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from a really average woman who lost 100 lbs.
and works every day to keep it off.

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Thursday, February 06, 2003  

Uh oh. Beauty.

(Hey guys: This is another piece mostly for women. But I hope you find it interesting.)

Hmm.. uh. Okay. This is going to be a difficult piece to write. It will be awkward. It won't conclude at all, much less gracefully.

The subject today is beauty.

A big silence just filled my head. And a big weight just landed on my chest.

What do I know about this subject? Well, nothing, really. Or a lot. Or neither. I have only my own experience to share, as always, on, as usual, a subject fraught with controversy and personal anxiety.

A sane person, a polite person, a careful person would simply change the subject.

So, of course, I won't. We do often change the subject when something is too difficult to explore. In this way we sand-bag and bush-beat and pussy-foot around large pieces of emotional plaque. When what we need to do is dig in and clean up.

So, um. Beauty.

I am 43. I grew up over a period of time when women in affluent countries have had very interesting and wide-ranging discussions and arguments fueled by fascinating research on the subject of beauty.

In my generation, especially in the workplace, especially if you were serious about a "career-track," it was popular to reject any effort to present oneself as beautiful. Beauty, sexuality, and their concerns belonged to women who didn't want to be taken seriously. If you wanted to be taken seriously, you wore clothes that masked your body, very little makeup, serious hair (that's what we called it, "serious hair"), sensible shoes, loose clothes with elastic waistbands. Sensuality was out, out, out. Curves were out. Limbs were out. Big hair was out. Eye makeup, out. Showing skin, of course, was way, way out. And motherhood was mostly out. Can you say "Female Eunuch"?

This was a very useful excuse and cover for fatness, too. Fat was a great way to cover up your sexuality at work. Almost nothing works, on a social and biological level to detract from your sexuality quite like too much fat. (On the other hand, a little bit of extra fat usually increases the appeal, biologically speaking, for men and women alike.)

And then, slowly, the culture began to loosen up a bit. To allow women to pursue equality while leading whole lives and at least experiment a bit more with style, explore prettiness, admit to being sexual beings. Some pundits encouraged the pendulum to swing just as hard the other way, encouraging women to use their sexual powers to get ahead. Why not use whatever you've got?

That is, beauty is political. I keep relearning this. Just again last week when I wore a pair of stilettos to a cocktail party. Yeeeow.

I find my best learning is coming from women younger than I am. I watch my daughter's friends and their very different way of managing their bodies and playing with their beauty. And I am impressed. They are both far more comfortable with their bodies and far more belligerent about social standards of beauty than most women my age. They spend less time fussing about their weight and size. For them exercise and diet are health issues.

No, really.

They choose exercise and fashion in order to make themselves feel better or perform better. (I don't ignore the stats on eating disorders, here. We haven't won this war by a long shot, but I experience real progress among young women.)

They seem very definite about finding their own style. They know it's an individual thing. Not a consumer-driven thing. They recognize a natural, personal style in others. I shopped with a bunch of younger women a while back, and they looked at certain blouses I picked up and would say, "No. That's not you." What a relief that was, to begin to think about using clothes to project my own style. They looked out for me, and for each other.

So, I'm tentatively dipping my toe back in. Exploring the idea of beauty again. Trying new hair. Looking. Playing. Enjoying my wrinkles, crinkles, white hair, and age spots (power-freckles).

Want to play with your own beauty?

1.) Understand that everyone, even you, has beauty. If you don't understand what yours is, you can work to understand it. Through writing. Or ask the people who love you best. It may be a set of great features, or a style, or a personality thing, or some gift you have with people. It's there. Explore it and exploit it. Oh for instance, I have a friend who has this remarkable coloring so that she always looks as if she's lit from within. She recently bought a little bit of sparkly stuff to put on her skin that just enhances that feature, and the effect is subtle but dazzling. It's very "her."

2.) Good health is beautiful. This is well documented and universally accepted as the truth. The better you feel, the better you look. Period. So, how about focusing your weight loss and fitness goals on how your body feels and what it needs?

3.) Take good friends shopping for makeup and clothes. Really good friends. If you're over 40, consider taking your kids' friends, or your friends' kids. Just to see how some things change and some don't. Let them stare at you and look out for you and help you see yourself all over again.

That's a start. You look pretty beautiful to me,


Salon on Germaine Greer, author of "The Female Eunuch"
Interesting: Modern Standards of Beauty, Nature or Nurture
History of Stilettos, Powerful Women Like to be Tall

posted by Julie |
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