"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Are You Happy With Your Body - Especially Your On-Ramp?

A recent survey conducted by REAL magazine in the UK found that only 3% of women in the UK are totally happy with their bodies and 73% think about their size or shape every single day.  These statistics track closely with those for American women. 

Glamour Magazine recently did their own survey of American women and the results are even worse:

Read these words: “You are a fat, worthless pig.” “You’re too thin. No man is ever going to want you.” “Ugly. Big. Gross.” Horrifying comments on some awful website? The rant of an abusive, controlling boyfriend? No; shockingly, these are the actual words young women are saying to themselves on any typical day. For some, such thoughts are fleeting, but for others, this dialogue plays on a constant, punishing loop, according to a new exclusive Glamour survey of more than 300 women of all sizes. Our research found that, on average, women have 13 negative body thoughts daily—nearly one for every waking hour. And a disturbing number of women confess to having 35, 50 or even 100 hateful thoughts about their own shapes each day.

In any case, if it were not bad enough that women are fixated about weight, breasts, lips, hair, and eyebrows; Sports Illustrated has forced the issue. In its 2015 Swimsuit Edition, model Hannah Davis, displays her ‘on-ramp’ – one more thing to worry about.

Image result for images SI swimsuit cover 2015

As Jennifer Weiner notes in the New York Times (2.15.15):

Ms. Davis stands, thumbs hooked into the sides of her bikini bottom, pulling it down to reveal more of her tanned, toned, hairless on-ramp than you would typically see outside of a gynecologist’s office. “It’s the year of the torso,” Ms. Davis told Matt Lauer on “Today,” in a transparent attempt to win the award for Best Use of a Euphemism on Morning TV. Seriously, when you look at her picture, you do not think “torso,” any more than viewers of Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl nipple reveal thought “pecs.”

This of course should not be surprising to anyone who watches television, sees movies, reads People Magazine, or glances through the glossy supplements to the NYT and WSJ.  Women are supposed to be thin, have luxuriant long hair, have regular features, bright teeth, rounded, full breasts; and long, slim legs. Despite calls for a more representative sample of women in public life – more plus sizes for example – male and female viewers both want to view the ideal, not the lowest common denominator.  Lord knows, we get plenty of that.

Betty Frampton had always been concerned about self-image; and there was nothing that her mother could do to stop her obsessive focus.  Selfishness, her mother concluded.  That’s what it was. An unhealthy concern for herself and little mind paid to anyone else. God created the body her daughter lived in, and finding fault with it was in fact finding fault with the Creator.  Of course Betty did get her husband Jerome’s bad genes.  Neither he nor his father could help the prominent nose they inherited from some distant ancestor.  On a man a prominent nose can be overlooked within a body gestalt; but it was certainly harder to disguise a woman’s nose than powdering over a mole or plucking thick eyebrows; but there were always ways. Hairstyle, jewelry, and the right collar made all the difference in the world.

In fact, Betty’s nose was very much like Nefertiti’s.

Image result for images long nosed egyptian queens

Betty’s mother insisted that all women should accept God’s will and never complain.  Rouge, eyeliner, Slim Fast, and the right shoes were simply a woman’s way of acknowledging His personal plan.

“Take Diana Vreeland”, Betty’s mother said to her daughter. “Now there’s a woman who was shortchanged in the looks department, but in compensation was given a remarkable talent.  She married well, had children, and was the doyenne of American fashion for decades. She should be your role model”.

Of course Diana Vreeland was exactly the example not to use, not in a million years. ‘Strong’ was the adjective her colleagues used when they wanted to be accurate but gentle when referring to her nose.

Image result for images diana vreeland

Actually Diana Vreeland was exactly the right example to choose; because she confessed in her memoir that she had always felt awkward and uncomfortable as a girl.  Not only was she not pretty, she was always compared to her unusually beautiful sister. Neither of her parents could explain how two such distinctly different-looking children could be born to the same parents.  There were, according to Vreeland, those polite but still accusatory moments when her father suggested that only infidelity could account for Diana – or her sister for that matter.

Perhaps to compensate for the slights she received at the hand of her parents; or because of a natural-born creativity and drive for success, Diana Vreeland did indeed overcome her physical unattractiveness by becoming sought after in her own right.  A feminist ideal, in fact.  A woman desired not for her looks or her body but for her brains and ability.

Diana also compensated in another way.  She made beautiful women famous, and as Editor-in-Chief of Vogue brought the most stunning models to the world’s attention.

Betty Frampton wanted no part of any of this, and who could blame her? She was young, impressionable, and pecked out of girlhood because of her looks. When she saw this picture of Sonya from the band, The Big Sleep, she wasn’t in the least encouraged; although Sonya understood that beauty is a matter of drama, and she successfully accessorized her natural look with eyeliner, earrings, and a tattoo.

Image result for images models with long noses

Unfortunately, ‘the nose’ led to irrational assumptions about everything else about Betty’s body.  She was convinced that if God had given her such a pronounced and unattractive nose, then why should He bother to spend any time on lips, eyes, or cheekbones. No matter how many times she looked in the mirror, adjusted the lighting, or changed perspective, she saw only ugliness.  In her overwrought imagination she was convinced she looked like one of Macbeth’s Twisted Sisters.

Image result for images hamlet bubble bubble toil and trouble

It would have helped had she known that all but the most stunning of her classmates were experiencing the same insecurities.  They mercilessly berated themselves, cursed their parents and their Creator for giving them lips that were too thick or too narrow; legs that bowed; eyes that were so narrow that they looked cross-eyed; and breasts that were blebs or cushions. 

Most girls have an uncanny sense of the social norms of beauty, dress, and behavior; and so they usually are not kidding themselves when they look in the mirror and see someone darker than the ordinary, too frizzy-haired, heavy-browed, or freckled.  The combination of acute adolescent sensibilities, an overpowering consensus of beauty, and necessarily imperfect bodies was devastating.  It is amazing that these girls emerge from this painful period as intact as they seem to be. The Diana Vreelands among them are few and far between.

Now, the shaved, perfect on-ramp can only serve as a further persecuting reminder of women’s imperfections. It is not enough that Hannah Davis has perfect breasts, eyes, lips, arms, and legs.  She has a perfect mons veneris. Not too big, not to small, not flat and insignificant, not protruding and obvious….Just right.  Once SI published that cover, thousands of girls and young women checked out body parts they never knew were going to come under scrutiny. OK, men had a thing about their junk and freaked out constantly about size, shape, and angle; but the allure of women’s paraphernalia is in unseen folds and inner recesses. Now women would have to check  out the mons, see how it measured up, and take stock.

Betty’s mother was right.  Play with the cards you have been dealt.  Not everybody has a winning hand.

Image result for image poker player holding a full house

The problem was that Amanda Frampton could not keep God out of it.  Being dealt a poker hand was one thing; but living in an imperfect God-created mold had existential consequences.  Although Betty was simply sick and tired of her mother’s God talk, the Biblical references apparently found their way through cracks in her adolescent wall and never got squeezed back out.

Her Purgatory ended when she was 27, however. Gifted a small fortune by a maiden aunt, Betty underwent elective plastic surgery.  The offending nose was shortened, the aquiline bump removed, and she opted for a cute girly upturn at the end. Her cheekbones were reduced, her chin softly modeled, and her lips sensuously thickened. The process was painful and long; but by the end of it she no longer hesitated to look in the mirror.  In fact she became as obsessed with her new beauty as she was with her imagined ugliness. There was God again, whispering in her ear (vanity, arrogance, and disobedience).

Image result for image vanity sin

Needless to say Betty did not stop with her face, and as long as Auntie Irma’s money held out, she was all in for surgical modification. She was defying God as much as satisfying her longing for beauty and acceptance.

Also needless to say given the artistry and technical wizardry of plastic surgeons today, Betty’s beauty attracted legions of suitors.  She married well, had a family, and pursued a lucrative and productive career.  The pouching, sagging, and stretching of a fake face happened gradually so that her husband assumed that she was simply aging prematurely; but Betty knew differently.  This was her ironic punishment.  God was right after all.

The good ending of the story is that Betty finally found herself and could rest. “Let it sag”, she said out loud to herself in the mirror one morning. “Sag away.  I don’t need you anymore”.  Unfortunately her daughter inherited even more bits and pieces from Great Uncle Albert’s DNA than she did, and her nose was even more pronounced than Betty’s had been. In yet another ironic reminder of her past, Betty remembered the story of Jack the Plumber and how his genes must have gotten mixed up with Amanda’s in the back of his truck.  Her husband couldn’t figure out how his daughter ended up with a prominent, aquiline nose when both he and his wife had pert little button noses.  “God again”, thought Betty; and hoped that her daughter had been born with the talent and drive of Diana Vreeland.

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