a daugh­ter, I prayed she would in­herit my hus­band’s genes.

I soon dis­cov­ered my prayers had been an­swered. of course Lily seemed beau­ti­ful to me, her mother, but it quickly be­came ap­par­ent that ev­ery­one else thought she was, too. As a baby she was del­i­cate and dainty, with a halo of blonde curls. And the com­pli­ments just kept com­ing as she grew up, prais­ing her fe­line blue eyes, porce­lain skin and megawatt movie-star smile.

‘She looks like Ju­lia roberts,’ her or­tho­don­tist told us, as he fit­ted the braces on her teeth a year ago. ‘Wait till these come off. She’ll be a knock­out.’

My hus­band jokes darkly that he’s putting her name down at a ro­ma­nian con­vent, and that any man who wants to date her will have to get past him and his shot­gun first.

Mean­while, I must ad­mit shop­ping with her has be­come my favourite hobby. ev­ery­thing she puts on looks stun­ning. She never has to dress to hide her flaws be­cause she doesn’t have any.

Not that she’s ob­sessed with clothes: I have to coax her to dress up at all. She’s happy in jeans and a com­fort­able T- shirt. And as for the at­ten­tion, she shrugs it off. It’s as if be­ing so flaw­less has given her the free­dom not to ob­sess about her looks like so many fe­males.

It’s me who wants to talk about it all the time, to tell her ev­ery day how amaz­ingly gor­geous she is. But I try to re­strain my­self and am care­ful to praise her for what she does, rather than how she looks.

Lily has her head screwed on pretty straight. She had Type 1 di­a­betes di­ag­nosed when she was six, and cares far more about mak­ing sure her ill­ness doesn’t stop her do­ing all the things she wants to do.

She is far more con­cerned that she is able to at­tain her am­bi­tion of be­com­ing a sur­geon — which might re­quire her to op­er­ate for ten hours straight with­out eating — than whether she has the per­fect ‘thigh gap’.

When I showed her my old school photo, she said: ‘You weren’t ugly, you were just a cater­pil­lar wait­ing to be­come a but­ter­fly. And any­way, I’d much rather be ugly than di­a­betic. No one ever died from be­ing plain.’

Chas­tened, I re­alised two things. first, Lily is not just more at­trac­tive than I was at her age; she’s smarter, too. She re­ally is as beau­ti­ful on the in­side as she is on the out­side. Pretty kid­neys and all.

TESS AGED 13

LILY AGED 13

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