This is what a work acquaintance said to me recently, upon hearing that I would be turning 30 next month. My knee-jerk response was to be thrilled.
‘Thank you!’ I replied.
It was only later that I wondered why this had been. I am quite happy about turning 30. I probably look my age (quite possibly much older on some days – I smoke when I’m really drunk and frequently leave oily black tyre-tracks on the pillow after falling asleep in my make-up) and I am perfectly happy with that. I wouldn’t go back to being an 18-year-old again if you paid me, and I have no desire to look like one.
Yet the (23-year-old) woman I was talking to meant this throwaway little remark as a compliment and I was somehow inclined to take it as such.
Similarly, a little while ago, a friend I hadn’t seen for a while exclaimed that I looked like I’d lost weight. I continued to feel a wave of delight crash over me, even when she immediately followed this up with ‘scarily so, actually – you look awful, are you OK?’. I hated myself a tiny bit when I registered that the rejoinder only made me feel even more perversely pleased with myself.
Why? I have no desire to be ‘scarily’ thin, much less to look ‘awful’. I aspire to being healthy and strong – not to taking up as little space as possible. I do not think that this is a virtue (and, incidentally, the friend involved emphatically does not either) – so why was my initial response one of flattered glee?
I think we all know the many myriad reasons why. Brainwashing, insecurity, this minefield of a modern age, etcetera ad infinitum.
The important thing is: no more. From now on, I will think about my response and speak accordingly. I will not perpetuate this weird little circle. If these comments are made in my direction again, my answers will probably be: A) ‘That’s funny, I feel exactly like I’m about to turn 30 – which, by the way, is fine’; B) ‘I have probably lost a tiny bit, but mostly am just wearing black and not sleeping’.
Another tiny word on the subject. I have also noticed that I often start letters/e-mails/etc to friends with terms such as ‘hi, beauty!’, ‘hello, beautiful lady’, ‘aloha, gorgeous one’, and so on. This is probably also silly and/or wrong – I am going to start saying things like ‘good evening, genius’ and ‘howdy, kindly friend who is good to turn to in a crisis’. You know, emphasise the un-physical a bit more. Why is it considered flattering to praise the one sphere over which most of us have barely any control? I’d rather be complimented on the size of my brain than the size of my bones or the genes I have accidentally inherited.
There we go, saving the world one mindless and pointless cliché at a time...