What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
The Daily Mail recently ran an essay by Kim Carillo, a 54-year-old writer and mom of two. (Yes, I know the Daily Mail is essentially a tabloid.) At first look, the article isn't that intriguing. Its entire point seems to be giving Carillo a space to brag about looking 30 without ever having had any plastic surgery -- "no Botox, no fillers, nothing scraped back, tucked in or plumped out."But as I read, I found a few elements of the piece interesting, even a bit surprising. The headline assumes that female readers will loathe Carillo for looking young and gorge, blaring, "Please don't all scratch my eyes out at once!" The opening paragraph goes on: "Take a look at this photo. What do you see? A good pair of pins, probably, and an enviable head of glossy, youthful blonde hair… Trust me, the best bit is hidden -- that's the coltish little bottom, hiding discreetly under the girlish frock. Like two peaches in a handkerchief, I think it would be fair to describe it."Though I'm a little iffy on the likening-one's-ass-to-colts-and-fruit situation, what immediately unnerved me -- even as a cranky feminist -- is Carillo's abundant supply of self-confidence, which borders on sounding outright narcissistic. It's a little off-putting, right? Because, generally speaking, women just aren't supposed to acknowledge their good looks. Oh sure, we're expected to pour exorbitant amounts of time and money into looking stereotypically beautiful and youthful at all times, at every age, forever and ever -- but we're supposed to do that IN SECRET. We are NEVER to brag about our myriad youth-and-beauty efforts actually working! Carillo's ego may be a bit irritating (braggarts are hard to like), but I also thought it was pretty ballsy of her to break that weird unspoken womanhood rule so publicly. Carillo goes on to explain that good genes, regular sex, diet and exercise (booooring) are her secret. Then she contradicts her earlier statement about expecting women to hate her, writing, "But there is another area in which I am very lucky: other women seem to like me, and I like them. I don't inspire envy and resentment. I honestly have never suffered a catty remark about my preternatural grip on youth. That, I think, has to be one of the greatest gifts of all."
Though it's a bit of a mixed message given the headline, it's still a pretty refreshing thing for a woman to note. (And I know Carillo probably didn't write her own headline; an editor very well might have added in the "women must hate me!!!" subtext because they assumed that's what readers would relate to or click on.) Again, it's even a bit shocking, considering the usual messages the media feeds us about women, jealousy and competition. We're SUPPOSED to hate other women. We're raised to do that! And we're ENCOURAGED to experience paralyzing envy and jealousy when we encounter conventionally attractive women -- they're supposed to make us feel threatened.
But, what if we're NOT threatened? What if we don't buy in to the automatic cultural assumption that we'll want to scratch their eyes out? The everyday reality is generally less dramatic and more nuanced -- like, say, if I walk past a woman who looks like a model, I might feel a momentary flash of jealousy, but it doesn't (always) totally derail my day or make me feel like stabbing someone. Maybe that's because WOMEN are generally more nuanced than we're given credit for -- whoa, wait a minute, we can actually experience (gasp!) multiple feelings at the same time!? And even more groundbreaking -- we can actually feel things WITHOUT TAKING ACTION on them? No way!
Of course, the user comments on the Daily Mail article are predictably varied (read: semi-hateful), ranging from "WOW shes not full of herself is she??" to "Lets get a photo of her in the morning with no makeup when she gets up to make coffee. (No airbrushing please)."
In any case, I'm aware that Carillo's piece probably won't ever end up on a Feminism 101 syllabus. But I appreciated her story for the same reasons I was annoyed by it. And my annoyance with it just shines a light on the stuff I need to work on regarding beauty, aging, jealousy and how I deal with other women. I.e., I need to remember: there is no competition, and there are no prizes.