Screw the Beauty Standards Created by Marketing Teams
But I’ve never been good at being a woman in that “commenting on people’s looks” way. It isn’t natural for me to say to a woman I haven’t seen in a while, “You look gorgeous!” Maybe it’s because I was raised by my father.
But more than that, I didn’t like that I was being pressured by her self-deprecating comment to a) pay her, a stranger, a fished-for compliment to combat the insult she launched at herself, and b) pay myself a matching insult to assure her that I thought I was pretty lame, too.
If we don’t hate something about ourselves, the understanding implies, we are obviously conceited. But surely there’s plenty of space between self-loathing (which we for some reason prize) and conceit.
You talked about liking different things about your aging body. I could relate to the comment about liking the wrinkles around your eyes. I feel the same way about the crinkles in my neck. What is it that allows you to feel powerful and good about these changes? And how can other women harness that for themselves?
It probably wouldn’t have occurred to me to look at signs of aging in a positive way had I not been inspired by our country’s advertising to change my perception of not just myself and aging, but advertising.
One line from a commercial stands out in my memory, and it’s been a couple of years, now, since it aired: “Feminine odor. Nobody likes it.”
Nobody likes it.”
What am I supposed to feel like as a woman when this line is uttered—by a woman—on a national commercial?
It absolutely infuriated me. Who did this company (and I wish I remembered the name) think it was to make this offensive statement, to brazenly scrutinize and criticize all women’s vaginas? (Never mind that we see nothing comparable for men, whose external parts sweat and chafe and generate their very own special scent that should just as easily inspire deodorant companies to manufacture a male “freshness” spray.)
“You are not ‘quite right’ just as you are,” the commercial said—as do advertisements and commentary on women aging.
Isabella Rosselini said in a recent interview, “I age, it just happens; it’s like, tell a baby don’t grow (but) it will grow. Nothing I can do to stop the progress.”
Aging is an inevitable part of living, and if you enjoy life, you probably cherish every extra day you get to live. Yet, we (women, primarily) are made very well aware that it’s fine for us to live longer—as long as we somehow continue to magically look young while doing it. Forget how very, very, very important it is that we be attractive to be assigned value; we also have to be young (or at least look convincingly young) to be attractive.
It was just as infuriating to be told that not dying young should make us anxious as women as it was to be told that because I am a woman, if I don’t use a feminine deodorant spray, my privates could apparently clear a sidewalk.
I finally figured out there was nothing wrong with me, but there was something very wrong with the public message. And it seemed silly to allow a judgmental, superficial media and a greedy marketing machine to have any influence over how I felt about myself or this life I so enjoy.
You’ve authored 2 wonderful books of fiction, Pretty Much True… and Carol’s Aquarium. You write very viscerally. (Reading your writing is like drinking water. It’s effortless.) You really allow your readers to feel, touch, taste and see what is happening in your stories. What do you think it feels like to love yourself vs. hate yourself?
Thank you so much for the compliment on the books!
I think, with regard to physical appearance, loving yourself allows you to enjoy the world around you, and hating yourself keeps you constantly focused on how you look or believe you are perceived (aesthetically) in the world. One allows you to appreciate the women in your life whether they are more or less beautiful than you are, and the other has you making constant comparisons between yourself and others that too often result in viewing the other person as an automatic foe.
But it’s all silly, because self-perception is so arbitrary. If you aren’t happy with yourself, there can often never be a perfect size, a perfect look, for yourself. A thin woman can feel too skinny beside an hour-glass woman; an hour-glass woman might feel fat next to the thin woman. In Pretty Much True…, the protagonist, Mia, is a fairly thin woman, and she feels gawky and awkward when spending time with her heavier-set neighbor, whom she finds beautiful and graceful.