I’m sitting in a meeting with Blaine and Yellow*, who are basically the upper management guys I’ve supported the last few months. We’re trying to put together a golf outing for some clients, and Yellow says, “Have you seen those Norweigans in the Olympics? The rowers? The women are all six feet tall and blond!”
I nodded, as I have a six foot tall blond second cousin who moved to Amsterdam and married a six foot tall blond guy. These things happen. A lot of people raised in Africa have dark skin. A lot of people raised in Russia don’t.
“Did you know that only, like, 8% of females, you know, women, have real blond hair? I read that somewhere. Heard it somewhere.”
“I expect so,” I said.
“That’s where all the blond people in the world come from,” Yellow said, “Those Scandinavian countries.”
It occurs to me, listening to him, that there are days when I find Yellow attractive.
And there are days when I really don’t.
There’s a funny thing that happens when men start to talk about women in front of me. At all other times, I love the company of most sorts of traditional guys, because you know, I’m kinda butch myself. I love all the swearing, the giving each other (and me) shit, the smart-ass comments, the weird random rambling and butch posturing… but when guys start in about the sorts of women they find attractive, I read it as Male Gospel: not just “I find X woman attractive” but “All Women Should Look This Way.”
And if you don’t, there’s something wrong with you, because you haven’t even entered into the realm of possibility.
Who gave guys this power?
When I was younger, I would subvert this by simply changing my mindset: I decided I wasn’t a “real girl.” I wasn’t a woman, so they weren’t talking about me. I was one of them, buddy-buddy. I wasn’t fem. I didn’t carry a purse. I was sexless. It was the only way I could hang out with guys whose company I enjoyed without feeling like I was always being measured on how big my breasts were (or weren’t).
This is all bullshit, of course.
Not being 6ft tall and blond, I found myself irked at Yellow’s comment, particulary because it came just before he oogled the mother/child pictures sent to Blaine by one of his friends. Yellow wasn’t interested in the child’s name, but the mother’s.
And I get that little twinge, that irked feeling: goddammit, *I* want to be attractive. Goddammit, what’s *wrong* with me… a feeling I quickly squash by pressing my fist to my gut and sucking it up.
It’s a totally irrational response. I have no interest in Yellow, nor Blaine (Blaine is an ex football player with that good-old-boy charisma, Yellow is the guy in the leather jacket who’d sulk in the back of class – and he doesn’t read books), and yet here I was, stomach churning because of offhand comments about the elegance of blonds. Not neccessarily because the comments came from these guys, but because I’ve heard this litany so often that I feel sick.
Stately natural blonds that I’ll never be.
I wonder how early that yearning for male approval is ground into us. Very, very, early, would be my guess. Dress a male child in female attire, and he gets far different sorts of attention, and vice versa.
My sister, who’s raising a boy, often makes the offhand comment, “Yea, he was eating sand the other day, but I mean, who cares? He’s a boy… He’s always banging into things, but it’s fine, he’s a boy.”
I wonder if men feel this way when women oogle over certain sorts of men. Do men find Brad Pitt intimidating? Or, because women don’t often oogle men in front of other men, or even talk or compare men to one another in front of men, if men just don’t feel this comparison as much or as often as women do. Is there a lessor standard of male beauty? (I’m not even going to touch on same-sex attraction/standards of beauty right now – let’s start with heteropatriarchy, and move from there. I’m addressing my own American upbringing where I was pretty well institutionalized with a dominant standard of beauty from the start, promulgated through media and then defined by the household culture I was living in. I grew up learning that same-sex attraction was certainly possible, and suited a very few people, but “they” were always “they” and “us” was always “us.” Remaining “us” and not “them” meant I was pretty well wired into the male-approval system early on, no matter what sort of body would turn out to catch my fancy)
I suspect that men’s expectations of female beauty are higher than women’s expectations of male beauty –
Because women will submit themselves to the male standard of beauty, and men will readily perform it… and women will look down on imperfect women even more vehemently than men do. Because that imperfect woman gets to eat her whole wheat pitas, and all you get this week is apples and milk.
I’ve been catching some really disturbing shows recently on TV. MTV’s got “I Want a Famous Face” where a girl conspired to have plastic surgery to make her look more like the airbrushed form of Kate Winslet on the cover of GQ (Kate is usually a size 8, the GQ cover stretched and erased her into a size 2). I also just buzzed by what appears to be a reality show on E! about the life of a plastic surgeon and his pregnant wife, who adamently declared, “If I end up with stretch marks because of this pregnancy, I told him he has to fix me.”
Talk about men molding what women should be (women should look like young girls, not mothers with stretchmarks). And I’m not even going to talk about the grotesquerie that was The Swan.
Keep telling women there’s something wrong with them. Something only men can fix, with words or scalpels.
Keep that economy moving.
I’ve just recently gotten back to the point where I recognize myself in the mirror again:
“Oh, yes, you, that strong woman with the wild hair and broad shoulders. Of course. Where have you been?”
“Hiding from thin women,” would be the answer.
This plastic surgery craze is really fucking tempting. You can get some gastic bypass surgery and suffer from malnutrition the rest of your life (but you’ll be thin!), erase hair from “unnatural” areas where it, uh, naturally grew, get cosmetics tattooed to your face, cut out a slab of your stomach, remove excess skin and stretchmarks, change the very shape of your face by breaking your nose or getting some chin and cheek implants.
You can remake yourself into whatever standard of beauty suits you.
The freaks are going to be the people who choose not to, or can’t afford to: the eccentric and the poor.
But Kameron! Wouldn’t it be great if you could erase those worry lines on your forehead you first noticed when you were 19, that first year you were living in Alaska? Wouldn’t it be great to erase the stretchmarks and take up that loose skin from when you were 270lbs living in a shitty hovel in Bellingham when you were 18? Don’t you want to change the lips that gave all those kisses and smoked all those cigarettes; don’t you want to carve out that glut of hip and thigh fat that kept your grandmothers birthing healthy babies? Don’t you want to erase all those nasty scars: the one just above your left eyebrow from when you were 14 and got the chicken pox and thought you were going to die, the pain was so bad? What about those scars on your hands from sword fighting in the high school theatre department? The scar on your leg from when you were 9 and your cousin was throwing glass? Don’t you want to irradiate those pesky sideburns that Ryan Nelson made fun of when you were thirteen, clean out all the fat that spurred his inquiries into what, exactly, was it you ate all day?
And the fat, the fat, the fat. Think of all the fat that can be sucked from your body! The fat from your cheeks that made everyone call you “chipmunk cheeks,” the fat from everywhere that encouraged kids in the sixth grade to shout “earthquake” as you passed by? The fat that will keep you with a perpetual woman’s curved belly for the rest of your life (all willing – unless you get cancer)?
Don’t I just want to erase all that history stored on and in my body, purge it all and start over, have one of those sleek, healthy, shiny bodies enjoyed by those girls on the El train going through the Loop every night, those slack-faced, empty-eyed girls with the smooth skin and seemingly flawless breasts? Those girls with the uniform expressions who all look the same? The endless procession of footballers’ girlfriends who wear their hair straight and highlighted, whose smiles are brilliant and cellphone chatter boring and incessant…
Gee whiz, I’d like to look like that.
And – looking like that – I would give up everything else.
I’m not yet 25 years old. I’ve done a lot of things. I’ve made a lot of mistakes. At every turn in my life, my body has boldy, sometimes awfully, sometimes wonderfully, given a perfect picture of this tumbling, uncertain, nuts, silly, crazy, stupid life.
I wear my life on my body. My body wears my life.
I will not look like those girls on the train, the poor girls whose own body-logic is probably even more skewed than mine, who probably look at my curly hair and think, “Fucking bitch. I bet her hair’s naturally curly.”
Here we go again, hating each other.
Who wins when we do this?
*do I even need to tell you these aren’t their real names?