Going Bare

This morning I drove my boy to school.  It was “field day” where they will spend most of the day outside on inflatable slides and water games of various sorts.  He dressed in clothes that he didn’t care if they got wet or muddy and flip-flops.  Obviously, not his normal school clothes.  When we pulled into the school he said, “I don’t understand why the girls all wear their nice clothes and then have to change.  Like they have to look all cute.”  I told him that was a conversation that would take longer than just the time it took to drop him off, but basically blame it on society – girls are judged by how they look not the content of their character.  He got out and went inside and I came to work wondering if I try to indoctrinate him too much.

Yesterday was a blur and I didn’t have a chance to even see what was happening in the world, so I looked to see what the headlines were on Huffington Post.  After the conversation with my boy, three things caught my eye.  “Hoda and Kathie Lee go make-up free on ‘Today Show’, Pregnant Claudia Schiffer poses topless, and Young Girls Do Beyonce’s ‘Single Ladies’.  (Not to say there weren’t other nude celebrities and such, this was HuffPost after all.)  They all seemed to go with my line of thought, that if you define prejudice as judging a person by their physical appearance and not by the ‘content of their character’, sexism is definitely the most difficult ‘ism’ to overcome.  The three stories/videos cover the full spectrum.  It took nerve for middle aged women to go on camera with no makeup.  It was interesting to hear most of the other anchors that showed their bare faces say that they normally went without.  Not sure I buy that, but still.  Hoda owned up to what I think is closer to the truth.  She confessed vulnerability without makeup.  Most women spend most of their lives behind a veil of makeup.  It is scary to be out in the open, exposed.  (We could go into a long discussion of societal pressures that we find abhorrent (burqa) vs. societal pressures of beauty and how they are kin to one another, but I would be digressing.) 

I just saw the headline about Pregnant Claudia; I really had no inclination to see the photos.  While the middle aged women embraced their vulnerability for a day, Claudia is an aging supermodel.  Not that she looks it.  The Vanity Faire issue in which she is nude and pregnant is supposed to celebrate womanhood.  Ok, whatever.  Claudia is nearing 40 and is pregnant, you can’t tell me there’s not a lot of airbrushing going on.  It is the exact opposite of the Today Show bit which owed up to what is real – no one looks perfect and certainly no one looks perfect without a lot of work.  The Vanity Faire cover holds up a picture of what women feel they need to be – beautiful even when you are huge, sexy even when you’re a mom.  It is simply impossible.  Yet it is a constant race against time to always look younger and better and live up to those standards.

All of this starts so young.  As evidence, the young girls dancing to Beyonce.  My god.  The girls were 7 years old.  They were dressed in… well, to me they looked like saloon-girl-bikinis, red with black fringe.  That was bad enough, but the choreography was definitely more suitable for older performers.   Dancing to the song is one thing, having a 7-year-old squat with her legs apart and thrust her hips is simply disgusting.  Why would anyone think that would be a good idea?  Obviously the dance coach and the parents went along with it.  Because that’s what we expect of girls, right?  To look pretty and dance?  It is the same as the baby beauty pageants where parents parade their daughters like prized pets that they paint and dress like prostitutes.  Obviously, these are extreme examples but, in general, we expect our sons to tear their jeans and have dirt in their hair from climbing trees and playing hard and we expect our daughters to be pretty.

This is nothing new and lord knows we’ve come a long way, baby.  The glass ceiling has all those cracks in it, after all.  Yet, it doesn’t change the fact that the double standard still exists.  Women have to work harder and look good doing it to get to, and break through, all those glass ceilings.  Hoda and Kathie Lee will have their makeup on tomorrow morning.  Frankly, they took a risk.  It is hard to be a middle aged woman on television, always worrying if they will look for someone younger.  The cliché that gray hair makes a man look distinguished and a woman look old holds true in TV more than anywhere.  Tomorrow I will have my makeup on too.  I resent it.  I don’t wear a lot, yet my insecurities will lend me to try and cover up my imperfections – and trust me that is impossible.  It is hard to break free of all the programming.


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