Don’t “hate us because we’re pretty.” Instead, hate the culture that demands that we go to extreme ends to look that way.
A few years back, my on-again, mostly off-again BF, who would visit me perhaps five or six times a year, spend an hour, fuck my brains out and come up with a billion excuses to be somewhere else, told me how much he appreciated that I would dress up to a “10” for his visits.
You have no idea what it took. Preparations began about two hours before he got there. The long, long hair, the perfect makeup, the black thigh-highs, endless jars of KY jelly (a necessity after sixty, thanks, especially when sex happens only six times a year), the perfect dress, the perfect shoes. I had a particular piece of music he loved. I would stand at the edge of my kitchen, and as soon as I heard his car, run to the living room to start that music so that it would begin the second he walked in the door.
Hours of careful staging. Hours.
Then, an hour later, he would wipe off, wash off, and gee, I gotta go. We’ll talk next time. I promise.
Never did. I was never important enough for him to invest in me. Which is, of course, far more so a statement of his unwillingness to invest in himself, but I digress.
I have written plenty of times about the emotional cost to do such things, and the choice I made to stick with this person, and what that says about how much I valued myself. This isn’t that article.
About a year or so into this relationship, which was little more than my willingness to be this guy’s high-end, unpaid booty call for years, I located a photographer. On two occasions I paid a pretty penny for him to do a lengthy photo shoot. I had all kinds of costumes. Boy, did I look like a million fucking bucks.
I looked like a ten in all of them.
No photoshopping. For that brief, incredible moment, I really did look like that. It’s utterly unsustainable.
Not only that, looking that way did NOT get me love, did NOT get me rich, did NOT get me hoards of admirers showering me with flowers. Not once, not ever. Not even. Therein lies the lie of pretty privilege.
I went home, threw the costumes in a closet, wiped that shit off my face, braided my hair and hit the gym. Looking normal, everyday, unremarkable.
The lie is that nobody looks like that all the time. Nobody. First, it’s impossible, second, life gets in the way, ranging from sleeping, to shitting, to cleaning the house, to working, to gardening. To, you know. What we do in life. There is no bloody way to maintain that look more than a couple of precious moments.
Yet men ( and to be fair, we women) sure want that. They see a photo, and somehow at some level they believe that this is how we look full time. Should look, even while vacuuming, washing the dog, etcetera. If you’re old enough or you’re a TV buff, the 1950s TV shows and ads showed women with wasp waists and very high heels waltzing around the house doing housework. For Christ’s fucking SAKE.
To that, please:
My mother, who was a housewife during those years, forced her body into a girdle every single day. We lived in Central Florida, no air conditioning, brutal weather. She was supposed to look like THAT every day for my father? She was miserable enough trying to contain her aging body after two kids. Makeup would melt at those temperatures. Did melt.
In medicine, the Magnetic Resonance Imaging process or MRI gives a doctor a very specific snapshot of a single, shimmering moment in time. That moment is hardly the entire picture, although all too often the results are treated that way. That image is nothing more than a hint about what’s going on inside our bodies in the same way that my photo shoot and those few seconds of me in my perfect dress, makeup, shoes, thigh-highs sashaying across my living room floor to the door was a manufactured presentation meant to be consumed by a man strictly for his sexual pleasure.
Medium buddy Yael Wolfe penned a piece the other day which was part of the inspiration for this. Here’s her story:
From her piece:
Right now, I’m wearing gray cotton socks, jeans that are too big for me, and a tired peasant shirt with a rip in the armpit that I’ve owned for over ten years. My hair is in a messy bun, as usual, and I’m not wearing makeup or jewelry. I’d be a little embarrassed to be seen by a neighbor right now. Only my close friends and family members get to see this side of me. This side of me, by the way, that is probably the most illustrative of who I am really am.
To that, as I write this at 5:07 am on a Tuesday morning, I am in a sports bra, my hair is in a messy bun, no makeup, sweat pants and workout socks. I am getting ready for a run in the pre-dawn cool. Happily, my teeth are in.
Last Sunday morning I was in such a hurry to run before the sun came up that I forgot to switch out my pink night guard for my dentures. Talk about some scary shit. Not a ten, thanks. But real. I giggled like a banshee every time I said hello to a fellow runner and wondered what they thought about my clear pink “teeth.” If stuff like this didn’t happen I’d have no comedy material whatsoever.
For my money, being able to laugh at that is what real beauty looks like.
When I was on Match.com, I posted photos of myself dressed up. Of the 26 photos we were allowed to post, some 24 were of me in the outback doing what I do best. I was dirty, disheveled, messy, happy as shit. Like Yael, that is what I look like most of the time. I throw myself into life, not into looking like a Barbie Doll. I was covered in horse sweat, mud, dirt and scratched and bleeding.
Women have fired me viciously-worded nasty grams when I have posted those dress-up shots, barking at me about how lucky I am. No honey. I’m lucky I can look like that for twenty seconds. Then real life interferes, just like it does for all of us. Pretty women who are pretty for living, and I am not one of them at 68, are manipulated and airbrushed, their bodies elongated, their waists sliced in the same way corsets did for them in the Fifties. All of it is fake.
It’s no different for male models, fitness models, actors, the whole lot. All of it is fake. Yet some part of us believes that this look is real, and that it’s effortless, and that those folks don’t wake up looking and smelling like stale owl shit. A line from my sainted mother, whose breath could kill.
Yet somehow we still want to reach that ideal, as though it will get us something we don’t currently have.
It won’t. Being pretty got me assaulted. Being pretty got me the kind of unwanted attention that was very costly. And being pretty got me sister hate, which is not only cruel but uncalled for. The assumptions that other women make about attractive women are often patently untrue. Sure, pretty privilege is real, but my god, the cost. You have no clue, and no, it’s not worth it.
For so many women who are attractive, age is the Enemy Absolute. For me, age has been a release. I can indeed still dress up, still look terrific. Sure I can. But to what end? What will that get me that is both lasting and real?
Why should I feel the need to “put on my face” when the one I have is perfectly acceptable?
Why should I feel the pressure to get “dolled up” for the public eye, when to do so makes me a Barbie Doll and by extension, not real?
That’s Yael’s premise and I’m on board with that.
As a product of my society, a part of me loves to get dressed up. I have a closet full of designer clothing. My make-up collection is much reduced. The last time I opened up a mascara wand the contents drifted into the sink, dried up like black summer dust, from disuse. I spend more time clipping nose hairs than plucking my eyebrows, which in any case need to be drawn back in because, well, I’m getting older. What hair used to define my brows is now braiding itself in my nostrils.
The man in question, whose presence last month was summarily invited out of my life, this time at my request, likely still pores over my old photo shoot. When you and I pine over pictures of folks who are at their most beautiful, that MRI snapshot of Disney-esque perfection, we set ourselves up for terrible disappointment. For the real us, the real folks who toil and wrinkle and fail and fart and with any grace laugh at all of it, don’t look like that. Can’t look like that. The freaks of nature who do indeed look like that don’t last long.
This past spring, I found a blossom in my yard, a single yellow bloom, that my landscaper told me was a protected flower here in Oregon. You can’t touch them. I reveled in its delicate beauty for a few precious weeks. Then it wilted. It’s supposed to. As with all living things, we have our moments, then those moments pass, and all memory of youth and great beauty, such as anyone might have, fade forever. I was never a great beauty. The burden of attractiveness, such as I had it or still have, was costly in so many ways.
An arrogant asshole of a man said to me once that there was nothing so sad as an aging beauty. I couldn’t disagree more. I see more loveliness now in aging faces than I ever did. Perhaps it’s because mine is, too, and I see in those lines the proof of life. Proof of laughter. Proof of growing mastery, maybe, and the beginning of wisdom.
If I’m going to “put my face on” for public consumption, that is the face I would prefer to wear. My own. Hopefully with my dentures instead of my pink night guard, but that’s anyone’s guess these days.
With age, with grey hair, with loss of the pressure to be pretty full time, come freedom. For my part, it’s been worth the wait.