Saturday, January 28, 2012

Fatal Attractiveness

Ashton Kutcher, sixteen years younger than his ex-wife Demi Moore, is grieving the end of his marriage by partying in Brazil with a bevy of young, beautiful models. In the meantime Demi struggles to heal and move on. This week she was hospitalized for a reaction to some drugs she took at a party she hosted at her home and is now headed to rehab for “exhaustion.” It is also rumored she is suffering from an eating disorder, possibly anorexia. She remarked in an interview with Harper’s Bizarre, "I would say what scares me is that I'm going to ultimately find out at the end of my life that I'm really not lovable, that I'm not worthy of being loved. That there's something fundamentally wrong with me.”
At forty-nine Demi is five years younger than I am. I remember how beautiful I always thought she was and still is, but even beautiful women are plagued by vulnerability and insecurity. Society has us brainwashed, and men, too, to believe a woman is less than if her physical attributes don’t match a certain standard or when those attributes begin to change and fade with age. No matter how rationally and intellectually I view this issue, my emotions rule, and I find myself wondering if age will render me unlovable.
What can we learn from other cultures? That age brings the beauty of wisdom and the character of a life well lived.
(Excerpt from essay Staying on It: Beauty and Aging)
Norma, you're a woman of 50, now grow up. There's nothing tragic about being 50, not unless you try to be 25.
~ Joe Gillis played by William Holden
Sunset Boulevard (1950)                                               
Just a few months shy of nineteen, I held Ronald’s hand as we strolled across the quad at Syracuse University in the early spring of 1976. The day was unseasonably warm, and the sun turned my brunette hair a golden red. 
“Yo, Ronnie,” a light-skinned black man, whom I would discover was Ronald’s childhood friend, called out from across the quad.
“Yo, Bill,” Ronald shouted back, his voice giddy. “This is Dianne.” He held my hand up and twirled me around so his friend could see his girl.
Ronald made me feel beautiful that day and he still does when he pulls me close to him and says, “You look very Dianne today” or when he talks about my eyes and laments how they bedazzled him.
Ma didn’t make me feel beautiful. She made me feel ugly from the inside out. She called me Witch Hazel, banshee and a hateful child. I thought that meant I was so filled with hate no one could ever love me. I imagined the hate seeped out of my soul through my skin and hair, making dirt cling to me and my hair twist and knot.
Ma’s German-born friend, a member of the Overseas Wives Club, looked at me one day when she was visiting us and shook her head. “She’s pallid. She looks sickly,” she said, as if I weren’t sitting right in front of her.
I can only remember two times when Dad said something about the way I looked. The first was when I was seventeen, and I cut my waist-length hair. He drove me to the beauty salon, the first time I had ever been to one and the first time someone who wasn’t Ma or a neighbor cut my hair. Dad sat out in the car and waited. I watched in the mirror as the hairdresser, a small, olive-skinned, deaf man, sheared off my long locks. I had asked him to save my hair, but he had misunderstood or forgotten, and piles of hair lay on the floor around the chair. Then he curled and sprayed, and I didn’t recognize myself. I thought maybe it was because he was deaf, and he hadn’t understood the style I wanted. As I approached the car, I saw Dad with his arm resting atop the open window, staring straight ahead. When he heard me, he turned, looked me up and down and said, “I don’t like it.”
I cried on the way home, and Ma led me into the bathroom and wet down the curls so they looked more natural.
By my eighteenth birthday, I had let my hair grow to my shoulders and had learned how to style it using a newly marketed handheld blow dryer and a round brush. That evening, dressed to go out with friends, I posed for pictures. In one of them I sit on the arm of the dark green sofa, leaning back seductively, my left hand on my hip, my chin up, and my legs crossed. My hair is feathered a la Farrah Fawcett. I wear aviator glasses, a fitted red T-shirt tucked into a denim miniskirt, and four-inch cork-heeled wedges.
When I came out of my bedroom, Dad whistled.
“Wow!” he exclaimed and my Uncle Rocco, who had stopped over for coffee, nodded approvingly. That was the first time I felt beautiful.
As I matured, Ma pointed out my flaws. “If I had a nickel, I’d stick it in the slot and get on the bus,” she mused while looking at my backside one day.
I don’t think Ma really saw me as ugly; she was bemoaning her own loss of youth and looks and taking it out on the person who most reminded her that they were fading. As a young woman during World War II, she had captured the attention of the soldiers stationed in her hometown of Ryde, Australia, including Dad, with her buxom figure, long legs, and her bawdy sense of humor.
She fretted as I matured, and maybe hoped if I remained a child, she might stop aging. I fought in vain with her to buy me a training bra when I turned twelve. It was embarrassing to be one of the few girls still wearing undershirts. I was so thrilled when I finally got one that I lifted my shirt up to show Dad.
Ma wouldn’t teach me how to pluck my brows or shave my legs, despite the teasing I got in middle school from the boys.  She worried I was too young to handle tweezers and a razor, but I solved my brow problem.  I squeezed two quarters together and yanked, over and over, until I had made my unibrow into two smooth brows that framed my large eyes. My soon-to-be sister-in-law taught me how to use Nair on my legs one day during one of Ma’s many hospital stays. Forty-two years later, I pluck my brows daily and call Sundays my hair removal day: top lip, under arms, legs and pubic area.
Now I see my own loss of youth and beauty. In seven years I’ll be the same age Ma was when she had a heart attack and died at sixty-one years old.

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