Maybe Elizabeth Wurtzel is not OK after all

Or maybe she’s just being consistent with her role as a “everyone’s favorite beautiful mess.”

Really now.

She thinks she’s bashing “slovenly” people (which is kind of silly in and of itself, unless said “people” are actually your brother, who just showed up to your black-tie wedding with beer-breath and flip-flops), but she’s just bashing the underprivileged, a.k.a. women who can’t afford weekly Gyrotronic sessions and lip balm that costs over 20 bucks a pop (Because I’m a real journalist, I’ve checked). Women who are working three jobs and, when they have time to eat, must eat burritos on the smelly bus that ferries them between said three jobs. Women whose evening yoga sessions are interrupted by a screaming kid who would love nothing more than to bash them with his toy airplane while they’re trying to do the goddamn dolphin pose (ahem).

Long-time readers of this blog know that I am not in favor of bashing The Pretty. I like The Pretty. I think it gets a bad rap in certain feminist circles. I’m also someone who enjoys performative femininity, sparkly charm bracelets and all (a predilection that often results in my husband, a scary-looking, bearded Russian guy with tattooed fingers, standing in some shop, picking between a Hello Kitty charm and a charm featuring a cartoon whale).

And then I go and read crap like this:

Obviously not everyone is born beautiful, but absolutely everybody can become so. I miss the un-Holy Trinity, meaning, of course, Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington, and Naomi Campbell. I long for the impossible standard of female beauty as a daily chore for all, not because I want the world to look better — I want it to bebetter. I want everyone to try as hard as I do to please be gorgeous, because it’s not that hard, girls. Looking great is a matter of feminism. No liberated woman would misrepresent the cause by appearing less than hale and happy.

Right.

What’s remains delightful about Wurtzel is how much of her writing is essentially a personal ad dressed up in whatever rhetoric is guaranteed to get her the most attention in a given week. As an editor concerned with circulation numbers and online hits, I bow down to this clever practice. As a woman and a feminist, I sneer at it.

Pretty women often do a fabulous job of “selling” the issue of women’s rights – or human rights in general. For many of the dudes, a pretty woman is a kind of “gateway drug” to srs feminist bsns.

I don’t really know how the hell any of that justifies compulsory femininity. Well, unless you couldn’t really give a crap about social justice to begin with. And hey, why should Elizabeth Wurtzel care about social justice? Unless it involves exciting causes such as Making Elizabeth Feel Good About Herself, that is.

I think she’s entitled to her views – God knows, I get tired of the “we are all beautiful as we are” crap from time to time (because let’s face it, a lot of the people who say it are practicing what is known as emotional populism) – but why tie it to feminism? To liberation? I mean, it doesn’t even fit in with the personal ad routine.

And then there’s also this,

Even with my Harvard degree, when I ran out of money while writing my first book, I was happier to serve cocktails in high heels than to get money from my mom. And now I walk miles in Marni’s five-inch platform T-straps.

Yeah, yeah, clothes are important:

But now, Elizabeth, you’re just showing off. And for someone of your stature and age and publishing experience, that just seems odd. Almost as if you have way too much to prove. At 45. While looking better than 25. And that sucks way more than “giving up” on your looks in your 20’s, I believe. These are not the words and actions of a woman “trying to be happy.” This is just dispiriting.

And now look what you’ve done. I has a sad now. Seriously.

Monster in the mirror: insecurity over looks is not awesome, and shouldn’t be required

“At least you guys can wear halters. I’ve got man-shoulders.”

– Regina George. “Mean Girls.”
natalia antonova: 13

That’s me at 13, backstage at the student theater. Looking at this photo 13 years later, I’m struck by how pretty I look. I was a pretty girl. I didn’t know it. In fact, every single time I looked in the mirror, I saw something close to a monster. I saw a person so horribly ugly that it was embarrassing to be her. Even if a friend told me that I looked pretty, I would agree on the surface (because I didn’t want to argue), but felt as though they had an ulterior motive (they were actually making fun of me, for example). This habit has stayed with me – I can’t look in the mirror and act normally. I have to somehow rearrange my features, so that the face looking back at me is not my own face, but a mask. I can’t smile sincerely in the mirror, though I’ve been practicing. I had no idea I even did this, until I started living with my fiance, who began pointing this stuff out to me.

“Why can’t you look in the mirror like a normal person would?”

“I don’t know.”

But I do know. I don’t like my reflection.

Growing up in the U.S., it felt as though bashing your own looks if you’re a girl was good manners. This isn’t really the case in Russia. “I look horrible!” I’ll wail to a friend, and they’ll go, “What?”

Of course, my problems with my own face and body don’t just stem from problems within society – any society. It would be disingenious to just blame “the media” or “fashion magazines” or even “high school”. My problems with how I look started with abuse at the hands of a male relative, and progressed steadily onward. I saw a monster in the mirror, because I felt there was a monster on the inside (it all comes down to kid logic: “Adults must be hurting me, because I am a bad person” – after all, I trusted adults to make the best choices for me).

Society did help, however. Society made it permissible, even desirable, to feel ugly and to feel bad for feeling ugly. Everywhere around me, other girls felt ugly too. Even girls I considered pretty, they all said the same things: “My butt is too big,” “My boobs sag,” “OMG, my nose!” “I hate my goddamn hair!” If you were considered “ethnic,” you were in trouble – what if your curls were “too kinky”? What if your skin was “too dark”? An Italian-American friend of mine was approached by the grandmother of a mutual friend, who asked her – “Have your parents considered doing anything about your nose, dear?” And if you were a lily-white girl, well, you were in danger of being “too bland” somehow, as if you were a dish to be sampled. Indian friends were told to lighten their skin. I was advised to consider a tanning bed. I think some of us realized, even at that age, that we couldn’t win.

Now that I’m older, I don’t have time to worry about my looks. Literally. I have a job, I’m getting married, I’m working on a new play, I have finally started getting over my morning sickness. I don’t have time to worry about my looks – but I suddenly have time to enjoy them. I’m not really sure when this started, before I moved to Russia, definitely (though being in Russia has certainly reinforced this feeling), but I feel very pretty. Even when people tell me that I’m nothing of the sort – somehow, this no longer bothers me. And in the earliest stages of pregnancy, despite the morning sickness, I was suddenly overcome with how pretty my body felt, if “pretty” could be a feeling. It still is very pretty, even more so now that it’s sporting a growing baby bump.

I reject ridiculous beauty standards, but I don’t reject beauty. This is important. This is why I ignore people who attempt to chide me for “performing beauty culture.” It’s honestly the same thing as the people who made it their business to fret about my lack of tan – an invasion of privacy. Nobody should have any right to tell you how the hell you ought to look.

If someone fails to find you attractive, it’s not the end of the world (even though for a woman, it somehow “should” be the end of the world – otherwise, why would women be so heavily policed in this department? When I was growing up, people made “ugly” comments about Janet Reno as if they actually meant something, for example). There is also nothing shallow, or self-centered, or rude about saying, “But dayyymn, I’m feeling pretty fine” or being told that “dayyymn, you look fine”.

I feel fine when I look at my pregnant body today. I feel fine when I look at the picture above. I feel fine in general. I’m glad that I finally get to experience something I denied myself for so many years. I imagine that things will be more difficult in the last weeks of pregnancy, and in the first few months after the birth – it’s a trial for the body in many ways, and having a bad back (that I’m working on) doesn’t make it any easier – but at the same time, there will be a baby I plan on feeding with my body during that time as well, and if that’s not beautiful, I don’t know what is.

Beauty is the path

I had a distressing conversation the other day. It went something like this:

“Man. I am bummed. I was involved in an exciting project, and now it’s over. And there are, like, hurt feelings on both sides. Bummer. Man.”

“Well, considering the fact that you use your looks to get involved in most exciting projects…”

“Er, what?”

“Oh, you heard me.”

“WHAT?”

“You heard me say ‘you heard me.’ I know it, because you flinched.”

“OMG! WTF? STFU! GTFO! DIAF!”

Etc.

I’m not Angelina Jolie and never will be, but, sure enough, I perform beauty while I’m still young. I checked out the spring collection at Naf Naf the other day, for example. I made it out of there with a pink strapless minidress adorned with large, purple, blue and white flowers that are vaguely reminiscent of a blown-up Japanese print. It’s layered, and make me look like a very complicated dessert and makes me feel like I live in a painting. I love it.

As much as I love it, I know that even this little dress can come with some big consequences attached. Why, I find out new and exciting things about me and people like me every day:

Continue reading “Beauty is the path”

A Pretty Cover For The Bones

This one is for Latoya, who reminded me of my love for beautiful TLC and Mary J. Blige.

My mother has always insisted to me that I am pretty.

This went beyond the regular “my child is simply darling” outlook that most parents have to some extent. No, my mother insisted she saw something in me – the way one sees despair in a late Van Gogh painting or the Virgin Mary in a passing summer cloud. She told me I was unconventional, unique, a one-of-a-kind specimen one may discover after getting lost in the Amazon Rainforest or exploring the back-rooms of a particularly pretentious record shop.

Now, I always knew that beauty doesn’t humanize a woman. But I also knew that beauty does make her more acceptable, especially if she has the mind to have a career or, egads, strongly disagree with a man. Sexist men are more forgiving of “uppity” women if said women happen to be beautiful, though beauty can become a liability the minute you are sexually harassed or otherwise assaulted. But what made my family worship female beauty was its romantic, tragic side: the beauty that jumped off cliffs and turned itself into trees and so on. It was the beauty that was allowed to be at the center of a story. As a writer, I knew all about stories: the stories you told, and the stories you lived. Most of the time, I was doing the telling.

I actually blubbered when my mother showed me pictures she had taken for my senior yearbook portrait.

“But you look so interesting!” She insisted.

“Buh-but I don’t want to be uh huh huh interesting! I want to be uh huh huh pretty! Like you!” Continue reading “A Pretty Cover For The Bones”

A little bit of poetry, because the world is hard

Not from me, but from a much more gifted individual – Mr. Sim Stafford. This poem “Untouched It,” is probably one of the most beautiful things I’ve had the honour to publish so far.

Here’s a music video to one of my favourite songs, a song I used to listen to on repeat in the Queen City, Charlotte (the Queen immortalized via a statue that makes her look as though she’s been punched in the stomach – at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport), where Sim and I first got to know each other:

“The Mad Hatter… he waits forever, for his old lover…”