I hold that it is none of my business what people think of me. 

-Ashley Judd

(Many thanks to the lovely Shea MacLeod for her post “The Conversation” this morning, which led to the inspiration for this blog post.)

This is the old avi I used when I first started blogging. I like this picture of myself. I don’t know why. I’m not wearing any fancy clothes. I don’t think I even have any makeup on. It was taken by the camera on my laptop one night when I finally decided to put a face to my online presence. I snapped the pic, tweaked it so you didn’t notice my messy kitchen so much, then put it up for the world.

Looking at that picture now, I think I like it because it captures a lot of my personality. I’m not a stunning classical beauty; I never have been, and I never will be. I could list all the physical attributes I don’t like, but that seems needlessly narcissistic. Why on earth should you be interested in that? I could also list a lot of the things that I like about my appearance, but that would be just as pointless. To tell the truth, the cultivation of my outer beauty has never been a personal quest for me. People can have their own opinions about that. I’m opting out.

That said, The Conversation about women’s bodies and appearance, the hypersexualization of all aspects of our personhood, and the relentless focus on our outer appearance as an indicator of our worth is something that must be talked about. It must be talked about because I heard a ten-year-old girl I love talk about dieting so she wasn’t so fat. It must be talked about because my sisters have to sift through reams of overly mature clothing for my lovely and vibrant young nieces. It must be talked about, because I am a woman and a mother, and I don’t want my son to grow up in a world where it is acceptable to measure women (or anyone, really) by one standard of impossible, synthetic, media-ascribed beauty.

It is not acceptable.

My new book, which comes out in May, has a lot to say about beauty, because it is set in the art world. I find it fascinating to look at beauty from an artist’s perspective. It’s often very different than what the mass media portrays. Here’s a quote from one of the characters in the novel:

“I have no interest in taking a picture of the same nose sculpted by the same surgeon on five different actresses.   It’s boring and more than a little insulting, if you think about it.   Like they know better than we do what beauty is.”

Do they know better? The Conversation needs to occur so that real beauty, in all its variations and intricacies, can be celebrated. Beauty matters. But beauty—real beauty—is far more complex than a picture. It is has far more depth, and breadth, and longevity than morning talk shows or magazines would have you believe.

So take a look at the op-ed by actress, Ashley Judd, that started The Conversation for me:

“The Conversation about women’s bodies exists largely outside of us, while it is also directed at (and marketed to) us, and used to define and control us. The Conversation about women happens everywhere, publicly and privately. We are described and detailed, our faces and bodies analyzed and picked apart, our worth ascertained and ascribed based on the reduction of personhood to simple physical objectification. Our voices, our personhood, our potential, and our accomplishments are regularly minimized and muted.”

Read the rest HERE. Then, as Shea said in her post, if you think that this conversation is worth having, spread the message yourself.

Thanks for reading,

Elizabeth

10 Comments on “A part in “The Conversation”

  1. This is a conversation that I have regularly with my girls. It pains me to know that there have been times when they have judged their own worth through the lens of other people’s comments on their appearance. It is an empathetic pain because I have done the same thing over the years.
    I find that I am less and less tolerant of those whose first comment about someone they’ve just met, whether male or female is something about their appearance. My husband was especially prone to doing this when the girls were younger and it became the source of many ‘in depth discussions’ between the two of us. I’d like to say he has been ‘cured,’ but that would be a lie. He still comments often about the appearance of women whether known or unknown to him, but less so in front of the girls.
    Bottom line for me: no matter how far we seemed to have traveled from perceptions that we are chattel, careless, hurtful, unneccessary comments about our physical appearance take us right back to that.

    • “I find that I am less and less tolerant of those whose first comment about someone they’ve just met, whether male or female is something about their appearance.”

      I really related to this, Tabby. I think it’s a natural habit, but one that I try to avoid more and more, as well. Thanks for your thoughtful comment!

      Elizabeth

  2. So true. I do agree with your points, but in more of a sociological contest. We hypersexualize preteen girls while denying they are capable of any sexual curiosity or thought, though this has been disproven repeatedly in studies ranging from early childhood. It sets up dichotmies of thought and behavior that are damaging to everyone. I reccommend reading Judith Levine’s Harmful To Minors, for another view on the subject. I read the 2003 edition of it years ago and it really was fascinating and illuminating. But these things need to be discussed, and if we’re going to expect to be able to find “age appropriate” clothing anywhere, we need to stop making the 14 year old girl the object of major fashion designers. Just my opinion.
    Cheers, Balti K

    • “…if we’re going to expect to be able to find “age appropriate” clothing anywhere, we need to stop making the 14 year old girl the object of major fashion designers. Just my opinion.”

      Oh, it’s definitely an opinion I relate to. I love fashion, particularly haute couture, which is a form of sculpture, in my opinion, but I agree. The ideal female form that is promoted is highly irregular. (I don’t want to say unnatural, because there are beautiful women with natural body types that fall into that category. It is a minority, to be sure.) The waif-like, androgynous appearance common in fashion is very close to the early adolescent female body, which has more sociological implications that I can delve into in a blog post. :)

  3. I couldn’t agree more. I hate the fact that we’re fed such a uniform image of ‘beauty’ that it crushes the life out of the concept, reducing it to big doll eyes, inflated assets and big shiny hair – and the Judd comments are spot on!

    • Glad you can relate! I do love variety. To be honest, a lot of the younger actors/actresses I see on television or in movies seem fairly interchangeable. (Ooooh, that just made me sound really old, didn’t it?)

  4. Interestingly, when reading up on Ashley Judd after I read your post I came across a Daily Mail article about The Conversation which said things like:

    “Judd appeared not to realise how self-obsessed it sounded when she wrote: ‘The assault on our body image, the hypersexualisation of girls and women and subsequent degradation of our sexuality as we walk through the decades, and the general incessant objectification is what this conversation allegedly about my face is really about.’

    “The star, who has traded on her appearance to promote her work, said: ‘That women are joining in the ongoing disassembling of my appearance is salient.”

    “Again, she might have garnered more sympathy had she directed her wrath at areas of society where women suffer not via words directed at ivory towers but through actual brutalisation, sexual exploitation or abject poverty.”

    “For while her sentiments might be worth discussion, her motivation seems purely self-centred and highly contradictory given her image-obsessed line of work.”

    Proves the veracity of her point very nicely if you ask me!!

    • You know, it shoe-horned with so many of the themes I wrote about in The Genius and the Muse that when I saw Shea’s link, I had to post about it, Molly. It’s such an important conversation. I hope we can continue to talk about it on many levels.

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