Chapters 5 and 6 on ‘Your Face and Body’ and ‘Clothes’ pack a punch (although the black eyes Helen refers to are only from her plastic surgery.) Helen starts us off on the topic of beauty by beating us down, but she’s going to build us back up right? Well. . . let’s not get our expectations up.
“It starts early, our getting the idea – possibly because it’s true! – that we aren’t pretty.” Buckle up, by the end of this chapter you’ll feel that same way you used to after watching an episode of America’s Next Top model; confused, sad, and full from binging on chocolate.
“Maybe we can’t be beautiful but we can be better! . . . Even though we will mostly wind up the way we came, stuck with the bones, skin, hair, fingernail structure and figure God (genes) gave us, trying for “beautiful” is not only one of life’s pain-assuagers, it is one of life’s ritualistic pleasures.” I'm already thinking I don't have enough time in my schedule for this. But don't worry, there seem to be some 'lazier' options. We can simply wait around and allow “[Men] breathe beauty into us, endow us with whatever they need, get to thinking we are beautiful.” That certainly sounds easier than learning how to properly apply eyeliner (seriously, despite its seemingly self-explanatory name, I still have no idea what I’m supposed to be doing with that stuff). “Even an older non-beauty (Yoko was older) can attract men if she is sexual, entertaining and good to them.” My heart briefly leapt with hope, but a quick Google search tells me that Yoko was only thirty when she married John.
“We are told to value ourselves without feedback, but if nobody is making a pass at you or trying to take you to Bermuda, how are you supposed to feel? Confident?” You know, I think the best part of this book is how relatable Helen makes it. I mean, all of us ‘non-beauties’ can relate to how beautiful we feel when a man tries to take us to Bermuda! There I was in the produce section of the supermarket just last week turning down yet another offer to jet off to this popular destination. Seriously though, your takeaway is this – if you've never been invited by a man to Bermuda (or similar), you’re not hot. Helen-science makes it true.
“Now let’s move on to what we can do with whatever faces we have to make them look better. Lots of people think you shouldn’t do much, that natural is best. Good God, nature can destroy you. As my beloved Dr. Orentreich says, “You can either let spinal meningitis and polio in their natural virulent form kill a little kid or you can fight back. You can let the body deteriorate, stop functioning, as in the aging process, or you can fight back. . . I have been fighting back, mouseburger-fashion, with every shred of me all my life.” Did she just use the idea spinal meningitis killing a child to talk to us about wearing more make-up? Yes, she sure did.
Well, Helen believes that if we “pretty much” accept ourselves and become absorbed with our work, we will “sexually catnip somebody.” However, in order to do this, he must first notice us. And in order for him to notice us, we must send up the equivalent of emergency flares from a sinking ship by applying make-up to our faces. “. . . even the subtlest makeup is a shorthand to the soul. It says, “I want to attract you so I have tried to perfect myself. I am wearing my badge. I am ready for a grown-up, exciting, full-fledged romantic man/woman relationship”. . . whether you’re doing it right – makeup delivers a message from the inner girl. It says, I want you to like and admire me.” The best part about it is that once we have succeeded in snagging a man we can apparently get back those extra few hours in our days by dropping the whole charade, “. . .once a man is hooked on you, he doesn’t care if your face is maggot white and your eyes sink into your skull like olives in a glass of grape juice. . .” Phew!
Helen says that wearing make-up signals a man that a woman is approachable. “Does that sound silly?” she asks us. “Well, when feminists wanted to show their contempt for men and men’s rules, they scrubbed their faces clean, let their hair hang straight and gray and wore black turtleneck sweaters. Men got the message.” Was that message that women who get paid the same still enjoy fulfilling relationships? Was that the message, Helen?
Not really into ‘fixing’ your looks or pandering to men to feel beautiful? Don’t worry, you can still make up for your plain face by being nice, as Helen tells us from her personal experience. “This very morning I looked in the three-way mirror, observed this unsymmetrical face – not ugly or repelling, just totally undistinguished, and, what with the aging, I said to myself, My God, I’ve got to be nicer to people, got to endear myself to them with love pouring out of every pore of me to make up for this face!” Um, Helen? You’re not really pulling that off very well. Maybe top up the old calorie count and try again.
So, you spend your whole life with a subpar face – and then you start aging. Well isn’t that just a bag full of dicks? Don’t worry, Helen has the answer and it rhymes with spastic perjury. I’m as pro-plastic surgery as I am pro-choice; if it’s right for you, then you should do it. Helen, however, believes that “anybody who cares how she looks should.” At the time the book was written she’d had rhinoplasty, dermabrasion (skin scraped) and her “eyes done.” Twenty years after this book was written, at 74, she also got her breasts augmented. . . and possibly a bit more work along the way. “Surgery will not change your life, solve your problems,” she tells us, “but it can give you a great emotional lift.”
Pro tip: “Lose weight before the operation – then if there is sagginess in your face from weight loss the sag can be snipped right away with the lift.”
Some of Helen’s advice is quite reasonable and is still true today, “A booze-free, cigarette-free, junk-food-free diet definitely shows (advantageously) in your face provided you also keep it clean and sleep enough. Sleep is so pleasurable I think most of us get enough but hitting the booze and cigarettes too heavily (by me, hitting them at all except to make love is too heavy!) are big temptations and they aren’t your skin’s friends.” She needs booze and cigarettes to make love? Back in dear old Chapter 3 – The Diet, Helen told us “What few calories I’m allotted I prefer in food, except in sexy moments. (P.S. You know which is healthier.)” Have you ever been stuck in a conversation with someone at a party who tells you a story you can’t quite follow and then ends it with an emphasized and somewhat rhetorical, “Right?” And you have no idea what you are meant to be agreeing too, so you just nod and take a drink, so you can’t be expected to chime in? That is basically what reading this book is like – every single paragraph.
“Regardless of what you were born with or born without, what you do to fix yourself up, some days you like you, some days you don’t. One day you are crazy about your small breasts, curvy hips, intelligent little face, actually kind of all swelled up with pride, and then one measly day later you are so disgusted with this same group of parts you’d like to put yourself in a big manila envelope and mail yourself to Bolivia!” Why Bolivia? Are the men there less choosy? Well if you can’t afford the shipping, don’t fret, we still have the chapter on clothes and I’m sure all of our insecurities will be wiped away with the right spring fashion tips!
“You can actually wear almost anything” – woohoo! – “unless you’re fat. . .” Well, shit. When will this emotional rollercoaster come to an end? Since the last chapter was a bit of a nut-punch about our looks (again, assuming that we are non-beautiful mouseburgers; as if there are any other kinds!) I thought I would start this chapter with some ideas I could get behind.
“As long as you are clean, not even neat, but clean – though others don’t agree with me on this – I believe your brain and drive are about all that matter and people don’t give a toot what you wear except in the fashion business.” Deal. I can do this. Showering is totally in my wheelhouse. “Clothes will not get you a man, that’s for sure.” Things continue to be looking up. “I think one of life’s top ten (top five?) pleasures is shopping for the lingerie, party dress and swimsuit you’re going to wear with him.” Okay, so I may be stretching here (to the dismay of my boyfriend) but I did really enjoy shopping for the snow pants that I wear when we ski together. That was a nice positive interlude, but now back to regular programming.
“Of course you learn fairly early that what you put on your body isn’t as important to the opposite sex as the shape of the body you put it on (and possibly having naturally curly hair), but still you care.” Right, clothes aren’t actually important, just starving yourself is. And if you’re not starving yourself – and getting a perm, don’t expect fashion to pick up the tab.
In my early 20’s I had a boyfriend tell me that I had no fashion sense because all I wore were t-shirts and jeans. Nearly two decades later and that combination is still working for me – the boyfriend, however, fell out of style. But if you are worried about your taste in clothing, don’t be – “The first and only thing you need is desire. . . You have to want to have taste. Some people have inherently bad taste. Their problem is really not the bad taste – that can be fixed – but they don’t know they have it!” says Carrie Donovan, fashion editor of the New York Times Magazine, who Helen quotes. Helen then goes on to add her own spin to it, “My opinion is that having the kind of chic and flair Carrie is talking about is like sex after forty. You can decide to let sex slip away, not participate, or you can get on the train, hang on to your seat around the curves and have a great sex life.” Sex slips away after 40? Let’s back this train up.
The essence of the clothing chapter can be summed up with these quotes, “You can be better dressed when you own a lot of stuff. . . One thing that separates chic girls from others is that the former wear enough things. Fearful girls skimp. . . I think more mouseburgers don’t wear enough stuff. . .” In other words, the secret to Having It All when it comes to clothes is literally 'have it all. I mean, it was the 80’s and the height of consumerism after all!
What did I get out of the last two chapters? I’m pretty damn lucky that any men ever spoke to me given my complete and utter lack of knowledge around beauty products, I’m fairly devastated to find out that I’m not beautiful (I’m basing this solely on the fact that no man has ever tried to take me to Bermuda – willingly or otherwise), and until my closet is so full the door won't close, I'm not going to be fashionable.
Now, on to Chapter 7 - Sex! I suspect there will be a lot of wine drinking in this next chapter . . . but hopefully fewer eggs than in chapter 3.
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