Tag Archives: Ayelet Waldman

Can We Get Rid of the Beauty Olympics?

“But if you’re not part of the ‘Beauty Olympics’, you can still become a very interesting person.”

Sex and The City pilot episode

Esperanza tweeted this article yesterday, which I read with a sinking feeling. Because although I had vowed not to use the word “pretty” with my daughter too much, or compliment her on her appearance, I still do. I compliment her on the way she looks more than I compliment her on cleaning up, or reading a book, or building towers or reciting her numbers properly. It’s like I am fighting an ingrained instinct and it is a knee-jerk reaction to say, “You look beautiful” when she’s dressed in a gorgeous feminine outfit. It’s like I just blurt it out. And it’s not just me: it’s my husband too. And most of our peers, friends and relations.

I know the way you look is important, but where I live it might be more important than almost anywhere else. I live in a very outdoorsy place where women are expected to be “fit” and hike and work out a lot. It is rare to see anyone in my town who is overweight. In my early 30s, I worked out more than any other time in my history: I hiked, I ran, I worked out at the gym. I ate normally though. I didn’t overeat and I didn’t particularly indulge in high-calorie foods. But I was not pin-thin. No one told me, “You look great!”

Then I had a really bad episode of acid-reflux disease a year and a half ago, and had to cut out most foods. Eating almost anything was extremely painful. I lost 10 pounds in about 2 months. I looked awful: my skin tone was poor, I had dark circles under my eyes, I was extremely tired.

And I got about 50 comments from people saying they thought I looked “awesome” and a number of questions about my “new” working out habits.

That’s when I realized that most of the women I would see looking “fit” in their yoga pants didn’t eat much.

All of this is a preamble to what is really bothering me. A friend of mine from high school, who had a terrible, life-threatening battle with anorexia back then, passed away at the age of 38 a month ago. We lost touch, partially because she was mad at me for raising flags about her eating with friends and a family member. I wasn’t the only one who was concerned, but for some reason I took the blame. I have been feeling awful about her passing. She was a sweet and good person. And I feel badly that I didn’t try to get back in touch with her. I don’t know what caused her death, maybe the anorexia was not involved.

But obsession with appearance is not good for our girls. The truth that beauty fades, that you need to have other attributes to make it in life is NOT taught in mainstream media. Women are praised mostly for being “hot”: like Jessica Alba, who lost all her baby weight in a few months and admitted to eating 1200 calories a day and working out 2+ hours seven days a week. Tween shows teach girls that being pretty and famous is the best path to follow (“Hannah Montana”). Even pre-school girls are shown parading around in bikinis and spray tans in “Toddlers and Tiaras”.

And let’s get down to it: it’s men. Men of all ages crane their necks at nubile teen girls. The “Barely Legal” category of adult entertainment is always most popular.

I don’t think it’s ALL men. I always hear about the guys who went to the “Take Back the Night” anti-rape rallies in college, who sympathized with women over being “objectified”. You know, the guys Ayelet Waldman is always talking about. I have never met a guy like that in my life, but I THINK they exist. Probably across the bridge in that very liberal famous college town? Slowmamma, can you confirm or deny? 😉

Anyway, I want my son to be a guy like that.

What can we do about society’s obsession with beauty? Is it possible to sidestep it?

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Casey Anthony, Nancy Grace and Ayelet Waldman’s “Bad Mother”: What Do The Three Have in Common?

If you were on Twitter, you may have noted that at 2:15 PM Eastern Time it exploded. That was approximately the time that Casey Anthony, the so-called “Tot Mom”, was found in a Florida court of law not guilty of murdering her two year old daughter, Caylee. There were many, many declarations of outrage. So many that I got the Fail Whale. I love the Fail Whale.

I admit that I avoided the trial and the case with a ten-foot pole. Why, I wasn’t really sure, but it just felt, for lack of a better word, icky. Since becoming a mother I can’t really bear stories about children in jeopardy or who have gone missing. When I was going through infertility, such stories stoked an almost unbearable anger: I couldn’t get pregnant, and yet many neglectful women didn’t understand what a miracle children were.

But finally this weekend, after seeing countless tweets about the subject matter, I broke down and read about the case. It is a drab, dreary, sordid case, filled with difficult to explain photos of a mother partying while her child is missing, strange inconsistencies of statements made to people, allegations of incest and molestation. I don’t really want to get into all of the details, because I don’t understand the case that well. But the media have made a lot of hay with the story. It was on the cover of People magazine. CNN’s Headline News has gained tremendous ratings off the trial. Primarily, Nancy Grace has been a particular beneficiary of the story.

Nancy Grace is a controversial figure, albeit a popular one. According to Wikipedia, she became a prosecutor after the murder of her fiancee. Later, she became a media figure on Court TV. She seems to focus on cases like Anthony’s or the Natalee Holloway disappearance: violence against women or children. From what I can tell from the limited viewings I’ve seen of her program, in Nancy Grace’s world there is black and white. With no shades of grey. I think this comforts a lot of viewers, who have suffered their own tragedies or just know that a lot of bad stuff happens in life. Grace makes them believe there can be Justice for victims of crimes.

The Casey Anthony case was nagging me, and I finally realized why: it reminded me of Ayelet Waldman’s book, “Bad Mother” which is a provocative, reassuring and sometimes maddening read. Definitely recommended. She writes about the magnifying glass put on certain “bad mother” cases like the Anthony’s or Susan Smith, and WHY this happens.

“While women have always, historically, been the enforcers of acceptable social conduct, even when it was to their detriment (remember Abigail Williams, the lead accuser in the Salem witch trials?), an hour or two surfing the myriad of mommy blogs provides compelling support for the notion that, in this area at least, we women are primary authors of our own subjection.”

Waldman adds:

“And why? Because the Andrea Yateses and Susan Smiths, the ‘crack hos’ and the welfare moms provide us with a profound personal service. By defining for us the kind of mothers we’re not, they make it easier for us to stomach what we are.”

In other words, my kids are currently watching Caillou and eating McDonald’s (Michael Pollan, look away!) and this makes me feel like a slug. But, this doesn’t make me as bad as say, Britney Spears circa 2007, or the mom I saw at Target who was talking on her cell while her five children terrorized the aisles.

I think this is why the Casey Anthony verdict has caused such a stir: there are such pressures on us now to be perfect mothers. Especially after infertility! Organic food, never yelling, no TV, breastfeeding only, no C-sections, etc, etc, etc.

Again from Waldman:

“The question becomes: How does one find consolation in the face of all this failure and guilt? One way is by reveling in the dark exploits of mothers who are worse, far worse, than we are. We obsess about these famous bogeymamas; we judge ourselves for a little while not against the impossible standard of the Good Mother but against the heinous Bad Mother.”

Do you think Ayelet Waldman is right? Is Casey Anthony a “bogeyman” that the media has built up to make us feel better about ourselves?” Or is it not that simple?

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Filed under Family, Parenting After IF