“Do you want your picture taken with Chanel Iman?”
This question was lobbed at me by a cheery and well-meaning publicist a few years ago at a Victoria’s Secret press event.
Have you ever seen a Victoria’s Secret Angel close up? They are genetic-lottery winners and are nothing like us. Their limbs are longer, their torsos sleeker and narrower, their eyes are almost insect-width apart. And their skin glows like it was just buffed with gold dust. Gazing at them is like looking directly into the sun.
And while I have just enough self-esteem to get me through life, I also have a pretty realistic sense of how I look. Ergo, my inflexible don’t-get-your-picture-taken-with-supermodels rule.
Unfortunately, that's not enough to protect me from unwanted comparisons to others.
Worse, apparently we – members of my group of normal looking earthlings, aka non-Victoria’s Secret Angels – actually hold pretty inflated opinions of how we look.
In a recent study, the University of Chicago’s Nicholas Epley and the University of Virginia’s Erin Whitchurch demonstrated we think we’re more attractive than we actually are. When test subjects were presented with photos of themselves that were digitally manipulated to look both less and more attractive than they really were, they consistently selected the beautified photo as the one showing their "true" self.
And in the UK, a survey commissioned by Lancôme to promote their Advanced Genifique line found that 75 per cent of women think we look five years younger than our chronological age.
So apparently most of us believe we are our own Snapchat beauty filter.
While there’s nothing wrong with a little gentle self-delusion, the flip side is that we think people our own age look much worse than we do. (Have you ever run into someone you knew in high school and thought to yourself, God, he/she looks old?)
Guessing someone’s age is as potentially mine-laden as asking a woman with a sticky-out-y tummy when the baby is due. Unless you were there when she peed on the stick, unless you’re 100 per cent certain, Never Assume Someone Is Pregnant. Because her bump just might be a "food baby," and you will look like a cruel idiot.
I've been on both the giving and the receiving end of this kind of assessment, and neither encounter ended well.
First, I inadvertently insulted an esteemed American novelist when I assumed she was my age during a chat at an press preview a couple of years ago. Turns out, she is two years younger than I am. But hey – she was grey-haired. (I keep checking online photos to see if she’s since dyed her hair.) I wince now when I recall it.
But karma has a sense of humour and last month someone a year older than I am thought I was five older older than she is. Five. She thought I was 58-ish (which is really 60 if you come to it), citing my lack of makeup and grey hair. I was utterly inconsolable and spent a good chunk of the following Saturday moping on the couch like a moody teenager.
Our key learning? Never try to guess someone’s age. Sure, you can deliberately low-ball, but you risk getting it exactly right and still disappointing someone who, like the women in the Lancôme survey, thought she looked five years younger than she is. You cannot win, so don’t even try.