Meditation on Makeup

January 26, 2010

This morning while waiting for the bus, I was seized with a 30-second panic, wondering if I had remembered to put on makeup this morning.

Now, I’m no beauty queen and I don’t spend hours in front of a mirror, but I know better than to leave the house for work without makeup on. I reassured myself that yes, I did everything I needed to do to prepare myself for work and I needn’t worry.

But this got me to thinking – why is it that we, as women, have taken on and accepted as a part of our consciousness that we are incomplete, faulty, most of all, embarrassed – if we don’t wear our makeup? We can’t bear to look ourselves in the mirror – and we cringe at the thought of others seeing us – as we really are.

This is especially hard for teenage girls, when they are beginning to form this consciousness. Oh sure, part of the makeup is that it is fun; part of it is experimenting to find their own “look” – but I believe that the makeup obsession is part of the reason why young women give up their souls – their identity – their strength and their heart – as they go through adolescence.  (Think I’m exaggerating? Read the classic Reviving Ophelia and others like it.)

This morning, when the wind whipped my hair and my makeup faded as my skin paled against the cold, I recalled an incident many years ago, where I first came to realize how the makeup issue can so powerfully affect a woman’s self-esteem.

I was camping (no makeup needed or expected here) and most of the other campers were some good guy-friends and a few families.  One of the families had a teenage son, about 16 or so. Poor guy, he had horrible acne.

I thought – wow – if he were a girl, he would be devastated – but at least she could cover it up with makeup. As a boy, of course, he did not have that option.

I realized if I were in a similar situation – bad skin, right out there for the world to see – that I’d have to “power through” it – I’d just have come to terms with it and move on.  It would actually give me confidence. Self-determination. Inner strength.  What a contrast to what it is like as a girl.

Even though I never had such a severe problem as his,  I realized for myself – even as a grown woman – a blemish here and there would seem catastrophic. I had to cover it up! I couldn’t let anyone see – that I was less than perfect. That I was not completely in control of my own skin and appearance.  That without makeup I was a failure – less of a woman, less of a professional – a perfectly capable but physically (and therefore, by extension, perhaps in other ways, too) flawed human being. Putting all of my failings – by that one little  blemish – on display for the world to see.

Even in the camping situation where makeup was not expected and would be pointless and a pain (it was summer after all), I felt insecure.  I saw this young man – and took courage from him. If he could do it – so could I.

This one experience helped me see the vast differences in how – just even in this one small area – we continue to teach and encourage our young men to be confident and secure no matter their situation – and how we do such a disservice to our young girls by buying into the charade that “without my makeup I must die” mentality that we all seem to have in our culture.

I don’t have a teenage daughter, so I don’t know how I would try to balance her need to explore and affirm he own identity – sometimes via makeup – versus losing herself and feeling exposed, embarrassed, and ashamed if she didn’t have makeup. Perhaps sports or another activity would give her a chance to spend equal time experimenting without makeup and give her a chance to discover herself – her confidence, her true, natural beauty, and learn who her real friends – and boyfriends – really are.

Thankfully, I’m old enough now that I no longer have the fear and insecurity that I had when I was younger. I wear makeup or don’t wear makeup as I choose – though clearly I still follow the cultural expectation that I shouldn’t leave the house without it. (And I panic if I forget!)

© writingreading, 2010

Pink in the Funhouse

October 14, 2009

I’m entirely too old for this – and any younger readers will be asking me what took me so long – but I am suddenly a big fan of the rock star, P!nk !

I guess it’s because her song, “Please Don’t Leave Me” has been getting so much airplay. It’s catchy, one of those stays-in-your-head kind of songs. But wow – have you ever really listened to the lyrics? It’s all about the love/hate and the intensity of both in an abusive relationship.

I went to her website PinksPage (be sure to go here – and don’t try to guess her website name, as I did – because you will be in for a very rude and inappropriate surprise) – and got to learn all things P!nk.  The more I explored there, the more I recognized some more of her songs as being familiar. And then found out that her current album, Funhouse – has been out for almost a year, and a lot of songs from this particular album will be familiar as well. “So what” – the nah-na-nah-na-nah-na “I’m a rock star” , arrogant,  in your face, tune is just one example. (Ok. So that’s one I dont’ care for).

Of course, this will be very very old news to anyone under 30, but I’m not, so it’s all new to me. But I gotta say, I like her and her music. My generation’s female rock icon was Madonna – it seems P!nk fills the same role for today.

Her musical style is very versitile – from an acoustic guitar ballad to straight on rock to a few that although rock , have a very bluesy feel to them because of the tone of her voice.

I don’t know if the Grammy cycle has already come and gone or if Funhouse is still eligible – but it definitely could take Best Album, as well as earning P!nk a Best Female Vocalist award. There’s a lot here – both musically, and lyrically.

I think what I like best about much of this album is the lyrics that she crafts. They all tell a story. Often, like “Please Don’t Leave Me” – the story is a double edged sword – love/hate, violence with an upbeat “da da da” background bubblegum vocal. I like the contrasts and the irony.

Much of the album seems to be autobiographical, at least, according to some of her public statements, like the synopsis she gives on her website. That makes it even more intriguing.  If that’s the case – or even if it is just the public persona she is crafting – she becomes the epitome of strength and vulnerability, tragic flaw plus extraordinary talent.

I’m not sure if she is solely responsible for most of her lyrics, but they are well-written and burst with irony and tension. One line from “Crystal Ball,” for example: “Sometimes you think everything  / Is wrapped inside a diamond ring.” Or this one, from “Mean” – “It’s like a train wreck, trying to hit the right track.” Clever, clever stuff.

I like rockers who are smart, aren’t afraid to speak their (real) mind – who aren’t just posing and out to make millions.  A strong woman who shows the boys that they’re not the only ones who can rock n roll. And even more surprising – an openness and recognition of flaws, and a willingness to work that into the lyrics of her songs.  All of that makes P!nk’s Funhouse pack a powerful punch!  I might be late to P!nk in general and to Funhouse in particular, but she’s definitely got a place in my music collection, now.

© writingreading, 2009

High Heels, or Elephants?

September 10, 2009

I’m no physicist, and even less of a mathematician, so my ability to fully understand the data at the  Pressure Under High Heels page  is limited, but the important point is this:  a woman in high heels exerts significantly greater pressure and force than…yes, an elephant!

One scientist (or whoever these folks are who study these “weighty” concepts) puts it this way – would you rather have your hand run over by 10 women in high heels or a herd of elephants?  Opt for the elephants, my friends!

No wonder my mother’s feet are literally crippled from years of wearing heels. No wonder – and perhaps now, I’m grateful – that I literally cannot wear them (doctor’s orders).

And one of these folks even compares the pressure exerted by a woman’s typical shoe heel versus a man’s typical shoe heel. The guy, he’s cruising easy. The woman – well, let’s just say there’s a reason they are called “stiletto” heels. Sure, they can be used in self-defense – but they are also suicidal. Kinda gives the term “sensible shoes” a whole new meaning.

Check out the findings at: Pressure Under High Heels and see the proof for yourself!

© writingreading, 2009

Reviving Women’s Lives through Cookbooks

June 19, 2008

I wrote a post recently about Carol and her dread of cooking. This was from a book called Eat My Words: Reading Women’s Lives Through the Cookbooks They Wrote by Janet Theophano. As I’ve continued reading this book, I just have to comment further.

This is a fascinating, extraordinarily detailed examination of, well, as the subtitle indicates – unearthing and resurrecting women’s lives and social surroundings through a detailed examination of various cookbooks. It’s not as boring or far-fetched as I may have made it sound, here. That little synopsis just simply doesn’t do it justice.

What Theophano does is to go far beyond the mere printed words on the page, to examine the ways cookbooks link multiple generations of women (heirlooms); how cookbooks also serve as guidebooks to womanly and wifely duties and decorum; how cookbooks were a way to gain or promote literacy among women; and how cookbooks, through the exchange and gathering of recipes, are a communal activity – and therefore can reveal a myriad of social interactions which often crossed boundaries of race and class which were otherwise insurmountable, given the time and place of their writing.

I am truly impressed with Theophano’s versatile range and analysis, and her ability to shed light on women’s lives and culture through this method. She is truly talented in the way she brings these women back to life, through something that on the surface seems so ordinary and mundane – a cookbook. And many of the women discussed in the book are otherwise obscure or unknown – simply everyday ordinary women. Now and then, there is a prominent authoress or lordly lady, but by and large, most are ordinary women.

I’m certain that my poor attempt to convey the drama and interest of this book falls short, but if you are interested in learning more about our foremothers, the history of home cookery, or general women’s studies, this is one not to miss!

©2008 writingreading

Carol’s cooking sucks (& so does her life!) – OR – Housewives as Heroines

May 29, 2008

Well, so I’ve got it a little off. The precise term is “Stinks,” not “sucks” but the implication is the same. I’m referring to an otherwise unidentified woman, who herself made that statement about her own cooking, and wrote of her life in a similar manner. The story appears in a great book called: Eat My Words: Reading Women’s Lives Through the Cookbooks They Wrote by Janet Theophano.

Although there are many more positive women in Theophano’s book – which focuses not on the cooking and cuisine, but rather on the mostly-anonymous women behind cookbooks of all sorts, from about the 1700s through the 1900s.

Carol stood out to me because of her frustration, and her willingness to write about it – her cookbook doubling as a diary. Carol is a 50 year old woman, living, cooking, writing and “venting” sometime in the 1960s or 1970s. She appears to be desperately unhappy. Her husband does nothing. She works at a full time job, then comes home and works. Dinner is the biggest chore. Housework is a second job with very little compensation – and apparently very little appreciation. She uses the term “dingbat” – so I wonder if she wrote while watching All in the Family – that term used by Archie Bunker to berate his wife. Did Carol’s husband do the same?

Carol, through her cookbook/diary, reminds me of another woman of the same time period, who is the major character in the documentary film called 51 Birch Street who kept journals for decades through a mostly-unhappy marriage. Granted, there were parts of that woman’s story I didn’t want to know, but what emerged through that film was a woman who longed to break free from the roles society, her husband, and family, had placed upon her, as rigid as a prison. Carol seems to inhabit a similar prison. Both women were trapped by their times and paid a heavy price.

I believe that within the next, say, 10-20 years, a new vision of women in the 1950s and 1960s – after World War II and before the “women’s movement” – will emerge that shows the heroism of their everyday lives, their struggles for self-determination, the stubborn refusal of society and their husbands (and perhaps their kids) to grant them a mind, a heart, and indeed a space of their own – and the courage of these women to continue – to fulfill not only their responsibilities to others (it’s always about others) -but to finally grasp and proclaim their own dignity and worth, as individuals, irrespective of husbands, children, or others.

I never thought of housework or preparing dinner as courageous acts – but after reading Carol’s story – I see how preparing dinner every nite was such an act of conformity – which grieved her soul – and an act of courage – “doing what had to be done” despite a desperate desire to flee. In her cookbook, her unhappiness at her situation is clear. She talks of suicide and divorce, all because of the immense weight of the double burden of working outside of the home full time – and working inside of the home, almost equally as much – and her husband’s distance, emotionally as well as his lack of involvement in household tasks.

The more I learn about the *real* lives of housewives in the 1950s and 1960s, the more I am grateful to them for what they did, and the burden they carried as our mothers and grandmothers. We have this “blissful” “nostalgic” idea of the smiling mother, dad with his pipe and a sweater vest, and a boy and a girl cheerfully smiling at the dinner table, but what we don’t see is that Mother is clenching her teeth in a frozen spiteful grin – polite, as always – but seething inside that Dad has his houseslippers on and is relaxing reading the paper, while she has to cook for four in high heels and a silk dress after she has been on her feet all day. (oh, her aching feet!)

I’m not writing this as a rant, or even a diatribe against housewives then or now, or working women or moms, or even the “traditional family.” Not at all, and quite the contrary. What I am saying – and this through what Carol shares about her life, and others like her – is that all of these women deserve our respect and admiration. Housewife and mother are the most taken-for-granted roles and tasks there are. Those women need an award or medal – just like loyal employees who have a perfect attendance at the factory or an accident-free year on the assembly line. All those housewives of years ago – are heroines!!

P.S. I realize some of my readers may in fact be those very housewives – today or years back. Thank you for your courage and dignity in your everyday lives!!!

©2008 writingreading

Women’s Clubs a Great History Resource

May 28, 2008

I realized today that maybe one of the best ways to research women’s history (at least, for around 1880-1920 or so in the United States) is through records, minute books, newsletters and similar materials produced by various women’s clubs, such as book clubs, gardening clubs, and other types of “local” associations – not to mention more national-level and well known groups like women’s church groups, Red Cross, and other groups.

I say this only because I know it is often hard for the beginning researcher to do identify source materials for women’s history. A lot of times, the types of sources like I mention above are not explicitly identified as “women’s history” resources. They might only be listed by their name, or a general identification like “Clubs” or something similar.

Another reason, and maybe the major reason, that I think these are worthwhile resources to pursue is because of the concept of “separate spheres” – women were expected to stay out of the political arena, be concerned with child-rearing, and so forth – but viewed from a feminist and/or modern perspective, sometimes these organizations appear to be quite benign on the surface – but turn out to be very politically active and savvy – wielding women’s power in the forums in which it was “granted,” and then some! Like (fictional example) a women’s charity organized to aid orphans. Well, that could lead to broader child welfare issues, getting the children out of the sweatshops, advocating better city sanitation, or all sorts of other things. I think it goes along the same lines as the adage: “The personal is political.”

I hadn’t thought of using this blog as a way to offer and share (and perhaps receive!) research tips, but maybe that is a good idea. I certainly do enough research and sometimes come across weird and interesting things while looking for something else (one of the pleasures of research – yes, it can be FUN!!) – so maybe I’ll start doing that occasionally. Though I still expect to spend most of my time on other things and topics, something like this might be a nice diversion now and then.

©2008 writingreading

Cinderella’s real reason for leaving home

May 8, 2008

I think the real reason little girls dream of being a fairytale princess is to avoid housework. They know at a very young age that part of their lot in life is (still, even in the early 21st century) doing the bulk of the cleaning necessary for day to day living. Cinderella might have had a cruel stepmother, but I think it was being on her knees scrubbing the floor that made her long to escape her everyday life.

The handsome prince of course is nice to look at, but I think the emphasis must be more on his social and economic status (hey, honey, we have maids to do this! so you don’t have to!) rather than his rugged good looks. But even though Cindy lives “happily ever after” and leaves her old life behind – does she treat her maids with any sympathy? Probably not. She’s just so glad to get a manicure and relieve her aching red dry hands from the daily dose of cleansing powder and scrubbing, she probably doesn’t think about those who toil for her. After all, she’s made the leap to the upper class in the twinkling of a glass shoe!

Of course, the fact that her prince rides a beautiful stallion doesn’t hurt, either. C’mon, did they really take a pumpkin-carriage to the ball? The Cinderella I believe in would have jumped at the opportunity to ride one of the carriage horses with her date through the forest to the castle. Imagine, Cinderella thinks, riding that handsome steed through the forest and across the countryside, racing to her freedom. Maybe she flashes a mischievous smile to her prince, and races away without him. She has her freedom now – why stick around?

Ask any 8 year old girl – she wants a horse of her very own. She, too, longs for her freedom, and the horse brings it – like a bike, only faster, and more adventurous. Maybe a prince, too, for the same reasons. It’s all about “escape.” But what her older (much much older) sisters don’t tell her – is that the housework never ends. And the escape is only a fairytale.

©2008 writingreading