They say that self-confidence is one of the most attractive qualities a person can have. And every time I hear that sentence, a small part of me wants to go and hide under my bed and weep over my unlovable personality quirk. You see, I have some issues with self-confidence.
Oh, I can be confident in some areas. I can do my day job and bring out the "jazz hands" with the children I teach and the parents I deal with on a daily basis. I've done radio and print interviews, whilst publicising my ABC Animals series of children's books, during which - hopefully - no interviewer would ever have guessed that I have the slightest problem with self-esteem. I know I'm good at certain things, like writing and other creative activities and I always feel confident when I do them. I know I have fantastic friends and a close family who all think positive things about me, so I am genuinely confident when I'm around them. Sometimes I really am the chatty, friendly, confident person that I appear to be.
But not always.
Sometimes I really do just want to hide under the bed.
I'll be honest with you and say that the absolute biggest area in which I suffer from a lack of confidence is my looks. And therefore, by extension, with the opposite sex.
Between the ages of 11-14, I was told I was "hideous," "disgusting" and "unlovable" every day of my life by school bullies. When I was between 14 and 15, I started a new school and on my very first day, a new school bully loudly shouted: "Eurgh, that is our new girl?! Look at it! Gross!"
I was used to forming crushes on the few boys that didn't pick on me, only to be told that the crush wasn't remotely reciprocated, once the object of my affections found out (usually because someone else told them).
I was 18 before I had my first boyfriend. When that relationship ended 10 months later, I got used to going out with friends and being the one that nobody chatted up. I was the bag-carrier. The one that blokes would dare their friends to talk to "for a laugh" (no word of a lie, I had that happen to me more times than I care to reminisce about).
I had a big crush on a guy called Rob for years during my early twenties, but funnily enough, when I finally plucked up the courage to ask him out (and I genuinely don't know where that came from, because I've never found it since), he said no.
I got into an abusive relationship when I was 27. The man I loved (because yes, despite it being an abusive relationship, at the time I did love him enormously) would tell me I was fat, short and unworthy of commitment.
So it probably shouldn't be a shock to anyone that my confidence in my looks has never been massively high.
Oh, I have confidence in me (and yes, I realise I sound worryingly like Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music by saying that), just not the package that me comes in.
Unless I wear a mask of James Bourne's head. Then I'm SEXY.
Sure, sometimes I do look at myself and think I'm not that bad. I've even been known to think I look bloody great. I reckon I usually dress quite well and I'm pretty good at doing my make up nicely. That's the thing with me; I like who I am on the inside, so I want to think nicely of the outside, too. And sometimes I genuinely do.
But making the leap from me thinking I look quite nice to hoping that someone else thinks I look quite nice is close to impossible. A little voice in my head will tell me "don't be stupid. They wouldn't be interested in you!"
On Saturday night, I was away with a friend and we were having a few drinks in a big entertainment venue. Now, for the last couple of months, I've had a bit of a "real-life crush" (i.e. not a celebrity) on someone who works at the place we were holidaying at. He was there, with his friends, looking ridiculously gorgeous. At one point, he smiled over and I smiled back. And then I did nothing. Because why, oh why would someone ridiculously gorgeous be interested in me? Maybe he wasn't even smiling! Maybe he had wind!
I did actually manage to hold a conversation with him less than 48 hours later, but mainly because he initiated it, otherwise I would have been stuck in "I WANT TO TALK TO YOU BUT I FEAR YOU WILL BE REPELLED BY MY FACE" mode. Ironically, once he had said hello and started chatting, I was absolutely fine and dandy. I asked my friend afterwards whether I came across as nervous or under-confident in any way and she was adamant that I didn't. Although no, I didn't so much as hint that I had a crush on him, or ask him if he fancied getting to know each other better, or even whether he was single. Because my brain did the "he would be sick if he knew you liked him" thing. And I'm scared of vomit.
Emetophobia. It's a real phobia. And I have it.
Photo courtesy of beatyourfears.com
So, what's the point in writing this blog? Well, mainly to show people who also have low confidence in their looks that they aren't alone. And that talking about it honestly is the best thing to do. After all, when you keep things in, they bubble up until they become bigger issues than they need to be. It's vital to be open, otherwise people don't understand the way you might react to things. For example, some of my friends genuinely can't understand why I won't just go over and initiate conversation with someone I like the look of and it's really important for me to stress that I just can't fathom why that person would be interested and that if they were to reject me, I would only see it as confirmation of what I already think about my dodgy face.
Yes, I can see the stupidity of what I just said - I'm essentially letting the fear of rejection stop me from getting the possible good result I want. I'm not a total idiot; I can see that that's ridiculous. And as the friend I was with this weekend pointed out on Sunday night (when I didn't see said crush out with his mates again), I always feel horrendous when I realise I missed what may have been my only opportunity to take action. But - and this is a really important "but" - knowing that doesn't necessarily help me in that moment when I'm crazily paralysed with fear. It doesn't give me the confidence in my looks that I need - and lack - in that critical moment. The fact is that I can do my make up nicely, get my hair to behave for a change and put on a dress that flatters my figure and I can feel like I look good, but if I lose that confidence even for a split second, then I'm not going to be able to wander over and say hi to that guy, no matter how much people plead with me to. Because I just don't believe that there's any point; I don't think my interest could possibly be mutual.
The other reason I'm writing this is because it's really important to me that nobody thinks I'm fishing for compliments when I put myself down. If a person who really suffers from a lack of confidence in his or her looks says "ugh, I look a state," they're doing it because they believe it, not because they're trying to push someone into gushing "oh no you don't; you're gorgeous!" Because someone like me will always find a way to believe that you're only saying it to be nice, rather than because it's true.
It's a slightly bizarre but true fact that I accept compliments on my looks better from strangers than I do from people who know me, because strangers have no reason to lie to make you feel better (unless they're just saying it to get you into bed and that's a whole other issue...).
In the end, it's really important to finish this blog post by saying that if you do feel as though you have very little confidence in your looks and it's affecting your ability to do simple things like say hi to someone attractive (unless they do it first - thank you, crush :-P), then you do need to build that confidence, somehow. Wear something you feel fantastic in. Treat yourself to a new hairdo. And remember that even if your physical attributes don't fill you with esteem, then there will always be something about yourself that you do like. For example, I think I'm quite funny. And I'm a sensitive, kind and thoughtful friend. And I'm fun to hang out with. See? Confidence. I do have it!
And you know what? I probably look okay sometimes. In a dark light. If you squint.
Hmm, confidence. Yeah, it's a work in progress...