Oregon writer, Rain Trueax, and Oregon painter, Diane Widler Wenzel co-author Rainy Day Thought. Diane generally posts on Wednesdays and Rain on Saturdays. There may be extra days or changes as situations warrant. Comments are always welcome and appreciated as it turns an article into a discussion.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder-- or is it?

When I read this piece on Daily Beast by Ashley Judd, I thought it was worth bringing here.

Her article led to Daily Beast posting a follow-up--

Generally I don't get into these kinds of debates as she's a celebrity, she is under more pressure to always look her best, does it really impact me or readers here? Well it does in the sense that when the media ridicules or puts down women for their appearance-- especially as it relates to weight, beauty, health issues, or aging, they do impact how we see ourselves. It doesn't just happen to movie stars.

Think how often Hillary Clinton has been put down by one media or another for her hips, her legs, her hair style, or her aging. It takes a confident woman to go through that and stay true to their own style. Then there has been the physical putdown of Meghan McCain who, if you have seen her know, is a beautiful woman. That's not good enough for some people and the media, as they decree her to be fat and bring it up regularly as a way to ridicule. And if you follow the media's talk about women, a size 10 is plus sized.

Where it comes to aging celebrities, how many times have you heard someone put down Clint Eastwood for looking old? Not happening. But a woman in his age bracket better be skinny and have done some face work or she will be virtually asked to put a sack over her head.  If the celeb has had work done, the appearance police will evaluate whether it was a good job. Woe to that slim celeb (of any age) where her muscles show. Woe to the celeb male where they don't.

In some ways it would seem it shouldn't matter to women like me. We don't have to get out into the celeb world and be photographed regularly. The thing is do ordinary women then avoid being photographed in their own world?

How many young women, who are raising kids, feel fat compared to Cameron Diaz; how many will have zero photos of those years because they felt fat? Or when they get old, refuse to be photographed because they look their age and did not have surgery? Someday in a family album they will be as though they never existed, weren't really there-- and if you think that doesn't matter, consider the future generations who won't have known that person but might have a feel of who they were by those kind of photos.

Last lady on the right is my great grandmother. I never met her, not even as a baby but have seen a lot of photos of her proudly with her family and did she mind that she looked old, probably had no teeth by that age? If she did, she didn't let it stop her.

I only know how much fun my grandmother could be because I scanned some old negatives that had belonged to one of my aunts and saw this photo of her looking through a watermelon rind with her youngest son. My grandmother was overweight all her life but I have a lot of photos of her through the years. It means a lot to me now. Someday it might mean even more to my great grandchildren.

Some of this drive for perfection comes from advertising and our entertainment choices. Smile and if your teeth aren't perfectly even and nearly glowing with whiteness, shame on you and get ye to the dentist or the newest teeth whitening treatment. I had no idea how much was out there until I was in the toothpaste aisle and saw all the whitening products for teeth and that doesn't count the money going to dentists for even more advanced whitening.  If those teeth aren't totally white, do NOT let anybody take a photo of you smiling.

Yep, I have not had mine professionally whitened and feel lucky I just still have them. Well most of them...

For every Oprah (who is always battling her weight) there are more slim and beautiful TV and movie success stories. In a lot of the books out there, the hero is muscular and handsome-- heroine slender and beautiful. I can only think of a few exceptions like Bridget Jones Diary who was trying to lose weight but looked like an average woman-- oh the misery. In books off the top of my head, I can think of two obese heroines-- Little Giant of Aberdeen County and The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency (and to play the role in the HBO series, the actress had to be inflated to fit the part. No really fat actresses to do it?) Jane Eyre is supposed to be plain but when you see a movie of the book, no plain women playing the part, are there?

Recently in the writer forums at Amazon I heard women complaining about there being only one male model who is regularly used on the covers. And it's true. He is everywhere from indie to paper covers and frankly he's found a market that it's too bad more interesting looking men and women don't mine by providing photos of themselves that would be suitable for say historic or contemporary book covers.

Besides, access, there's a reason he's on so many. He looks like who is in the books. And that includes some of mine as I have him on two because he does look like those heroes. I could have two more if I decide to publish my historic books and create my own covers for them. Why did I write about those kind of heroes? Well they came to me but why did they come to me?

One factor is that it's what readers want. I wrote one book with an ugly hero (who the heroine, of course, saw otherwise) and I have yet to find a cover model who could make it work to do a trailer-- and I will be doing a trailer for that book. I see men in real life all the time who don't have perfect features and yet have that certain something. Try finding a photo of one where you can buy the rights to use-- at least for a price independent writers can afford.

One writer said we can blame this on Clint Walker and she might be right for my age group. I had such a crush on him when he was doing Cheyenne (western TV series for you younger readers). Oh my and when he took his shirt off, well it's not too surprising a man looking a lot like him is making money these days pretending to be the hero about whom the writers wrote. I so wanted Clint Walker to be my husband someday and was quite disappointed to find the actor who played him was already married.

I am not sure why we like our advertisements full of, our movies populated by, our books about perfect looking people when none of us are. Maybe it's part of the fantasy. Well if it is, it's a problem when we take it with us off the pages or away from the screens.


Annie said...

My theory about beauty is that we humans were not nearly as obsessed with it as long as most of us could not see and compare ourselves to others. The camera is a relatively recent invention and until the camera came along even good mirrors were not so easy to come by. Your grandmother was of a generation in which photography was still pretty new, she would not have acquired the shyness about photogenicity that is prevalent today. And besides, B&W hides a host of flaws that colour photography is so unkind to.

Women are particularly subject to the tyranny of appearance because youthfulness has always been associated with fertility, a strong asset in olden times, and because our skin is thinner and therefore wrinkles more quickly than men's skin does, thus giving away our fertility status. Obviously in these times fertility and therefore youth should not be such a big deal, but we have always been exhorted to equate sexuality with marriage (and childbearing) so that is an unfortunate side effect.

Rain Trueax said...

Those are very good insights into this, Annie. I think it's a factor.

My grandmother was always into family and that might explain her willingness to be photographed with her family members. In this group of negatives, there was a lot of goofing off which I thought was fun to see, plus frequent big family gathering photos. I remember regularly going to picnics. One in particular was at a big amusement park in Portland where those from South Dakota came for one day and met back up.

One good thing about digital is we can turn anything b&w and I agree, it's more flattering ;)

Kay Dennison said...

This really hits home for me.

I look in the mirror these days, and see what I call my 'character lines' and sigh a lot. I figure that I got them the old-fashioned way -- I earned them.

I am currently tending to the nasty scar on my neck from my recent carotid artery surgery and hope my efforts bear fruit just because I hate silly questions from total strangers and prefer to avoid them.

I like the old b&W photos, too.

Rubye Jack said...

I think an obsession with physical beauty comes with wealth. When I was in California I lived in wealthy counties and everyone had surgeries and worked out. However, here in SE Oklahoma where there is very little money, people tend to be overweight, have no teeth or wear dentures, and wear mostly jeans. There is no money for surgeries or even to take care of your teeth.

Which reminds me, I was in Walmart the other day - ugh - and there was not one toothpaste without a whitener. Not one. I have to order my toothpaste online now.

I saw the same thing when I lived up in Oregon, there were certainly lots of people who were into the physical but also a lot who weren't. I've also found that people from places where there is more poverty are much more friendly and happy. Just my two cents.

Anne said...

I guess beauty to me has to do with health and fitness. Fat looks unhealthy to me and therefore not beautiful. I think a well cared for body is the best looking kind. I don't like a lot of artificial looking stuff on a person -- make-up, artificial hair, obvious face-lift, botox, etc.

The picture of you looks natural and beautiful.

Rain Trueax said...

Too skinny doesn't look healthy either but it's not condemned like fat. In fact, it's praised. The image of beauty in the paintings of the masters is very different than today where an ounce of fat is too much. I have heard that when you are in a time of want then heavier is a sign of prosperity and regarded as more fertile like the Venus of Willendorf. Although are we in a time of want or plenty-- depends on your economic class, I'd say as you see a lot more very heavy women when what they can afford to eat is more starchy.

Old women and men typically carry more fat around their waist with skinnier legs, I guess the hormone change is part of why.

Rain Trueax said...

I know women tend to compare themselves to other women. I do not know if men do the same thing. I can remember instances where we'd want a group photo and another woman would say she didn't want to stand next to me. What was that about?

Last week I saw an article that I didn't bring here where the woman had said other women didn't like her because she was beautiful. I have never felt that was true, but is it? Do women avoid making friends with someone who their husband might admire or they would see as overshadowing them?

Some years back, I caught part of the conversation with a dental technician and the dentist where he was saying she wasn't getting dates because she was too pretty and intimidated men. I told her I didn't think that was the case but can it be?

One thing I do believe about beauty is that culture determines a lot of it and that changes with the generations.

Diane Widler Wenzel said...

Looking at my pictures from my father's family of merchant, agricultural industrialists, it is obvious that they dressed for success even when they were going into bankruptcy time and again. They knew how to make a good first impression.
The women were exceptional knitters and one made fine lace. If later years brought a big bulge around the middle, as was the case for my great grandmother, she made good use of a "v" neck line. She had poor thin hair and was balding. She had large interesting hats. Her children always had classic styles that would look fine even today. The clothes helped these women feel confident and out going. Dressing well leads to feeling good about yourself which leads to good behavior. Ultimately clothing must have helped in making homely girls able to wear their best individual features with pride. They married well into meaningful, beneficial lives.

Rain Trueax said...

That's true, Diane about my family too as the women often had on hats and always dresses at family gatherings. I enjoyed often wearing one when I was at them also. It was an excuse to dress up that I do not have today. Not to say some don't do it today but it was pretty much not an option for then.

J at www.jellyjules.com said...

I have a friend who is drop dead gorgeous, and she has plenty of female friends. She also has some troubles, like when she divorces, quite a few of her friends' husbands came out and professed their love for her. This isn't new. When my grandma was widowed, she told me the same thing. So some women don't trust beautiful women. I'd say, pick a better husband, and then you won't have to worry so much.

Beauty in our society is so difficult. It's the number one most important thing a woman can be, in SO MUCH of society. Not where it matters, not at home or in class, but in popular culture and the world, yeah. Ugh.

OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

There is so much about this subject that is Sooo very dfficult. I live in Hollywood and the emphasis on "beauty" and one's figure is an obsession....Part of it is because the camera puts on 10or more pounds, but part of it is our culture now...Marilyn Monroe would probably be considered "fat" now by the weird standards of today...
And, Plastic Surgery or Botox or whatever is pretty much a given---even with men. I personally never ran in the circles where plastic surgery was just something you did, like brushing your teeth....I am not terribly happy with how much weight I am carrying around now, but, more because I know it is not the healthiest thing I can do....
As to Ashley Judd. I must say when I saw the pictures of her in her new TV series, I thought it looked like "steroids"....My dear friend Betty G. had to take steroids many years ago and for the first time in all the years I knew her, she had 'a fat face'---her words. And any time she appeared in public where she had to speak--She talked about it right at the top so everyone was put at ease. She knew she looked very different and that people would no doubt be whispering about it...Sad, but true. I think we are more aware of the changes we see in those very familiar faces---Actresses and Actors who appear in film and on TV....I remember when Jack Lemmon had his "eyes" done and it changed the whole look of his face so dramatically--to me, and others, it seemed terribly sad that he felt he had to do that...Another Actor---a great great actor,Peter O'Toole, has done something to his eyes so that now he looks like a scared rabbit...! To me, this is sad. Cher, has done so much to herself that she has become almost unrecognizable....I have heard her say..."It is no one's business if I want to move my breaats to my back....if it makes me happy...that's all that matters..." And I agree with her. Except....I guess I truly do think it is sad that any of us see ourselves as not acceptable looking. What kind of standards have we set for ourselves?
I always think of that Wonderful old "TWILIGHT ZONE" called, "THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER", where the lead character's face is covered in bandages and the whole premise is she looks so unacceptable and ugly, that they have to banish her to a place where "ugly" people are sent, if they cannot "fix" her face...We never see the doctors who are working on her--their faces are always unseen---we just hear them talking about how hopeless her case is, and how they have not been able to improve her looks...so, she must be banished to the 'ugly people's' world....They take off her bandages and she looks "beautiful"---that is to say, what WE thnk of as Beautiful...We see her go off and she is met by a very very Handsome (by our standards) man...and off they unhappily go to this ugly people's world...Then, we finally see the doctors and nurses faces---and they all have these horrific pig-like faces....I thought Rod Serling was making such an important point about "beauty" and who sets the standards of it...
The irony of this episode is: The actress who played the part all bandagded up (Someonme I know very well) was NOT pretty enough, according to the-powers-that-be, for when the bandages came off. So, they hired another actress to play that part when we see her without her bandages. So much for an important statement.

Incidentally, what you said about Jill Scott in that HBO series, "The First Lady Detective"...I don't believe that is true. That was how Jill Scott looked when she made that series...(Which I LOVED, by the way...). As far as I know, they did not blow her up, at all, in any artificial way. Is this another myth?

The emphasis on our looks is, as I said earlier, an obsession....And that is really really sad.

Rain Trueax said...

You added a lot to this discussion, Naomi and from a point of living in the world of which you write and the rest of us observe from outside.

I agree on the face work and I think Robert Redford did also and he lost a lot because of it. They do put down men when they begin to look their age which is ridiculous as that's what old looks like but no, they have to do the Jane Fonda thing, have the surgery and then pretend they are an age that they are but that they only look like this because of the surgery. It's sad and I think it does impact people not in that world-- young and old.

On Jill Scott, I also loved the series and hope they will do more. I have not heard. I went looking at the time and they said they did inflate her and she was pregnant which that also helped to hide. I found an image of what I have been told she looked like in reality Jill Scott at an awards ceremony and although she's clearly overweight, she's not morbidly obese which the lead character is in No. 1. The thing I liked about it is they showed how men went for her despite the weight and from the lovely, really obese women I have known, that is true and not just in Africa. What can be called the goddess body is not healthy but can be quite beautiful as it's emphasizing all the very female aspects of being a woman. That is particularly true in young fat women.

While I agree with what was said earlier by Ann that I admire healthy, exercised bodies, I do see the beauty in that kind of overweight and even obese figure.

Incidentally the most beautiful set of women I ever saw was when my son was in OSU crew and we would go to his meets. They had various age categories including women teams in their 30s or 40s. Wow for the beauty of those women and it wasn't just slim but the kind of slim with long, lean muscles and supple movement. I admire people who move well and fast. So for me how someone moves is part of whether I see them as beautiful.

sonia a. mascaro said...

Hi Rain,
Just stopping by to wish you a pleasant Sunday.

I will read soon these articles "Ashley Judd Slaps Media in the Face for Speculation Over Her ‘Puffy’ Appearance" and "Your Puffy-Face Moments, Inspired by Ashley Judd". Thanks for sharing them.
My best wishes.

sonia a. mascaro said...

Ah! Love your photo! You are just beautiful!

sonia a. mascaro said...

You wrote a great post here, Rain!
I liked also to read the comments.
To get older is not easy...
But as Simone de Beauvoir wrote in her book La Vieillesse (The Coming of Age, 1970) "Die prematurely, or aging: there is no other alternative."