There were a lot of very interesting responses on the subject of grooming, in the comments and in emails. I was interested in your personal experiences of this matter.
There was a suggestion that my failure to, as it were, know where my towel is all the time is my mother’s fault.
It is true that I was brought up in a family in which attention to one’s appearance was considered frivolous. With all the important issues in the world, how could any sensible woman devote her time to thinking about clothing and suchlike?
But it is also true that I grew to womanhood in an era when refusal to pay attention to one’s looks was part of being a feminist.
We didn’t shave our legs, wear makeup, put on bras or girdles (which existed at the time, I believe, though I have never seen one), have our hair cut by someone who knew what she was doing, or otherwise kowtow to male expectations about us. We wore painter’s pants and T-shirts, and unwittingly spawned a whole industry intended to give “the natural look” to girls who weren’t prepared to follow our lead. We caused employers to quit admitting that they hired receptionists on the basis of their looks, and to feel uncomfortable about their continued policy of keeping women (though not men) out of the public eye once they were no longer decorative.
There were girls for whom this was a sacrifice, who could have looked pretty had they made some effort, and who never got to date anyone except fellow revolutionaries all the way through college. They deserve some credit for bringing a greater degree of freedom to today’s women.
I was not one of those girls. I was a dancer with a Pre-Raphaelite face and hair, and braless and unkempt was actually a great look for me. So much of attractiveness is actually about the luck of having the look that is in style at the time.
But there is an essential distinction here, I think. Attractiveness is the not the same as beauty. Ozarque had a discussion a while back about the idea that older women are by definition ugly. One commenter pointed out that it would be maladaptive for the species to define postmenopausal women as sexually attractive. The best thing, from the standpoint of reproductive success, is for fertility to be highly attractive. He has a point.
But that is sexual attractiveness, not beauty. People can also be beautiful as a tree is beautiful, in a purely aesthetic way. The Water Jar used to argue for this, though he limited his claim to women and illustrated his essays on the subject with pictures of strippers and movie stars, thus robbing them of some degree of their moral authority.
There is the beauty that comes from having a beautiful spirit. There is charm, which is much longer lasting than a pretty face. There is style.
Any of these things might be what your clothes and face and hair are saying about you, but they can also say much more abstract things.
But sometimes — as with my youthful feminist statement — the things our self-presentation says aren’t entirely true. I got all the benefits of being a pretty girl (and the disadvantages, too, of course) while also having the self-satisfaction of my feminist statement. Now I am not as self-deceiving. I have never curled, permed, or colored my hair, and I actually get some credit for this from other women, as though I were making a statement about getting older. In fact, I have thick, healthy, curly hair which is graying nicely. What I mean by a hairstyle is that I go to the trouble of getting a haircut, from the wonderful Cecilia, to whom I explained that I wouldn’t do anything but wash it, so I had to have a really good haircut. I know a woman with a mousy pageboy who claims to spend 45 minutes fixing it every day. I would have thought that 45 minutes would be sufficient for Marie Antoinette to fix her hair, but I may just be lucky. I obviously don’t deserve any credit for, as one woman put it, resisting the pressure to change my hair.
It is very easy for me, being mostly interested in the abstract and inclined toward absentmindedness — and yes perhaps because of my upbringing and early experiences, to make a statement with my self-presentation that says something like “I am unable to care for myself” or “I am an eccentric” or “I live alone, possibly in an alleyway, and have no access to mirrors.” This does not affect my level of charm or beauty of spirit, but it isn’t the effect I want to create.
Well, in honor of my mother, who is in fact an excellent role model, I offer you as today’s song “The Star Carol” by Sydney Carter. If you click on its name you will get the lyrics. Click here for midi file, pennywhistle notation, sheet music, dulcimer tab, etc.
I have never heard this song done by anyone else but my mother and was very surprised to find it in the Oxford Christmas carol collection. I didn’t remember all of the verses, but the first verse is enough all by itself to explain why you don’t see it in hymnals:
“Every star shall sing a carol!
Every creature, high or low,
come and praise the King of heaven
by whatever name you know.
God above, Man below,
holy is the name I know.”
Praising God by whatever name you know is not an option in your average Protestant church. The song goes on to suggest that there might be other incarnations of Christ on other planets, making it a science fiction carol but also theologically unorthodox to say the least. Thus, while Carter’s “Lord of the Dance” is one of the most commonly sung modern hymns and included in most mainstream hymnals, this one is not generally heard in churches, and maybe not ever. And yet, even a heretical hymn is religious, and cannot be sung in schools. So grab your dulcimer and pennywhistle and sing it yourself. It has a beautiful haunting tune, with a folksong feel, and should be better known than it is.
8 thoughts on “Wednesday December 13, 2006”
There is a definite difference between beauty and attractiveness. I know a few beautiful women who seem to be unattractive (that is to say, not attracting men to them) due to their attitudes or general demeanor.
One who, assuming she goes out, goes out with all the basketball girls from her heyday who get loud and obnoxious together. One who is so focused on herself and her own fair treatment that she can’t treat others fairly at all. One who is so deeply mired in depression that she sits in silence when we all head out on the tiles. All of whom are beautiful.
It has just occured to me that it’s possible they don’t know when someone is attracted to them and therefore unable to make an advance themselves. Enh.
Attractiveness must be a function of the number of dates you get compared to your style year over charm, or something.
“Charm is a glow within a woman that casts a most becoming light on others.” John Mason Brown
What a wise and splendid post….. and what a lovely carol.
Thank you for brightening the day.
It is a powerful debate we should have too…
I am neither beautiful nor attractive, but at least my hair is going grey in a way that I like.
RYC: the public huggers were filming every transaction, so I think they were probably okay.
In high school, I used to think that a woman needed to curl her hair and wear makeup in order to look attractive to men. In college, I noticed that men (especially the ones I found desirable) didn’t necessarily find a woman more or less attractive based on her hair or makeup. It came down to attitude, personality and confidence. That’s when I accepted that I was beautiful regardless of the hairstyle or makeup and how I could make that comment the other day. I feel like I’m not beautiful when I’m sick or depressed, because the beauty radiates from ones inner joy. Cultivate cleanliness and self respect certainly for the physical body, but for beauty, one must cultivate the soul.
I think we must have been somewhat behind the US when I was in my teens in the 70s. I was in the same co-ed class at school from 13 to 16 years old and I truly don’t remember there being the same pre-occupation with looks as there appears to be now in the schools. That quite probably was because in NZ high school students must wear school uniforms and it is usually forbidden for girls (and boys) to wear makeup and jewellery (apart from small ear studs or ear rings). In the 80s, when doing an undergraduate research project investigating the existence or otherwise of the ‘generation gap’ I had to go around the houses in my neighbourhood that contained a teen and ask the teen and one of the parents to fill in a questionnaire about attitudes to a number of things that parents and kids were thought to have different opinions. Many of the teenage girls I spoke to didn’t really like school uniforms but when asked if they thought we should get rid of uniforms they would think about it a bit and then say no. And they had 2 reasons for this 1) with school uniforms there is no way other kids can see the financial status of your parents from the fashionable or otherwise clothes you wear and 2) there was far less nastiness amongst girls concerning clothes and appearance when everyone had to wear the same thing. So, we are in the 21st century and kids still wear school uniforms from the age of 12 to 16 over here. (Oh yes, we weren’t allowed to dye our hair at the high school I was at either, and our school skirts had to be no more and no less than an inch above the knee. I had heard stories of our headmistress actually getting out a measuring tape and measuring the distance. And as juniors we had to wear a school tie YUCK! Fortunately we did not have to wear a school hat. As seniors we had to wear pantyhose and woe betide any of us who came to school with a ladder in the hose. Going bra-less would have not been allowed at our school but it would not have been practical as seniors anyway because our senior blouses were quite deeply V-neck cuts and were also see through. In fact, I’m not even sure we were allowed to wear bras of any other colour except white or skin-coloured. We girls even got told off if we were sitting in an unladylike fashion.)
It’s not that I think women must curl their hair or wear makeup to be attractive to men. I, myself, never curl my hair. I am, according to popular polls, completely not what the average male wants.
short, nearly-black hair. Anti-cheerleader. Non-kowtowing. smart and feisty. gangly limbed, minimal make-up wearing me. Yet my attractiveness function is moving along quite nicely.
It’s not make-up that makes the woman nor is it her clothes her jewelry or her hairstyle. No one is saying that only with effort may we be alluring to men. But presenting yourself in a less than shabby manner allows people to remove those thoughts of “oh poor thing” and get on with business.
Interesting thoughts on beauty and attractiveness and aging. I grew up spending way too much time on my appearance, encouraged by my mother, who still mainly focuses on such things. (Appearance of the person, appearance of the house, etc.) Ew, I feel a purge coming on. I’ll take it to my blog.
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