Monday, July 30, 2007

How Shall Beauty Be Named?

With my own eyes I saw the results of cosmetic surgery.

Right there in the toilet paper aisle, pushing a wobbly cart she stepped toward me, lots of chunky jewelry, long bleached blond hair, tiny animal print shoes with tall spiked heals, and too tight jeans as her adornments. Her attire caught my eye right away, but as she wheeled closer I saw her tightly-pulled, smooth-as-plastic face, her sad, upwards slanting, darting eyes, and.......her lips.

"She looks like a catfish," were the first words to dash cross my ever-too-critical mind.

But she did.

Impregnated with magical, lip-bloating collagen, her mouth resembled a catfish's wide, fat-lipped mouth, and it wasn't pretty at all.

After the critical Me had her say, the more compassionate Me noticed that this woman's eyes seemed to be the pleading eyes of an imprisoned soul, trapped underneath this Joker-esque mask of pulled and plumped, smoothed and re-situated skin. I felt sorrowful, especially when, after brief eye contact, her eyes shifted downward and her head bowed low as she passed. Surprisingly she seemed ashamed.

I felt very very sad.

Sad for her.

And sad for women in general that we believe these lies about what is valuable and beautiful in a woman. Lies, lies, lies, which distort our self-images causing us to do unspeakable things to our bodies in order to be 'approved.'

Life has been stolen from women in many ways, life and power and joy and rest.

Wandering Coyote introduced me to Naomi Wolf's book, The Beauty Myth, and it has affirmed what I've long surmised: We are not in Kansas anymore, and the Wizard is a fraud.

"Whatever the future threatens, we can be fairly sure of this: Women in our 'raw' or 'natural' state will continue to be shifted from category 'woman' to category 'ugly,' and shamed into an assembly-line physical identity. As each woman responds to the pressure, it will grow so intense that it will become obligatory, until no self-respecting woman will venture outdoors with a surgically unaltered face. The free market will compete to cut up women's bodies more cheaply, if more sloppily, with no-frills surgery in bargain basement clinics." ~~~ Naomi Wolf

I dare say the day has already come that 'no self-respecting woman' will venture out without make-up. Except for me. I get lingering, face-scanning looks from women all the time as if they are thinking, "Is she wearing make-up or not?" as in, "If she's not, she's wrong!" My Mediterranean heritage gives me a bit of an advantage, with olive skin and dark hair. Still, who cares? Why does anyone give a darn? Stumps me.

I particularly like Naomi's phrase, assembly-line physical identity. It's true, from clothing styles and sizes, to make-up, nails, hair, purses, sunglasses, even cars and boyfriends. It's copy copy copy and it makes me ill.

This, I like:

"You could see the signs of female aging as diseased, especially if you had a vested interest in making women to see them your way. Or you could see that if a woman is healthy she lives to grow old; as she thrives, she reacts and speaks and shows emotion, and grows in her face. Lines trace her thought and radiate from the corners of her eyes after decades of laughter, closing together like fans as she smiles. You could call the lines a network of 'serious lesions,' or you could see that in a precise calligraphy, thought has etched marks of concentration between her brows, and drawn across her forehead the horizontal creases of surprise, delight, compassion, and good talk. A lifetime of kissing, of speaking and weeping, shows expressively around a mouth scored like a leaf in motion. The skin loosens on her face and throat, giving her features a setting of sensual dignity; her features grow stronger as she does. She has looked around in her life, and it shows. When gray and white reflect in her hair, you could call it a dirty secret or you could call it silver and moonlight. Her body fills into itself, taking on gravity like a bather breasting water, growing generous with the rest of her. The darkening under her eyes, the weight of her lids, their minute cross-hatching, reveal that what she has been part of has left in her its complexity and richness. She is darker, stronger, looser, tougher, sexier. The maturing of a woman who has continued to grow is a beautiful thing to behold.

Or, if your ad revenue or your seven-figure salary or your privileged sexual status depend on it, it is an operable condition." ~~~ Naomi Wolf

I'm just going to stop here and let myself and everyone who reads this take a pause to decide just how manipulated we are willing to be in this life, and whether we have the courage to stand up to what is false, pull the curtain down, expose the Wizard, and go home to Kansas, where a woman is a woman, and a catfish doesn't buy toilet paper.


Marianne Elixir said...

Amen. Make-up free for 27 years (save a few special occasions).

Cherie said...

Birds of a feather, you and me, M. Same here, but 51 years. Think of the money we've saved!!

deanna said...

You are simply coming of age, dear Cherie, in magnificent ways.

This is another awesome post.

I've struggled through a time of feeling inadequate because my outer shell is doing what it naturally does. I can't make myself be other than I am, and I've never wanted to. But we're hyper-attuned in this society, men and women, to the look that is fleeting and God-given in our child-bearing years. I haven't escaped the desire, sometimes, to try to maintain that look.

Finally, though, I'm able to say, yup, I'm a real live person over forty. Don't need the attention of a twenty-year-old. Didn't appreciate it when I had it, anyway.

Guess I should've written my own post, huh? One of these days, maybe. :o)

Cherie said...

Good thoughts, Deanna. "Hyper-attuned." Boy, isn't that the truth.

I've never bought into the hype, but there is always a pull that, unless one examines things, gets the better of a person even subconsciously.

You can find yourself going along, just flowing along, without realizing you're in over your head and doing it like everyone else or trying to, even if it really isn't your own style. So, I like to look. And I like to think. And I like to do as much choosing as I can.

This book is really something.

Anonymous said...

Great post Cherie! The catfish comparison with the picture made me laugh because that is exactly what those collagen lips look like. A catfish! Funny. And you are right it is sad and it is time we ask the hard questions.

Thank you for a another current relevant post.

Ann said...

Refreshing, cleansing words, Cherie. Thanks for putting it all together.

Cherie said...

Thank you Annie and Ann, for your comments and encouragement! I appreciate it.

Wandering Coyote said...

Damn fine post, Cherie. So glad you are getting a lot from the book. I think it's one of the most important books that's ever been published, and as I said on my blog, I think it should be required reading for all girls AND boys coming into pubescence. Just like I think her book "Misconceptions" should be required reading for every woman of child-bearing age. The Beauty Myth has had a profound effect on me. I only hope it has as profound an effect on many, many others, so we can stop this mass manipulation and all live authentically.

As an aside, I bought make-up for the first time in 10 years last year. I don't really know why I was compelled to do so, but I only wear it when I feel the need to dress up.

Cherie said...

Cherie said...
Right you are WC. Thanks for your input.

I have make-up, too, and wear it for special occassions as you and M. do. Day to day, though, too much bother.

The thing that gets me is that so many women wear it ALL THE TIME. I don't get it. I know a woman, a pretty young gal around 20, who takes 2 hours to do her hair and make-up every morning. Can you even imagine - TWO hours. Every single eyelash in place, along with every dyed-hair on her head. I work hard around here each day and have no time or desire to worry about whether my face is running with black streaks, my eyelashes are separated incorrectly, or my hair is mussed a tad.

Madness. Just madness.

(And the teeth! Whiter than her baby girl's brand new pearly whites. What up with that?)

A clean washed face flushed with living, brushed tidy hair, an honest smile, and a carefree, self-confident attitude wrapped in clean clothing - beauty of its own and a good beginning to any day.

Anonymous said...

It is sad that we feel the need to change ourselves in order to feel beautiful. Although I could never see myself getting any sort of reconstructive surgery, I understand those who chose to do that.

Cherie said...

I, too, understand the pressure that propels women to surgically alter themselves, Des. It's a pretty sad indictment on our society, isn't it, that women feel they must cut themselves up, stitch themselves up, plump, smooth, suck-out, and lift themselves up in order to feel acceptable or beautiful.

Something is wrong with that thinking.

And, to me, it is heartbreakingly sad.

Thanks for your comment, Des!

Deadmanshonda said...

It has been a long time since this topic has been addressed in my life...meanwhile I'm surrounded by the fake, fashionable and famous. It does my heart better than you can imagine to have this reminder. Thank you Cherie. Thank you for all your wise, touching posts.

Pam said...

I love Naomi Wolf's perspective. At the rate I'm going, I'll be too sexy for my face very soon!

Cherie said...

And Leisel, it does my heart good to hear that you have been encouraged. I imagine a conversation with you about this topic would be very enlightening, very interesting, given where you work. You are welcome, and thanks for encouraging me.

Cherie said...

Hey Pam, long time no read!

I'll be watching for you on the catwalk.

; D

liz crumlish said...

Cherie, don't know if you are familiar with dove beauty products over there. But, in the UK, they've mounted a wonderful real beauty campaign, targetting young folk and exposing the beauty ads for the sham they are. their emphasis is on building up self esteem and not being taken in by the publicity drivel. I've used it with a couple of youth groups and its gone down well. thankfully some folk are redressing the balance. thanks for this post. x

Cherie said...

Liz, we do have Dove beauty products here, but I haven't been paying attention to their ads or campaigns. I will now. This is definitely encouraging news!

You are good to address this subject with youth groups since they are one of the main targets of advertisers and Hollywood.

You are welcome! Thank you for the comment.

tshsmom said...

I "exposed the Wizard" a long time ago. Make-up, designer clothes, and weekly hair styling is not my thing.

The last couple of years, I've been conducting polls among the men I know. Guess what? Guys really aren't interested in manicured, superbly coiffed, designer handbag women. What REALLY interests men is a woman who shares their interests and lifestyle.
Sure, men will ogle a surgically enhanced woman...but do they want to share their life with a shallow woman like that....NO WAY!

tshsmom said...

BTW, since I began my polling, L has started adding up the money I've saved us over the years by not buying makeup, hair dye, manicures, 200 pairs of shoes, designer clothing, and a purse to match every outfit. He has now acquired a whole new respect for me!

Cherie said...

And there we have a definitive conclusion from tshs!! Thanks for that! And good for you for being an exposer, too. I've had the same sort of conversations with men, with the same results as you. Women need to know this. The sad thing is that not only do women go along with the Wizard for men, they do it for other women's approval, that peer pressure, acceptance. Who needs it? We need to let our daughters and granddaughters know that who they are is the perfect thing to be, not a carbon copy off of a magazine or tv/movie screen.

Yeah, I've saved a ton of money, too, by being myself. You go, tshs!

Wandering Coyote said...

Liz & Cherie: I have seen the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty ads here in Canad and they are really, really good. There is a web site, too:



Cherie said...

Hey thanks, WC. Going there now.

Cherie said...

I'm back.....showed the films to the girls. So glad they are sensible children, my girls, and grateful to have friends like you guys, and resources like this Dove campaign to back us up. This is the start of a new way of defining beauty. It's about time!

cecily said...

I confess that I love makeup. Unashamedly! ;)

I'm not sure if the climate is slightly different here - I don't think the average woman is quite as fake in Australia. I can safely say I am not even tempted on the cosmetic surgery. And on the hairdying - well I refuse to spend money on it when people in other parts of the world are starving, so that usually saves me giving in to the grays. Except every couple of years I might do a bit of a rinse. Maybe.

Cherie said...

Good, Cecily! There is no shame in loving makeup, especially someone as level-headed as you. You have found a good balance.

I have never been to Australia, but have heard and read that the women there are more outgoing, more relaxed, less vain, less into their looks - or as you said so well, fake.

Here, well, it's like an epidemic. Really really weird.