The power of appearance was reinforced for me today when a beautiful, ex-international model was the subject of a newspaper article because she had written a non-fiction book called The Fictional Woman; once more detailing the trials and tribulations of womankind. To say it all sounded so boringly familiar is an understatement; indeed, it was depressing for me to realise that the issues were much the same as they were for me, and millions of other women, more than fifty years ago. Has nothing changed in attitudes and values towards females over how long, centuries maybe? Indeed, it was also the way the article was introduced that really got me: gasps as to WHO Is That? as she entered a room. By men? I don’t know; not sure the article mentioned the gender divide about the beauty issue, but it still hovers over all women as a great divide of our own gender. Appearance can say so much to others whereas to ourselves, it can be alarming when you’re young, realising the power of sorts you have over males (and females in an altogether different way albeit negatively with jealousy and envy affecting many young girls) because of your looks. Power for what purpose though? And is power the right word? A reality that you soon realise as a young girl that presents to you how you can affect males just by your looks. It can be that basic; that simple. It reminded me of an occasion when, would you believe, the same question was posed when I entered a party room at 14 years of age. Unsurprisingly, most of the people gathered in that room all knew me as a teenager at school; bespectacled; camouflaged by my school uniform. I knew I looked good at that party; my mother had made my outfit for me and I still remember it now 50 years later; a turquoise, tight fitting short sleeved blouse tucked in sveltely into a swirling skirt of turquoise and white in a soft cotton. I was also sporting a suntan as it was summer and I was tanned for once instead of lobster red. And thin. I was not wearing my glasses either and can’t be sure who asked the question except that it was quite loud and everyone turned around to look at me. Initially, I felt embarrassed; but wrote it in my diary remembering only too well how so many boys had asked me to dance that night. It felt good and pleasing, but yet again, I never wore that garb to a party any other time. Something intangible or so it seems in retrospect happened to me once again that night; a reality hovering in my unconscious that so much about male attitudes towards me seemed based on what I looked like; not my personality, confidence or intelligence. It must have frightened me in a way because for the rest of my teen years, I unconsciously stopped wearing such appealing apparel and even withdrew from the party circuit at 16 years old. Our appearance can damn us to bemoan our genetic heritage if we feel unattractive or allow us to soar to the height of popularity if we look stunning to others. I say this not because I’ve ever felt intrinsically unattractive, but as I penned in The Cunt Conspiracy and other blogs, I had times when I certainly hid my good looks in the shadows of self and other times throughout my life when I felt that my sexy appearance was all males were interested in. I have written much about appearance; but when we look at someone, what are we really seeing? An apparition, defined in the Macquarie Dictionary as anything that appears esp. something remarkable or phenomenal. So what was I at that party? An apparition of beauty, even as a young girl? Appearance is defined as several things including an apparition; but semantically acknowledged as an outward look or aspect, the act or fact of appearing as to the eye, the mind or the public. It’s the inclusion of the mind I find particularly pertinent because what are we really thinking when we see someone appear? What is going on in our heads when we see someone? Does our appearance on the outside say more about us than what’s on the inside, at least to others? And does anyone care moreover, about what’s on the inside? And how often are they out of kilter? Or are they? The more I think about appearance the more I believe it’s our outward look or aspect that people assume says it all about us: even to the extent that it can seem just a “show” of attractiveness, a cover-up; a facade that disguises our real selves. I’ve known a few females when I was younger that to me looked beautiful and gorgeous but inside themselves, they felt unattractive, even ugly. It is still a bugbear for millions of adolescent girls and young women as I read and see expressed on so many occasions. I have experienced the irrational assumptions of others about my appearance all too often as I’ve been treated and regarded so very differently depending on my appearance. I can write reams on this because I’ve changed my appearance so many times (I get bored with looking the same) over the years. These assumptions are made by women as well as men. I think so much about this, it’s in the newspaper constantly and on TV talk shows etc especially as a female where so much can depend on what we look like; the jobs we get or don’t get, the money we earn or don’t earn, the talents we have or don’t have are all too often ascribed to us by how we appear to others. My weight fluctuated many times too for a decade in my late teens and 20s as I’ve written, but I worked out a long time ago how unconsciously I was rebelling against all the insidious and pervasive norms and stereotypes of how a female should look. The article about the ex-model said it all over again as if her beauty set her apart and allowed her words about sexism, feminism et al to be published, the same old vexatious issues of being female and a beautiful one at that. I asked myself as I was reading it if I was not just jealous as none of my books have ever been published even though I was writing about so many of the same issues more than 35 years ago. I know I’m not jealous rather disconcerted, depressed and distressed that nothing has really changed over all these years. Now at 64, I am wondering whether it ever will and I’m just tired of reading the same old mantras about females and their lot. At least for the past 25 years, I no longer face the real conflicts I countenanced when I was younger about my looks and weight. In the past, I argued with myself intellectually so often that my looks shouldn’t count in who wanted to know me, talk to me or even fuck me. At the same time, I was often envious of females who always looked good and attractive, knowing deep down inside me that I could look just as good and attractive if I really wanted to as my teenage years had sometimes attested to. And what’s sex got to do with it? Maybe everything as we decide who we want to bed and who wants to bed us. Appearance for males is just as much an issue for me, too. I did unravel a lot of my conflicts about my appearance in my late 20s as I came to realise that being slim, wearing good clothes and making the most of myself and my looks were just as important to me as nourishing my mind and soul. And I hoped I could tell who really wanted to know me because of my intelligence and personality not just my sexy appearance. It goes without saying I made many errors of judgement and I still do, but that’s life if you want to live it. Yet, as the conflicts abated and as I changed my appearance, so too, did people’s view of me. One man I met who I told remarked some years later: They (where I worked at the time in the UK) couldn’t believe the transformation! Yet, Shane Warne has changed his appearance just as much as I did and I haven’t read much about that in print. Is it then harder, even sadder for females that we are too often judged (and I’ll use that word) by our appearance and how much influence does that really have in the direction of our lives? The two 21-year-old women I spoke to a couple of weeks ago were both not wearing make-up and it was interesting that I noticed that; commented on it and asked them why. They just said why should we; as if that was the end of the matter but it’s even interesting that I asked them about it. I also have reflected for many long years how both my mother and father changed their appearances drastically over their marriage. Looking at their engagement photo, they both looked absolutely beautiful and handsome respectively; slim, well dressed, and happy. To say they both looked dishevelled, unkempt and completely uncaring about their appearance when I was in my teens some 20 odd years later, made me feel very sad, wondering too often what had happened to them both. I have my theories, but am I judging them for what they looked like rather than who they were as parents? I am indeed, as I know the marriage was on the rocks and both of them were unhappy, even depressed. So does appearance mirror our inner selves, yet again I ponder that same question? I saw a movie a few years ago – The Mirror Has Two Faces with Barbra Streisand about how as a plump, unmade up woman with little interest in clothes, the character Streisand played had no boyfriend and when she does fall in love, she changes her appearance drastically, too. Voom – she becomes sexy, curvaceous and of course, gets her man. It’s indeed a sad indictment that too many females dress to catch a man and after that, don’t care that much about how they look. And is that what’s it’s all about. Another newspaper article last week detailed the increasing obsession with looking thin, accompanied by a skeletal model on a catwalk who looked like she walked straight out of Changi prison camp or Auschwitz. The new fashion in the US is apparently a triple 000 – and it’s shuddering to contemplate that anyone could be that thin or even want to be. It looks sick! I usually read these articles because I too have an obsession with appearance; not my own so much but others. I look at both men and women in the street, at cafes, wherever I go, wondering how much of their real self is obvious from their appearance. And of course, I’ve been told : “ wow, you should be in Vogue (ha ha at 64 years, I laugh),” that I’m so elegant and stylish, though I’ve always known that about myself; just it went missing for a few years as I unconsciously battled the must be beautiful syndrome about women. I think as I got older, after I turned 40, that I realised I had to start living and pleasing myself without really caring what others thought of me. I had always tried to live by my own attitudes and values just it IS so difficult to be impervious to the social milieu and its often damning attitudes to women like me who dared to confront the so-called norms of our Judaic-Christian morality. I still adhere to many of the same attitudes and the great bonus about getting older, is that the pain and hurt of others towards you doesn’t resonate with the same intensity once you understand what that pain and hurt is based on. THEIR attitudes and values that you don’t share or even like and it no longer matters to me if they like me or don’t. I don’t like them. And if you want to judge me by my appearance, that’s your problem; but in so many ways, I do it to others, too. I just try to pick myself up on it to realise that beauty IS only skin deep and who someone is, what they think and care about goes beyond their superficial appearance. It is hard to remember, let alone, feel at times. Another female acquaintance who is now fat and has been for many, many years after always trying to be slim in her 20s like most of us, told me when she started putting on weight that it was all about how females are expected to look and she didn’t care anymore about all that shit. She dresses OK, does her hair, but doesn’t care about her weight, so should it bother me? I’ve always thought that because I was such a thin adolescent that was my image of myself and most of the time, how I liked myself and when I put on weight, I hated myself for it. I did start trying to work out why as I loved eating and drinking and the good life of fancy restaurants beckoned me, but after years of soul searching, I did return to that adolescent image of myself because that’s how I felt good. But do we hide behind images? It comes back to the facade some might adopt; to make themselves feel better or look better to others so they can’t see how they really feel? I do believe many of us hide behind images; images of who we are in some ways but often our real selves are shelved to the background because others aren’t interested in what’s behind the image. It’s just the image they see; never being interested to explore beyond the surface.
I end with a poem of sorts I wrote in 1980 because as I read, see, hear it, nothing has changed:
We look as if we’re in the chase,
For men and sex along the race,
To trim our arse and flaunt our tits,
Without fat wobbling to give men the shits.
We dress up fine and flirt and glance,
Hoping to attract the chance
Of winning on the sexy stakes,
Except that is our big mistake.
As women we have much more than that,
Declare our minds and strip the law
Between the sexes, only foolish,
To play a game that only schoolish,
Around the bed and not the desk,
Demean ourselves by offering less.
And men, the fools, are caught and trapped,
In our smart game, our route is mapped,
For marriage, love and a man to hold,
And success is ours we’re always told.
But what of us and what we feel,
That dressing up is not so real,
But just a show, for their approval,
When what want we want is blunt removal,
Of surface imagery and all the crap,
That’s thrown at us along our map,
For ourselves should be our quest,
Not caring whether by men we’re blessed,
It’s just their ploy to put us down,
Attending to our looks like clowns,
Ignoring us, what we’ll do next,
Just bodies, faces for some sex
Is their criteria, how we appeal,
Based on nothing but the glib unreal.
Our challenge is to please ourselves,
To gain and claim our looks and sex,
Without the fools around our necks,
For big tits and arse is all they see,
We’re better off by letting it be.