Saturday, July 30, 2005


While listening to an NPR story on Dove's "Campaign for real beauty" ad campaign yesterday, for the first time ever I had the urge to reach out and smash my radio. This was during the part when they read an excerpt from Lucio Guerrero's Chicago Sun-Times editorial: "Really, the only time I want to see a thigh that big is in a bucket with bread crumbs on it." The other men Guerrero interviews for the column have similarly low opinions.

At the swimming pool where my daycare class gets swim lessons, in between watching lifeguards with two-year-olds I've been noticing the other swimmers. They are all male. Sometimes teenagers come with their dads, but usually it is middle-aged or old men. Why? a) Because the work it takes to appear in a bathing suit consists of putting on the bathing suit if you're a man, and b) Because they're probably less scared than women of going into a public place wearing very little. These guys look, by almost any standard, awful. There is no comparison between these guys and the women in the Dove ads. But I don't see any disgusted editorials about having to see these much lumpier, hairier, more wrinkled individuals in a public place. They're just part of the scenery.

Nearly all the analyses I've seen or heard of the ads comment on the irony of using a message that it's ok to be bigger than a drinking straw to sell cellulite-reducing cream. First, I'd like to point out that the tagline "Let's face it, firming the thighs of a size 2 supermodel is no challenge" is a statement on the efficacy of the product on women who will actually use it, rather than on the usual size 2 women pictured in control-top hose ads and the 25-year-old women pictured in wrinkle cream ads. Second, the ad is not saying that their products aren't needed or wanted because everyone's perfect just the way they are. It's merely reducing the standards for women appearing in ads from nearly impossibly beautiful to just good-looking. And if you look at these women compared to what the average woman you see in the supermarket would look like in her skivvies, (I would say at the swimming pool, except there are no women there) they measure up quite well by conventional standards. There's no one over the age of thirty, no one with c-section scars, no one very bulgy, no one with glasses or irregular features or even tan lines. The black women have straightened their hair. Everyone has shaved about half her surface area and is undoubtedly wearing makeup. The campaign is not suggesting that it's ok for women to appear in their natural states: wrinkly, nappy, bony, bulgy, hairy, stretchmarked, flatchested, 5'1", veined, and whatever else we may happen to look like if we don't try to transform ourselves into something else. It's merely making the beauty regime less totalitarian. Is it so unreasonable to change the standards of who can appear in ads from superhumanly gorgeous to just, say, conventionally beautiful?

Friday, July 29, 2005

What is it about men with babies?

I've been going through family photos to find some to bring to Denmark, since host families apparently like seeing who raised the kids they're adopting for a semester. Instead of making it to the more recent pictures, though, I keep looking through the ones from the summer of 1985. For some reason my favorite pictures of my dad are from this era, mostly pictures of him holding the unattractive infant that was me in various places around our house and the surrounding fields. The pictures of Mom with me don't interest me nearly as much, although this is probably due in part to her horrible 80s hair and giant glasses.

I think my favorite part of working in daycares during the summer is watching male lifeguards in the pool with toddlers. It's not a sexual thing (or if it is, it's wrapped up with enough other stuff that I don't classify it as such.) There's something wonderful about the contrast: the muscly 20-something swishing the pudgy-limbed child through the water, her tiny body held in the circumference of his big hands. The child is usually laughing, and the lifeguard inevitably smiles too. Some of these men are not terribly nice people in hours when they're not lifeguarding - their method of relating to the kids is a high-decibel one, usually on the topic of what the kids are doing wrong. But place a tiny creature that will cling to him in complete dependence in his hands, and someone so rough and tough is turned infinitely gentle. It's beautiful to watch.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Go ahead, laugh

I've made progress from the days when I would run out the door for the school bus after chucking, say, a baked potato into my backpack as my lunch. I was really quite proud of today's lunch: fettucini with white sauce and seitan, cherries, and a slice of vegan chocolate cheesecake. (Add enough cocoa powder and even tofu can be made dessert-like.) Unfortunately my epicurean dreams fizzled just now when I microwaved the tupperware box containing not the pasta but the cheesecake, which is now a puddle of molten brown goo in the bottom of the box. Oh well, it still tastes good.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Like a fish needs a bicycle

Part of working at the shelter is accepting that a lot of the women who live there will go back to their abusers, and that some are back at the shelter after living there before and moving back in with the same abusers they were running from the first time. We take them back as many times as they need it. Women leave their abusers an average of something like nine times before they leave for good. This boggles my mind. I could see leaving and coming back a once or twice when you had no place to go or in a moment of loneliness, but how do it over and over?

I think my mind just works on a different frame from most people's here. I've known almost forever I wanted kids, but I could more easily do without a man. I'd rather be a single mother than a childless wife, though I don't plan on being either. I just can't fathom the kind of need that would drive a person to go back to their abuser nine times. Bridget used to be annoyed with Ann Landers for advising women to leave men who'd done them wrong - "Hello? She loves him! You can't just expect her to leave." To me the two things never seemed to have much to do with each other.

Sunday, July 17, 2005


Realizing that the Danes (and Europe, I guess) dress more formally than we do here has been a lovely excuse to go out looking for new clothes. I needed some warmer clothes anyway, but this provided the final push to spend most of Saturday in thrift stores. Trying on sweaters in a 95 degree store is punishing, but the rest of the thrifting adventures have been enjoyable. After this week I have a giant coat, black pants, two sweaters, a red skirt, brown shoes, and measuring cups and spoons so I don't have to convert recipes to pounds and ounces of ingredients. Life is good.

Friday, July 15, 2005

On the trail

Although the low point of my day was one of my four-year-olds trying to bite me, it was more than made up for by the high point, which was my mother reading today's "Mark Trail" aloud from the comics section. My family has a hobby of finding the strips where animals have speech bubbles coming from their heads - this happens surprisingly often. Today's was a gem, including a talking St. Bernard, two wood ducks, and a leaf. Mom's leaf voice is impressive.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

And stop calling me "babe"

Sometimes I feel that no matter what bizarre situations life may throw at me, years of contra, swing and ballroom dancing will have prepared me. For some reason, men (especially old men) at dances consider it their godgiven right to make overtures at any female they please. Of all the strange men who gravitate towards the dance scene, over the past weeks I've met the strangest yet: Howard. His shirts are so thin you can see the liver spots on his chest through the cloth. He has absolutely the worst sense of rhythm I have ever encountered, which makes it impossible at times to even tell which dance he's trying to do. Among his charming lines to me have been: "You can eat later. You're getting fat, anyway," "Can I squeeze your hand?" "I'm drunk," and "You're my favorite babe." I'm almost certain he meant "You're my favorite, babe," but he didn't pronounce the comma.

I consider it the right thing to do to be nice to strange old men and generally clueless people at dances, provided they're not being creepy. Whitehaired men with kneebraces and the like are often there because they've been doing it forever and really love dancing, and it's nice to see some of the clueless ones develop into good dancers. The problem is that once someone has crossed the line into creepiness I find it impossible to say, "Shove off, you weirdo! You're old enough to be my grandfather! And no, you can't squeeze my hand!"

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Mirror, mirror

Having read The Beauty Myth, I'm rather proud that I came up with most of the main ideas after reading The Feminine Mystique last summer. The theory is that after women's worth no longer depended on their housekeeping abilities, society made appearance more important to continue keeping them down. I don't buy the conspiracy theory thing, but I think the net result is the same. On the one hand, I'm convinced it's natural to want to decorate yourself - every little kid is proud of their hairbow or Spiderman underpants or whatever. On the other, when it becomes mandatory and expensive/painful/dangerous, that's bad. I think the other teacher in my preschool class was a little weirded out a few weeks ago when she put out a box of dressups that included those little purple plastic high heels for little girls to prance around in. When three-year-old Ainslie learned the hard way that they have no tread by crashing to the floor in midstride, the other teacher must have found it strange to see me hugging the sobbing Ainslie with one arm and chucking the shoe back into the box with the other, yelling at nobody in particular, "Isn't it enough that they have to have foot surgery from these things when they're older? Can't we at least give her a decade? Do we have to start on the high heels at age three?"

A few weeks ago I made the happy discovery of a Peggy Seeger tape in the library. The most thought-provoking lines to me in the whole thing came in "Little Girl Child," a song for her daughter: "Your mammy wants you dressed up fine / Not cause you're mine - cause you're yours. / Nothing wrong with looking good / Care for yourself and you'll care for others." It seemed strange on such a feminist album to totally ignore that the girl probably won't dress up for herself at all, but because she wants to be someone else's (and that someone certainly isn't her mother.) The very good logic behind the advice is a few lines later - "Nobody lives alone." I really think the primary motivator behind a decent amount of the effort people put into their appearance is fear that they won't be able to compete and will die alone with cats.

I'm probably not the only girl out there who's learned to associate a certain lack of attention to appearance in guys with geekiness and thus intelligence, although this formula obviously isn't always applicable. But I don't really see the same thing working for girls. A boy could probably rest assured that there will always be girls like me out there who find a degree of social ineptitude attractive, but I'd probably be sorely out of luck if I relied on the same thing.

Simon and I have debates on the topic fairly often, and although after two years I finally believe I really could look like a sack of potatoes without any negative reaction from him, we still don't fully agree on some points. For one thing, I think he doesn't quite realize how super he is (in general, but specifically regarding appearance.) If I could trust that everyone had their priorities in the right place as much as he does, I'd stop worrying about this whole thing. But given lovely statements like this, that won't happen anytime soon. I realize that's an extreme example, but when there's exactly one male in the world telling me it doesn't matter what I look like, I can't really believe him even though at present he's the only one who matters.

Monday, July 04, 2005

How is the weather?

Yesterday I had background music in a dream for the first time I can remember. Unfortunately, it was a bad jazz version of "So Happy Together" (not that there could ever be a good version of that song) playing from the radio in my dream. I hope I get cooler music next time.