You Look Marvelous
After struggling to separate two conjoined Trader Joe’s shopping carts, the older man, who tried to help, called after me: You look mahvelous! (imitating Billy Crystal’s parody of Fernando Lamas). I was somewhat startled --not the typical exchange at Trader Joe’s-- but not at all offended. After all, this wasn’t exactly a “Harvey Weinstein” (yes, Harvey has become a noun and a verb). But since I’d just started thinking about writing a blog post on appearance and self-esteem, the comment stuck with me.
True confession: I didn’t just run into T.J’s from walking the beach trail (which I’m known to do) on the aforementioned day. I had primped at home, for no good reason. Primping is what I do and what I’ve been doing for as long as I can remember. For the 60+ years I knew my mother, she would comment on my appearance every time she saw me. Usually, my hair was the first thing she noticed. So, to say I’m aware of my appearance, is a bit of an understatement.
Now days, when I hear people say, “You look good”, I mentally insert what I believe they’re thinking, “…for your age.” Recently a high school acquaintance, who had complimented me, remarked that staying fit and looking “good” at our age takes a lot of work. She got that right. A former fitness trainer used to say, “At 40 you have the body you inherited; after that, you have the body you deserve.” Parts of that statement are true.
In a Bind
In September, Jane Fonda appeared on NBC’s Meghan Kelly Today to promote her new movie: Our Souls at Night. Totally off message, Kelly asked Fonda about how she feels about the plastic surgery she has had. Fonda was visibly shaken, but just for a few seconds. She responded with, “You really want to talk about that??” My sentiments exactly. Jane Fonda is almost 80; she’s still drop-dead gorgeous. Of course, she has had cosmetic surgery; she also works hard to keep the good looks and good genes she’s inherited. If I spent my entire net worth on cosmetic surgery, I would NOT look like Jane Fonda.
So here we are: damned if we do and damned if we don’t. Women who “let themselves go” are scorned; those who use unnatural interventions are also scorned. Research tells us that men’s ratings of their own attractiveness are higher than women’s self-ratings. Take a look around: this is not a reality-based assessment. How did we get here?
150 years ago, the average home had no mirrors. With the advent of the camera, everyday folks saw their images for the first time. It’s been downhill for us ever since. Hollywood, the fashion industry and Madison Avenue have colluded to corrupt our sense of self. We’ve been shown images of women who, in some cases, were and are unhealthy people with amazing genes. (If you are one of the few women in our culture who has never been on a diet, hats off to you.) Technology has also contributed to our misery: namely Photoshop. There is no way we can compete with images of women whose cellulite, blemishes and wrinkles have been digitally removed. And yet we try.
I’m not going to even comment on the gazillion dollars spent annually on cosmetics, surgery, facials, peels, Botox, fitness centers, trainers, etc. The worst part of our obsession with our looks is how much our self-esteem is wrapped up in our appearance.
A makeup artist at Sephora told me that the hour she spends each morning applying her own makeup is how she expresses her creativity. Actually, an hour a day is what most women spend on their hair and makeup according to a survey conducted a few years ago (TODAY/AOL, 2014). Perhaps you, too, consider the time you spend primping an artistic expression. Or perhaps, you don’t primp at all; somehow, you’ve escaped societal pressure to conform to a certain look. But if you can’t leave the house, under any circumstances, until your hair and makeup are perfect, you may be on the other side of the I’m OK, You’re OK spectrum.
There is a fine line between self-care and self-obsession, awareness is one way to avoid crossing that line. Regardless of where you are along the spectrum of concern about appearance, I do believe that releasing judgment of yourself and others is the only sane response to insane societal pressures.