I just finished Caitlin Moran’s How To Be a Woman and am still reeling from my huge ladycrush on her. I have so much to say! Sexism! Stripclubs! Expensive ugly handbags!
But those discussions will need to wait. It seems that there are a few other slackers out there who didn’t order the book in time for A Practical Wedding’s book club meet-up. So, we’re going to revisit the whole thing at the end of February, giving everyone a chance to order the book and read the book and spit coffee all over the book in giant, snorting guffaws. (If you haven’t read it yet, that means you! Borrow/buy that book and get on it!)
For now, I’d just like to scratch the surface on one of the minor discussions in the book- her chapter on “Role Models and What We Do with Them.” There were few, brief moments throughout this book wherein I disagreed with Ms. Moran. I quickly forgave her, of course, and we never spoke of it again. But this particular chapter didn’t sit well with me very much at all. It reminded me, in fact, of a big chunk of Bossypants that I found equally unsettling. And that one’s by Tina Fey! The nerdy, bespectacled brunette from a Southwest suburb of Philly who likes to eat a lot and make unladylike noises! She and I are BESTIES!
Caitlin suggests that our female idols- many of whom are, by default, celebrities- are better off left alone about their appearance. I agree with this. I’ve talked before about how I wish appearances weren’t so heavy-laden with value and meaning. I long for the day when we can say, “Have you gained weight?” without it sending someone spiraling into a fit of rage, tears and self-loathing. Still, I sometimes find myself slipping up and making general assumptions about celebrities based only on their appearances. I try to catch myself before that catty thing I was going to say about Ashley Olsen’s hair slips off my tongue, but. It happens. It’ll be nice when one day, not only do appearances lose their weight and worth in assessing value, but when we stop reverting back to them to make judgment calls. I’m frustrated anew every time I open tvguide.com and their current survey is, “Hot or Not?” or “Who Wore It Best?” instead of something relevant to acting- not that it matters much, since I’m just trying to find out when the next episode of 30 Rock is on. BUT STILL.
Caitlin (she and I are on a first name basis after that crying spell I had during the motherhood chapter) takes this a few steps further than I would, however. She asserts that one of the ways society (media, the paparazzi) tears down the successes of women is by showing photos of performers when they are “normal.” In the “look at Reese Witherspoon’s awful hair as she goes for a cup of coffee!” and the “OMG, Rihanna wore sweatpants today!” sort of way.
Frankly, I love that stuff.
Oh, how I savor a long line at the grocery store the day the “Worst Beach Bods!” issue of some trashy magazine lights on the stand.
I guess I could see, in part, how we minimize the accomplishments of a woman if we reduce her to nothing more than “Stars without Make-up!” or if we, as my pal Caitlin puts it, “show them without their game face.” Alright, if a woman earns a living by looking a certain way, perhaps we shouldn’t try stripping her of her tools of trade. But don’t we do a disservice to other women- young, impressionable, non-celebrity women- who see constant photos of unrealistic expectations? Instead of removing the possibility of seeing Reese Witherspoon’s messy coffeeshop-run hair, wouldn’t it just be better to make it okay to be a pretty woman who sometimes has a limp ponytail?
The Bossypants comparison, for me, was in the chapter called, “Amazing, Gorgeous, Not Like That,” when Tina (again, an old pal) discussed photoshopped photos of celebrities and how she doesn’t believe they’re really harming women’s perceptions of beauty at all.
That’s when I had to step away from the book for a minute.
Tina asserts that no thinking person actually believes that real people look the way magazine covers and photoshoots look. She argues that there aren’t flocks of men out there comparing the real women they find in the bar to the covers of Maxim.
I don’t agree.
I don’t agree AT ALL. I could not agree LESS.
If I, as a woman and, as a result, owner of womanly parts for over 26 years now, can sometimes wonder if my bits and pieces look the way they should, OF COURSE a man who has NOT owned ladybusiness for a quarter century may be confused by it all.
We’ve had several, several discussions- on this very blog, even- about differing individual standards of beauty. “Eye of the beholder” and all that. But, in truth, we can’t ignore the role society plays in establishing a standard. Currently, we’re dealing with this stick-thin, giant-boobed, perpetually-tan standard. If you happen to be a round Italian with some pale German heritage, you’re effed. (cough) Which is fine, really. We can wage the war for diversity and appreciation of all sizes and shapes and colors after I get another cup of coffee. The real question for right now is, are the standards attainable? And, well. If we’re constantly being shown such high standards that we feel justified in pulling a girl apart for a bad hair day, I think the answer is “no.”
So- what do you think?
Is it unhealthy for us to continue to display unrealistic standards of beauty? Or is it more detrimental to women to not allow them the extra edge provided by a sheen of spray tan and click of the mouse? Do you think people begin to expect everyone to look like what they see in magazines?