I was very, very hot.
Now I’m 61. I’m not hot. I’ve had two babies. I’ve been sleep deprived most of my life. My hair is a mess (possible Asperger’s symptom). I have never been married, legally. Funny, because I used to wonder how all those girls around me were ever going to find husbands, looking like that.
In high school, someone started a rumor I was on the cover of Seventeen. The freshman girls began to follow me around, giggling. They were so excited. This went on for months. I could see them admiring me from across the cafeteria, or down the hall. They’d stop, to worship. At last, one nervously came up to ask me about it. I told her: I was a model, but not in Seventeen.
If my parents had had their acts together, I could have been. But they were dysfunctional people.
I was raised with the understanding that I was important because I was beautiful. It was not just the most important thing. It was the only important thing.
Being shy, I was never comfortable with “hot”. Back then, I assumed it was normal to walk into a restaurant and everyone would stop eating. I took it for granted this happens all the time.
Then it stopped.
At the same time, I was competitive — I needed to be the most beautiful woman in the room. I wanted to crawl into a closet and escape if a more beautiful woman entered the same space. I felt deprived. I felt unappreciated. I felt worthless. I was nothing.
All based on my looks.
Men I did not know told me they were in love with me. Once, when I was 18, during my short modeling career, I received fan mail from 1000 miles away — including a pro football player requesting for a date — asking for “pinups” and a letter. It was unnerving. I do not miss those weird communications.
Some men could not help themselves; they wrote me poems. Their words were often beautiful. But they didn’t know me at all.
Any conversation with the opposite sex took place on eggshells. I prayed the chat would NOT end with a request for a date…. or an embrace. I’d try to be nice. But I knew it was coming. In my head, at every smile, I’d plead: Please don’t hate me when I turn you down. I avoided the question. I kindly rejected them. I never, ever got good at that.
So they hated me. They’d be angry, they’d resent me, they’d be embarrassed, they’d need to prove that I was not good enough for them… They turned rude and awful.
Needless to say, my looks and my desperate need not to upset men led to many a sexual harassment at work situation, which back then was not illegal.
I was fired from a magazine by a man I would not date. I didn’t flat out refuse. Trying to be diplomatic, I simply replied that we should “all” go out to lunch together. He saw right through this. I don’t miss that part of being hot one bit. He went ballistic. Like I said, today, it would be illegal.
I moved to Park Slope in the mid-80s. On a hot summer day I put on a pair of shorts and walked down the street. To my right, a pickup truck went flying past me. Then came the screech of breaks, the zoom of an engine racing backwards, and it stopped. I didn’t look. But I could hear them. One yelled:
“OH! MY! GOD!”
When the staring stopped, it was a relief in many ways.
I no longer had to give a damn about what I wore. No one is scrutinizing me for imperfection. When a beautiful woman has a pimple, no one stops discussing it.
I AM imperfection. I don’t have to prove to anyone anymore that I am more gorgeous than you.
I stopped wearing makeup — what is the point at 61? I still look much younger than my age, but I haven’t looked 30 since I was 45.
It was easy to get younger men to work with me when I was “hot”. It is now impossible. I am great at what I do but getting a 20-something guy to work with me as a team is threatening — and frankly it creeps me out too, to call someone a “colleague” when I’m old enough to be their mother. These young men are embarrassed to be seen talking to me now. Needless to say, I eat lunch alone. I am lonely. Funny, that.
I remember sitting next to an otherwise lovable guy named Mark at a bar in Elaine’s in Manhattan ca. 1986. At one point Mark asked me what I did for a living. At the time I was a freelance writer.
“Yeah?” he said, stifling a guffaw. “Whadya write? Romance novels?”
When I was hot, I could get out of anything.
I sailed through a red light once and at the top of the hill, a policeman was waiting for me. In my most adorably angry way, I got out of the car, put my hands on my hips, glared at him, and squeaked: You’re just picking on me because I have an old car!”
He pointed out I’d just gone through a completely red light. I pointed out right back: “Well, if I had known you were here I would have stopped!”
Admission of guilt.
No license. No registration. No insurance. These were all home on my kitchen table.
A crowd began to form. The beautiful girl yelling at the cop. He reeled at them: Whadyou lookin’ at! Geddouda here! Go!
In the back seat of the car was a New York Times, and a story with my byline. This was what I used for identification — a newspaper with a byline.
I was telling the truth. But how the hell would he know?
He tried not to smile. But he couldn’t help it. Finally he laughed, said some warm and friendly things to me as he drove off.
I would never get away with that today.
I told that story to coworkers once and was met with blank stares — disbelief.
It upsets me when people look at beautiful women and remark how stupid they are. It’s a running joke.
Beauty = idiocy in this country.
I am smart, educated, refined, socially terribly awkward — and not an idiot. I am not hot and people respect me.
I did not get that when I was gorgeous.
I desperately wanted to be taken seriously. It was hopeless. No one could look like that and be heard except on paper.
So I write.
One time I arrived for a midtown New York press conference. I was sent to the “43rd floor”, a modeling agency. I was late for the p.c.
Of course I miss those days sometimes.
Days when men would hold the elevator for me and compete to pick up something I had just dropped.
When they would stare at me as we passed on the escalator and remark to a friend next to them, “Gooooood MORNing!“
When a boss would have me go to a conference room to ask a wealthy client if he would like to order dinner, knowing the guy was not hungry, just to show me off?
When a female coworker would suddenly hate me because her would-be paramour said something flattering about the way I looked, compared to her?
Yah. I do. I am invisible.
I don’t have many good photos of myself. I really can’t prove this at all. Worse, my current boyfriend who still has no idea what I used to look like tells me: “All women tell me they used to be beautiful“.
So witnesses are all that’s left. Hard to believe I used to walk down the street and people would want my autograph or that modeling agents would want to sign me or that two male coworkers would request desks facing mine “for the beautiful view”.
Today, unlike others, I feel close to beautiful women.
I have no resentment; I have no jealousy; I totally relate to them A-Z. And I see what they go through, their struggle to navigate encounters with aggressive men in hot pursuit, the vicious rumors started by other women, the assumptions they are sluts if they are friendly, the belief they are morons.
The security department in the building where I work apparently had a picture of me posted on the wall, taken by a security camera. I heard from a man I work with: “Do you know they’ve got a picture of you in the security office hanging on the wall down there?” It had been there for years, apparently. When I asked to see it, someone told me it had “just” been taken down. Trust me, it’s a very old picture. I would have liked a copy, but no one’s talking.
I tell my daughter, Be grateful you’re not beautiful. Instead, be pretty. You don’t know what you’re not missing.
There was a downside. There was an upside. I think I was lucky to have lived both.