beauty does

“Vanity is so secure in the heart of man that everyone wants to be admired: even I who write this, and you who read this.”—Blaise Pascal

“La vanité consiste à vouloir paraître ; l’ambition à vouloir être ; l’amour-propre, à croire que l’on est ; la fierté, à savoir ce que l’on vaut. ”—Comte Rackzinski

I read on the BBC site that Yves St Laurent had died, leaving a throne of fashion empty in that palatial industry.  It’s sad, though apparently not unexpected, since he had been ill for quite some time.  I know it’s silly–there are plenty of successors–but I keep visualizing a studio w/ piles of unused silk and velvet, dessicated lace indistinguishable from cobwebs, naked mannequins gathering dust.  It is, I think, perhaps the end of an era.  I suppose Nicolas Ghesquière is going to be the next big deal, but to be perfectly honest, I am not as impressed w/ him as others seem to be.  His clothes do not celebrate the natural form, or even work w/ it that well (correction: I am sure Quasimodo would have felt quite comfortable in those carapace jackets).  Right now I am absolutely obsessed w/ the James Jean fairy stuff at Prada.  Of course, I am poor as hell, and jobless to boot, so it for now it looks like I’m limited to coveting their magazine ads.

I sometimes wish I had been born a man.  Let me clarify: I don’t want to BE a man; I’m not about to pull a Hilary Swank in Boys Don’t Cry (I emphasize this b/c I was trying to explain my point to Heather and Manders t’other day in the car, w/ rather disastrous consequences, which culminated in Manders yelling “DRAGON WANTS TO BE A MAN!” while Heather convulsed w/ laughter and swerved wildly).  But I have thought that it might be simpler, easier and—perhaps—even more enjoyable to be male.  Imagine: Getting more instead of less desirable w/ age.  Not having to birth your own children.  Cheaper haircuts.  Better-fitting pants.  Higher wages.  No periods.  Increased mobility and independence (especially in societies less egalitarian than our own).  If I were a boy, the world could be my oyster AND my toilet.

However, there are no Y chromosomes in this house.  So I’m obliged to make do w/ what I’ve got.  And one of the best perks to being female has got to be the beauty routine.

I really do feel sorry for men b/c they don’t get to dress up.  I mean, they can; some do.  But when they do they are merely borrowing from us. Moreover, they garner jeers and slurs from society at large.  Women are free—nay, encouraged—to spend hundreds of minutes and thousands of dollars on what could pejoratively be termed “vanity,” and more kindly labeled “upkeep.”  We don’t pursue life, liberty or happiness nearly as fervently as we strive for beauty.  Elles s’acharnent….

I have heard—and believe—that this all a grand farce, a distraction designed to empty our wallets while preventing us from focusing on our real goals: careers, volunteering, world domination.  Whatever.  Meanwhile, the glossy pictures in women’s magazines fill me with self-doubt.  I am unendingly disappointed that I don’t have thicker hair, thinner thighs, longer legs, stronger arms.  You know the story.  The fashion industry has demolished the self-esteem of yet another poor innocent.  And yet, you know, I’m not sure I mind.

It is difficult to explain, which is perhaps why I am trying to write about it here.  There is something wonderfully soothing about applying a deep-cleansing mud masque and lying abed for a few minutes.  Conversely, changing my nail polish color is exciting, even exhilarating.  It reflects a change in mood, an outlook as fresh as the newly applied paint.

I do not think make-up is empowering, per se.  I think it is sad when women feel they need to apply make-up just to face the world.  But make-up allows us to fetishize ourselves, allows us to do for ourselves, for no one but ourselves.  That is not to say we don’t realize that others will look at us (and how!).

More often than I would like to admit, I succumb to bouts of depression.  The world is shaded in dingy, drab grays, and I just want to curl up in bed and lie motionless…at least until I get up and shower, using jasmine-scented crème rinse; until I set my hair into curls; until I put on some mascara and dab on some lipstick.  Saved by lipstick?  Perhaps.  One woman’s primping is another’s Prozac.  There is something marvelously self-affirming about beautification that has nothing to do w/ vanity, and everything to do w/ pride.  Treat yourself as if you are worth it, and you may just come to believe that you are.

Before signing off, I want to leave you w/ this thought:  Next time you are thumbing desultorily through an issue of Vogue, look up from the latest Testino spread and take a moment to notice that (thank goodness) there aren’t any articles about pleasing, pursuing, persuading or placating men.  Not a one.

“That’s where its strength and vitality comes from because I draw on the body of a woman.”–Yves Saint Laurent

P.S.  Before you start putting much stock into my semi-informed, pseudo-fashionista ramblings, I must confess that I almost called this post “The Beholder’s Eye”–a play on the oft-quoted saying–but decided that the D&D reference was just too blatant.  That should tell you something.

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