Saturday, 21 January 2012

Beauty and the Market

Coco Chanel famously said that any woman who, after the age of 25, looks into the mirror to be pleased is a fool. But never mind mirrors. This is the age of the image--even more, I imagine, than in Coco Chanel's day. Worse, it is the age of the doctored image, so that most of the images of women we see don't look exactly like the models themselves. In related news, Cindy Crawford's daughter has begun her modelling career at the age of ten.

I don't need to tell you how this makes the rest of us feel, although of course feeling inadequate in the looks department is nothing new. When asked if she had any regrets in life, American former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, a woman of enormous accomplishment and popularity, said she wished she had been prettier.

To channel a very early blog post, I once complained to my mother about my lack of early success in attracting boys. I felt majorly ripped off that I did not look like Brooke Shields, for example. If I looked like Brooke Shields, I was certain, all the boys would like me.

"If you looked like Brooke Shields," said my mother, "you would just have her problems."

That made a deep impression on me at the time because I knew Brooke had played a child prostitute in Pretty Baby, and she was also famous for having also been in The Blue Lagoon and Endless Love, all of which films no one my age (or, indeed, Brooke's age when she made them) was allowed to see. Grown men did seem to have a prurient interest in very young, very beautiful girls, and they hadn't changed by 1996 when Liv Tyler starred in Stealing Beauty.

All the same, though. All the same. All the same, it does feel to many of us girls that we have just missed out on seizing the apples on the tip-top of the beauty tree. Of course, it doesn't occur to us that this is because not-so-stellar-in-the-looks-department men and women are nevertheless attracted to each other and thus produce millions of not-so-stellar-in-the-looks-department babies, including most of us. Just so long as we are clean and good-tempered, what we look like shouldn't matter a damn. Unless we are selling stuff. Ah, there's the rub.

I am brooding on all this because I have been out having my photograph taken by B.A. This is for an official "author photograph" and frankly I would have gone to a professional, were we not so intensely broke in that way people so often are after Christmas. (Did you know that if you make carrot-coriander soup from scratch, 8 servings cost only about 90p whereas two servings from a can of Baxter's cost £1.09? Fact.)

The session filled me with gloom until B.A. began to shout "Cracking!" in the way photographers do in movies, which I now realize is to make the models smile more naturally. And he also took 88 photos, which was equally cheering because the essence of having a good photo taken is good luck. The more photos taken, the greater the likelihood that one of them will look good. If you aren't beautiful, there is always the hope that you might look striking, like Jane Morris or Tilda Swinton or the lady monster from Where the Wild Things Are.

In some lights I look like the lady monster from Where the Wild Things Are, but in others I look as though I might have descended from Jane Morris. And this false family resemblance--although I am perfectly well aware that what we do is so infinitely superior to what we merely look like--has long been a source of comfort to me.

13 comments:

Kim Vandapool said...

Cheers to everything you said in this post, Seraphic - it's all very wise and true. But just the same, you look like pure art in this picture. Bellissima!

Anonymous said...

Great picture! I guess I feel left out of the female gender sometimes because I've always been happy/confident/satisfied with the way I look (even after 25). Even though I know I'm far from a fashion model or society's ideal of beauty. I'm also of a somewhat stocky build so I don't fit the feminine body type is either. I could honestly care less. I get bored with those airbrushed pictures of models, it seems like they just all look the same, it's a little creepy. Plus they always have that same vacuous stare. I look in the mirror and think I look awesome. I just don't know what this insecurity thing is about, it baffles me. Born egotist I guess. I also think that all women are incredibly beautiful, but I guess that's the artist in me.

Margaret Mary said...

That is a beautiful picture! I hope you wear green often.

Andrew Cusack said...

Caption: "Writer Dorothy Cummings McLean, at home in Scotland."

Love it.

Anne said...

Hi Seraphic, Yes, it's true that "what we do is so infinitely superior to what we merely look like"; nevertheless, you look very beautiful. Did you ever see a commercial or a movie (Matrix comes to mind) where there's a scene in which everybody looks the same (same actor actually)? Did you ever notice that it's not very appealing? Our differences are what makes us all beautiful. There are many standards of female beauty. (please do not misinterpret this, you are very beautiful according to your own standards of beauty AND this culture's standards of beauty, you have every reason to be confident in your looks). Best of luck with the new book! I'm sure the writing is excellent and the photo is wonderful.

Anonymous IV said...

"Of course, it doesn't occur to us that this is because not-so-stellar-in-the-looks-department men and women are nevertheless attracted to each other and thus produce millions of not-so-stellar-in-the-looks-department babies, including most of us."

The idea that I (like the rest of us) come from a very long line of people attractive enough to manage to procreate (most often in the context of marriage) has long been a comfort to me.

Kate J said...

You are beautiful, inside & out.

Seraphic said...

What nice readers!

Gold said...

You are so pretty Seraphic.

Lizzie said...

I think people who know they are loved are ALWAYS beautiful....as I heard a priest say once, did you ever see a bride look ugly on their wedding day?

Yes, what we do is infinitely superior to what we look like but God has created us in his image and it is GOOD!

That photo of you is definitely beautiful...

ps sorry if that sounded trite..

Mrs Doyle said...

GORGUSS!

ceciliamschwartz said...

Thank you for your confident beauty that reminds us every now and again to stop comparing ourselves to those unnatural airbrushed photos and to embrace true feminine beauty.

You look amazing!

Jen D said...

You do look lovely. It is a good author photograph - pretty, but mysterious and thoughtful. "What is she thinking about so intently? I should buy her book and find out!" :)