Wednesday, January 30, 2008

It's the Middle Ground For Me

My husband is a handsome man. Tall, slim, beautiful face, and he can still wiggle my toes even though he drives me batshit crazy sometimes. We've been together for almost nineteen years and I'm only 36. We met when I was 17 and about to enter college life as a freshman. His good looks are not what swept me off my feet then, and they're certainly not what keeps us together all these years later. That said, I appreciate the fact that, nearly twenty years later, he still looks great, cares about his appearance, and wants me to want him.

He could of course, buck the system, rail against the machine, grow his hair out, bathe sporadically, wear unflattering clothes and scream that moisturizing his face to prevent skin cancer and wrinkles is the pinnacle of male vanity and a symbol of masculine insecurity. He could decide to totally let himself go and tell me that if I didn't love him for his soul and mind then I am surely a shallow and vain tripe myself, unwilling to see who he really is.

Of course, if he did all of these things, I would love him. But I would also be supremely annoyed, worried, and hurt. I would take it personally that he no longer wanted to look great for me, for himself, and for his health and longevity. Studies point to greater productivity, health and happiness in those who care about their appearance to a healthy level - kind of like the "dress for the job you really want to have theory" - ever tried to get a really important task done with your pajamas still on and furry teeth?

As it stands, he shaves, wears a suit, works out for health AND appearance, and keeps his teeth white....uh oh... should I believe him to be a shallow follower? A man who knows not his own worth?

And what about the men and women who believe that makeup wearing, conventional dressing, hair coloring folks are all really mindlessly insecure sad people who can't think for themselves? Maybe they are, but anyone who conforms to a group ideal is still relying on the power of numbers to support their beliefs.

I have lots of "granola" friends and I have lots of "glam" friends. My granola friends part ways with my more glam sisters in that they truly believe that they are individuals, warriors against the system and that my glam girls are lemmings who secretly hate themselves and conform to a uniform ideal of beauty out of deep-rooted insecurity, self-loathing, and an unwillingness to strike on their own.

Guess what? Both groups are followers. Both groups are insecure about some things, both groups are confident about some things, both groups are unique, both groups are comprised of special, caring individuals and both groups need the other group to feel better about themselves.

We're not all that unique, people, and pointing out extremes from ourselves may make us feel better, but it's divisive.

*Edited to add* Many things and events have inspired me to write this post, and beauty standards for American women has long been a topic with which I am fascinated. It seems to be on the minds of others, for example....*The venerable Mrs. G. opened up this debate a few days ago, and it struck a cord with many, many women. Lots of people who commented on her post seemed to have a very black and white attitude, and that scares me.

I got the feeling that many of these women would make snap judgments about me based on my appearance, and it got me thinking.

I cannot count the hours I have spent volunteering my time in my communities as a social worker, I literally spent two years working child abuse cases for free. I cannot tell you how many prayers I have said to God and the Universe, I cannot tell you of the love inside of me, the happiness and security I feel as a woman. Yes, I have my insecurities like anyone else. But I also know myself to be strong, capable, smart, and giving. Especially the giving part. I love my earth, my community, and my family and I think it shows in everything I do.

But I color! And get facials! And wear makeup! And I work out on elliptical machines so my legs stay toned! And on my fortieth birthday I am booking a chemical peel! Oh yes I am. Oh no! I'm melting into a shallow pool, help me! I want to look younger to match my age in my heart! I like it when the reflection mirrors back what I see in my heart. I lay in my bed and wonder what happened to my boobs after nursing four children and...Oh NO! I contemplate getting a lift to pull the skin back to where it used to be! I'm such a self-loathing follower, right?

Women who feel compelled to cut themselves and mold themselves into an ideal of beauty that doesn't match their own are indeed sad. I liken the struggle many of us feel about being appreciated for our beauty AND our minds to that of science and religion. Many people think it's either or, but I say there is a middle ground. A place where we can show off our abundant colors and plumage (if we so choose) and not be afraid to bend some spoons with our mindpower while we're at it. The same goes for men. We're a beautiful species - why is it some of us feel compelled to cover that fact up? We're animals at heart, and preening, plucking and grooming are wired deep into our DNA so that we might attract others. Is that so bad? Can't we look great while accepting our diplomas?

Why the line in the sand people?


painted maypole said...

well said

Nancy said...

I embrace both points of view.

I concur, those that have plastic surgery, dress and make up just to become someone different on the outside, is trying to mask and avoid their inner self.

I see nothing wrong with keeping ourselves up, as long as it's not because marketing says we are less than if we don't.

I color my hair, I bleach my teeth, I had my boobs put back up where they belong ... but I do it for me.

PS .. Yente, if you are still playing matchmaker, look around for a plastic surgeon ... a few tweaks would be ok *wink*

bipolarlawyercook said...

Well said. If everyone was as thoughtfully self-reflective as you, then it might be possible for the real granolas to be more accepting on the glam side of the line.

I tend to err on the less glam side, though I do moisturize/sunscreen, and have been known to put on mascara and lipstick. I'm now debating about the coloring thing, but it's a personal choice based in what I feel like doing anymore. I just try to remember that being pro choice includes letting people make choices I don't always agree with.

Crystal said...

No line in the sand here. I would say I am pretty middle of the road on both the glam and granola. Even as a child I never fit in to just one group or clique. Why limit my friends when there where such good ones all over the place?
Some days I wish I had a lot more glam in my life. Some days I wish we were a more granola family. But lots of days I am just happy to be who I am.

Family Adventure said...

Personally, I'm probably more granola -- anything chemical freaks me out!! -- but I still exercise, and when the grey starts becoming too noticeable, I'll definitely consider colouring.

But it's the judging that gets to me. Don't think you know me just because I'm not wearing mascara to the grocery store!

Wouldn't it be great if we could all allow each other to do whatever makes us happy?

Great post.


jakelliesmom said...

Because your other commenters are so brilliant and well spoken, I don't know that I have much to add - but I tend to be overwhelmingly diplomatic and can generally see the merits of any reasonable argument.

That said, at some point, I may just give the girls a lift, I can't see myself gray anytime in the next 20 years, and am not about to let myself go to prove to the world that I should be valued only for my inner beauty. Call me vain, but I look as I do for me.

imbeingheldhostage said...

Can we be from both groups?
Jen, you are a beautiful woman (unless your picture is a fake and you're some poor slob with chewing tobacco dribbling down your chin) so forget the peel-- buy a ticket to the UK instead!

Anonymous said...

What about taking the money for something frivolous like a facial, or a peel or botox and donating it somewhere worthy instead?

Rachel said...

Hmmm, I agree with about 90% of what you wrote. But tTo me, there's a huge difference between wearing makeup/ coloring your hair (or even getting a peel) v. going under the knife. I am as vain as the next person, but no way would I risk my life for my looks. Besides, I think that people who have plastic surgery don't look better, they just look like they've had plastic surgery. And if I had that kind of cash lying around, I would rather go to France or something.

Thought-provoking post.

Don Mills Diva said...

I love love love this post. I am an unapologetic glam girl. I feel better about myself and am more happy and productive when I look good. End of story. I'm not sure about actual surgery but I am open to some tweaking as I age. If you disagree great - more power to you - but I believe spending money to improve myself IS worthy if it makes me a happier and more productive citizen.

liv said...

you said it, sister. i think what bugs me is resignation. when women seem resigned to use abstract phrases like "THE MEDIA" and "SOCIETY" to explain why they feel bad about themselves. why aren't we choosing to turn off what allegedly makes us feel bad in favor of doing what makes us feel good whether it's letting it all hang out or going and getting a nip/tuck?

i am 30. i work out 14 hours a week, wear make-up, and dress half time as a granola yogini and half time as a fashionista. ain't no shame in that game because it's mine.

Don Mills Diva said...

BTW I added you to my blogroll - your posts always make me think and more people should know about you.

jen said...

Amen. I'm granola but I enjoy seeing the glamour. To each, her own.

Anonymous said...

Here is a quote I love from Ani DeFranco:
"My idea of feminism is self-determination, and it's very open-ended: every woman has the right to become herself, and do whatever she needs to do."


Just Seeking said...

I love this post! You are my most thoughtfully articulate friend and I love you for it!
disclaimer---I color my hair, bleach my teeth, receive chemical peels (Family Adventure, they're not that bad!), and exercise mostly to look good. Don't get me wrong, I also exercise to feel good, but if the looks part didn't follow, I'm not sure how motivated I'd be to do it.
That said, I agree with Crystal (and everything you said Jen) that some days I wish I were more glam---we go on vacation to places like Chicago and dress up every day because we love that---and some days I wish myself and my family were more granola---mostly for the potentially positive environmental impact. But most of the time, I perfectly happy in the middle. I love looking good. I hate the overly plastic look. And I'm all for doing whatever makes you feel good (but at the same time doesn't impose on the freedoms of others). And importantly, I'd freak out if my hubby didn't at least pluck his ear and eyebrow hairs!

flutter said...

I love the anonymous comment about donating the "frivolous money" somewhere else.

I don't think it's frivolous to make yourself feel good. I don't think it's frivolous to put your best foot forward, and it irritates me to no end to be told what to do with my money. I donate, and volunteer and do my part. Don't tell me you think I need to do more, that's not your decision to make, it's mine.

Jennifer said...

I suppose I lean toward the granola side -- but I'm mascara-wearing granola AND going to get my hair highlighted tonight. Middle ground, gets my vote.

Audubon Ron said...

…and when you reach the 50’s you submit the body to the mother earth. “For those whom hold communion with her visible forms, she speaks a various language.” Sadly, we rot. We become smelly and sour. We can bathe in formaldehyde and still smell like a cold burger with onions and mustard growing harder on the counter in the morning. Then the day comes and it calls us. It says, “Go forth and list to the stars and to nature’s teachings for all around you the earth, the sky, the depth of water comes a still voice!” The dreams we prayed so hard before now only take the twinkle of an eye to cause happen. We ask, “Is this a Coinci-God???” How did I do that? Did God just give me a little power dust? The looks matter no longer, it’s those little zaps on life we do to the good and wonder – Where is that angel hiding?

Lord, take me the day you have for me but until then, give me the power and the strength and the wisdom to do your work. Let me see what the angels and me do from time-to-time. IT KEEPS ME COMING BACK…

Kathryn said...

Wow! So well said. I am definitely a middle ground person too.
Fabulous post!

Marie said...

"He could of course, buck the system, rail against the machine, grow his hair out, bathe sporadically, wear unflattering clothes and scream that moisturizing his face to prevent skin cancer and wrinkles is the pinnacle of male vanity and a symbol of masculine insecurity. He could decide to totally let himself go and tell me that if I didn't love him for his soul and mind then I am surely a shallow and vain tripe myself, unwilling to see who he really is."

This pretty much describes my husband. He really needs to lose weight, amongst other things. His doctor told him so, but he just doesn't see the point. He wonders why I have no libido, but I can't tell him his body really turns me off, can I?

SuburbanCorrespondent said...

Well, I believe mrs. g. was just advocating aging beautifully (which, believe me, still requires a lot of "help") as opposed to trying to look 20 when you're 50. Because that looks sort of freaky, you know? You sound defensive! There's nothing wrong with make-up, etc. We all like to look our best. But we still have to look like ourselves, and not some mannequin. I can be trim, made-up, and beautiful, but still look mature rather than like an ingenue, right?

Jen M. said...

Of course I'm defensive, Suburban Corr - but not because of anything Mrs. G. said. If you'll read my post carefully, the impetus for me writing this (and it was just an impetus - other things have inspired this post) was the bevy of comments on her post that made it sound like you were on one side of the fence or not.

Being defensive isn't all bad.

Jessica @ A Bushel and a Peck said...

Great post. I agree--I may be "vain" by some standards, but I think I am a happier, healthier person when I also feel good about how I look on the outside. I take steps to make sure my inside is in good shape--eat right(ish), exercise, etc. Why wouldn't I maintain the outside the same way?

Mrs. C said...

For all the women who have let themselves go all I have to say is this: "Once you go M.A.C. you never go back."

Sarah C.

Beck said...

I loves me some makeup. I really do. I feel MUCH better when I take the time to make myself look more attractive - much, much better. And I also love how quickly other people label this time as silly or unnecessary - yes, the way I feel about myself has nothing to do with the way I'm going to conduct myself in the world. Of course not.
Good post.

Mamma said...

Agreed. Though I don't get on the eliptical (sp?) as often as I should.

I just wish people wouldn't judge each other so harshly. You miss out on too many neat people when you do.

Rony said...

BTDD with no regrets. But I'm also there with a helping hand for a friend in need or a cause I believe in. Do what makes you happy.

the mama bird diaries said...

Very thoughtful, well written post.

I believe in doing what makes you feel good about yourself.

Highlights, eyebrow tweezing and painted toes make me feel more like me. I like glam.

And I like that granola works for others.

Minnesota Matron said...

Can we say balance? That's where you are, my dear. An autoimmune disease left me with tremendous puffy bags under my eyes that aged me a decade. My insurance company approved reconstructive surgery to restore my eyes to their normal tilt. And some of my hard-core feminist friends (and I have PhdD in that field) roundly condemned. I had the surgery. And never looked back. Was it about the mirror reflecting the ME? Sure. And that matters.

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

I fall in the "glam" category--makeup, haircolor, teeth whitening, etc. I think it's great that some people feel great "au natural," I'm not one of them. Maybe I've been brainwashed by society; whatever. I'm doing what makes me feel good.

That said, I do feel I'm aging gracefully; no surgery is a biggie for me. And I exercise, but mostly for health--my hot body days are definitely behind me.

One aspect of this focus on looking young (versus looking good) that really bugs me is the moms that want to be as hip and youthful looking as their daughters. I think it's just kind of creepy. Be secure enough in yourself to be attractive as a mature woman. Leave being attractive as a hot young thing to the hot young things!

wheelsonthebus said...

It's a silly line. I don't wear makeup, but that is laziness. I am very particular about my glasses and when I do dress up, I like to go all out. People see me as granola; except the granolas. I guess I'll hang out in the middle with you.

Tootsie Farklepants said...

This entry is perfect. Love it!