In Defense of Vanity

The other day, on my usual never-ending, dangerous cycle of watching YouTube videos, I stumbled upon this lady. I clicked the link because I assumed it was a defence on fashion and our right to defend fashion. I was feeling vindictive after having a conversation regarding fashion and vanity, and I simply wanted to have a more interesting input about the topic. I clicked on that video out of a need to hear somebody voicing positive things about fashion. The young woman on the video goes on to explain how for almost nine years she had denied herself something she really liked because she was leaving it for special occasions, and I suddenly realised I did that as well.

Now, if you have ever read my Lipstick and Self-Esteem article you might be familiar with the idea that I am really enamoured with lipstick and the power it can have on you. But as I mentioned back then, and as I will repeat now, to me, lipstick is simply a symbol. So for the rest of this post, when I’m mentioning beauty and fashion I urge you to see beyond the mere words, and understand what they might represent for the self.

My all time favourite lipstick is Russian Red by MAC, it’s the second lipstick I ever bought, and it’s my favourite because it’s the perfect colour, and because it’s the perfect formula. It’s my favourite because when I put it on, I look at myself in the mirror and I think “yes”, it makes me feel beautiful, it makes me feel classy as fuck, it makes me feel I can do things with my life. It is, of course, an illusion, I can get through life without lipstick just fine, but it is nice to have a sudden and ephemeral moment of empowerment every now and then. Now, as much as that lipstick is incredibly powerful to me, it is also outrageously expensive. And so I started to develop the idea that, because I love it so much, I didn’t want it to end. I didn’t want it to end because ending it meant repurchasing it, and I somehow refused to spend that much money on lipstick, no matter how dear it is to me. And so I developed this rule: I would only wear it for special occasions. But at the same time, after a while, I refused to deny myself the pleasure of wearing red lipstick – I’d only deny myself the pleasure of wearing my favourite things! (I am not that crazy!) Sadly that meant I had to buy other, different red lipsticks to wear on a daily basis. And so I find myself wearing red lipstick regularly, but 90% of the time, the red lipstick I’m wearing is not my favourite one. An absolute contradiction – I have definitely spent more money buying the five different shades of red I have than I would have spent repurchasing Russian Red a year later.

To me, only wearing it on special occasions wasn’t exactly a restriction – it was a way of making it special. At least that’s what I told myself for three years. The truth is that I didn’t want to be the kind of person that would spend 20€ on lipstick, even if I used that lipstick, even if I loved using that lipstick. I didn’t want to be the kind of person that spent money on make up because I didn’t want to be the kind of person that enjoyed make up.

I am going to get even more personal and share on a little secret: if you enter my bathroom, you will not be able to immediately spot any of my makeup. You will spot my skin care, but to be honest that’s just because my bathroom is small and I have nowhere else to put it. It’s not that I hide my makeup, but I don’t like to showcase it around, even if I am the only person that uses my bathroom on a daily basis, and even though I can’t even remember the last time I had friends over. I know why this is, it’s not like I believe people isn’t aware of my wearing makeup (I mentioned just a few seconds ago how I love wearing red lipstick: there isn’t anything more obvious in make up than red lipstick), but I had always felt guilty about my “vanity”. Perhaps this is a childhood or teenage trauma of sorts, perhaps (and probably) this idea stems from a comment I heard regarding me or someone else when I was younger. But the truth is that I do feel guilty about my vanity, I do feel guilty about having grown to wear makeup, or about being overdressed most of the time.

Now, because red lipstick is something so very obvious on somebody’s face, during the years, I have had my share of conversations about the reasons why I wear it (most of which are always about how people think my wearing lipstick is only so that others will like me, to which I tend to respond by jumping on tables and declaring I only wear make up for myself). These conversations always make me fleetingly wonder what people think about me and my makeup. What does my make up say about me? Does it make me any less interesting? Any less intelligent? Any less witty or funny? Any less thrilling?

The funny part about all of this is that I actually barely wear any make up that isn’t lipstick. I tried doing the eyeliner for a while because I fancied myself Alexa Chung, but the truth is that 1)I was terrible at it and 2)I didn’t really like it. Anyway, my point is that my outrageous lipstick collection of twelve was enough to make me feel I am doing a disservice to my intellect. And to be honest, I am at war. Because I am fully aware that my love for lipstick has no interference whatsoever on my brain activity, I am fully aware that the ten minutes a day I dedicate to my face have no effect whatsoever on the rest of my day (other than affecting how pleased or confident I might feel) but during those ten minutes I am still at war.

My question here is: Is this guilt created by the image I have of intellectual women I’ve admired over the years? Is this guilt created by the image I have of women in my life who I admire? Is this guilt created by a society that associates vanity with inferiority? Am I really less of an interesting human being if I have researched which lipstick will last longer on my lips in order to make an educated purchase? Will the words I produce be any less relevant if while I am saying them I am wearing a fancy dress instead of jeans?

I feel I have neglected my femininity for so many years that I will never be completely reconciled with it. And now that I’m almost thirty I realise that this neglect and this rejection have always been associated with a fear of not being taken seriously as a human being. When I was younger, I used to dress like a boy. During my high school years I bought clothes at the male section – I told myself (and everybody) that it was because society did not make clothes that would fit a “fat teenager” (which had a hint of truth), but it was all a carefully planned rejection and rebellion towards society. I almost feel bad admitting to this, because it means admitting I have always been a cliché: I was deliberately attempting to defy the gender norms, make no mistake, but my refusal towards femininity became internalised to the point that it isn’t until these days that I can fully accept I have grown to love dresses and shiny things that make me feel fancy and sophisticated.

Why must women feel guilt about their wish to feel okay with themselves (whatever that might entail), when it is society which has always imposed that need? Why are women expected to look fresh, clean, natural, and generally “well” put together and then they are blamed and put down when they spend any time or interest attempting to look like so? Why is makeup and fashion considered to be a completely empty and vapid industry, but yet every single woman is expected to get out of bed looking like a supermodel? Why is a woman wearing concealer any less “natural” than a woman not wearing any? Does the concealer in the first woman’s face affect her behaviour? Are the words or the ideas of a woman wearing a shiny dress disingenuous if compared to those of a woman wearing sweatpants?

I feel there are many articles out there that discuss female representation in magazines and popular media, I feel that anything I say about the topic of representation would turn out to be, ironically, very vapid and empty. But I do want to stress on the need to question the reasons behind our treatment of the ‘beauty’ industry, and I do want to attempt to bring this problem to the surface.

I am fully aware this is not everybody’s case. I am fully aware not everybody is consumed by this internal war of sorts. Today, after watching a conversation between Zadie Smith and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, I also read Adichie’s article on style, and while Adichie and I are completely different women with completely different lives, histories and contexts, her words rang incredibly close to home. She wrote:

“I had learned a lesson about Western culture: Women who wanted to be taken seriously were supposed to substantiate their seriousness with a studied indifference to appearance. For serious women writers in particular, it was better not to dress well at all, and if you did, then it was best to pretend that you had not put much thought into it. If you spoke of fashion, it had to be either with apology or with the slightest of sneers. The further your choices were from the mainstream, the better. The only circumstance under which caring about clothes was acceptable was when making a statement, creating an image of some sort to be edgy, eclectic, counterculture. It could not merely be about taking pleasure in clothes.”

And not only that, one of the questions posed on the conversation with Smith and Adichie reflected on the way both were dressed, and on the fact that both were wearing lipstick, which, according to the spectator was in itself an act of subversion to older generations of black or mix-raced female writers. And that’s when I realised I had spent the entire interview in a strangely proud state because these were intelligent, interesting women, discussing identity, nationality, race and beauty all at the same time. They discussed their lipstick and they looked incredibly powerful doing it, but most importantly they were being applauded, cheered. They are award holders, bestselling authors, respected writers and women, and they are not criticised by the way they decide to look.

I am not entirely sure where I am going with this. I suppose my main point is that the beauty industry has been attached to these adjectives for a reason. That these ideas we have formed, no wonder imposed by societal norms, about the way one should dress or shouldn’t dress, aren’t really beneficial to anybody at all. Another interesting read is Celia Edell’s article on Artistic Vanity: her association between beauty and art I believe is really interesting, especially when related to our social history and the topic at hand:

“Primarily associated with and commercially directed toward women, fashion and makeup artistry are of very few mediums in which women are granted more freedom than men. So it is not surprising that fashion and makeup are also treated as culturally unimportant or shallow. Society has coded these types of expression as distinct from other art; calling us cultured if we attend art galleries and shallow if we read a fashion magazine. This hardly seems coincidental; dismissing fashion as vain prevents it from ever gaining the same cultural respect as other expressive outlets. But the way my body is cloaked and my face is painted is art. Art is creative, it is political, and its influence is far-reaching and long-lasting. In order to make sense of the world around us, humans created language. We assigned meaning to arbitrary sounds, symbols and behavior. And, just as we’ve assigned a specific meaning to the word “suit,” that of garments of the same cloth meant to be worn together, the clothing itself has taken on another meaning, that of power, influence and masculinity. There is nothing inherently powerful or masculine to a 3-piece suit, though. It has simply had that meaning assigned to it.”

I am not trying to defend the beauty industry. We all know how problematic it can be, and I have no wish to pretend that it isn’t. I am not trying to validate what one should wear or what one shouldn’t either. I certainly do not think the traditionally established ideals of femininity are the ones that should be followed by every woman out there, and I do not think all “intellectual women” have a hidden struggle regarding their femininity. I honestly don’t think one should have to divide between women who read and woman who don’t… based on the way they are dressed (if at all!). That’s what I am attempting to say, I suppose. My point, once more, is a claim for us to be able to wear whatever we want and do it however we want to, and to not feel guilt or remorse about who we are and what makes us happy.

 

Other reads that I find to be relevant to the issue at hand:
On being both informed and fashionable.
On accepting we didn’t “wake up like this”.

 

 

Check out Cristina’s latest articles here.

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Romanticising Passion

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Fiction is a breathing, unpredictable creature. It is created by one human being (or several) and consumed by many others (or just a few) but it certainly is something that cannot be controlled. Once it has left its nest and seen the light of day, it will take whatever shape and form it takes, and there is nothing that can predict what that will be. There are so many elements at stake (from media, to society, to historical context, to audience) that will influence it, and it is truly difficult to determine what path each creature will take. Because of the status of fiction, there are stories that become extremely popular (for whatever reason) and that begin to take a form (or, say, a reputation) that creates and feeds a different idea and that result in a different product of what it was originally planned.

         It is safe to say by now that we live in an age where fandoms heavily influence and determine the path of fiction. Fandom is a blanket term I will use to describe “readership” or “viewership”, et cetera. Television shows are not only influenced by ratings (more so than by criticism and awards), they are now sometimes even funded by their targeted audience as well. The way fans respond to particular storylines will determine the direction of those (something I personally find terrifying and that I wish would stop: let’s stop killing these authors), and with that, the readings that the spectators choose to give each specific fiction product, will take a form of its own, one that will be very difficult to shake off. Not to mention the fact that the way these fictional products are created has changed as well, fanfiction is now being acquired by big publishing companies, the concept of self-publication does not sound so crazy anymore, and television shows are not only being funded by spectators but are also being distributed by a wide number of platforms (from paid services such as Netflix, to more public platforms such as Youtube).

             What am I trying to get at? Think about Romeo and Juliet. What do you think about when you think about Shakespeare’s famous play? Do you think about romance or do you think about the demise of two families? Do you think performed theatre? Written text? Film? I mean, Romeo and Juliet were two twelve year olds that met at a party, fell madly in lust, married the following day and died the next. That’s the extent of the story. You can perceive its theme as one thing or the other, but when you look at the facts, you have to wonder what happened for society to take a product about adolescent infatuation and death and turn it into a tale of star crossed lovers. I have obviously heavily reduced the true themes explored in the play, but I am trying to get a point across: Romeo and Juliet is a popularly known product, and most of the time it is inaccurately perceived.

Image4There are a few specific cases which have always struck me particularly, because they seem to have taken a form that detours so greatly from what it is that it continues to shock me that they can be interpreted so differently. For instance, Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina* is a very long and rather in depth analysis of the different forms of relationships held within Russian society. It clearly establishes the line between three different marriages (Oblonsky & Dolly, Levin & Kitty, Karenin & Anna) at the same time that it deals with how these marriages deal with extra-marital relationships (Oblonsky and his many lovers, Levin and Levin (sic) and Anna and Vronsky). Each relationship is different, it deals with social disaster and defiance differently, and each example is a further proof of the difference and the uniqueness found in the human being. The novel focuses on all of these relationships and how they both intertwine and affect each other, and it does it almost in equal parts. Vronsky and Anna’s relationship is at the center of the novel and it is clearly a contrast to the rest of the relationships in the way that it deals with something perhaps different to love. It is a tale of obsession – an unhealthy and maddening obsession. An obsession that drives both parties mad, that from the very first moment, starts to deteriorate, destroying more than it can actually take. Whether if these characters willingly and consciously defy society, and how that is explored in the novel, is another story, for another day. What is clear is that Tolstoy clearly deconstructed these relationships to attempt to understand and contrast the nature of love and infatuation, as well as the nature of compromise and commitment. However, one can’t help but thinking about how differently this story seems to be perceived by the popular masses, and one can’t help but wonder if it is all a matter of advertisement or a matter of perception. When did Vronsky and Anna’s story become a tale of cross-star lovers? When was a 900 page long novel about Russian society reduced to the passion between two of its characters? Was it the way it was advertised and sold to modern audiences? Was it the reading it obtained from certain readers, or the reading it failed to obtain from other reading circles? What makes a tale of an emotionally destructive relationship turn into a love story?

                  Image3Another of the most misinterpreted stories of all time, in my most humble opinion, is Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. It is the story about a broken home with very broken characters that experience all kinds of abuse and despair, where its main characters share one of the most terrifying emotionally destructive relationships ever written, and yet it continues to be perceived, by modern and older readers alike, as one of the most beautiful love stories of all time. As a young and very impressionable literature student, I was horrified when we read the novel for class and I got to know these characters – mainly Heathcliff. I had always perceived him (by what  I had heard other teachers say or what I had gathered from popular culture) as the epitome of the romantic hero, the epitome of the tortured lover… when in reality Heatcliff was the clear definition of an abuser (an abused abuser, no doubt, because Brontë’s work is complex, I am not attempting to deny that) who kept destroying everyone around him, not only those who had not treated him rightly in the past, but especially those who attempted to love or help him in any way.  After reading a lot of critical work on Wuthering Heights, I feel strangely weird writing such a short paragraph and such finalising sentences on one of the most complex characters (in one of the most complex works) of literature, but I believe it is necessary to acknowledge Heathcliff and Cathy’s relationship for what it was: a physically and emotionally abusive relationship, which was self-destructive, composed of two characters so self-absorbed in their own obsession for the other, that they failed to see the reality of their context. Still today Heathcliff and Cathy’s relationship continues to be sold as the story of a passionate love affair, and I find it sickening and worrying that we continue to believe in the idea of love as a painful act. What Heathcliff and Cathy felt for each other was not love, it was an unhealthy need for the other, an unhealthy need of possession. Love is about equality and respect and possession should never be a part of such equation.

                 I believe our society has made a special effort in glorifying the pain in love to the point that the lines between love and abuse have started to get blurred. As a society we have a duty to learn to discern between extreme emotion and obsession. It seems to be a very small barrier, but we have to be able to realise what composes each. Anna Karenina and Wuthering Heights are not studies on love, but studies on how destructive an obsessive emotion – which might have stemmed from love – can turn out to be.  It is true that art is what we make of it, and we might read whatever we want to read in both these pieces of literature, but I always found it particularly harming that two stories that clearly attempt to point out problematic relationships, have ended up being icons for that which they attempted to denounce.

* I would like to point out Joe Wright’s 2012 film adaptation of the novel, which was an incredible effort and which has been, I’m very sad to say, strangely overlooked by critics and viewers alike. It is an astounding deconstruction of the novel, done in a refreshingly metaphoric way, and I cannot recommend it enough. This adaptation is very objective in its portrayal of these relationships and it does not glorify the love affairs or the tragedies of its characters.

You can read Cristina’s latest article here.

Girls

girls-8

Girls first caught my attention with its trailer for the first season. I remember watching it and duly noting I would watch the pilot, and give the show a chance. It was mainly because it was a cast full of fresh faces. I had never seen or heard of these actors before and, given the state of television nowadays – where every single new show seems to be attached to a famous face – I really like the feeling and the mood these shows give me. I like unknown faces, it makes the show more special and somewhat more easy to relate to. The other reason for my interest was Lena Dunham. Back then I had no idea she was also the creator and the writer, so to me she was only the “unconventional leading lady” (that’s another thing: I will watch every new show with an unconventional leading lady, I’m all for unconventional, it is very easy to seduce me into watching television just like that).

         It took me a while to get into the show because this is not an ordinary show. In fact, I remember my first reactions to it, and I don’t think I felt entirely okay with it until the last episode of the first season. I was annoyed because I had read a few articles on it, and it was a show described for people of my generation, it was meant to be a show that touched base with me, but I felt like an alien next to these women. This show was sold on the premise that it was like Sex on the City without the glamour and the slight surrealism of a world most women my age had never known. I guess I was disappointed because, while surely Girls has no glamour, it was not my reality either. It bothered me it was called Girls. It bothered me that I had been put into the same circle as these girls, because I felt it gave nothing to me and it told nothing about my experience as a woman (or rather, as a post-graduate girl that was meant to go into the world and “become a woman”).girls-21

         As I said, the end of the first season felt rather different. I have no idea if it was the narrative direction of the show, or if it was me finally seeing beyond my disappointment and my uncalled-for expectations. The fact is that I started seeing the show in a different light, and with the beginning of the second season, I started to realise just how important it was. I felt every new episode dared to go even further into places not many shows dare to go these days. We live in an age where our television is populated by medical and cop dramas, where violence and death are glorified, where you navigate between cheap entertainment and laugh tracks or products that seem to be handcrafted for the intellectual snobs of our time. Girls, in the midst of this panorama, feels like an unexpected and a perhaps unwelcomed breath of fresh air.

          There are many articles out there that will debate the show’s alleged racism, the fact that Lena Dunham is “constantly naked” or the fact that with each new episode, a new taboo subject is uncovered. As there are many of those already, I will skip all of that and jump to what I admire the most from the show, which is not its ability to strike controversy, not the acting that is contained within it, not even its ability (or perhaps its inability) to feel realistic. What I admire is the writing: not because I think it’s incredibly fascinating, or because I think the show is specially well constructed or because its characters are particularly very well drafted. I admire it because, in my opinion, what Girls does is create a grey area of discomfort.Girls-Season-2-Promotional-Images-girls-hbo-33209283-1200-800

            Girls is aware that the world is not a black and white scene, that human ethics are dubious, that there is no such thing as right or wrong. It is aware that we live in a day and age where it is difficult for human beings to establish what ethics to adhere to, that the human race is chaotic and neurotic, self-centered and selfish. It is also aware that things can change. That people change constantly, not necessarily always towards a good place. Girls dares to make the spectator uncomfortable, it dares to write about things no other show has dared to write, and it does not need to use blood, death and destruction to shake its audience up. Girls dares to have a character such as Adam, really, and I believe that should be enough. Adam has been developed as a weird and occasionally scary character. At some points you feel you finally understand him, at other points you want to scream in exasperation. What is interesting is that Adam is not black or white, the fact is, that no character in this show is one or the other, in fact, they are all grey.

            These characters, as all human beings, will screw it up one day, and the following they might make a better choice. They will not always apologise for their actions, even if they become aware of how wrong those were. Despite the show being  a drama (I refuse to call it a comedy, I just refuse) it does not stand within the narrative lines established by televised dramas. Not everything is dark, and neither is it very light. Girls doesn’t want you to root for Adam, and it doesn’t want you to understand him. Because we don’t understand everybody around us either. Sometimes, the choices we make make us uncomfortable as well. And that’s why episode nine in its second season (painfully titled “On all fours”) was my favourite. It was one of the most uncomfortable hours of television I have ever sat through, and I thoroughly enjoyed going on that ride, where I was being shown how these characters kept on making wrong decisions, and they were not excused by it, because in real life you do not always get immediate redemption for your mistakes… in real life, you are actually rather lucky if you get such redemption.a_4x-horizontal

                “On All Fours” had us witness how all of these characters not only screwed it all up but they also made fools of themselves at the same time. It had us cringe with rather domestic and ordinary actions. It had Hannah and her q-tip, it had Shoshanna and her unexpected doubt, it had Marnie making a fool of herself because she’s unable to find out what she truly wants. It, then, yes, had Adam finally having a relatively healthy relationship, but then it had him destroy it, unaware that what needs changing is not the person he is with, but himself. “On All Fours” had one of the most beautifully heartbreaking scenes I have ever seen (dancing to Fiona Apple in that club – yes, that might be a biased statement sponsored by my undying, everlasting love for Fiona Apple) as well as one of the most uncomfortable scenes I have ever sat through (Adam, Natalia and the… ”sex”).  I think that scene was a very important moment for Girls and for televised fiction in general. I believe it put forward how grey that area truly is. How grey it is for society to be able to identify what constitutes consensual sex and what doesn’t, how difficult it is to portray rape on television without glorifying the act, or without making it completely irrelevant. Girls dared to go where hardly any other television show has dared to go, and I really admire it for that.

          The second season finished last March, and this article is only seeing the light today. That is because, while I started writing this article right after “On All Fours” aired, I stopped writing it a week later, after seeing the last episode of the season. I decided to let it rest, and let time decide if (and how) I should continue writing it. The season finale was contradictory to me, because it was one of the most alienating episodes the show has had – precisely because it was incredibly complacent and because it made a big effort to be definitely comfortable. It made me question if what I had been experiencing with the show up until that moment had simply been an illusion. But the truth is, I have been thinking about this article for weeks,  and I have been discussing the show with new people as well, and every time I have revisited the show, one way or another, I have realised I was not able to let go of my need to write about it. I guess that, for all the damage that season finale could have done, the show has still managed to do something different in fiction in a very short period of time, and that is truly commendable.

The Manic Pixie Dream Girl Trope: The Case of Ruby Sparks

ImageThe term “manic pixie dream girl” is not a new one. Critic Nathan Rabin coined it in his review of the movie Elizabethtown back in 2007 where he explains that a “manic pixie dream girl exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.”

You know the MPDG, you have encountered her many times in movies. From Kirsten Dunst’s Claire in “Elizabethtown” to Natalie Portman’s Sam in “Garden State and to a more recent Sam, Emma Watson’s character in “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”*. You will recognize her easily. She is free-spirited, quirky, mysterious, likes indie music and her sole purpose in these movies is to make the male protagonist’s life less monotonous and sad so they can figure themselves out. They are female-shaped epiphanies if you will. They are usually created with the idea of making the male protagonist rethink his life choices, this MPDG will teach our hero how to be more easy-going, how to enjoy the little things in life and take himself less seriously so at the end of the movie he will have become the MAN he was supposed to be.  Basically the MPDG is the woman as an idea.

ImageNow, the case I want to discuss today is something different. I watched Ruby Sparks some months ago and I haven’t been quite able to keep it out of my mind. Although I feel (and this is my opinion) that the movie ultimately fails at going all the way through with its message, I think it’s an important movie with a great idea at its core. Paul Dano plays Calvin Weir-Fields, a “one hit wonder” writer who wrote a great book at a very young age and has been trying to write another one and live to everyone’s expectations (and his own) ever since. While trying to come up with this book he starts dreaming about a girl- beautiful, quirky, free spirited…well, you get the gist, right? Calvin thus proceeds to write about her and make her the heroine of his new book. In the process he becomes so enamored of this dream girl that he believes he is falling in love with her. Until one morning he wakes up and his creation, Ruby Sparks (played by Zoe Kazan, who also wrote the movie) herself, is there on the flesh, living and breathing in his living room.

At the beginning everything is perfect. Ruby is everything Calvin dreamt of (because he actually wrote her that way). But little by little Ruby starts to want more. She wants to get a job, she wants her own friends, she wants to test herself…in sum she wants to live her life the way she pleases. But what she doesn’t realize is that she is trapped by Calvin’s idealized version of her so she cannot move forward. She cannot escape it and when she tries to do so things get really messy.

ImageSomewhere in the movie Calvin says about Ruby: “She is complicated. That’s what I like best about her.” He likes her being complicated as long as it’s the cute kind of complicated, you know? He likes the kind of messy that is endearing. Not the real fucked up one which all real people experience. He likes her being complicated so long as it doesn’t actually interfere with his perfect idea of her. She can build play forts, act child-like and jump into beautifully lighted swimming pools at night but she cannot be assertive and make decisions for herself that he does not agree with.

That’s Ruby Spark’s message, I think. Ruby, like everyone who begins a new relationship, starts off as an idea but little by little she becomes real. The first stage of a relationship is obviously going to be great but the natural progression of things dictates that little by little you will get to really know the person you are with. The greatest case against the MPDG is that they don’t grow, change or evolve. They are just a catalyst or a male fantasy in which the woman is forever stuck in that honey-moon phase of the relationship.

ImageNow, while I was halfway through writing this piece I stumbled upon an interview of Zoe Kazan in which when asked about the MPDG trope she said this; “That term is a term that was invented by a blogger, and I think it’s more of a term that applies in critical use than it does in creative use. It’s a way of describing female characters that’s reductive and diminutive, and I think basically misogynist. […] I think that to lump together all individual, original quirky women under that rubric is to erase all difference. Like, I’ve read pieces that describe Annie Hall as a manic pixie dream girl. Katharine Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby. To me, those are fully fledged characters that are being played by really smart actresses. I just think it’s misogynist. I don’t want that term to survive. I want it to die.”

While I do understand what she is saying and where she is coming from I don’t fully support it. I agree 100% on the fact that not all original and quirky women found in movies are MPDG and we should not try to group them all together. The cases she mentions (and the ones I have previously discussed) have been labelled so without really considering the many complexities of said women. You can be quirky, endearing and original AND be a complex and real woman. One does not exclude the other. But I also think that the trope exists because we’ve seen it in too many movies. It’s problematic and thus it should not be ignored. The problem doesn’t lie with the term, the term in not misogynistic.  What is misogynistic is that female characters are so predominantly featured as nothing else than plot devices.

SprklsAt one point in Ruby Sparks Calvin, struggling with his success as an author and the idea the public has of him, says, “Women aren’t interested in me, they’re interested in some idea of me.” Well that’s really what it’s all about for the MPDG.

Now, while I think that Ruby Sparks creates a great case against the Manic Pixie Dream girl trope, I don’t think it was written with that idea in mind (and the words of Zoe Kazan are a testament to that) and thus that’s why I think it ultimately fails at it. I don’t want to spoil the ending for anyone but for me, it kind of invalidated the whole premise of the movie and the message that it had so strongly made a case of. At the end the movie ends up being a tad too forgiving of its male protagonist and the viewer is supposed to just forget how poorly Calvin treated Ruby. This is Hollywood after all and romantic comedies do get their happy endings.

*I want to analyze the cases of Summer in “500 Days of Summer” and Clementine in “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” in a more in-depth article further down the road. While I agree that they would fit into MPDG trope at first glance but I think they are set up to subvert it somehow because we are not meant to fully trust the views of the male protagonists of said movies. After all, the first thing Clementine tells Joel in Eternal Sunshine is “I’m not a concept. Too many guys think I’m a concept or I complete them or I’m going to make them alive, but I’m just a fucked up girl who is looking for my own peace of mind. Don’t assign me yours.”

 

You can read María’s latest article here.

Jane Austen and The Lizzie Bennet Diaries

This year marks the 200 anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice. Because of that, I come with a confession.  This might be social suicide, but I will risk it:  I think Jane Austen is terribly underrated. I truly do. I think that even Jaenites underrate Jane Austen. This isn’t a typo.

             What’s my deal? Do I live in a cave? Am I unresponsive to the events taking place in my surroundings? Look, no. I’m aware Jane Austen is probably the most talked about female classic author. There are so many adaptations of all of her novels that sometimes you wonder if they’re truly necessary (and the answer is YES, by the way: every adaptation is necessary, every reread is necessary, do not ever let the world tell you otherwise). I was about to affirm that Jane Austen is the most adapted author of all time, but a quick Google search told me it was Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Still, I think that had I told you Jane Austen was, you would have believed me, because it simply makes sense. It simply feels right.

              So why on earth would I say Austen is underrated? Well, nine times out of ten, I will get strange glares whenever I proclaim to the world I LUV JANE AUSTEN. Nine times out of ten, people will believe Jane Austen wrote “those romance novels” and will go away thinking their snarky remarks are… acceptable. Nine times out of ten, a news article or whatever we call it these days will describe Jane Austen as the writer that “knew all about romance, despite being a maiden herself!”

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And that is why it is with great sadness that I said goodbye to The Lizzie Bennet Diaries last week. Because The Lizzie Bennet Diaries is not merely an adaptation of Austen’s work, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries takes Austen’s work a step forward and that is, in my humble opinion, what adaptations should be all about. The Lizzie Bennet Diaries has not only adapted Pride and Prejudice to a modern setting successfully, creating a narrative that is both fluid, relevant and realistic, but it also has incorporated the 2.0 era into it, retro alimenting itself, in a very post-modern way (the show exists thanks to the wonderful mediatic world of Youtube, so the show is a big and long love letter to Youtube as a platform as well). It has also managed to adapt the novel culturally and socially into this day and age, and what is more, it has done it right.

pfi_b6ae6a73079d65ff9c582f4f582ea3e9               Pride and Prejudice is a protofeminist novel (protofeminist being understood as a text that contains feminist elements, literary wise, but that was produced in an age when feminism still had no name as such, and had no movement attached to it). As such, the revolutionary tones of Elizabeth as a protofeminist heroine have been translated into today’s settings in Lizzie as well. Elizabeth is a very revolutionary character for the times, this might come out as a shock but there are a few of her qualities as a character that make her so: consider the fact that she rejects Mr. Collins because she dislikes him, when Mr. Collins is actually the only way out of the incredibly poor economic situation of the Bennets. By marrying Mr. Collins, all of her sisters, as well as her mother, would not have had to worry about their future upon their father’s death. By rejecting him, she is refusing to sacrifice her future happiness for her family, as well as refusing to accept to play by society’s rules (those that denied women a right to inheritance, thus forcing them to attach themselves to a man as a piece of property). But that’s not the only thing making Elizabeth a revolutionary character: she is outspoken, critical and opinionated. The Lizzie Bennet’s Diaries’s Lizzie refuses a very juicy job offer from Ricky Collins in a time and age when not only her family but also herself need economic income desperately. But she does not want to “sell herself” to a kind of field she does not like, she prefers to stay true to herself and find her own way, rather than following her family’s wishes. She is also opinionated and outspoken, of course, and refuses to follow society’s rules (which is not seen as clearly as with novel-Lizzy, but can be found in the little details: she refuses to sell herself to a job, she refuses to maintain relationships, as well as forming acquaintances with people she dislikes, et cetera).

The show takes special care for making all of these characters, not just Lizzie, three
dimensional. Each character has their special purpose and even their personal subplots (as can be seen through the creation of additional secondary Youtube channels for certain characters that had a ‘back story’ in the novel but that could not be easily explored in the series). All of these characters have dreams and hopes, they have good qualities as well as flaws.

                   Lizzie wants a future, she wants a career. She moves for her family and friends but she’s thirsty (albeit slightly terrified) for change. She’s professionally driven, and extremely loyal. She’s valuable to herself and wishes to be independent, and she wishes to achieve such independence by herself. But she’s not the only character like that, this adaptation takes special care to make all characters refreshingly modern. Jane herself, who in the novel was described as a lovely creature but that was mostly exploited in regards of her love story with Bingley, is here given a very interesting career, one with which she fights for and one she puts before her love life on a number of occasions. She refuses to put up with the behaviour of those around her (as novel-Jane didn’t, in a way) and puts her own rules when it comes to forgiving and rekindling her relationship with Bing Lee. Lydia, somewhat underexplored and dismissed in the novel, considered the mindless, accelerated and promiscuous sister, is here given a different turn. The adaptation took special care to construct a back story that dealt with her romance with Wickham, giving it a frightening abusive twist (taking a look at the cheerful, lively Lydia of the first episodes, and the Lydia under Wickham’s influence as well as Lydia post-web-scandal was too heartbreaking).

VJIQw3BMyU             Not only our females have purposes, the way in which Collins, Bingley, Darcy and even Wickham are portrayed is admirable just as well. The most obvious instance is Bingley: Bingley’s proposal to Jane was revolutionary because he was marrying for love, to the woman his family somewhat disapproved of. In a modern setting, dating somebody your family disapproves of would not be enough, so what Bing Lee does it not only come back for Jane, he also refuses to confine himself to the family expectations by quitting his medical career, and decides to do things his own way, at his own pace. Only then, when both Jane and Bing have found themselves individually, then, and only then, do they decide to start something together.

               Still, and getting somewhat personal, I have to say my favourite of all is Charlotte. The way in which the adaptation has incorporated Charlotte into the narrative, allowing her to bloom as a character, creating an incredible bond between her and Lizzie and at the same time not condemning her choices, which so easily contrast with Lizzie’s, making her a very driven, loyal, independent, outspoken, successful, unique  and ultimately powerful woman, is simply brilliant.

          I’m afraid there is no short article that could make any justice to this adaptation, I would gladly write a dissertation on it, and even then I would still feel I am leaving details unexplored. But I tried to pick some representative examples to try and explain why I feel the way that I do. As I mentioned, I am a big Jane Austen fan, and as such I’ve seen many obscure adaptations of her work. But, as such a fan, not all of those have been particularly pleasing. The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, however, has managed to do beautiful things with Austen’s work, and it has made me incredibly proud, week after week, to see that I am not alone in seeing her work as something other than a prolonged exploration of romance. Austen’s work was about women fighting their environment, and Lizzie Bennet is the proof of that.

          If you are so unfortunate as not having been able to follow this wonderful experiment live, you can change that right now by clicking right here, and starting from the very beginning. Be warned, though, it’s 100 episodes, and you will laugh but you will also cry (and squee, probably).

        You might also be interested in taking a look at Hank Green’s video where he explains the way the idea came to him and the reason why he chose Pride and Prejudice to develop as a web series:

The Bechdel Test

The Bechdel Test is a concept that was coined by Alison Bechdel in her comic “Dykes to Watch Out For” in 1985. What the test consists of is of analysing the female presence in a film following three simple steps: First, are there two (named) women in the film? Second, do these two female characters speak to each other? And finally, do they speak about something other than a man?

tumblr_miah09l6nw1qfhzgyo1_500You would think that is an extremely and ridiculously easy thing to accomplish but it is actually not. What I particularly love about the Bechdel Test is that it is a very useful tool to point out the present problem of feminism (and by feminism I mean “equality between men and women”) in nowadays’ society. It is something extremely simple, something that surely happens daily in ‘real-life’ yet something that is difficult to achieve in the so-called representation of society through fiction. Because of the little amount of films being made today (especially in Hollywood) that pass this test, it is impossible to deny that we still live in a society ruled by an industry that continues to tell stories that are told and lived by men.

tumblr_miah09l6nw1qfhzgyo2_500The Bechdel Test, however, is only an anecdote, an easy and fast way to point out a problem. It is true that at the end of the day such a simple test will not be able to deconstruct a film or to decipher what the film truly is about. A film may pass The Bechdel Test and still be incredibly problematic in its portrayal of its female characters, and a film may not pass such a test and still be able to portray a female character in an incredible and necessary way. But it is an interesting concept, because it points at Hollywood filmmakers, and it asks them about the kind of faked reality they are trying to build. It is a reality where women are barely in films as individuals, where there is little depth put into these characters. It is not a problem about the female presence in Hollywood, it is obvious that actresses get work, it is about the kind of characters that are being written, the kind of stories these characters are in.

              What fascinates me the most about The Bechdel Test is that I am a absolutely sure that I have never known a woman that does not pass this test in her real life, on a daily basis. It therefore is not only extremely preoccupying but it seems completely surrealist to me that it seems impossible for the great majority of films produced and released every week, to not even have a scene that contains two women talking to each other for less than two minutes, in the average hour and forty-five minutes of duration of such films.

               The stats at the official Bechdel Test website say that in their database they have 3479 films, out of which 1876 (53.9%) films pass the test completely (that is the three questions/steps). 386 (11.1%) of these films would pass two of the questions of the test, while 852 (24.5%) would pass one of the questions, and 365 (10.5%) films would not even have more than one woman in them. Taking into consideration that during 2012 and only in America 253 films were released, I’d say that doing the math, the problem is still present.

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So, while it may have its faults, I am a great fan of The Bechdel Test, because I firmly believe society can be reformed through fiction, I firmly believe that the first step to reforming society, is reforming such fiction, and if our current fiction cannot even be a representative of our reality, I do not think things are looking particularly well for our future.

If you’re interested in reading more about the Bechdel test, visit the official website, which has a lot of useful information, as well as more statistics. You can also take a look at the video Feminist Frequency did, right here.

Read Cristina’s last article here.

The Cycle of Violence: This is NOT Business

After reading Maria’s piece on Ravenhill, we had a bit of turmoil here at Faceless Ladies. Suddenly, we all realised we had things to say as Maria’s questions started burning in our minds. That’s why we decided to do two additional pieces on the topic, call this a Cycle and turn it into a beautiful experiment. You can find the first reaction here, written by Cristina. And here is Jade’s piece.

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I loved Maria’s piece on Mark Ravenhill’s Shoot/Get Treasure/Repeat. It raised so many questions and thoughts were just popping up in my mind. Before I start my reaction to it, I’ll be honest and say I haven’t read any of Ravenhill’s works – and will proceed to change that as soon as possible – so I’m not going to dissection his beliefs but rather try to find my own answers to Maria’s questions in her essay…and create new ones.

I mentioned this in my first article here on Faceless Ladies but I’ll say it again, I proudly don’t have a TV. As a consequence of this, sometimes I can avoid being exposed to things that would just make me sad and frustrated. And more than anything, I can avoid being exposed to HOW these things are shown or told to me, which is a big part of my unhappiness with modern information. I believe the news in general have become pointlessly violent and really not informative at all. The news have become entertainment…often times untasteful, tacky and absolutely disposable.  After a small piece about Syria and how 100 children died in a raid, let’s talk about the Golden Globes with a big smile. News have become entertainment, and yes, they’ve accustomed us to violence, cynicism, and to being completely insensitive, cold. Blood, boobs, and guns have become all the same thing and  NORMAL. There are no limitations and there seems to be no common sense as to what should be said, how and what should be shown. So the more they talk about a certain thing, the more people think it’s normal, an everyday thing. And the more people will actuaMarito investe la moglie e poi la cosparge di benzina dandole fuoco.lly DO that thing. This obviously applies to abuse on women. The other day on the internet edition of a very popular Italian newspaper, I opened an article about a woman, Giuseppina, who was first run over and then set on fire by her husband in front of people in the street. She died on Valentine’s day. Now, this is not normal. Is this normal? How can it be normal? Why has it become normal enough that we just skip through it? Why have we become so accustomed, and as a consequence, bored by it that we don’t really care anymore?  A few days later, an article was published about Giuseppina’s funeral and how many women there took it as a chance to voice their rage and frustration. That article was never on the front page of the website. Was it not worth it? I’m not sure.

In the past 3 or 4 months, for some strange reason, abuse on women has been ‘trendy’ – for lack of a better word, I apologise. Of course this is a double-ended sword. It certainly sheds some light on the issue in general, which is good. But on the other hand, it makes it disposable and it  may take just a couple of weeks before we’re talking about something else even though the problem is still there. Now, is this sudden ‘trend’ just a coincidence due to the increasing popularity of movements such as One Billion Rising? Or maybe due to the focus on gender equality? Are pDomesticViolenceeople finally realizing how retrograde our society really is? I’m not really sure. And as a consequence of all this exposure, is abuse on women becoming (un)fortunately a literary trend, too? Now, I’m sure Mark Ravenhill feels enraged by it but sometimes I find myself wondering whether everyone writing and filming about it feels the same in an honest way or if they’re just riding the wave.

Finally, I wish I could ask Ravenhill about the fact that “he had written an almost all female play because there comes a time in an actress’s career when no one is offering them interesting roles to play and he thought that was crap.” Alright. So abuse on women in literature and theater is ‘interesting’…but how, in what way? ‘Interesting’ because they have to go through some sort of struggle? Or just ‘interesting’ because it’s a multi faceted issue? And yes, if it is interesting, why does he think that that’s the only thing he can write about so a woman’s role is honored? Is it really possible that abuse is the only interesting thing that can happen in a woman’s life? Does abuse deal with a woman’s struggle to find herself? Again, I’m not sure and I truly hope Ravenhill isn’t being so reductive when referring to a woman’s experience. Let’s look at it this way: when a man needs to find himself, he will do a number of things, for instance he will alienate himself from society and live in the woods (like in Into the Wild) but a woman seems to need some kind of abuse to have the same kind of epiphany.  (I had never thought of struggle as a gender-specific issue…) As a consequence, it also seems that a woman requires a man to find herself. Now I’m really not sure about this either. Actually, I really don’t think so. There are a billion things going on every day in any woman’s life and the majority are very interesting, the majority deal with some sort of struggle, and some sort of path to self-awareness.

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Keira Knightley in CUT, Women’s Aid Campaign

I agree with Cristina’s article in a lot of ways, and I also think violence on stage and on the page can be amazingly helpful to raise questions in the viewer’s and reader’s mind but – as she says so perfectly – “I believe it’s also necessary to differ between a senseless portrayal of violence and a denouncing approach to it, and, at the same time, I am fully aware that the line between both is extremely blurred. I believe using violence on stage, or rather, say, on entertainment in general, is necessary in order to shock the spectator, in order to provoke a reaction.” My problem with this is that we will never really know where the author’s honesty is and as Maria and Cristina pointed out in their wonderful pieces, we’re running around in circles. I’m fine with that, life is an ellipsis of experiences and feelings that repeat themselves but, call me naive, I hope we never lose touch with our inner critic and honesty in place of mere entertainment.

The Cycle of Violence: Can Violence Fight Violence?

After reading Maria’s piece on Ravenhill, we had a bit of turmoil here at Faceless Ladies. Suddenly, we all realised we had things to say as Maria’s questions started burning in our minds. That’s why we decided to do two additional pieces on the topic, call this a Cycle and turn it into a beautiful experiment. Here is Cristina’s piece.

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 Maria and I have been friends for quite a long time now, and as such, we have been theatre (as well as cinema) companions. We have read many books recommended by the other, and we have watched quite a dozen hundred television shows as well. We consume fiction together, and we tend to discuss it at length. The thoughts and ideas she poured into her article are thoughts I have discussed with her on a number of occasions, and something that I always find endearing is that sometimes we take turns: as one talks about her thoughts, and is unable to find the answer, the other nods, knowingly, perhaps muttering several “I knows”. That’s the point, actually: whenever we talk about this topic, we find ourselves unable to find the answers.

Do I think violence is needed to fight violence? No. I am actually an eerie pacifist. However, when it comes to art, I am a true believer of the in-your-face approach. I believe that in order for art to be something more than a “simple” piece of entertainment, that is to say, in order for art to be socially active as well as stirring, it must be direct, raw and most importantly, unforgiving. It must be brutally honest, and truly horrifying.

la-clh1.ca.0f.0903.scarface.0.1-02 (3)In my opinion, that is the only way for art to be completely effective. With such an approach, it will not leave the spectator undisturbed. It will create a need to question, to discuss, to debate… and most importantly, a need to reform. Sarah Kane once said she would “rather risk overdose in the theatre than in life”. That was one of her arguments in her use of violence on stage. She also wrote “I write the truth, and it kills me”. I believe all writers should write the truth, and I believe it should kill them (hopefully, not as literally as it did with her, though).

This belief of mine in the necessity for the horrifying means that I approve of violence on stage. I also approve of violence on the screen and on the page. I believe it’s also necessary to differ between a senseless portrayal of violence and a denouncing approach to it, and, at the same time, I am fully aware that the line between both is extremely blurred. I believe using violence on stage, or rather, say, on entertainment in general, is necessary in order to shock the spectator, in order to provoke a reaction. Without an extreme, unexpected event, the audience can placidly continue with their entertainment without questioning the content they are consuming or the society they are in. The problem, of course, comes with the eternal question: What makes a portrayal of violence denouncing and what makes it senseless? Who is the one to distinguish between both? And most importantly, if we encourage this cycle of violence, can it ever have an end? If the only way to fight violence is with a performance of violence, are we really putting an end to it or are we in fact reinforcing it?

Lisbeth And so this brings me back to Maria’s article. Has our society become so immunised to violence, and specifically violence against women that the portrayal of abuse has in fact become a new kind of entertainment, a new kind of performance? The fact that the portrayal of abuse has increased and has become alarmingly explicit in recent years would perhaps indicate to that. Have creators started to cross the line between entertainment and criticism? Are we, therefore, denouncing and deconstructing the problem at hand or are we in fact reinforcing it? Is the explicit representation of violence truly raising awareness, or is it actually numbing society in the face of such a problem? Are we writing strong women that face their fears and the acts performed against them, or are we writing victims and dramatising their suffering? The fact is that the sides of the matter are not clearly marked, they are in fact composed of very complex elements, and I don’t think there will ever be a clear answer for the questions that I am posing. In my opinion, it is a never ending cycle of violence, one that I am afraid cannot entirely be unraveled. One that seems to have become more complex with time.

In fact, I have the feeling that the use of fiction in order to fight reality is slowly morphing into something else that we cannot yet identify. Martin Crimp put it best in Attemps on her Life:

Seen it- perhaps. But not seen it afresh, not seen it now, not seen it in the context of a post-radical, of a post-human world where the gestures of radicalism take on a new meaning in a society where the radical gesture is simply one more form of entertainment i.e one more product – in this case an artwork – to/be consumed.”

You can read Cristina’s previous article here.

The Cycle of Violence: The Case of Shoot/Get Treasure/Repeat

ImageLet me preface this by saying that I don’t think I’m equipped to properly discuss Mark Ravenhill. And yet, in a way, I want to try. I was introduced to his work some years ago when I had to read Shopping and Fucking for a class I was taking at university. To this day I think I still haven’t properly gotten over it. The experience was hard and distressing. In that class we were expected to read the plays and then take it in turns to re-enact some of its scenes. Shopping and Fucking was not one of the plays I got to act on but I remember the experience of watching some of my classmates do it. We were not professional actors, just a bunch of English Literature students trying to understand a text that was way beyond our scope. You could hardly look for what was going on and I remember feeling a mixture of pity and awe for the students who were “on stage”.

So when we went to see the production of Ravenhill’s Shoot/Get Treasure/Repeat at the Teatre Lliure in Barcelona I was excited but scared. This selection of seven out of the seventeen short plays written by Ravenhill for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival deals with the personal and political effect of war on modern life and the West’s necessity to sell the whole world into the ideal panacea of “Freedom and Democracy”.

ImageAs I dreaded, expected and hoped, the plays are violent, powerful, incendiary and necessary. They are intense and they rise questions that will nag at you for days to come. They question choices and they discuss themes such as terror, fear, love and death. And most of the main characters are women. So it should come as no surprise, then, that there were a lot of women being killed, tortured, and raped on stage. Right?

After the play ended there was a Q&A with Mark Ravenhill himself. At some point he mentioned that he had written an almost all female play because there comes a time in an actress’s career when no one is offering them interesting roles to play and he thought that was crap. I think that’s commendable and very very true. And yet… I’m not sure if I’m entirely sold. I wanted to ask him why. Why all this violence against women? Was it necessary? Had he really chosen so many women to showcase how strong they can be (which really, they are!) or has it just been established that they will always be the ones being raped, beaten and abused? Five out of the seven plays performed showed some kind of abuse on women. Six if I want to be overtly precise, all of them showing situations in which women are overpowered by men and made to suffer in varying degrees of physical and mental abuse.

ImageNow, I don’t know what to make out of this. These are just questions that I ask myself because I want to understand. Have we reached a moment in time in which violence against women has become the cultural norm? Are we immunized against it? Has the representation of rape and violence against women become so permanent on the media that it just has ceased to surprise us? Or is this a necessary way to denounce a problem? Violence against women exists, and things don’t seem to be getting better so exposing it through art and in the media seems to be the logical way to shed some light into it.

The only way I have of trying to make sense of things is through my reaction to the play and while I thought it was brilliant it also left me emotionally tired and preoccupied. Why are women always on the receiving end? Why can’t we subvert the roles? While it is true that movies, television and even advertising are full of degrading imagery towards women, I had never felt it as deeply as this time. Theatre, in my opinion, always obtains the most visceral reactions.

I don’t think there is a campaign to abuse women on the media or the arts, and I feel like Mark Ravenhill in particular would be the first one to criticise such a thing, but that’s exactly what scares me. It seems that in order to bring attention to it we need to show more violence, and thus the endless cycle of violence can never broken.

You can read María’s previous article here.

Lipstick and Self-esteem

A previous version of this article was originally published on March 2012, at  The World Occurred.

I don’t use a lot of makeup and the little I use I don’t use very often. It’s because of that that I didn’t own any lipstick until about two years and a half ago.  I was with my friend M and we were browsing through a beauty store. She pointed at a lipstick in a burgundy colour and said “you’d look good on that”. I had only put on lipstick twice in my life, both times for Halloween costumes. So, when M pointed at the lipstick I thought she was mad. When I tried it on and liked it, I thought I was mad. When I was paying for it, I thought I was throwing 10€ to the trash bin. Because, obviously, I was invaded by questions such as “When would I wear that?” “Why would I wear it?” “Who do you think you are?” “How dare you think you can pull that off?”… et cetera, et cetera.

            The fact that I started using lipstick is more significant than the simple fact that I started using lipstick. It represents the loss of a self loathing and self-imposed fear lived with for 25 years. Now, wearing lipstick comes as something strangely natural to me, but if I stop to think about it I see such an action as a clear symbol of the beginning of the loss of my low self esteem. I had been living with it for so long it had become a strange monster that had attached itself to my chest, and was living a very comfortable life off me. Getting rid of that monster was very hard, but a very natural process and at the same time it was very revealing of who I was and who I wanted to be. The fact that not only I bought that lipstick but that I started to wear it out, and that I was no longer afraid of being a girl who wears dark lipstick meant that I was not afraid of being whoever I wanted to be anymore. I was no longer afraid of being someone that other people would judge or dislike, or someone that other people might like and admire. Lipstick was only an insignificant representative of that change. I am not a fan of cosmetics, because they tend to force women to attempt to be a perfected version of someone they are not. I dislike the idea that we have to be perfect (a “perfect” designed by “society”, not by ourselves) by “changing” ourselves every morning. So, what I’m talking about here is not the mere act of wearing lipstick because I believe that makes me prettier or more feminine. I’m talking about the fact of allowing myself to wear something that I enjoy, and doing it for me, without being afraid of what people would say or think. This article is actually about any item of clothing you have ever thought you loved, but that you thought was not for you.

            I think it’s time we start considering these lipsticks and these pieces of clothing not as love affairs with cosmetics and fashion but as love affairs with ourselves.

            Now about a year ago I stumbled across this article which very rightly points out that : “Almost Half Of Women Don’t Like Their Faces Unless They’re Spackled With Makeup”. The immediate and evident first question that comes to mind is: Are ALL of these women BORN with the hatred of their faces? Or are they nurtured to believe they are ugly, and that therefore they have something to apologise for, something to feel guilty about, something to fix, and the only remedy is makeup? Personally, I believe there are many ways to deal with makeup and some of these ways are very problematic, just as others are not. As Adrienne Ressler points out (she’s quoted on that same article) “There is concern, however, when makeup no longer becomes a tool for enhancement but, rather, a security blanket that conceals negative feelings about one’s self-image and self-esteem.”

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I’ve read, or heard many times now, how “men” “hate” “makeup”. Yet I see fashion blogs and beauty videos in which women create the perfect “no-makeup-makeup look” in which it’s all about using makeup to pretend you’re not wearing any makeup. Which is humorous, really. These videos are perhaps shot by women who have developed a passion for makeup, and love it, but “cannot use it” because “men don’t like it”, therefore they develop the perfect way to use makeup so that it looks like they’re not using any. I think it’s very humorous, this whole social legend that “men” “hate” “makeup”. I find it humorous because what “men” allegedly “hate” is the obvious traces of makeup on a woman’s face, therefore what they allegedly hate is to recognise the effort in attempting to beautify oneself. They don’t “hate” “makeup” on women, because I’d venture to say at least 50 per cent of women wear one product of sorts daily. Therefore, I must assume what they really hate is “obvious makeup”. Therefore, the act of recognising that such beauty – to some extent – is not “natural”, is not “real”. Recognising that what they are seeing is “an illusion”, and at some point, it will go. The funny part is that everything is an illusion. Whether you’re wearing any makeup or not, every single thing about you is an illusion to other people. We worry so much about our physical appearance being an illusion, when in reality our performance is rooted somewhere much deeper within us.

               My thoughts on this are that I simply hate to think of a girl who is putting on makeup to impress anybody other than herself. I understand the concept of wanting to look nice, because looking nice helps you feel nice. But you should not want to look nice only for somebody else. I do not care what “men” think of my lipstick. I do not exist for men. I exist for myself. That’s my problem with makeup, because it feels like females are forced to perform themselves for the benefit of their wishful significant others. I hate that idea, I abhor it. And the irony to see all of these women being marketed into thinking they must use makeup in order to be beautiful for men, when in reality, men seem to dislike such an action. I love red lipstick because one day I put it on, looked at myself in the mirror, and loved what I saw. Wearing red lipstick should not be a weapon of seduction. Not of the ‘other’ at least.

            I worry about the fact that some women have such a dependency on makeup that they don’t feel they are valid enough without it, that they feel they’re not beautiful enough, that they must hide their “flaws” behind a “mask”, and most importantly I worry about the fact that women that love something genuinely cannot use it because of what they think other people will think, because they think their chances of being “attractive” are diminished, et cetera. It’s scary, that you cannot wear something you like because “men” won’t like it. I don’t understand it. I don’t enjoy it. I’m not blaming women in here, obviously. I’d raise my fist into the air and blame patriarchy, but the truth is that this is a vicious circle and its beginning is impossible to spot. Because of that, the solution is almost unreachable to me. We are nurtured from such a young age to have the same set of ideas about beauty, that even when you are able to recognise what part of your social thought comes from you, and what part comes from society, re-shaping the patterns is an incredibly complex thing to do.

            I can only say that these are our faces, these are our bodies and these are our lives. So we should do whatever we enjoy with them, because denying yourself the simply, stupid, minimal pleasure of feeling beautiful is simply idiotic. And with this, I attempt to gather both groups: If you despise makeup, don’t wear any. If you like makeup, wear it however you like. It’s as simple as that. No need to overanalyse this any further. If you like a t-shirt, wear it. If you don’t, don’t. Don’t put on makeup because you think other people will find you more attractive. Don’t stop wearing makeup because you think other people will find you more attractive. Don’t let your hair grow because you think other people will find you more attractive. Don’t cut your hair because you think other people will find you more attractive. Do things for yourself, because you enjoy them. Don’t alter your appearance based on social imposition. You only live once, and I am pretty sure when you’re a 90 year old lady on your rocking chair you will not appreciate all of the things you denied yourself of, just because you had the delusion that some boy or some girl would have liked you best that way.

            When I wrote this, I didn’t really have an idea of where I was going with it. Perhaps I simply wanted to justify my love for lipstick, making it clear that I do not wear it for others, but for myself. That I love it. That I don’t think nor care about the effect it will have on my power to attract others, because I know the effect it has on my attraction for myself, and that is enough. That is more than enough. Cheesy as it sounds, lipstick is now a symbol of a healthy relationship with myself.

            There are other articles and campaigns going on online but I my personal favourites are the Beauty Pressure Dove Campaign and Killing Us Softly Part 4.

Read Cristina’s first article on Laura Marling here.

Know more about Faceless Ladies here.