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?