London - Grabbing a coat as I dash out of the door to collect my 11-year-old daughter from school, I catch sight of myself in the hall mirror. It’s never a joy to behold.
Inevitably, the remnants of mascara hastily applied in the morning have all but gone, my cheeks are flushed and there’s the double chin I know will disappear only with surgery.
And, as I look down, I realise I haven’t bothered to change out of the Lidl fleece and supermarket jeans I flung on when I walked the dog in the morning.
At the playground gates, I stand like a thorn between the roses. I know I’ll never win any awards for my looks - except perhaps for Most Frumpy Mommy.
While I wouldn’t belittle myself so much as to say I’m the definition of ugly - although the mirror on a Sunday morning might disagree - I’m definitely more “plain Jane” than Jane Seymour.
While some people have their imperfections, and when put together still look stunning, mine just make me look imperfect. But far from being disheartened or disappointed by my image, I’m delighted - because there are many upsides to being the ugly duckling.
My suspicion that it’s to my advantage was confirmed when I read columnist Samantha Brick’s recent account of the problems she’d encountered for being too attractive.
While Samantha says she has struggled to make female friends because women are jealous of her beauty, I think the opposite is true for me. The fact I’m no threat in the looks league means I’ve always had lots of pals.
All my life I have gathered beautiful women around me like a Victorian butterfly collector. My current friends - the women with whom I gossip over coffee, walk the dog and go to parties - tend to be stunning, toned and well-groomed.
But it was the same even when I was a girl. Growing up on a farm in rural Scotland, fashion and appearance weren’t things that were important to me.
I spent my life in jodhpurs or clothes that wouldn’t show the mud. What was the point of a pretty dress when there was a saddle to buy? While the other teenage girls would be scouring teen magazine Jackie for make-up tips, I’d be drooling over a new rug for my pony in Horse & Hound.
I certainly didn’t have any pressure at home to try to glam myself up. My mother, who in her youth was a stunner, had taken to rural life like a duck to a grimy pond.
Her favourite daughter, from the four she had produced, wasn’t the one in the prettiest dress, but rather the one who could make her clothes last longest between washes.
However, despite my lack of interest in what I looked like, even at 15 my friends were the prettiest girls in the school.
There was Vicky, slim, blonde and with a smile that could light up the geography room. Two decades later, I was still comforting male friends pining over her.
Then there was Vivien - petite, brunette and slightly mysterious - the polar opposite of me, who was plump, blonde and loud.
Another was Ann, who oozed sex appeal before any of us knew what it meant, but you knew the moment she entered any room, even without seeing her, because of the sound of boys’ jaws hitting the ground.
But even though I was wearing knitted socks while these girls preferred sexier 20 denier tights, the friendships worked. I wasn’t competing against them to become the alpha girl, or vying for the attentions of the coolest boys.
In fact, what I did was make them look good when standing beside me. Of course, at first I’d wonder why they were always dancing with boys, but I didn’t lose sleep about it and was a good lesson to learn.
And, for my part, having the best looking friends in the year meant I was part of the package when it came to inviting the in-crowd to parties.
If the boys wanted the trendy girls with their Miss Selfridge dresses, high heels and curling-tonged hair, they had to accept it also meant inviting me in my Laura Ashley frock, flat pumps and what appeared to be a bird’s nest on my head.
As well as dancing like a dervish, very occasionally, some poor lad would find himself opposite me when the mistletoe did the rounds at a Christmas party and I’d even get a kiss, something I might have missed out on altogether had I not been part of the cool clique. As life went on, so my friends became ever more attractive. After a university dance, I showed my mother a photo of my friend, Jane, who had inherited exotic looks that belied her Scottish heritage, and me.
Somehow, the photographer had caught me in a good light (which happens about as often as a panda mating in our local zoo) and I was rather proud of it.
“Wow, she’s a stunning girl,” was my mother’s only comment, completely ignoring me for the apple of so many a male Aberdeen student’s eye.
To be honest, I didn’t mind, as people generally didn’t notice me when Jane was around. That was life.
After moving to London to start my career as a publicist, I shared a flat with Serena, a secretary, who had the self-confidence of a dormouse.
She wasn’t tall and unusual like Erin O’Connor, or a stunning blonde a la Claudia Schiffer, but she was so perfectly pretty that walking down the street with her I first experienced real head-swivelling beauty, even if she herself didn’t appreciate her looks.
She would walk beside me while all around her men literally walked into lampposts. At a petrol station once, the chap in front of her offered to pay for her fuel. Quite unbelievable... and best of all it was my car.
On several other occasions we’d wander into parties and male hosts would be so pleased to see such a stunning girl that they wouldn’t notice me snaffling a few bottles of pinot grigio, which we would then take home to drink while we laughed about the silly men.
At other times, it didn’t always work out so well. As a 25-year-old, I had a crush on one boy who spent our only date a deux asking my advice about how he could impress another one of my beautiful friends.
At least they ended up getting married, due to me informing her of his feelings, by which time I had quite happily realised he wasn’t the chap for me.
It’s not as though my love life has been as dry as the Sahara - I’ve even managed to get married twice - it’s just if you don’t look good, it’s very easy for men to overlook you in that first instance. You have to develop other ways to attract them.
My first husband fell for me because I told him some salacious gossip that intrigued him more than any model looks I might have had, or designer top I might have been wearing.
My second husband - I live in Edinburgh with him and my three children - works in agriculture, so any well-groomed woman has him running for the hills.
And there are still advantages to being no great shakes in the looks or style departments.
Last New Year, my very pretty, flirtatious friend, Kate, was staying. At a neighbour’s party, as she chatted to the men I noticed their wives getting a tad agitated. Whereas, me - well they couldn’t give a hoot when I blether away to their husbands.
On a recent trip to London, I stayed with my friend, Will, whose other half was in Europe.
Did she lie awake worrying he might pad along the corridor for a midnight visit?
I doubt that she even batted one of her pretty eyelids.
I did think that, as time wore on, my friends would catch up with me. That they would see that style should give way to comfort, but it just hasn’t gone that way.
Meeting them for coffee, they will discuss how a certain skirt in Zara is “very McQueen”, whereas I’m more likely to have my nose in the Land’s End catalogue looking for some heavy-duty cotton-knit tops.
Then again, the ageing process can be a great leveller. There are some to whom time has not been kind.
“She’s let herself go a bit,” the girls will say in hushed voices after bumping into some erstwhile beauty not seen for a while - and that’s something they will never say about me.
I may not have spent a fortune on Creme de la Mer, but lots of factor 50 means that I really don’t look that much different from several years ago. Heck, from the neck down, it’s probably the same clothes!
For those who make an effort, I’m still a good person to stand next to. My friends never give me a dressing down for not dressing up, because I am always guaranteed to make them look fabulous. Indeed, as I begin the second century of my life, I’ve finally realised what is missing from my life - a frumpy friend of my own.
Perhaps then I could show photos to my mother and she just might notice me. - Daily Mail
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