mirror, mirror

Posted by on Apr 18, 2013 in Blog | Comments Off on mirror, mirror

mirror, mirror

The other day an ad was floating around Facebook, and it was only after the 5th or 6th female friend posted a link to it that I decided to watch.  It’s a Dove soap ad.  The piece compares sketch-artist representations of the way women see themselves (critically) with the way that others see them (less critically).  Once faced with the portraits, they are shocked to see the gap that exists between the two visions.  Many of my friends seemed genuinely uplifted by the message that we need to lighten up on how we see ourselves.  But this is still an ad trying to sell a beauty product.  It’s still manipulation, an exploitation of the very insecurities they reveal.

My nearly instantaneous reaction upon watching the video was not one of inspiration or revelation.  It was exasperation.  I am so tired of the game, of being an unwitting pawn in this pageantry.  I really don’t want to play anymore.  Don’t show me another beauty ad pretending to be on my side.  My 20s were spent in complete and utter fixation upon the external self that I was making myself sick.  And maybe this is what happens in your 30s… you begin to see it all for what it is.  Just like any other form of propaganda, there is a hegemonic cloak draping our culture that convinces all young women that being beautiful (and thin) is the most important thing in the world.  And you know what?  So many people believe it and propagate it that it eventually becomes reality.  That’s what hegemony does- it lifts a wonky ideology to truth.  We all know that beauty gets you far.  And in our culture, an aging woman is soon to be an irrelevant one.  Our fear of wrinkles, white hair and a rounder figure is preternatural.  It’s directly correlated with our fear of becoming obsolete in the workings of society (even of family), of losing our voice, of not being seen as vital and integral and equal and even desirable.

Every once in a while I stumble upon a sunbeam.  There’s this moment of inspiration when reading an article or watching a documentary when I see a happy, vibrant, engaged older woman who’s not fixating on gravity’s dance upon her face.  She’s creased with her love of life and her time in the sun.  She’s rounded with her love of food.  She walks with solid steps on the earth, she sees her role in the order of things.  I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that these women who believe that their worth exists outside of the boundaries of lithe bodies and taut skin live in societies that place a deepening respect upon women as they age, in families that require them, not tolerate them.

I remember one day when I was about 6 or 7 I was visiting with my Nonna, playing on the stairs by her kitchen, chattering away as she was working.  I can see her now, her strong body leaning over the sink, her thick hands busy, always moving.  I was playing with a small mirror and while I don’t recall what I was saying exactly, I remember so clearly what happened next.  She turned away from the counter and crouched down to me, and took the mirror away.  Furrowing her drawn-on eyebrows, she said “You’re being vain.  It’s not good to be vain.”  She told me that it was not good to be too proud of how you look, that other things were more important.  And even though she could put herself together like the best of them (did I mention the drawn-on eyebrows?), I believed her.  I believe that she knew her importance in the world- she was the cog around which the family clock turned, and that she knew her value was beneath the external.  But her voice was one in a million.  I don’t even think I really heard her until now.

I think I’m writing this from a place of fatigue.  This whole “believe you’re beautiful” campaign has jumped the shark.  I can’t deny that I still care about what I look like, what clothing I’m wearing, if I look tired.  I care too much, in fact.  I know that the Dove ad was trying to encourage women to find self-esteem, to believe in their worth.  But they also suggest that it comes from believing in your beauty.  I’m inspired to deepen my sense of self worth from a place beyond this.  Real dignity comes from believing you are a part of something bigger than yourself, from being a contributor.  I’m inspired to knit myself a little tighter into the web of family and community, to create for myself the insurance that there will be a place for me when my eye bags droop a bit lower, when the grey comes in.

I’m not hoping to one day look at myself in the mirror and think, “Wow, I AM beautiful!”.  I’m hoping that, from a place of health and active engagement with life, the mirror will be the last place I look when I am searching for myself.

All content by Lisa Veronese. Please do not publish or copy my material without my consent.