Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Her Face is a Map of the World

OK, I am not a billboard fan. There they are, large and ugly, trying to make you buy stuff you really don't need. Occasionally, there are a few entertaining ones, and the odd one that distracts you from your driving as it reminds you not to text because that will distract you from your driving. But I have a dark sense of humor. The only ones I tolerate are the South of the Border ones because they occupy my children for a good 40 minutes on the highway.

Still, the other day, I saw one which just got under my skin. Which is sort of what the advertiser wanted, but in a whole different way. It was a for a plastic surgery outfit, and it promised that with some Botox, a little stitching, and a couple other procedures, I could reveal the “Real Me.” You know, I'm just not certain that the real me is skinny, perky (but numb) boobed, and incapable of expression. The real me scrunches up my face a lot, from laughing, from frowning, from being puzzled, and from just trying to make kids laugh. The real me has had and nursed 3 kids, you can imagine where my breasts are. And let's not even discuss the skinny thing.

I know I am not supposed to love my body. I know there is a whole industry devoted to making me feel bad about it, and offering reassurance, or solutions. My body is fat and old – or at least old as defined by a popular culture that put female obsolesce at about 30 -- and sometimes it doesn't work that well. But here a little secret for you: I love my body. I really do. It lets me walk about, it made me a bunch of babies, it breaths, it eats, it lets me do fun things that I think my parents would rather not read about but which do require full sensation, and it gives my soul a place to live.

It shows the real me, the real me is not an airbrushed image that stand still and looks pretty. The real me has rough hands from washing dishes (try as I might to avoid that.) The real me has eaten far too many meals, but I enjoyed them for the most part. Not to mention the odd drinking bout. I'm not going into any details here, but academics like to pack it away and get pickled. So don't bother, I can drink you under the table. I'm sun burnt and wind burnt and scared in odd places. That's the legacy of traveling to all sorts of places and falling off a wide variety of things. I've been sun burned in India and the Outer Banks. I have scars from falling off French rocks, and since I didn't die from these adventures, I'm pretty pleased with my souvenirs, even if my most recent sunburn was at the playground minding my children. And them, boy howdy, they have given me the waist length breasts and a wide variety of lines around my face. A friend of mine's mother refers to her wrinkles as battle scars and wears them with the same dangerous defiance as a viking warrior with one eye and giant gash. The real me, at least part of the real me, is a mother and I'm OK with showing that.

What I would not be OK with, is erasing all that. In a sense one is remaking one's image, but in another one is removing one's physical history from one's body. And that is a sad thing. I've always loved Harrison Ford's face and all those rugged men who look like they have seen places and done things. Why is that so wrong for a woman? Why can't “her face be a map of [her] world?” (And her still a beautiful woman?) Why are we so encouraged to unmake our histories and stay in a perpetual teenage-hood? True there is pressure for plastic surgery, hair implants, and girdles for men, but not the same as there is for women. Is it a reflection of societies disquiet with powerful women, an urge to keep us young and compliant (with pliable skin)? Or is it that we so worship youth; equating it with vigor, vitality, and above all healthy fertility? Is society's compulsion due to convention or genetics? Or is it simply marketing? We can remake you and make money, so let's do it? Much like Listerine and halitosis. First came the cure, then came the defect.

Still I love my body, and I'm good with it being part of the real me.

4 comments:

Tina said...

It feels like walking into a meat grinder sometimes, participating in this culture. I am glad you love your body for all the good lovely reasons you mention, but most importantly, because it is the house of your soul. Thanks for sharing this.

Joel said...

There are those of us men who feel the same way about our own bodies and the bodies of our wives. That the body is the home of the soul is a given, the brain and the heart are the home of consciousness. I love this 55 year old body I walk around in, and it sure as hell isn't as pretty or perfect as it once was. And I love my wife and I love her body as her home as well. The bizarre body image/photoshop unrealistic/skinny industry is idiocy that has no place on this planet. Your essay is lovely.

Susanna said...

I love your blog post. So sane and kind. You're so dang smart.

Laura Valeri said...

Susan Sarandon once said about her decision not to touch up with surgery: "I think I've earned my face." I'd like to think we should all want to earn our faces, and by that I mean with experience, not with disposable cash. I am one to talk: I am in favor of spa facials and yes, even plastic surgery, but I think there is a beauty to the untouched aging face that we forget.