We were at the gym, before breakfast doing fasted cardio in a bid to lose some weight, slogging it out on the treadmill that overlooked the swimming pool when I felt a familiar lurch. She was right in our line of sight; all tanned, long dark hair, body like a fitness model, petite stature, and elegantly laid out on a sun lounger.
Right in our line of sight.
I caught a glimpse of my all-natural-sans-make-up, self in the mirror. I looked like a tomato, that had been baking in the sun. Red, puffy and sweaty, with my hair piled up on my head like a pineapple. All of a sudden, I was very self conscious, all to aware of my plump and pasty physique, thundering along the treadmill.
I didn’t feel like this once over the five days I’d just spent at home. I felt good about myself when I tried on clothes – so good actually that I spent an absolute fortune, (but we won’t discuss that right now) and I even wore a crop top for my 90’s themed birthday party despite eating cake every single day of the trip.
Next to this girl, I felt like a weed beside a rose. In that moment, I cursed every day I’d chosen to eat cake; regretted every wanky Pumpkin Spice Latte I’d had since September and every chocolate I’d rammed into my mouth at work in a tired fit of boredom. In Dubai, you’re never less than a few meters away from exotic girls hailing from all over the globe, and this was no exception. The variety is endless; multilingual; tall and amazonian; teeny, tiny petite; curves in places that not even hours of work in a gym could produce; skin that’s golden or dark; eyes blue as an ocean, or dark as chocolate buttons; lips that are naturally plump and puffy; skin that turns to caramel in the sun; hair as thick a lion’s mane… and beside them, I feel despaired.
I’ve come to realise that how you feel in your skin actually has a lot in fact to do with the environmental state that you’re living in, (as well as self esteem and self confidence – something I believe to be majorly impacted by social media, dating apps and modern relationships). In Dubai, we are in a social climate where girls have higher disposable incomes enabling them to afford these procedures that wouldn’t be as readily available otherwise, and also live in a climate that requires a bikini body for the whole year round.
In our native countries and the places that we call home, we are surrounded by people who have loved us longtime, just the way we are. Looks do not come into the equation and these inane details about our freckles, skin tones, scars and waist size are insignificant. It’s a lot harder to ignore or insecurities when sat at a beach club on ladies day, surrounded by what feels like flawless females x 250.
Everyone knows that ‘comparison is the thief of joy’, yet despite this, we continue to scroll endlessly through our instagram feeds comparing ourself to every single girl who has something that we don’t. It’s easy to forget that this behaviour is not only toxic, but robbing us of joy, energy and time.
I voiced my concerns to a few of my friends, using an analogy of marmite. You see, I feel like Marmite… as though I am an acquired taste as opposed to the majority of girls around me, exotic like dark chocolate, (and who doesn’t like chocolate?) They’re classic and I’m bold, with my red flares and nose rings. People are drawn to chocolate…
“It’s all about finding your tribe Pam; your people. If someone doesn’t like you for the way you are, well, chances are, you’re not going to be compatible with them either. Those people, are not your people.” my friend replied.
Is it that I feel like there’s an underlying threat from these girls? Is it because deep down I want to be beautiful like them, but know that I’d never fit in? Or is it that they always get a lot of attention? Perhaps it is envy?
“They get the wrong kind of attention, Pam. These girls; the ones with all the work done, sure, all us guys want to take them home, and often we do – it’s a fantasy, but we don’t want to marry them. They’re not wife material – I wouldn’t want introduce a girl who looked like that to my mum.”
But it’s not just necessarily looks to be threatened by in Dubai – it’s everything else too. Girls that are fluent in several languages, Girls that have lived in lots of different countries before, screaming independence and sass. Girls that have degrees and a huge catalog of education. Girls with high flying careers. Girls that have multiple properties already by their early thirties.
I broached the subject with my friend on a walk home from the gym. She and I had spent the past hour surrounded by girls doing vertical pull ups and sumo squats, butts like a Kardashian to boot, and the guys? They had eight packs, and made lifting heavy look as easy as lifting a sheet of paper. The gym was supposed to make me feel good, but if anything, I just felt unfit and even more self conscious of the lycra that was now clinging to my skin. I know everyone has to start somewhere, but where the hell was my beach body?
“Do you ever just feel ugly?” I asked her. My friend sighed.
“Pam, we live in Dubai. There will always be hundreds of thousands of girls prettier and more successful than you and I, but we are aiming for a different target audience. You’re kind, you’re funny, and best of all, you’re down to earth. This city is filled with gold digging, narcissistic psychopaths, and for some reason, it feels like guys always go for these girls, but trust me, these girls are just as insecure as us. Probably more so, hence all the work.”
She wan’t kidding. The line about nice
guy girls always finishing last felt true. I had started to compare myself to everyone, and in doing so, I was only seeing the things that I didn’t have, which left me feeling like a failure for having not yet achieved my goals already. I knew she was right though, that these girls were insecure and needed attention to feel validated. That’s probably why they needed all of the male attention; to prove to themselves that they were the most attractive.
My flatmate offered an alternative angle on the whole thing when I asked her if she ever sometimes wished she was someone else, or at least looked like someone else. “No, because no matter how perfect someone seems to be, or how much I want to have something that they have, they have a whole bunch of other stuff that I wouldn’t like to have either…”
With this new perspective on how it would feel to be someone else, I thought of a girl at home who I once wanted to be so like, only to realise a few years later that really, she was deeply unhappy and was just as tragically unlucky in love and confused in career progression as I was. I just couldn’t see it at the time. I thought of another girl who had the seemingly perfect dream life, and how it all unravelled when she found out her husband was cheating on her since before the wedding. Or the most aspirational girl I followed on instagram, whom I discovered had had multiple surgeries to make herself look prettier, costing thousands and thousands of pounds, only for her to still be miserable and insecure. With this in mind, I wouldn’t even want to be Beyonce, with all her endless tours, shoots and not to mention, cheating ass husband, but if even Beyonce isn’t perfect, and has insecurities against other girls, then what hope is there for every other mere mortal?
Girls are not solely to blame for this either. The current climate of dating apps breed this attitude that relationships (and girls) are almost dispensable, which also majorly impacts self esteem. You have no idea, how many times I have had to console various girlfriends on countless occasions, after a guy who dated her for a few weeks, all of a sudden drops off the grid, only to pop up on social media days later with a new ‘upgraded’* version. Or the times that I’ve had to console friends who’s boyfriends are constantly liking other girls raunchy photos, telling my friends that “likes don’t mean anything”, but secretly wondering what’s really in a like, myself.
Once, someone suggested to me, that maybe I was “aiming too high”, dating guys that are “too good looking” and, that perhaps I should try dating someone who is less attractive, as these ones tend to be more “grateful”. I don’t know about you reading this right now, but when she said it to me, all I heard was that I have obviously seriously over estimated which number bracket I fall into in the looks department. If that truly is the case, then for sure, I am punching above my weight right now. Did my ‘friend’ see something in me, that I didn’t? Was I three, thinking I was a seven?
My beau reassured me after I told him about the inspiration behind my current blog post. As a good looking guy in Dubai, he has had his fair share of girls. He told me that seven years ago, he too was enraptured by these beautiful girls everywhere, but it took him a long time to realise that they are only human and by no means perfect. He said at the time, he was trying to measure up to their levels of perfection, but it was a waste of effort. No matter how beautiful, real or fake these girls were, they all had flaws (and some of them major), instead, what makes the difference, is how we see things. “You’re only seeing the superficial stuff from the outside,” he told me, “and a lot of people would be lucky to have even half of what you do, Pam.”. He was right…
The minute he said this to me, I instantly thought of a Lang Leave poem.
So what’s a girl to do? Well, for starters, we ought to stop comparing our insides to someone else outsides. The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel. While I’m over here, representing the regular girls, the one’s who aren’t toned, the ones who enjoy a bucket of popcorn at the cinema, the ones who can’t speak lots of languages, the ones with crooked noses and imperfect smiles… just because we aren’t someone’s version of perfection on the outside, doesn’t mean we aren’t pretty fucking great on the inside.
So, I’m going to leave you with a quote I heard from JK Rowling on the subject of raising her two little girls in a world obsessed with image, and while you read it, I’m off to unfollow all the Instagram accounts that make me feel rubbish about myself for being too much, not enough, and most of all, never just perfect.
It’s about what girls want to be, what they’re told they should be, and how they feel about who they are. I’ve got two daughters who will have to make their way in this skinny-obsessed world, and it worries me, because I don’t want them to be empty-headed, self-obsessed, emaciated clones; I’d rather they were independent, interesting, idealistic, kind, opinionated, original, funny ’ a thousand things, before ˜thin’. And frankly, I’d rather they didn’t give a gust of stinking chihuahua flatulence whether the woman standing next to them has fleshier knees than they do. Let my girls be Hermiones, rather than Pansy Parkinsons. Let them never be Stupid Girls.
*FYI, if you’re dating any of my friends, anyone after will definitely be a downgrade. Just sayin’.