October 19, 2009

Ugliness is not even skin deep

I inadvertently conducted a sociological experiment the other night, with interesting (although uncomfortable) results.
Having been invited to a 40th birthday party with the theme "Dress as a favourite movie star or character", and knowing that the hosts would have planned a glittering function, I had to give some thought to my choice. In a fit of whimsy, I decided to avoid the obvious and instead dress as the most unglamorous film character I could think of: Agatha Trunchbull from Roald Dahl's "Matilda" (gloriously played in the movie by Pam Ferris).

So I assembled my costume: deeply unflattering long shorts and a T-shirt, accessorised with a very sturdy belt, weight- lifter gloves, hiking boots, long socks and a riding crop. I carefully gelled my hair straight back, tripled the size of my eyebrows with eyeliner, and added a huge mole on my cheek for good measure. While our builds are not identical, I felt I made a reasonable facsimile of the character from the movie. (And no, there is absolutely NO chance of publishing my own photograph here. Pam Ferris got paid to look like that!)

So off I went to the party, chuckling at the consternation my costume would cause.

Sure enough, it was a very glamourous affair, with all the glitz of Hollywood. There were even 2 actors hired to greet arrivals on the red carpet in the manner of US television entertainment reporters, and it was certainly gratifying to see them lost for words when I clomped up the steps. They were obviously just on the point of suggesting I was seriously lost, or perhaps calling the police, but luckily I had remembered to bring my invitation, which I brandished triumphantly, and they were obliged to let me through, too stunned to offer me a drink or take my photo as they had done with others. (The latter was a Good Thing though.)

The other guests were a glittering crowd, to be sure, almost all of them in spectacular hired outfits. There were several Batwomen and Batmen, a Marie Antoinette, Zorro, FrankenFurter, Brad'n'Angelina, various Bonds and Bond Girls, the Blues Brothers, Braveheart, a couple of Audrey Hepburns and Marilyn Monroes, and an assortment of other attractive stars. I can confidently say that not even the Austen Powers costume was as unappealing as mine, and he had a proper wig and false teeth!

Well, I'm sorry to say that I seriously misjudged the reaction I would cause. Far from being amused or at least surprised at my appearance, those who did not know me (the majority) were either embarrassed or, worse, full of pity, apparently failing to make any connection between "fancy-dress" and "make-believe". One woman (a complete stranger) even went so far as to wonder why I obviously hadn't gone to any trouble creating a costume!! This was despite my helpful badge saying "Agatha Trunchbull (Miss), Principal." - she probably thought it was my own name, and a badge left over from some ghastly educational conference. LOL

I'm delighted to say that at least my host and hostess got the joke, commending me on my bravery at going against the obvious trend, and admiring my lavish eyebrows and home-made riding crop (a snorkel tube bound with black tape and a shoelace at the end, for those who want to try this at home). But apart from them and a couple of other people I already knew, it was very difficult to start a conversation with anybody, because people would edge away, smiling thinly, or even turn their backs with a poorly-concealed grimace at my approach.

I was reminded of those TV documentaries where a reporter dresses as a homeless or obese person, revealing the prejudices that still exist in society towards those who don't "fit in". The guests at this party were well-educated, mature, socially adept people, many of them well-travelled, and all of them no doubt considering themselves fair-minded and lacking prejudice. And yet their social skills promptly deserted them in the presence of someone so out of place and physically repellent. More than that, they seemed to wish nothing more than that I would simply go away and leave them to "their" partying.

Of course with hindsight, I could have taken a more "acceptable" costume and changed into it after an hour or so, to confirm that I had only been play-acting. That would have been very interesting indeed, but I expect the dramatic conversion would have made the more sensitive among them feel rather ashamed of their earlier behaviour, so although the thought is very tempting, such point-scoring is morally no better than their condescension and revulsion.

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