I care about my looks, just as much as any other woman, but I have to say I refuse to spend the dollars and hours that the advertising culture requires of me. If I take more than a half hour to get ready for a date or event – where I end up looking as good as I can, anyway – I feel mournful for precious time lost. I have always felt it far more fulfilling to spend more money and time on the development of my mind. And if it comes to spending time and money on my body – it better be fun and stimulating in ways BEYOND the beauty benefits – like dancing or yoga or hiking. I would prefer a heavy thonk on the head than spend an hour on a treadmill, which is LITERALLY – running nowhere fast!
And all sorts of thoughts tumble out of my head when I reflect upon this whole beauty business –
- How we as women allow ourselves to be manipulated and seduced by media into thinking that either we are more or less lovable/desired if we made this or that adjustment to our faces and bodies.
- How we compete against and sometimes despise other women, who “seem to be” more successful than we are due to their ability to achieve some sort of culturally approved standard of beauty.
- How young girls commit suicide for either being “too pretty” or not “pretty enough” as a result of bullying by their peers.
- How girls’ performance in school takes a nose-dive as soon as she starts noticing boys and becomes preoccupied with her beauty image as young as 10 years of age. (In a 2012 report by UNESCO – 2/3 of the 792 million illiterate people worldwide are women.)
- How we are constantly complaining about “not enough time” to do the things that really matter in our lives, but how much energy or time do we spend either pursuing some beauty-adjusting activity or mentally punishing ourselves for not being as pretty as “that woman or girl”?
When do we finally take ownership of our bodies and our lives and start making our own rules?
I ask this as a woman who grew up in the women’s lib era, with a single Mom who went bra-less, and walked around the house naked. And of course, I was grossed out by this as a teenager. My Mom could have been fighting beside the women’s libbers, but she made her own rules. In spite of sexism, she excelled in male dominated fields of engineering and the military reserves. She dated good men without having to resort to drastic beauty measures. I don’t think she has ever owned a blow-dryer. In her 40’s she met the love-of-her-life while hang-gliding. He was 16 years her junior. I don’t ever remember her ever complaining about her looks, or going on a diet, or going on an exercise routine for her weight. She was pear-shaped and proud. Family members would always compliment on how she never gained weight , and stayed so youthful. And she rarely wore more than a little eyeshadow and lip gloss.
My mother was the counterbalance to my grandmother’s influence – who piled her hair into elaborate beehive hair-do’s, had a 6 foot wide by 8 inch deep dresser drawer full of jewelry; always put on her “face” before going out; did her nails up to her 90th birthday, and wore high heels to do housework for 20 years. My grandmother was my favorite person of all time, but I never had her patience for creating a “beauty image.” And I knew very well how often the smile she painted on – was JUST THAT – a smile for company. The same painted lips would tell me, countless times of how she once had a lovely singing voice and lost it to a severe case of laryngitis; how her father prohibited her from pursuing her talent in painting telling her that she would “starving standing up;” how she excelled at ballet as a girl, then broke her foot, lost her dancer’s body and then wasn’t permitted to dance in the recitals; and how she had to give up a career in management, when she married.
How much a difference a couple of decades made in the lives of these two women. But the obsessive preoccupation with beauty carries over from my Gramma’s time. And this is something we share with women around the globe. As soon as women, have a little bit of expendable income or time – more often than not we spend it on something to make us appear “more beautiful.”
But what if we started re-evaluating what BEAUTY really is to us? Discovering for ourselves, a Beauty that is actually fulfilling? In my mother’s case – she pursued beauty in mind, spirit, egalitarian relationships, healthy activity. And while my Grandmother seemed to overcompensate with a pursuit of outer Beauty, her mind and soul longed to express it in creativity. To my Grandmother’s credit, everything she did, she did with an educated sense of Beauty. She was one of the unsung domestic goddesses. But what mattered the most was that she felt she had even more to give to the world.
Her world, prior to the women’s lib movement forced her to hide behind a pretty mask and make the best of the life she had, while mourning the loss of other ways to express her inner beauty.
But those of us blessed to live in this day and age, in societies that allow us to express our whole selves, and participate fully in the economic and political world – many of us are STILL hiding behind our Pretty Masks. We seem to care more about whether the world sees us a “attractive” than whether we have something intelligent to say, or something useful to provide.
We are so much more! And we need to focus upon BECOMING the beauty we long to be, rather than painting or pruning our bodies and faces to feign appearances of loveliness. We need to start taking the risk to become MORE than a pretty face or body.
Women understand that the pursuit of beauty is a survival strategy. But what if we extended this strategy of beautification to insure the survival of the world beyond our physical self – beyond our inner self? What is more beautiful than the reality of peace, or the experience of love? Could Beauty be an essential characteristic of the sustainable life, or economy, or political life? As we stretch our lovely muscles, we need to stretch our even more magnificent minds … toward bringing about a more beautiful world.
This post is in response to http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/
“What is beauty” – and my participation in Blog 101 and Writing 101 for the next month.