This Saturday my daughter Abby, who lives in the happy anonymity of New York City, marched with me in the Black Mountain Women’s March. She always laughingly calls me the unofficial Mayor of Black Mt, because I know so many people here, and I was delighted Saturday to bump into so many of my favorite people at the march. I couldn’t stop myself, however, from commenting to Abby that I was irritated by a couple of things: the fire truck that was idling right beside the gathering, making noise and spewing exhaust fumes, the poor public address system more suitable for Karaoke than speeches, and the outfits some people were wearing.
First of all, I don’t like those pink hats. I fully support the uproar over Trump’s sexism and lewd comments, but I don’t find the hats ironic enough. They are too cartoonish and not serious enough for my taste.
I realize that for many marchers, this was their first protest march, and I am so proud of everyone who showed up, especially the first-timers. One woman, however, looked like she had googled “Sixties Hippie Chic” and then went to a costume shop to cloth herself for the march. An obviously well-heeled woman, she looked uncomfortable in her layers of tie-dye, and the ring of flowers in her hair. (as in “If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear flowers in your hair.”)
Abby was critical of me for my negative remarks, accusing me of shit-talking for peace. When she pointed this out to me, I had to agree that this was ugly of me. And since then I have been examining my comments. Helpful to me was a line from a Netflix show we watched Saturday night. The show, which Ron hated, was called I Love Dick. (There is a sexy character named Dick (Kevin Bacon), so both meanings of the word apply.) The main character, played by an actress I love, Kathryn Hahn, is a feminist NY film maker married to a pretentious writer. They move to Marfa, Texas, for a seminar her husband is attending, and she finds herself stranded there. Her comments are hilarious.
Another great character in the show is a young playwright living in a trailer next door. She tells her friends that she has begun to write a play about a NY couple. “She hates herself, and her husband probably hates her too.”
A light went on in my head when I heard that line! Hahn is a shit-talker, critical of other people. She uses all her bitterness and self-doubt as a sword to slash at others. Reminds me of myself. If she hates herself, she will certainly dislike traits in others that remind her of herself. I thought of the woman at the march in pseudo hippie gear and of my reaction to her outfit. Why did I have to judge her clothes? Now, I ask you, whom do I know who wears colorful, crazy, outlandish clothing?? Yup. I do. Could my negative response to her outfit have anything to do with my attitudes about myself?
I started thinking about my own ideas about beauty, and about where those ideas come from. I have a strong sense of beauty of objects, art, and music, and I don’t worry if my ideas match those of the majority of other people. I know what I like and am confident that I have good taste. I use clothing as an expression of creativity, and have fun putting together those out-there outfits. It’s when ideas about physical beauty come into play, though, that I am overwhelmed with information coming from the patriarchy., and I don’t trust my ability to see beauty in most people, but especially women.
It occurs to me that we are flooded with ideas about what makes a woman beautiful. It’s not just Donald Trump who judges women’s beauty by strict, unrealistic parameters. Women are taught from childhood to judge ourselves as too fat, too plain, hair too straight/curly, too tall/short. Whatever we are, we judge ourselves harshly. Bodies should be tall, skinny, and air-brushed-perfect.
So where does that leave women in our seventies and even younger? We don’t come close to those standards of female perfection we measured ourselves by when we were younger. Our hair is greying and lifeless, skin is sagging, and bodies lumpy. For me, this creates a formula for self-loathing that extends from my own body with its sagging breasts to others in the same boat, and on to actresses in Hollywood with their stretched faces and plumped lips.
I tell myself to Stop It! But where are those models we can look at to see icons of beauty in older women? Most actresses do what it takes to maintain a youthful appearance. Fashion models are mostly sixteen year old anorexics. I get a clothing catalog that tries to expand our ideas of female beauty. The models in the Gudrun catalog are not all skin and bones, and one regular model is older and has wild white hair. Still, I find myself thinking, “Why doesn’t she put on some make-up?
We need to love ourselves as we are, and only then can we really love others.