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Beauty can be a­­ terrible­ burden­—­the­ maintenance­ alone ­can­ feel­ like­ a­ full-time­ job.­ So­ when­ it­ fades,­ it’s ­not ­the ­tragedy ­you ­might expect.

As Italian-Austrlian actress ­Greta­ Scacchi,­ 62,­ said­ last­ week:­ “It’s­ been a relief ­for ­the ­past ­20­ years ­not ­to ­have ­pressure ­on ­me­ to ­be the­ beautiful one”.

Time­ and­ time­ again­in­ our­ culture,­ fairy­ tales­ (movies, ­too)­ show ­beauty equated­ to­ finding­ ­true­ love.

The­ problem?­ We­ have­ been­ sold­ a­ lie,­ as­ the­ recent­ spate­ of­ celebrity­ splits, all­ involving­ fantastically­­ beautiful­ women demonstrates.

Take­ the­ news­ that­ model­ Emily ­Ratajkowski­ is­ divorcing­ her­ filmmaker­ husband Sebastian­ Bear McClard­ on­ the­ basis­ of­ his­ “serial cheater” status.­

Billionaire­ Kim­ Kardashian­ has­ recently­ split­ from ­her­ new­ partner,­ Saturday Night Live ­comedian Pete ­Davidson. And­ Aquaman­ Jason Momoa­ and ­his stunning ­actress ­wife,­ Lisa ­Bonet, ­separated after ­17 ­years ­together.

None­ of­ these­ relationship­ break-downs­ surprises­ me.­

Clearly­ beauty,­ even­ when­ paired­ with­ fame,­ talent­ and­ great­ wealth,­ is­ not, and ­has­ never­ been,­ enough­ to­ hold ­on to ­love.

I­ would­ go­ as­ far­ as­ to­ say ­that­ in­ fact­ true­ feminine ­beauty,­ far­ from attracting ­true­ love,­ deflects­ it,­ blinding ­on lookers to­ a woman’s true ­value.

­I­ have­ known­ something­ of­ this­ pain.­ And­ indeed­ the ­­surprising­ —­ and welcome­ —­ flipside when­ your ­looks ­dwindle.­

At­ 18,­ I­ was­ considered­ beautiful enough ­to be ­approached ­in ­the ­street ­by ­a scout ­from ­a ­major ­modelling ­agency.­

My­ hair ­unwashed­ and ­wearing­ an­ unremarkable ­summer­ dress, ­I ­was standing ­at­ a­ bus stop­ when­ the­ scout ­bounded ­out ­of ­a ­car. I was ­confused.­

Who­ was ­this ­lean, ­elegant ­blonde ­and ­what ­dis she want from me?

­­Handing ­me ­her ­card, ­she ­said ­she ­wanted­ me ­on­ her ­books. I stammered that­ I­ was­ far­ too­ fat ­and ­had ­the ­wrong ­face ­to ­be ­a ­model. ­She ­replied that weight was­ easy­ to­ lose­ and ­that, ­infact,­ I­ had exactly ­the ­right ­kind ­of ­face.

­While­ that­ may,­ or­ may­ not,­ have­ been­ true,­ I­ certainly­ lacked ­the ­confidence and ­so ­my­ Kate-Moss-discovered-in-an-airport moment ­fizzled ­to ­a ­dinner party ­anecdote.­

Throughout­ my­ childhood,­ my­ mother­ had­ always­ told­ me ­that ­my­ mouth was “‘vulgar and ­that­ I­ was ­too ­heavy ­and ­too­ strong minded­ to­ be ­­happily married”. I­ may­ have­ been­ smart,­ but­ my­ best­ friend,­ who­ was­ tall and slender,­ with­ green­ eyes ­and a button nose, was­ the ­beauty.

Of ­course, ­I­ idolised­ her. ­Oh,­ to­ be­ so­ lovely!­ Half­ the­ boys ­were­ secretly­ in­ love­ with ­her. Meanwhile,­ my­ nickname ­was­ “The­ Nose Who Always ­Knows”.­

I­ accepted­ what­ I­understood­ as­ my­ plainness ­and ­figured ­there ­was­ no ­point ­in ­wanting ­what ­I would ­never ­have­ —­ a­ willowy­ frame a­­ symmetrical ­face. Instead,­ I­ focused­ on­ friendships ­and schoolwork.

­­In­ my­ late­ teens,­ however,­ I­ underwent­ a­ metamorphosis­ of­ sorts. ­I ­became slim and­ my ­face widened, making ­my ­nose ­seem relatively ­proportionate.­

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This ­was­ not­ my ­imagination; ­a­ former­ school­ friend,­ on ­bumping ­into ­me, went ­so ­far ­as to ­ask ­if ­I’d ­had ­a ­nose ­job ­(I hadn’t). Despite this, I­ still­ felt unattractive. I­ genuinely­ had­ no­ idea­ why­ men­ were­ beginning­ to­ swarm around ­me.­ At ­18, ­I­ fell ­in ­love ­in the only way only a­ teenager­ can,­ with a boy­ in­ a­ band.­

Even­ now,­ I­ marvel at ­his ­perfect­ beauty­ in ­photographs,­ but ­at ­the ­time,­ I ­marvelled ­over ­the ­fact ­that ­he ­fell­ in ­love ­with ­ugly me. The whole idea was preposterous.­

Feeling­ unworthy­ of tenderness, ­ I ­ ended ­ the relationship. Ugly girls didn’t deserve to­ be ­loved. I look­ back­ now­ and­ feel ­sorry for­ the ­girl ­I­ used­ to­ be.

­My­ love­ life­ went­ down hill ­fast. ­With ­only ­a ­few ­exceptions­ — ­the ­men ­with whom­ I­ was­ involved­ in­ my ­youth treated­ me­ badly. Some­ were­ fantastically­ cruel,­ others­ were­ mean­ and ­others stalked ­me. I­ was­ accused­ of­ affairs­ I’d never­ had.­ One­ even­ verbally abused­ me­ over ­the ­reactions ­of ­other ­men —­ responses ­over ­which­ I­ had­ no­ control.­

The­ common thread, ­I­ now­ realise, ­was­ jealousy.­

At­ the­ time,­ the­ behaviour ­of ­­my partners hurt and ­­bewildered­ me.­ I­ had­ no­ understanding­ of­ the­ impact­ of ­my­ appearance­ on­ men, nor ­how­ badly ­they ­wanted ­me. ­It ­is ­only ­now­ that people ­tell ­me­ I­ was­ “gorgeous”;­ no one ever ­said ­that ­to ­me­ at ­the time.

Camera IconElle Macpherson poses for photographers upon arrival at the Dior Haute Couture Fall/Winter 2022-2023 fashion collection presented Monday, July 4, 2022 in Paris. Credit: Lewis Joly/AP

Australian model ­ and ­­entrepreneur­ Elle­ Macpherson­ told­ me­ the­ same­ thing­ during­ an­ interview:­ “no­ one,­ she said ever­ complimented­ her­ on­ her­ appearance,­ even­ when ­she ­went ­to ­great ­lengths ­to ­look ­beautiful. Why?

To ­have ­done ­so ­would­ have been the same ­as ­­praising­ water­ for­ being­ wet:­ they ­assumed­ it ­was ­obvious.

Eventually,­ it­ became­ easier for­ me­ to­ avoid­ relationships­ altogether,­ which­ I­ did­ for­ many ­years, ­preferring­ to focus ­on ­friendships­and­ work.­

While ­girlfriends ­were ­enjoying­ devoted­ relationships,­ I ­kept ­to ­myself. It ­never ­occurred ­to ­me ­that ­none­ of­ the girlfriends­ in­­question­ was­ conventionally­ beautiful,­ and­ that­ this­ made ­it ­possible ­for ­them ­to ­not­ only ­safely enjoy­ themselves,­ but ­to­ be­ loved­ for­ who­they ­were.

I ­ envied them without understanding why ­they apparently ­found­ it ­so ­easy ­to ­be ­happy ­in ­love.

Looking­ back,­ I­ think­ it­ was­ the­ kind­ of­ men­ they­were­ attracted,­ too­ —­ less ­­status driven,­ less­ alpha, ­less­ insecure. As­ I­ worked­ in­ women’s­­ magazines, ­I­ met ­a ­number ­of ­extraordinarily­ attractive­ women ­—­ tall­ and­ lithe, ­some ­world famous. ­

Without exception,­ they­ were­ treated ­badly ­by ­men.­

Model Jerry Hall, ­ who recently ­filed ­for ­divorce ­from­ billionaire­ Rupert­ Murdoch,­ was,­ in­ the­ flesh,­ the­ most ­beautiful woman I­ had ever­ met. Yet ­even­ she­ had ­to­ swallow ­her­ tears­ when,­ during­ our­interview,­ I­ mentioned­ Carla ­Bruni,­ the­ supermodel­ who ­was­ rumoured ­to ­be ­having ­an ­affair ­with ­Hall’s ­then ­husband ­Mick ­Jagger.

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I­ remember­ another­ friend, ­who­ went­ yachting­ with­ Hall ­and­ Jagger,­ observing­ how ­‘disrespectful’­ Jagger­ was ­towards ­her.

I­ met models who­ were­­ perpetually harassed ­ by ­men ­­—­ some­ even­ shared­­ terrible stories of being­­ repeatedly­ molested.­

But­ it­ wasn’t­ confined­ to­ models:­ a­ staggeringly­ lovely­ receptionist in ­her­ early­ 20s, a t­one­ of­ the­ magazines­ I­ worked for,­ told­ me­ of her­ excitement ­at ­being­ asked ­on ­a­ date ­by ­a ­handsome­ young­ advertising­ executive,­ only­ to­ find­ him­ sexually­ vulgar­ and­ quite­­ horrid towards ­her ­on ­the ­date­ itself.

Life, it seemed, was not at all like fairy tales. The more beautiful the woman, the more badly she was treated. I began to see that the psychology of some men was oddly distorted in regard to female beauty — on the one hand, they craved it as a symbol of their own status, but on the other simply could not handle the thought of other men desiring ‘ their ’ woman, and the prospect of her desertion as a result, no matter how unlikely.

Rupert Murdoch and Jerry Hall attend the RHS Chelsea Flower Show press day at the Royal Hospital Chelsea on May 23, 2016 in London, England.Camera IconRupert Murdoch and Jerry Hall attend the RHS Chelsea Flower Show press day at the Royal Hospital Chelsea on May 23, 2016 in London, England. Credit: CNBC/Supplied/TheWest

When the roles are reversed, women are better equipped at dealing with it, with many rationalising that as long as he takes care of them financially, the women will turn a blind eye to a man’s indiscretions.

The male ego, however, feels catastrophically threatened even by the possibility of betrayal. It’s those kinds of men who show off their beautiful girlfriends and wives in public but humiliate them in private.

Once I even asked a boyfriend — a man I was crazy about — why he was so horrid to me. Honestly, at times he was vile.

What had I done to deserve such emotional manipulation, such hostility? He actually laughed at me.

“Treat ’em mean, keep ’em keen,” he replied, absurdly. And yet this was genuinely what he thought — the best way to keep a woman was to take her down a peg or two. It was his way of removing my power. A beautiful woman has so many options, after all, and a certain kind of man thinks his best bet is to blind her to them. Eventually, I did fall in love again — madly in love — and this time I married.

Our daughter Bethesda is now 16, but my dream of a forever marriage was dashed eight years ago when we divorced. I reconciled myself to a life of singledom. What man, I reasoned, would be interested in a single mother whose face and body had, frankly, seen better days?

Unfiltered photographs drove the reality home: I looked tired, overwrought, and overweight. For the first time and with not a little sadness, I realised that not only had I been beautiful in my youth, but that my beauty had fled. This sadness soon evaporated.

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My life was so frantic — with mothering, work, and friends — that the ideal of beauty eventually came to seem redundant, as it has with Greta Scacchi. Which is why, after I re-entered the dating arena in 2018, I was flabbergasted to find men flocking: more than 1,000 replies to one dating app ad alone within 48 hours (yes, my real age, 52 then, was listed and no, I was not available for hook-ups).

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For the most part, the dates I had were gentle, friendly, funny, and human.

That awful charged sexual aggression I had experienced throughout my younger years had gone. This wasn’t simply because the men I dated were older, although most of them were. The younger ones were equally charming and sweet.

Of course, there were some disasters and some weirdos, but plenty of gentle enjoyment, too. My friends counselled me to compromise and settle down with one of these nice men. Some, I could see, thought I was mad — as I was losing my looks, who was I to insist on passion, to demand romance?

I would end up alone! Hurt, I told them I wanted a John Lennon to my Yoko Ono, not a Wolf Of Wall Street to make me a lady who lunched.

My goal was love, not a pairing based on financial or social status, and I refused to settle for anything less. Entirely coincidentally, I then met a man I absolutely adored, and almost overnight, my whole life changed. In his 50s, he is like a great big puppy — affectionate, endlessly enthusiastic, so happy. We never stop talking.

He constantly surprises me with thoughtful gestures — boxes of fudge delivered to my door by Fortnum & Mason, black cherries, foot massages.

We are giddy together, ridiculous. He tells me he feels like a lovestruck teenager.

Recently, I had my head in his lap under a full moon on a park bench in Richmond, laughing as he told me stories of his life, and in a fortnight, we’re off to explore Iceland together on horseback

I believe that this relationship, and the many dates that preceded it, are and were so different to the turbulent connections of my youth because I am now as pleasingly ordinary as the women I once envied.

Men are no longer worried that I will be swept away by a dastardly interloper, and no man feels the need to dominate me for fear that I will, on a whim, spring away.

The threat has gone. Rather than acting as a beautiful mask, my 56-year-old face allows my character to shine through, and it is that, and not an unflawed face and body, that my partner loves.

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