Friday, March 7, 2014

Real Beauty

On Oscars night, social media went wild with often-cruel snark and criticism of some of the older women at the Oscars who had had plastic surgery, in particular Kim Novak. 

In reaction, crime fiction author Laura Lippman posted a photo of herself without makeup, special lighting, or any kind of flattering filters and challenged other authors in the field to do the same in an attempt to show what real people actually look like at all ages.

The response was overwhelming. Mystery and thriller writers and readers, male and female, posted what some people called “raw selfies.” I put up one myself.

 Erin Mitchell put together just a few of the earliest responders into a video slideshow that’s absolutely wonderful.

Each of us who posted our raw selfie also wrote about what prompted the photo and about the issue of society’s distorted expectations and demands on women in the realm of physical appearance. This led in many cases to intense conversations on Facebook and elsewhere about this issue. I had a thread that ran through more than 20 comments.

 I argued with some of my feminist literary writer friends who blamed the older women like Novak who had fallen into the movie industry’s trap of disvaluing their looks. One asked, “And where are the men in this?” And I was happy and proud to tell her how many of our male crime fiction colleagues had involved themselves in this little protest movement.

 What’s your take on this whole subject of society’s definition of female beauty as an underweight teenager’s body and face? Also, what did you think about the Real Beauty Project video?
COMMENTS (Blogger still won't let me comment conventionally):

Reine, thank you for laying out so clearly the evolution of your feelings about physical appearance. I do think these perceptions change--and often for the better--as we mature. I sympathize about the problems with holding hair dryers and combing hair since I have similar issues--and these are universally issues no one takes into consideration. Often a person may take medicines that affect the thickness and quality of their hair or skin and meds and illness can impact so much more than that of our physical appearance.

Mary, I think the people who control our media focus the images of women they promulgate according to what will make them money. Many men may well not buy into those images, but many men and women are pretty much conditioned to think that those images are the only way women should be. It's very pervasive and very powerful.


  1. Linda, I liked taking part. I don't think it will change perceptions of those who judge others with the youth and beauty standard. The older I get, the more aligned I feel with other women's opinions and the less I think about what men want to see. But over the years I have deliberately chosen to let go of things that required me to be a girly girl, wear makeup, and everything but my standard of comfortable clothing. That doesn't mean I am not aware of being judged for my appearance. It also does not mean that I don't want to be more attractive.

    Most of the photos I use or put up on Facebook are meant to say something about me, what I am feeling and not what I look like. But it did feel good to put a picture up that looks like me. I hope this makes sense.

    Most of the struggle I've had over my appearance has been more about not looking like my parents. I look so different from them from hair and skin color, facial features, etc. I had my DNA done. I think it shows I am clearly their child, but I will never know for sure. They died young, and I have no known siblings.

    There are so many reasons for being unhappy with one's appearance. An aging face has never been my issue. Maybe it will be some day. I liked seeing the unadorned faces of friends and colleagues and especially enjoyed the discovery of some beautiful smiles that had been hidden behind dignified makeup and hair.

    This doesn't mean I think everyone should be like me. I wore a wig for a long time for a reason that was related to my disability. It also allowed me to be more presentable when I wandered outside the confines of my house and neighborhood. My condition has improved and continues to improve. I can now hold a hair dryer long enough to dry my hair. I can comb my hair without pain. All of that has influenced what I am willing to do for my appearance.

    Mostly I am grateful for the challenge that Laura Lippmann presented and the resulting opportunity for me to think about all of this. Thank you, Linda, for this provocative Post.

  2. You've reminded me of discussion among my high school students. One of my more aware and vocal students talked about the pressure she and her friends felt to diet, wear makeup, fit a mold. Several agreed. Then one of the quieter young men spoke up, "Who are you doing it for? I don't care about that stuff." Several of the other young men agreed. Perhaps we've all been sold a bill of goods . . .