foxinsnow's Diaryland Diary

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My version of The Beauty Myth

I don’t paint my toenails.

It seems like a stupid detail. Actually, it is a stupid detail. So what if, when I walk around barefoot, which I love to do, my toenails don’t glisten or sparkle with lavender, blood red, sky blue, or a light sheen of gold?

One time, when I was twelve, I painted my toenails. Fuchsia, or “hot pink,” as we were calling it. My dad noticed and said, “Oh, no! My friend at work, his daughter is in high school, and she paints her toenails! I knew you would be next.”

I immediately removed the polish and never painted my toenails again until I was eighteen. I really couldn’t stand the thought of being… predictable.

Also when I was twelve, I was taking a message for my father when the man I was talking to asked me how old I was. When I told him, he chuckled, “Oh, and I bet you have a fourteen-year-old boyfriend. I didn’t. Was I supposed to? I replied, “I wish.” He said there was plenty of time for that. He was right. But I didn’t know that then.

Would I have had a boyfriend if I had painted my toenails?

I’ve never conducted an experiment where I try to pick up guys with or without my toenails painted. Perhaps I should. I would guess that more guys would go for the painted toenails, simply because showing them off requires showing more skin, usually even leg.

Toes unpainted are just toes. But toes painted are sexy.

I have a theory about heterosexual female sexiness. I think guys like a woman who looks like she’s spent a lot of time on her appearance, whether or not she actually looks better that way or not.

Recently when my friend Samantha and I were hanging out in her room and listening to the radio while she touched up her toenails with plum polish and applied her expensive Clinique eyeliner, concealer, and lip gloss, I asked her, “Samantha, when you put on makeup, do you wear it to look better or just to look different?” She widened her eyes, frowned and said, “Well, I wouldn’t be putting it on if I didn’t think it made me look better.”

“Well, for me, I put it on when I want to look 'made up,'” I made imaginary quotation marks with my fingers, “but sometimes I’m going for a different look than that so I don’t wear it.”

She then pointed out that she “had to” wear it because of her skin. I kind of wonder if all these people who wear makeup all the time get pimples because they’re slathering crap all over their face. I have to admit, when I get the occasional zit, I put my Clinique concealer for fair complexions over it. But, we all know we’re not fooling anybody girls, you can still see the fucking zit. So why do we bother?

Still, we do.

I think Samantha wears makeup, obsesses over her hair, paints her toenails, and all the rest of it because she just wants to look good. She doesn’t want to look good so that she will pick up guys, although the fact that it does help her get guys certainly reinforces it. At least, I’d like to think that no girl is so deluded as to believe that stepping out of her house without eyeliner will render her a sexual pariah. But, I think, somewhere, we all do have such superstitious notions about beauty. Superstition is characterized by the belief that trivial circumstances or actions have cosmic or spiritual repercussions. While beauty for beauty’s sake is loads of fun, what makes it a compulsion is this notion that wearing makeup, or whatever, will make you beautiful, and if you’re beautiful, you’ll find a lover. Hence a plucked eyebrow essentially becomes a charm to protect against loneliness. But the key here is this belief that beauty is not innate or individualized. Beauty is bestowed upon one by some intangible outside force greater than oneself, provided that one performs certain rituals. It is external, something that can be painted on, sprayed on, or squeezed into like a pair of tight low-rise jeans.

That said, I can be such a girly girl. I have this thing about eye makeup. I really feel like a million bucks when I’m wearing eyeliner and mascara, and I pluck my eyebrows religiously. For a while I was really into blush and shimmery lip-gloss, but I thought it made me look too tarty. The phrase “painted whore” kept popping into my head, particularly with the blush. But divas wear eye makeup. After doing my eye for a while, I started to notice that my eyes aren’t as far apart as, say, Kate Hudson’s. That’s really a mark of beauty, wide eyes. Every time I look in the mirror, I would find myself wishing I could just stretch my eyes out.

I also obsess about my weight, from time to time. I try to go to the gym a few times a week, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about looking at your body in the mirror, and wishing you could just slice it up to be the way you want it. And you’re really depressed that you can’t. However, at the same time, sometimes I really get into my curves. I’m fascinated by my breasts, mainly because I used to not have any. I’m fascinated by the folds of flesh on my stomach when I slouch over, by the jiggle of my thighs, even by my stretch marks. As much as I’d like to be thin the way everyone else wants to, I think my body’s a lot more interesting to look at and touch and explore than it was when I weighed 95 lbs.

I used to be skinny as a rail. I had an ass the size of a pencil tip. My friend Maggie claims if you’re skinny, everyone always wants to date you. Well, she’s been overweight all her life. So, I tell her, “That just isn’t true. When I was waifish, I was obsessing about not getting guys all the time.”

Then she says, “Yeah, but weren’t you not shaving your armpits and stuff?” I do have to grant her this point.

I just know too many skinny girls who feel ugly as sin. I used to be one. If thinness doesn’t get you beauty, or the love that’s supposed to come with it—thinness, that prize that every woman will fight to the death to acquire, and the legend has it you can never be too thin—I can only guess that every other staple of beauty must be a mirage as well.

But then again, when I was thin, I wasn’t shaving my armpits. Or my legs. Or showering regularly, or wearing a bra regularly (which was the only thing that could create the illusion of tits), or plucking my eyebrows (so I basically had a unibrow), or for that matter painting my toenails. But the guys I did date encouraged this lack of grooming! One boyfriend came back from his first semester at Reed College (I was still a junior in high school) and said, “It’s so cool that you don’t shave! Usually girls wait until college to stop shaving! You know, none of the girls on my floor shave. You’d fit right in!” He really hadn’t cared either way before then. So I thought no one should. I still think that. I mainly shave now because I’m sick of explaining myself to everyone. And of course, I’m not thin anymore, so I have to make concessions.

Most of the things women do to make themselves look nice, or nicer, are somewhat relevant. If you spend a lot of time on your hair, which I don’t, it won’t be as frizzy or unmanageable. But, you know, some of these hair tips they give out in Cosmo can be achieved by not brushing it or washing it for a day. So, what about makeup? I personally like how eye makeup brings out my eyes, and if I were stuck on a desert island and the only guy there were Rick Moranis, I would still pluck my eyebrows. Shaving body hair? I really like having smooth legs and armpits these days. But painted toenails? It just seems like such useless effort, and when I’m not barefoot you can’t see my toes anyway. It seems to me to be the behavior of someone who can’t stand the idea of every single last inch of her body being totally dolled up and adorable. For a man.

However, you could argue that there’s really nothing wrong with doing something in order to get a man. It’s the most natural thing in the world—people want to get laid. Men make themselves look nice to attract women—although they don’t seem to feel the need to work as hard at it. Men also make themselves look nice to attract men. I’m sure some gay men even paint their toenails—I have male friends who wear makeup and shave their armpits and legs, so why the heck not? The problem every woman has to figure out for herself—and every man has to figure out for himself—is how far she will go to please not just men, but other people in general. I may think it doesn’t look nice when a woman has hairy armpits. But why should she care what I think? They’re her stupid armpits. I don’t assume she’s a “dyke” because of it, and I hope she doesn’t assume I’m straight based on my choice in armpit grooming.

It’s not so much that women have less realistic beauty standards than men. It’s just that women have more pressure on them to meet the standards. And the tough thing about these standards today is that the dominant culture makes them appear irrefutable by couching them in pseudo-science. I have a male friend who is totally convinced that men are biologically engineered to seek women with big breasts. Why? Because this makes women look more fertile. I guess he hasn’t seen the Venus de Milo, in which the woman has a swelling belly and perky rosebud breasts. Or seen any of the Reubens, in which women are just big all over. I totally accept that men are probably attracted to women who look fertile (though I’m not quite sure how one goes about “looking fertile”). What I don’t accept is that, throughout the ages, “looking fertile” always manifested itself in boyish bodies with big tits slapped on. Looking at art throughout the ages in which the women depicted were at the time considered gorgeous is only one method of research that proves this particular theory to be wrong.

It also proves that beauty is not universal. And it certainly can’t be proved by a mathematical equation.

Many people are convinced, as well, that symmetry makes a person beautiful. Obviously a certain amount of symmetry does (see how many dates you get after you shave off an eyebrow), but this argument is going a little too far. Evidently, some plastic surgeon made a symmetry mask that he puts over people’s faces, and the closer your face is to fitting the mask the more attractive you are. If your face doesn’t fit the mask as much as you would like, he’ll happily charge you thousands of dollars to restructure your cheekbones. I’m glad someone’s paying his debt to society. My friend the breast man is a big proponent of this symmetry business as well. He says certain mathematical facial proportions have been proven to be more visually pleasing. I really wonder how you can go about proving something like that. Or why you would bother. What’ll be next—a mathematical equation to prove why Robert Mapplethorpe’s self-portraits are worth more than Cindy Sherman’s? The Guerilla Girls, a group of anonymous radical feminist/multiculturalist artists, would probably argue that it’s because Mapplethorpe, gay or not, is still another in a long line of revered dead white male artists. While one may agree with this argument or not, within the context of the way the art world operates it’s much more plausible than an argument which seeks to parse out into a cold equation matters of the heart. Do you really think Romeo and Juliet would have been any different had Juliet’s face been less symmetrical? Men and women have been killing themselves, killing each other, making art, and otherwise fussing over what attracts lovers, perhaps greatest mystery of human existence since mortality, and now evolutionary psychologists and other crackpots have found “the” answer in the nooks and crannies of a “symmetry mask?” Please. If someone proposed that great art could be quantified by placing a stencil over it, and really, seriously believed this, he’d be the laughing stock of New York. So why is it that so many cultured, educated, and otherwise sensitive people buy into this idea of rigid rules of attraction, rules that make you into a cookie-cutter stereotype of sexuality, rules that everyone else seems better able to follow than you, rules that no one understands except plastic surgeons and evolutionary psychologists? Why can’t each person be his or her own work of art… original, well-conceived, cutting-edge art that is devoid of clichés and predictability? In other words, why is everyone trying so damn hard just to look like everyone else?

Beauty standards create a caste system in which everyone, regardless of their natural attributes, is scrambling for the same face, the same body, the same hair, even the same skin color. Very few people fit into the mask, but still it represents what everyone everywhere wants and has wanted since the beginnings of humanity. It represents natural selection. It represents, dare I say it, the “superior race.” There is no escaping it. It is innate… even though most people have to work so hard at keeping it up. Everyone who doesn’t fit it is flawed and got jipped big time. But here’s the hitch: since men are “biologically predetermined” to seek out physical beauty in a partner, a woman’s fate is sealed depending on how well her face fits the mask. Conveniently for men, personality is more important to women.

Armpits, toenails, symmetry, natural selection. I think everyone thinks everyone else must be privy to some list that dictates how to be hot, but of course there is no such list. And if there was, I really don’t think painted toenails would be on it anyway. Even guys who balk at hairy women probably don’t have very strong opinions on toenails. I really hate to admit it, but that matters to me. The free-thinking sixties poet Richard Brautigan wrote, “For fear of being alone you do so many things that aren’t you at all.” What no one—not the magazines, not the dating shows, not the diet gurus—wants to admit is that fitting in will not save you from loneliness. I’ve had lots of boyfriends, but there’s always been a certain amount of loneliness that no guy has ever been able to extinguish. And the scary truth is, deep down, I wouldn’t have wanted them to anyway.

12:03 a.m. - 2003-10-01

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