I think they were always there but I wasn't paying as much attention. It seems that every time I open a magazine or surf the Web I find yet another bad message. You may be thinking, "Only one?" And if you are, I'd say the question is a good one, for there are bad messages about women's bodies everywhere. And I'm sure that there's plenty of bad messages for men, too, but I haven't started noticing them yet. Just wait. I'm sure I will find them soon.
Earlier this evening I saw a banner ad for some sort of eye cream that showed a before and after shot of a woman's eye. In photo number one the undereye was puffy, creped and discolored, the lid drooping and the crow's feet deep. The after photo was perfect. Sorry folks, but without surgery (and Photoshop) this is impossible. But besides the blatant absurdity of thinking that any beauty product could produce those results (and that it was the same person's eye), the before shot was amateurishly doctored. It looked like someone had applied heavy foundation makeup under the eye and then took a hot blowdryer to it, causing it to cake and bits to fall off. You'd think it would be the lovely after shot that would look fake, but no, I suppose whoever put this sad ad campaign together assumed we wouldn't look at that awful eye for too long. What's sadder is that someone out there is buying that product.
A few hours later, this popped up in yet another banner ad:
"My wrinkles were getting worse and I felt embarassed and ashamed."
Now, you tell me why anyone would be embarassed or ashamed about wrinkles. I certainly can understand feeling poorly about watching one's face age, even as I wish that weren't so. But ashamed and embarassed? That would mean that someone had done something wrong to create the wrinkles. Is this imaginary woman feeling guilty that she hadn't used the correct creams? Maybe she'd never washed her face in her life. That must be it. Otherwise, what's there to feel ashamed by?
All kidding aside, I know that I wouldn't have these fine lines around my lips if I hadn't been a smoker, or at least they may have been put off by some more years. But still, I am not ashamed or embarassed. I have been noticing them more, and part of me thinks it isn't so much about my past smoking as my habit of pursing my lips and this certain face I make when I look in the mirror. Years and years ago, a friend pointed this out to me. When I look in the mirror, I suck in my cheeks slightly, tuck my chin in a bit, lower my eyelids and turn up the edges of my mouth. I used to try on hats on my lunchbreak years ago when I worked in midtown Manhattan. I am a bit sorry that girl pointed out this odd habit of mine, for I've been aware of it ever since (and the habit could never be broken).
Why did I do it? I probably noticed that many models hold their heads like that. I also never had any discernable cheekbones and tilting my head foreward helps create a shadow under my chin, which is very small.
Should I be ashamed and embarassed by my weak chin and lack of cheekbones? Maybe I should be. I ought to have saved the money to get plastic surgery, right? I mean, in this society, from what I gather, I'm remiss in not doing everything I can to look like the beauty standard and keep myself from looking old. If I don't, I'm not complying.
If I don't, I may even be causing others grief. Years ago, when Clinton was in office, I knew a man who groaned every time he saw Janet Reno on TV. It wasn't because he thought anything bad about her politically. It was because she was "old and ugly." He was offended that he was obliged to look at her when he watched the news. And good ol' Rush Limbaugh would probably agree with this point of view. After all, one of his reasons for not wanting Hillary Clinton to win was totally apolitical. He said he didn't want to be forced to watch a woman age in public. What a horror show!
Ideas like those above cause me to envision a dystopian future in which women will be socially ostracized for not having plastic surgery or having to cloister themselves away after they've passed their youthful "prime."
There is irony here. That glass ceiling may have been shattered in 18,000 pieces (or whatever number Clinton named), but the tyranny of the beauty standard seems to be getting worse. Or perhaps, now that my youth is gone, I am just noticing it more.
But, I think not.
Image note: Quentin Matsys' "Grotesque Old Woman", a painting I have always disliked immensely.