Periodically, I get around to clearing off my desk and flattening out crimped magazine clippings and saying, “Huh. Look at that.” Today: Harper’s Bazaar features an essay from author and better-than-you person Elizabeth Wurtzel telling you you’re a lousy feminist for not being as pretty as she is.
“Looking Better at 45 Than 25,” Harper’s Bazaar, September 2012 (or, as Jezebel put it, “Why Are You So Ugly, Dear Reader? It Makes Me (And Feminism) Very Sad.”)
I tried to write a post about this. It didn’t work. There was nothing I could say about it that was anything worse than Wurtzel’s own words. So here they are, starting with her tales of growing up in low-income 1970s New York, where her mom put on lipstick and heels to do the wash–”[a]s a matter of self-respect.” Because “even if all you are dealing with is a box of Tide and a bunch of junkies, without a coat of Revlon’s Cherries in the Snow, a real woman does not step out the door.”
And, of course, Mother knows best. Which is why I am horrified by the onset of slovenliness. In my experience it is actually not so difficult to not be a complete pig. I am 45 and in the physical shape of someone about half my age. I realize this is obnoxious to say,
Absolutely correct. That is obnoxious to say.
but it just takes discipline. I do Gyrotonic sessions three times a week for an hour at a time, and nothing more. I also don’t eat meat, and I take resveratrol. But I have a Mister Softee every day, and when I eat out, I always get the dessert du jour. But I walk everywhere, eat tons of leafy salad and green vegetables, and, above all, I try to be happy and work hard. Even if I am just running out with my dog first thing in the morning, I rub on some SPF 30 cream and Fresh Sugar Rosé lip balm.
So if, like Wurtzel, you spend $200 a week on personal training, work at home as a writer, have easy access to fresh produce and a safe space to walk, have fallen for some laughably “sciencey” anti-aging pill, and buy $20 Chapstick, you’re allowed to eat dessert in public without criticism.
Wurtzel goes on to note that the “current state of slovenliness is a sign of a nation in decline and of a despairing and distaff population” and namechecks Michelle Obama and Sarah Palin as women who are both working mothers “in amazing physical condition” and having “striking personal style and coruscating charisma” as well as money and home gyms and largely image-focused jobs. (I might have added that last part.)
When I look at the meticulous style of these women and then walk around Manhattan — New York City, the international capital of fashion and beauty — and see women in their twenties who have already given up, my heart breaks. I am not a mean person, but the sloppiness angers me because it is about a wounded world.
Mean?! No! She tells you you’re not good enough because she cares.
Even with my Harvard degree, when I ran out of money while writing my first book, I was happier to serve cocktails in high heels than to get money from my mom. And now I walk miles in Marni’s five-inch platform T-straps.
Another reminder: She went to Harvard, she’s a published author, and she wears $900 shoes, and while that doesn’t appear to have anything to do with the rest of the piece the important things is that all you slobs could all be like her if you weren’t so fucking lazy.
And construction workers still whistle, which is nice: Catcalls are not a feminist issue, but apathy is.
“Elegance is refusal,” said Coco Chanel, which is to say that a woman of style is stubborn and strong.
Actually, Chanel there meant that elegance is about resisting the urge to throw on another accessory or another coat of mascara or, say, a smear of red lipstick and a sense of superiority in an effort to look stylish. Or, y’know, presentable.
I long for the impossible standard of female beauty as a daily chore for all, not because I want the world to look better — I want it to be better. I want everyone to try as hard as I do to please be gorgeous, because it’s not that hard, girls. Looking great is a matter of feminism. No liberated woman would misrepresent the cause by appearing less than hale and happy.
Feminism is about women working hard each day to meet a standard of beauty they will, by definition, never be able to meet. The world is better if everyone in it is pretty. Feminism is about being gorgeous and happy–so goop on some mascara and smile, dammit, ’cause you’re making us look bad. I mean, come on. It’s not that hard, girls.