I recently read an article in “O” magazine by Eve Ensler (think Vagina Monologues) about how insane it is that women spend so much money on their appearance when that money could/should go to much better causes like AIDS research or the ghettos of South Africa. I read the article mostly because the author’s picture stood out – she’s wearing black pants and a black, short halter top that revealed a very *real* plump stomach. Not gross, not even as polished as the new Dove commercials. Just real. I could relate. And I admired her honest portrayal of herself (we all should take a picture of ourselves and look at it daily; I bet we’d see more of our true beauty rather than flaws if we had such a photo to examine).
Which is why, after reading the article and thoroughly understanding her position, that I can’t stop thinking about what it means to be a woman who pays attention to how she looks – there’s this fine balance between the goal of attraction and tumbling over into body-hating addiction. I got a Masters Degree in English a few years ago in which I intensely studied the reality of women’s place in the world – in the past and now. Even though women are doing tremendously better than we were twenty, thirty, even ten years ago, we are still fighting for true equality (more on that later, but trust me). And, we’re still expected to look better than our male counterparts, for better or worse. My initial thought about sacrificing the money that I spend on my appearance and sending it to some good cause is a twang guilt of “yeah, probably should.” Besides, I’ve been too busy being the working mom to give off the impression that I have the time to care about my appearance. Besides, behind that is a huge sigh of relief… you mean I don’t have to worry about what I look like? I don’t have to research the best, most affordable skin care and makeup or watch a thousand shows of both the British and American ‘What Not To Wear” in order to determine not only what is considered attractive, but also attractive for me? Determining all this—let alone shopping for the stuff—is a part time job in of itself; so yes, I’d be glad to give it up.
And yet, give it up is what I’ve done these last few years. Since giving birth to Jack, I’ve fallen into that notorious “scattered, often frumpy, 15 pounds too heavy, hair-up, too busy to put on more than mascara” recent mom look. I don’t have the time between full time mommy, part-time teacher and freelance editor to research products, let alone shop.
Ensler did acknowledge that we should care for our bodies “deeply” and honor them. I do eat better than I ever have in my life, and as much as possible, I grab a two mile walk, so my health is relatively in tact. I wonder, though, if she would think that make-over shows are something she’d approve of (particularly when she made a point to remind us of America’s poverty line or the polluted rivers). Perhaps she was predominately talking to the readers of O! who buy the most expensive items on Oprah’s “must have” list- you know, those ladies who believe that if they spend $250 on night cream that the wrinkles will indeed be erased come morning. Or, those who really think that you can’t find a great pair of shoes at the discount stores. I’m not sure. I am pretty sure that she’s just trying to get us to reflect on what we buy and why we buy it. I think there’s an important distinction to make between money that is spend on yourself in order to feel good about yourself and the money spend on yourself in a delusionary haze that yes, you will indeed meet those impossible standards established by “them” (media, television, celebrity, etc.). But, I’m not the person who needs to be reminded about what money not to spend – I need to be reminded that taking care of myself and feeling, well, good and attractive, is just as crucial as teaching a successful class (yeah, really).
On Friday, I got my haircut for the second time this year. I spent $55.00 to get it cut ($45 + tip). Yesterday, I bought $6.00 hair removal creme to get rid of a wonderful new development on my upper lip. And, lately, I’ve been thinking about not plucking my eyebrows for awhile and paying the $15 to get them waxed because, darn it, waxed eyebrows just look so much more polished when waxed. And polished, I like. It’s why I spent about an hour the other day researching exfoliants to find out how to get rid of the blackheads on my nose (which will no doubt multiply like fleas come humid July).
So, would it better if I took that $76 and donated it to a women’s shelter? Maybe. But, I like to think that confidence is built both from within and without (as many other articles in O would no doubt agree with). How can I get dressed up for a date with Ed to really enjoy one another’s company if I’ve got all this extra facial hair? Besides, it’s not like I’m delusional about cellulite or stretch marks; they are there and always will be; I won’t spend a gazillion dollars on plastic surgery or miracle creams. I don’t think the woman at the shelters would want do to that, either. They would rather start by feeling safe and eating a good meal. But, then, I bet they wouldn’t mind a decent haircut, like anyone.
Perhaps its time (for me anyway) to focus on the feminism for this time in my life: the unique woman who strives for personal, parental, and professional fulfillment. I take in Ensler, Stacy & Clinton, some gender theory, friends, and the occasional style magazine, mix them up and use them to find my style (maybe that’s just what the 30s are about).