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

Monday, June 8, 2015

Coming Of Age–The Sexual Evolution Of Mandy Lake

Mandy Lake looked into the mirror and didn’t like what she saw – frizzy, frazzled hair; eyes that were set too wide in her face, a long nose, and a receding chin.  She looked just like the African mask her grandfather had brought back Dahomey on one of his trips to the Bight of Benin – scary and not at all sexy.

Nairaland African mask


Mandy was only eleven, and girls that age are particularly concerned with their looks.  They can’t make heads or tails out of the changes that are going on in their bodies.  One day when you brushed your teeth you saw a baby looking back at you; the next a deformed, hopeless caricature of a soon-to-be woman. It was not an easy time, and no matter what she did – wrestle her unruly hair into a pony tail, use her mother’s eyeliner to highlight her eyebrows, bring them together, and moderate the vertical axis of her nose, or jut out her chin to create a more harmonious balance between lower and upper reaches of her face – nothing seemed to work.  She was plug ugly, irremediably so; and no matter how much her mother belabored the Ugly Duckling story, she was convinced that this was the face she would have to live with.

Looking for someone to blame, she studied the pictures of her grandparents to find traces of her own distortion.  The Bight of Benin grandfather seemed to have a weak chin, but it was hard to tell under his very Victorian whiskers. Her grandmother’s eyes were wide apart, but not as froglike as her own.  All her cousins had benefited from the genes of her great-grandfather, a Valentino-cum-John Garfield look-alike with straight black hair, an elegantly aquiline nose, dark eyes, and a perfectly symmetrical face.  Only her cousin on her mother’s side, Petty Flambert, had ended up with a double helix similar to hers; and although Mandy was naturally drawn to her because of their common looks, Mandy couldn’t stand the girl.  She was loud, niggling, and ate way too much nougat and ribbon candy after Christmas dinner.

Image result for ribbon candy 50s

“You will turn out to be a beautiful girl”, Mandy’s mother told her.  “Just you wait and see”; but as the months passed, nothing in her looks changed.  As she lost baby fat and that ‘angelic’ look that everyone remarked about, her face became more angular and its features more pronounced.  As a six year-old eyes, nose, chin, and cheekbones were all hidden in cute plumpness.  She looked like any one of the cherubs adoring Jesus Christ on the altar of St. Maurice church.  Now her features had no where to hide.  They had come into their own – prominent, pronounced, and unmistakable.

Image result for images cherubs


“What am I going to do?”, she cried on the morning of graduation.  She would have to stand up along with fifteen other classmates in front of hundreds of adults and look stupid. “Why doesn’t her mother do something with that fright wig?”, she had overheard Margot Phillips saying to a friend. “Poor girl. She looks…..desperate.

It is hard for a girl of any generation to grow up homely or even ugly; and unfortunately Mandy lived in a bridge generation. Women of the Forties and Fifties were prized only for their looks; and not until the women’s liberation movement in the Sixties were they taken for what they were, not for how they looked.  Mandy came of age on the cusp of both.  Ironically she turned out to have the beauty of Marilyn Monroe and the gutsy proto-feminism of Gloria Steinem, but looking into the bathroom mirror in New Brighton at age eleven, she had no clue of any of this.

Marilyn Monroe

Women to this day suffer from poor self image.  Even as adults they think they are too fat, their legs too spindly, their noses misaligned, and their breasts too small.  It is a common problem, and no amount of self-esteem classes or ascent through the glass ceiling makes a difference.

“Herbie Swanson is as ugly as a fire plug”, Mandy said to her mother, “and nobody seems to care.”

“That’s just the way it is, dear.  You’ll just have to get used to it.”

Because Mandy had become so accustomed to looking in the mirror and seeing a grotesque caricature staring back at her, she did not notice the subtle changes that were happening.  Others did, however, and by the time she was twelve, she couldn’t shake the pack of 7th grade boys who followed her around everywhere.  By the time she was in 8th grade, the male teachers were calling on her, asking her to to come by after class, and showing her special favors; and by the 9th grade, she was attracting the attention of the New Brighton Herald and the Hartford Courant.

Because the trauma of her earlier years had set her compass on a very different course – she had planned to work in a lab behind racks of test tubes – she was unaware that she had emerged on the other side of early adolescence and become a beautiful woman. Inside, she was still the ungainly, shock-haired, Picasso-like nude – discombobulated, out-of-kilter, and unappealing.

Image result for image picasso nudes


As luck, fate, and genes would have it, she turned out to be not only a beautiful woman but an impossibly sexy one; and this combination, she now knew, was irresistible. No matter how many of her friends went down the counterculture road of hairy legs, sexual indifference, and free love, she knew that men would always fall hook, line, and sinker for a blonde, blue-eyed, woman whose every gesture, posture, and look said “Fuck me”.  She could pick and choose from the lot, and exacted a heavy toll from her suitors.

In an early scene of Miss Julie, August Strindberg’s short play about sexual identity, class and status, and gender games, Miss Julie leashes her fiancé like a dog and makes him do tricks.  She was brought up as a man-woman by liberated parents, and like Mandy had to reorient her childhood feelings when she meets Jean, the valet, who is as full of male sexuality as she is female. She desires Jean and wants him to come away with her.  Class rules all.  Jean is locked within the traditional social cabinets designed for him, and the story ends badly for both.

Image result for images play miss julie fiance dog


Unlike Miss Julie, however, Mandy Lake never succumbed to male dominance.  She understood that men were sexual chattels to attractive women, and that they – the women – always held the best cards in the deck.  Like Hedda Gabler, the heroine in Ibsen’s play of the same name, Mandy liked to use her power to get men to do their bidding.  Although not amoral or malignant like Hedda, Mandy shared her absolute conviction of female superiority and ultimate authority. It didn’t matter what happened in the boardroom, it was only the bedroom that counted.  She notched her lovers like dead men on the handle of a six-gun.

Image result for images diana rigg hedda gabler


Her feminist friends called her a traitor to the movement, an apostate, and a whore; but Mandy knew that the real game between men and women had nothing to do with political power, but sexual power.  There was a good reason why Cymbeline, The Winter’s Tale, Troilus and Cressida, Othello, and Strindberg’s The Father were written. Only a woman knows whose child she is carrying; and a canny, savvy woman can always corral, tame, and ride uxorious men because of it.

Image result for images strindberg the father


Hedda Gabler kills herself when she realizes that her game is up.  She has lost the ultimate power struggle with Judge Brack, and rather than lead a conventional, bourgeois, obedient life, she prefers death. Mandy Lake had no such theatrical pretensions.  Unlike Hedda, she never made a wrong turn or made errors of judgment; but in terms of personality, character, and resolve she was very much like her.

Mandy, however, was never spiteful, vengeful, or manipulatively destructive. She was more like Rosalind or Beatrice in Shakespeare’s Comedies – absolutely confident in her intelligence, beauty, and uncanny insight into the predictable weaknesses of men; and able to run rings around them, tame them, and steer her own sexual course. 

Men were simply and avoidably sexually weak, she thought. Nature’s cruel joke – only women know whose children they are carrying – and any savvy woman can use this inconsolable truth to her advantage.

Few men understood Mandy Lake, and for reasons of lineage, genes, and the assault of her gawky childhood, she kept most things to herself.  She did not need to be loved, cared for, or desired. Portia in The Merchant of Venice was amused by the attention of the men who came to seek her hand, but had no use for any of them.  The game of the silver, gold, and lead caskets was just that – a burlesque show of male pomposity and ignorance.  Mandy was just as amused, but unlike Portia, did not fall for any man who by nature would be second best to her.  Nor did she find her Petruchio and tamed by him.

Mandy could have said, “If I had only known”, thinking of her awkward and ungainly adolescence and emergence as a beautiful, alluring woman; but that would have been arrière-pensée at its worst.  Cards were dealt and one played them.  Her life was one of no regrets or backward looks. Not surprisingly she never married and simply ‘retired’ after a certain age.

I lost touch with her many years ago, but always wondered about her final trajectory.  She was one of the most intriguing women I had ever met, and by far the most beautiful and alluring. 

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