It’s difficult to write about not being beautiful. It’s so easy to sound envious. Or self-pitying. People want to leap to your defense: Yes, you are! You’re a beautiful person! That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking physical beauty, the kind that gets you voted Hot rather than Not, the mathematic formulas that make up the perfect proportions of your body parts. I’m not talking about making the best of what you’ve got. I’m talking gorgeousness that comes from being kissed by the angels.
I’ve probably told this story before: Sometime in maybe week three of the Princess Diana Worldwide Mourning Tour, I wrote a column suggesting maybe, just maybe, the world had gone a little nuts and it might be a good time to step back and ask ourselves what, exactly, we were so upset about. A reader responded in a letter: “I wonder if you wrote that because you are envious of the attention Princess Diana is getting, because you are so plain.” This is what people think un-beauty is worth: That it makes you envy the dead. The beautiful dead, anyway.
Another story I’ve probably told before: Once, many years ago, I attended a horse show with a friend at the time, one blessed with the whole package — tall, slim, lovely, great eyes. The show was at a hunt club in Snootyville, and I was happily surprised to find people were anything but. It was a gray, chilly, drizzly day, and we were watching one class at ringside, next to a large pickup truck parked at the rail. The door opened. “Would you ladies like a warmer seat?” the man inside said, inviting us in. My friend took the front seat and I slid into the back. It was a minute before I realized the man behind the wheel, now paying a great deal of attention to my friend, was judging the class. In the middle of doing a job he was being paid for, he’d taken the time to offer aid to the leggy beauty out in the rain. Her, and her less-attractive friend.
It was like that all day — merchants gave us close, helpful attention in the sales tents, the waiter at the restaurant where we ate lunch performed outstanding service with a smile. It took hours before I realized Snootyville was so welcoming not because we were wrong about the place, but because one of us had the sort of face and body that just makes people…nicer.
Over the years, I’ve seen great-looking women get extra everything — attention, praise, career advancement, and as to this last, I stand firm. I’ve seen it happen so many times I simply won’t argue it anymore. It happens, and it happens a lot.
If Princess Diana had led the exact same life she did, but looked like Princess Anne, would the world have collapsed in mourning her death? Would Sarah Palin be known outside Alaska if her looks hadn’t bewitched Bill Kristol? Do we even have to ask these questions?
Being born beautiful is like being born with a great deal of money. Like money, beauty comes with its own problems, but they’re problems anyone with the opposite set of problems would trade for. A gorgeous woman may complain that she never really knows if a man likes her for her, or for her face and body. The next time someone says this, suggest she go to a plastic surgeon and have some lumps of fat added to her thighs, or a bump to her nose, or maybe she could just shave her head or put on 35 pounds. Ha ha! Will never happen. You probably couldn’t even find a doctor who’d do such a thing.
Which brings me to Kim Novak, again. As much as I liked Farran Smith Nehme’s excellent take on the pathetic sight of Novak, now 81, showing up at the Oscars with her wrecked face, a tiny part of me was not kind. Poor pretty lady isn’t pretty anymore and can’t stand it, boo fucking hoo. If you’re invited to the Oscars at 81, you show up in a nice dress and you read from the cards, because if you can’t get over yourself by 81, what’s the use of anything?
But then I read Laura Lippman’s equally excellent take on Novak, on faces of both genders, on the way we see and don’t see ourselves.
I am generally unhappy with all photographs of myself these days. I look older, fatter, messier than I am in my head. When I pick up my iPad or iPhone, the reflection I see in those devices makes me shudder.
…Yes, beauty isn’t exactly my stock in trade and I am only a semi-public person. I am ridiculous. So all I could think was, God love you, Kim Novak. We criticize women for aging. We criticize women for not aging. We criticize women’s bodies. We criticize women for bad plastic surgery.
You know who doesn’t get criticized? People who look great and pretend they’ve never had surgery. Come on, someone must be getting terrific results or no one would do this. I wish that every person who walks a red carpet was annotated or wore a label, detailing exactly how much work they’ve had done. Not to shame them, quite the opposite. We need to stop lying about how people age. We need to own our Botox, our fillers, our nose jobs, our liposuction. Remember that crazy alibi in Legally Blonde, when the fitness guru accused of murder was getting liposuction and would rather go to jail than admit it? That happens in real life. Not the alibi, but the lipo.
I’m with Laura that we should probably all ease up on ourselves, starting with Kim Novak. But I’d like to reserve the right to be a little judgey about those of you were were kissed by the angels. I’d like you to come out and say, Yep, I’m very lucky, and I got that promotion because I batted my baby blues at my boss and he liked the shape of my ass. You probably deserved that job. Sorry-not-sorry. The friend who went with me to the horse show? She married her way richer boss. I found her on Facebook a while ago, a little wrinkled, a touch of gray, but with the same killer cheekbones. Lucky.
So, some bloggage:
What’s it like to walk across eight miles of Lake Michigan ice to North Manitou Island? It’s like this. Great photos.
What I said the other day about appreciating fashion as art? One aspect is how it relates to the times in which it is made. A good piece on the fashions of the 1930s.
Finally, Charles Pierce on Sarah Palin. A gas.
A long entry for what promises to be a long week. Expect scantiness later. We shall see, but onward we go.