Body dysmorphia, the unfortunate medical condition whereby a perfectly pleasant/slender person believes themselves to be ugly/fat, is a strange and sad thing. I’d always presumed it to be (like anorexia and bulimia) a primarily female problem, so much more importance being placed on the appearance of women than men. Respectable medical surveys indicate otherwise.
Nevertheless, women tend to see themselves as less attractive than they are. A sizeable number of men, on the other hand, suffer from the opposite delusion. I call them Magic Mirror men, because they seem to possess an inner looking-glass which tells them that they are, indeed, the fairest of them all.
Why else do ugly men not feel ridiculous passing judgment on the attractiveness, or otherwise, of women? He may be a politician or a businessman, or one of those half-witted fat American men who insist on wearing T-shirts bearing the legend NO FAT CHICKS. But he will have no doubt that all women between the ages of 16 and 61 are waiting in an agony of exquisite anticipation to find out if he thinks them attractive.
This being the case, he acts the cad when assessing the physical appeal of women he encounters. The very presentable Linda McDougall (wife of Labour MP Austin Mitchell) claimed that the barely human-looking John Prescott pushed her against a wall and put his hand up her skirt in 1978, when such behaviour ‘was very common for men at that time…I just rebuffed him, he shrugged and winked and we all carried on.’ The lardy lord brought it up in an interview with The Daily Telegraph, after declining to attend Mitchell’s retirement party: ‘Have you seen his wife? Built like a bloody barn door. If I threw her against the wall, the fucking house would fall down!’ This is rich from someone who had his lavatory seat repaired twice in two years at taxpayers’ expense.
Then there is Donald Trump, a preposterously unappetising specimen with an almost Tourettish compulsion to pick holes in the appearance of women. Apparently the bewigged bell-end thought he ‘had a shot’ with the Sainted Diana. He bombarded her with massive bouquets. Not surprisingly, Trump also gave Diana ‘the creeps’, according to her confidante Selina Scott.
Hollywood has done all it can to perpetuate this surreal double standard — see Jack Nicholson recoiling with horror at an unclothed Diane Keaton in that film no one remembers the name of. The opposite would be unthinkable, despite the fact that a naked Nicholson would surely make most even half-sighted people heave.
How did men become so self-deluded? Women are not blameless, though until very recently it was impossible for them to earn a living without skivvying or prostituting themselves. Otherwise, they used their beauty to make a marriage to a man who could support them financially. Women convinced themselves that a man with fiscal appeal was a better bet than one with physical appeal and, as no one wants to be a meal ticket, unattractive but economically viable men convinced themselves that they had ‘something’ that young, lovely women craved, beyond the size of their pocket-book. ‘Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac,’ smarmed the charmless Henry Kissinger.
Times are changing and men and women are coming to terms with the nasty things that happen to their souls when beauty is sold to the highest bidder. When asked what he would have been if not a fantastically rich footballer, Peter Crouch answered, ‘A virgin.’ A book by Holly Madison, the American reality TV star and ex-‘chief girlfriend’ of Hugh Hefner, details exactly what a modern gold-digger can expect; habitually drugging oneself in order to be able to submit one’s 23-year-old body to the arthritic caresses of a 90-year-old, 9 p.m. curfews, bestiality porn to put one in the mood for love, and carpets reeking of urine from the Boss’s posse of dogs.
Madison writes of her shock at first witnessing the Hefner’s behaviour in a disco, when he gets up to boogie; ‘I was genuinely mortified for him…had no one told him how silly he looked?’ Of course not — and his Magic Mirror had probably told him that he was the greatest dancer, as well as lover.
No matter how men judge women’s looks, it must remain a mystery to them that the plainest woman can get sex any time she wants, while even decent-looking men are reduced to masturbating and/or paying for it. Maybe the Magic Mirror is more of a comfort blanket, after all?
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Julie Burchill’s books include Ambition, I Knew I was Right and Unchosen: Memoirs of a Philo-Semite.
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