Tuesday, January 23, 2007

the perfect woman is...made-up

This morning as I glanced at a perfectly groomed anchorwoman on telly, I was suddenly come over by a feeling of cold dread. What if, I suddenly thought to myself, the man I love turns out to be attracted to high-maintenance women? Maybe the majority of men are? What if the man I end up with turns out to be secretly (or openly) more attracted to the well-varnished woman than to a low-maintenance chick like me?
I think back to a moment a few weeks ago, as I sat with my sixty-year-old neighbor K. at a local playground and we watched my son scamper around. Having lunch at a nearby picnic table was a woman in a black business suit with the physique of an athlete. I nodded towards her.
"She looks like a triathlete or something," I said, looking at her well-defined calf muscles. K. whistled.
"You know, it’s the sexiest thing in the world, high heels," he remarked. Mildly irked, gaving down at my stumpish feet in their Havvies, I complained about how men find stilettos attractive when they cause women such pain, confinement and even disfigurement. He shrugged, and I was left to contemplate the fact that there is nothing one can do: Men are just attracted to women in high heels and that's final.
I have sometimes wondered if my lack of interest in heels stems from my dislike of the shape of my own legs. Perhaps if I had legs up to here with ballerina ankles, I’d be more keen to show them off. I don’t know if my stance on stilettos is mere jealousy. If sisters just wanna wear heels, who am I to judge, really? Still, I can never relate to women who are enraptured by their shoe collections. I own two pairs of thongs. I know that fact in itself makes me something of a freak.
I know I only make a half-hearted effort to conform to what is considered ‘feminine’ in our culture. Basically, I’m too lazy or too preoccupied with what I consider to be more important things to care all that much. Sure, I grow my hair long, but I reckon that’s probably more about having something to hide behind than trying to be ‘girlish’. I do shave my legs: I have been well-conditioned to hate my mohair stockings. I think underarm hair is ugly too, mainly because it looks like caterpillars escaping your armpit. I recognise this prejudice is social conditioning at work, but I’m happy to play along because there’s only minimal effort involved. As for make-up, I pretty much abandoned that entirely after I quit my office job and made my seachange. When we lived at the beach, I used to walk eight kilometres to drop Harley off at daycare, and on the way home I’d take a dip at two beaches. If I was wearing eye makeup I’d get home with panda eyes. Of course, there’s waterproof mascara but you practically need industrial solvent to get that off and I’ve got sensitive eyes. I still walk everywhere and makeup still sweats right off, so I don’t bother.
It once occurred to me that drag queens do women a favour because they lampoon the grotesque extremes of feminity and highlight the enormous degree of maintenance involved for serious players. Femininity really is a drag.
But I am not militantly against makeup the way my mother was and no doubt still is. I appreciate the theatre aspect of it and think there’s nothing wrong with humans enjoying playing dressups and being visually transformed. It’s fun. I’m sure if I ever have occasion again to doll myself up, I will probably enjoy it. I think my objection is more to the rigid strictures that dictate that women must wear makeup on a daily basis to "hide their flaws", to deny their age, to somehow compete with younger women in a culture that is obsessed with youth and beauty. Or that they must want to totter down the street in ridiculous shoes. Or must cut themselves open and insert foreign matter under their skin in order to appeal to men. Or have cosmetic labiaplasty. I also know that I think the costs involved in looking "feminine" amount to a kind of economic oppression. But I acknowledge that women have only themselves to blame for participating in the beauty economy. Personally, I don’t think I could’ve survived 2006 on the sole parent pension if I’d had to shell out for makeup or spent money on other "essentials" of womanhood. (The funniest product I ever saw advertised was a lotion designed specifically and exclusively to make the backs of your knees shine. Yes, really.)
I sometimes question whether maybe I am just too lazy, whether maybe there is some kind of implicit duty involved, a duty to maximise one’s femininity or something. Maybe dressing like a tomboy because it’s comfortable is just being slack. Maybe I just don’t put in enough effort. Without wanting to sound as if I have tickets on myself, the truth is I’ve never really suffered a lack of male attention, so clearly there are guys out there who aren’t looking for a high maintenance girl.
Then it occurred to me. The man I’m going to love--who I have to admit I haven’t actually met yet--isn’t going to care that I don’t wear makeup. He’ll like me for me, naturally.
But the small heavy dread remains even as I type this, particularly as I now recall an incident some weeks ago when I blow-dried my hair straight for a laugh (something I haven't done in years). On seeing me, Harley gazed at me with astonishment and said, "Wow, mum, you look really lovely today," and I thought, damn, how is it that even a three-year-old boy thinks women look better with straight hair than curly?