“Because I have Been Brainwashed”: A Response to Typical Beauty and Missing Out
By Gethsemane Herron
This summer I have been doing some deeply personal research about the physical presentation of women. The question I’m exploring is whether or not we can be celebrated as phenomenal without any regards to appearance . Rather, how does beauty, whatever it may be reflect on my ethnicity, my people and how does it intersect with my idea of what a woman is. Why people are tripping about Marion Bartoli’s appearance (http://feminspire.com/can-we-focus-on-marion-bartoli-winning-wimbledon-not-her-looks/) and not for winning Wimbledon. Or an acquaintance waxing poetic about a talented woman he knew, yet not being able to resist throwing in a few statements on her beauty. But how did that add to her character?
Today I saw a video by Dustin Hoffman on his character Tootsie. In it, Hoffman reminisces on the 1980’s film for the American Film Institute about the life changing role in which he played a man who adopts a female persona to get work. It’s like a pre-cursor to “Juwanna Mann” only not terrible.
Anyway, Dustin discusses the physical transformation he underwent at the hands of the makeup team. But upon asking he be made beautiful and being told that he couldn’t be, Hoffman mourns for the incredible people that he missed out on because they weren’t beautiful enough. If you have not seen it, here it is below.
It took embodying a woman for Hoffman to understood the pain of not fitting beauty standards, of being someone who could not be made beautiful. He tears up at this revelation and my thinking cap is lit. I think about all the times I observed people express their ideas of what female beauty should be and they ways women either meet it or fail it. The thoughts fall from my brain, heavy as frogs and dainty as rose petals. They include:
The ex-interest who told me that it was great that I was 5’8 to his 6’2. That it was good that I was not taller when I expressed the (joking) desire to be so. “Any taller and it would be a turn-off”. Years later, when we are just friends , I am regaling a story of the expensive time consuming process primping for a date can be. The scrubbing, the buffing ,the hair removal. He was shocked- didn’t I remove my hair regardless? When I answered no, he seemed disgusted. “It’s just not feminine” he stated. I argued that body hair was neither feminine nor masculine, but human as it exists in both genders. He didn’t hear me though. In that moment, my body without editing was disgusting to him.
The friend who sometimes comments on how fat others are, when it has nothing to do with the topic at hand. He admitted he had never been attracted to a fat woman.
The other friend whose Tumblr is surrounded with pictures of women. Rather, attractive women. Rather made-up, curvaceous with small waists or long legs or body hair free women or breasts covered in ice cream and sprinkles. Or close-ups of their butts , breasts, painted lips- cutting off the other parts of their body, highlighting and placing on a pedestal When I pointed out the objectification and the ice cream post, he remarked “that is so old”. As if it’s age somehow diminished its impact and what it communicated. When talking about body hair, he too found disgust at the thought of a woman with hair. When I started ranting at him, he stated “Well, that’s just my choice, my preference”. When the conversation ended, I thought that this was his socialization- did he really choose this? Or was it chosen for him? The conversation ended.
The great uncle that I do not know well commenting on how beautiful my mother used to be, not on how beautiful my mother is.
The whole group of men who visibly shuddered at the mention of female armpit hair. “It’s not attractive”
The aunt who took me into the bathroom when I was 10 and shaved my pits for me because it was ugly. The other aunt who commented that I should lose weight. The grandmother who said my hips were too big. The self same aunt fawning over me when I had lost weight. Her silence when I said my body was perfect before. The other aunt who said I had “lost” my pretty curls on my head and didn’t I want a texturizer?
The makeup girl who tries to sell her product on me. Who said I’d be so pretty with it. I walked out of the store.
The unease when a fling commented on how fine I was, how I had the “curves of a goddess” (true story guys, I can’t make this up) and how I had put some spell on him. The part of me that was pleased because my previous boyfriend had no qualms about telling me how I needed to go to the gym, how I was a 6 on the beauty scale, that my butt was too soft and being harder was superior. The sadness because I had heard this before, and that he was enamored not of me but how I filled a pencil skirt. That when my humanity, my fear and severity and my unpretty things were to reveal themselves, these curves would not be enough for him to stay.
The adult woman who confides she cannot wear a skirt with leg hair showing (I’m fascinated by body hair, can’t you tell)?
The friend that I interview who states “a lot of people think I’m really pretty”. And it’s true, a lot of people do. Then I ask her why she is pretty and she answers with thinness and symmetry. Then I ask her why those things are pretty and she has no answer.
I have so many other examples about missed signals and missing out. That appearance, that beauty when it comes to women, is perpetuated with no real understanding on how it ‘s constructed and how it affects people. The smiles I’ve received when I’ve worn lipstick or gotten a haircut and people being unaware that their interaction with me has changed; it is not that I’m treated poorly without these things but with the inclusion of these things instigates a change that my personality did not ( I promise I don’t become magically more pleasant when I had those things and that sparked their change).
We miss out on beauty when it does not look like this equation, straight lines and evenness. I argue that unevenness is pretty. That scars are gorgeous. That everyone is beautiful just because they are, not because they fit or don’t fit some physical standard of beauty. And it’s a shame others don’t know that.
Dry your tears, Dustin. Tootsie was beautiful, you made her so.
What do you think readers? Have you ever seen something similar in your own life? For any male identified individuals, have you ever had an AHA! moment like Hoffman’s? Did you cry? Perhaps Kanye shrugged? How did you feel everyone?