The furore surrounding Samantha Brick's Daily Mail article about how women envy her looks and men shower her with gifts has really got me thinking. Not about whether she's pretty or not, or deluded or not - I'll leave that up to the thousands of Daily Mail commentators and the Twitterati - but about women and our relationship with our appearance.
Firstly, the backlash against Samantha Brick seems to prove we do have a standard definition of beauty we measure others against. Those who've accused her of being blind clearly have in mind a blueprint of attractiveness - perhaps involving youth, size or facial features - they feel she doesn't fit.
Secondly - putting aside the parts of her piece that were obviously designed to provoke a response - the vitriol directed at her seems to show that many women are indeed uncomfortable when their fellow females ooze confidence about their looks.
I have to hold my hands up here. I confess I'm taken aback when another woman openly declares she's beautiful. It jars, it seems wrong and somehow unnatural.
This happened to me just the other day. I was chatting with a friend and she mentioned she'd come to London as a young woman to model and that, back then, her youthful beauty and good looks had opened doors, giving her access to a world she'd have been excluded from on the basis of her background or education.
It was an innocuous comment but I felt something jolt inside me. Yes, I thought, you are beautiful. We'd met just a year before and I remember thinking she was very pretty.
But what shocked me was that she'd said it herself, about herself, that she'd said it out loud, and to another woman, even if she was referring to her younger days. Surely, I thought, calling oneself beautiful isn't the done thing? Surely, this suggests some form of arrogance or delusion?
It jarred because I couldn't remember the last time I'd heard a female friend say she was pretty and I couldn't imagine those words coming out of my mouth. We spent most of our time putting ourselves down in public, while trying to convince other friends they were gorgeous.
But today, pondering the Samantha Brick phenomenon and recalling my reaction to my friend, I realise once again it's my relationship with my looks that's askew, not theirs. And that's despite considerable efforts to put that relationship right.
A year ago, as I approached my 40th birthday, I spent most of the night awake. I'd been at a women's event about body image and eating disorders - The Endangered Species Summit - and had left it feeling angry. I felt angry that so many women and girls spend so much of their precious time and energy criticising their looks, and angry that I had done the same, for as long as I could remember and up to the present day, despite having been in recovery for my own eating disorder since my early 30s.
I'd largely stopped the cycle of binge eating, starving, dieting and compulsive exercising that I'd begun in my teens but, even at 39, I was still obsessed with my imperfections. I disliked exposing my arms or legs if I hadn't spent the previous few months at the gym and I shunned figure-hugging dresses.
Enough is enough, I declared, I'm nearly 40. My anger that day gave birth to a blog: Just As I Am - An Experiment in Self-Acceptance. It was the start of Lent and I decided, instead of giving up chocolate or bread as I'd often done in the past in the hope of losing a few pounds, I'd try to abstain from negative thoughts about my body, appearance and achievements (I beat myself up about my achievements too) for the following 40 days.
I blogged about my struggles with the negative voices in my head that told me my thighs were too big or my stomach too soft, my hair too fine or my complexion too spotty. And I wrote about organisations and individuals that are championing different body shapes and sizes and trying to smash the one-size-fits-all beauty ideal.
But a year on, after reading Samantha Brick's piece and talking to my friend, I see I'm still fighting the same battles. As I got dressed this morning, knowing I wanted to write this piece, I realised the negative, punishing thoughts still had the upper hand.
I pulled out some old jeans and decided they were tighter than they'd been several months ago and I scolded myself in my head for letting things slip. I looked too many times in the mirror, asking myself that age-old question, "Does my bum look big in this?" And I glared disapprovingly at my hair and complexion, wishing the former was thicker and the latter clearer.
It's sad to think I still do this to myself - that I still struggle to embrace my looks and recoil when I hear other women declaring their beauty.
Maybe, at 41, it's time I start accepting my own.
Suggested For You
SUBSCRIBE AND FOLLOW
Get top stories and blog posts emailed to me each day. Newsletters may offer personalized content or advertisements.Learn more