Mirror Mirror on The Wall: Why Is Talking About How We Feel About Our Looks So Hard?Catherine Connors
Get some women together – yes, it has to be women – and try it. Ask the question. Maybe everyone will be horrified that you even asked the question. Maybe everyone will say OH GOD NO WAY NEVER. Or maybe it will sound something like this:
Woman: No, never.
Other Woman: Oh god, no! Inject myself with poison? Allow someone to cut into my face? NEVER!
Woman Beside The First Woman: What would the message be to my daughter? No way!
(After a bottle of wine…)
Woman: Maybe if it didn’t cost so much, and if it were risk-free…
Other Woman: Is it really so different from fixing your teeth or coloring your hair?
WBTFW: (whispers) Boob lift.
I’m not saying that every such conversation would go this way. I’m not saying that most such conversations would go this way. I’m saying that probably lots of them would. Certainly the ones that I’ve had, have gone that way. And I’ve had a lot of those conversations, because I’ve thought a lot about cosmetic surgery, because I’ve always hated my nose. Like, seriously hated. I’m mostly over it now, but for a long time, I wasn’t, and so, for a long time, I thought about getting it fixed. And so I’d bring it up in conversation with close girlfriends sometimes, always in the context of ‘oh god you guys did Sarah Jessica Parker totally get her nose done?’, and always with the intention of gleaning confessions about like desires. Such confessions always came. One friend would get her nose done. Another would get knockers lifted. Another wondered about Botox, ‘just a little though, you know?’
But always, it was only ever a conversation that you could have among close friends, because talking about doing something to change or improve your appearance always seems to signal insecurity about your appearance, and most people are generally pretty touchy about revealing that kind of thing. Also, there’s that whole cultural thing about it being somehow counter-feminist to want to alter your appearance. Strong women don’t care about that kind of thing. Strong women resist cultural messages about beauty. Strong women stay real, even if real exists on a blurry spectrum that runs from not shaving legs to plucking eyebrows to using eye cream to coloring hair to ‘having work done.’
And then we become mothers, and it’s all about, what message do we send to our daughters? The Good Mother is very careful about what messages she sends to her daughter about beauty. The Good Mother worries even over lipstick.
It’s complicated, obviously. I want to embrace myself as I am. I want my daughter to embrace herself as she is. At the same time, however, I’m lying if I say that there isn’t stuff that I want to change, that I actively – through diet and exercise and creams and whatnot – try to change, or at least manage. And I’m lying if I say that I think that that activity is disempowering: on the contrary, isn’t being self-determining about one’s self the very definition of empowering? If I don’t like something about myself, why should I not aim to change it? Can we not be reflective and interrogative about cultural messages around beauty and still embrace our own desires to feel beautiful? Should we deny those desires? Why is this all so hard?
Why am I going on and on about this? One of our own – the divine Ali Wentworth – has decided to be self-determining about her own fine self, and do something about a part of herself that she doesn’t like. And she’s sharing her very frank reflections on the process on her vlog, and hoping to start a conversation about the whole beauty thing, beginning with the question why is this all so hard to talk about? and hopefully ending somewhere awesomely fascinating and empowering and maybe even useful.
So check out her story. Leave your questions and comments here or there, and let’s start talking.