Wednesday, December 18, 2013


-More Bloggingheads! This time I had the pleasure of chatting with Autumn Whitefield-Madrano about beauty. I compare hemming and hawing over Lululemon at 29 or 30 with doing the same over Adidas Sambas at 9 or 10.

-My current gym-and-laundry-folding accompaniment is "What Not To Wear," although even by my admittedly low standards for this sort of thing, it might be too formulaic. A woman dresses too sloppy/"slutty" (this isn't the Jezebellian, anti-slut-shaming universe, but the tell-it-like-it-is genre of reality TV), and her nearest and dearest summon Stacy and Clinton. She announces that she likes how she dresses, then is somehow magically convinced that her self-presentation indicates low self-esteem and a tendency always to put others first. She has her hair dyed some new color, not always more flattering but better for the dramatic effect, and emerges in an outfit that looks like it's from Ann Taylor even if it's not.

Apart from being repetitive, it's... kind of cringe-inducing, from the initial "ambush" on. There are only the slightest nods to personal taste, and (from the admittedly limited sample I've seen) no acknowledgements of variations in gender self-presentation. (Why can't the more masculine-self-presenting women get spiffied-up in more menswear-inspired clothes? Do they really need lip gloss?)

And I get why they have to do this, given how insulting the premise is ('surprise, everyone in your life hates how you dress, and your hair and makeup aren't so hot either!'), but they go a bit overkill on the body-flattery. They keep announcing that women have an hourglass shape and tiny waist, even when these things are so plainly not the case. I'd have thought most grown women would have long since come to terms with whichever ways we don't resemble swimsuit models, and that being told we have traits we don't would come across as patronizing or just silly. Couldn't they go with a generic and, because it's subjective, not-untrue 'beautiful'?

I was curious to see how others had overanalyzed the show - whether their overanalysis matches up with mine - and, kind of yes and kind of no. In an interesting piece, Greta Minsky argues that the show "co-opts feminist rhetoric to promote an anti-feminist agenda" - pretending to be about empowering women, while instead shaming their style as too lower-class or insufficiently corporate-America. On the one hand, yes, the show does exactly that. On the other, though, it's all very pragmatic. The advice is, people will judge you by how you look, and you want to be conscious in the choices you're making. If you want to project corporate, neither the sweatsuit nor the ill-fitting-lingerie-as-daywear will get that across.

In a way, then, it gets back at the "Frances Ha" maturity question: A part of growing up means getting past the idea that being true to yourself in self-defeating ways is some kind of sacred authenticity. Getting what you want out of life might involve a bit of superficial selling out, and that's not the end of the world. Not all quirkiness is self-defeating, so maturity also means figuring out which to hang onto. But there's a way that resistance to superficial conformity can be a crutch. Deciding that your fundamental being is expressed only by wearing outrageous clothes is a way to avoid facing the difficult challenges that going for whichever professional or personal goals might bring. The conceit of the show may be cruel, but its central message isn't entirely unreasonable.

-Random thoughts from the last Savage Lovecast:

1) I hadn't been following Santa-race-gate, because it seemed, as Savage says, remarkably idiotic. Racist in a way that doesn't even need to be spelled out. To the point where, what more could I add? But then Savage himself goes on this well-meaning tirade about it, the crux of which is, Santa might have been white because St. Nicholas was from Turkey, whereas Jesus couldn't have been, because he was Jewish and from the Middle East. Huh? An interesting view into Savage's own, somewhat unique ideas about how America defines whiteness, but the proper response was what he implicitly began with - that it's a bunch of racist nonsense worth noting only to raise awareness that racism in this country isn't over.

2) The call from the 21-year-old debating whether to enter a threesome with a couple she'd met online (what college these days has come to!) was indeed amusing for the no-longer-21 set. The dilemma was, would she possibly be attracted to them, given that they're... drumroll please... in their 30s? The oldest person this woman had ever been attracted to was, she emphasized, 26. Savage clearly found this hilarious, and went on about how "decrepit" these people must be.

Alas, it's a useful if bleak reality check for the ancient among us. Is 30 (-something) young? It's not as if the 30-plus can correct the under-25s who see 30 as old. It's subjective. And while it's certainly possible this 21-year-old has a warped idea of what 30-something looks like, it could also be that she has a very accurate idea, which is that these are likely people who look between 9 and 19 years older than she does, and that while this isn't a problem for many 21-year-olds, it would be for her. It's not necessarily that she imagines 35-year-olds look 85.

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