Friday, December 7, 2007

Being Pretty

Living in a female body is a complexity in my life and in the lives of most women I know.
Trying to write something succinct on the subject it is like trying to hold a thrashing big fish, but I'm giving it a go.

I'm trying because in response to a post on Already Pretty that said if you (female person) feel bad about yourself, you're not trying hard enough to look good, Krista wrote about how she used to spend about 17 hours a week on her appearance, and it was a no-win situation--you could never do enough to win out over the body shaming. 
This got me thinking.

I have never spent much time on my appearance, partly because I'm not very interested and partly because I'm lazy, and as Krista points out, it takes a lot of work. (Not to mention money.)

Instead of attending to clothes and makeup and the like, I'd rather lie in bed eating tangerines and reading a biography of Gerald Ford, as I did last night.
I sometimes feel bad about my lack of effort, but I got my choices in perspective back when I was an undergraduate studying Classics.

One evening I was doing my Latin homework at a cafe near the U.
As I hacked my way through a thicket of conjugations, I overheard several women students at a table next to mine discussing their diets.
They gave extensive details about what they had eaten that day, and how bad they felt about everything they ate. One woman said how many M&Ms she had eaten as if confessing a disgusting act.

It struck me that the attention the women paid to their diets required the same kind of mental effort I was expending on Latin grammar.

Maybe that's an even trade, depending on how you look at it (is studying a dead language of greater or lesser inherent value than counting calories?).
But it's not an even trade emotionally: 
I was gaining something personally, by studying, while women and weight is an emotionally draining relationship, I know from personal experience of me and most of the women I know. 
  The conversation was a peculiarly female one. Men certainly talk about equally temporary matters, but I've never heard them talk casually and publicly, as if it's perfectly normal, about hating themselves for some daily activity like eating.

Our species seems to long for beauty.
Some of the prettiest humans on the planet are the men of the Wodaabe culture of Niger, right, who spend as much time as movie stars on their makeup. [Image from National Geographic.]

Working to be beautiful is a human impulse. Nothing wrong with that.

But for American women, the desire is skewed in part by media and business interests that have a ton of money riding on the outcome. Not to mention a long history of power imbalances between women and men. And that seems to make a lot of us crazy and self-hating instead of beautiful.

It bugs me to admit that I while I reject the idea of such materialistic manipulation, it gets to me anyway, and I still feel a little bit like a morally bad and unlovable person when I eat too many M&Ms, even if I'm reading nonfiction at the time.
If I had a magic vacuum hose that could suck out useless, hurtful thoughts & feelings from my brain, I would set it to get rid those ones first.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"It struck me that the close attention the women paid to the details of their diets required the same kind of mental effort I was expending on Latin grammar."

I laughed out loud when I read this! Lauren