Monthly Archives: September 2013

The Tyranny of “Beautiful”

“God forbid you be an ugly girl,
‘course too pretty is also your doom,
’cause everyone harbors a secret hatred
for the prettiest girl in the room.”

– Ani DiFranco

ImageMs DiFranco sure knows her stuff! We have all done it. A woman can walk into a room and know instantly who is better looking than her and who she outranks in the “hotness” stakes. No one wants to be the ugliest… but the prettiest, well, she had better watch her back!

But I seem to have had a revelation in the past three years:

I am ugly and I don’t care.

Now there’s a declarative sentence for you.

I am somewhat thankful to have become free from “beautiful” while I wasn’t looking. Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting I was some sort of Elizabeth Taylor look-alike, but I reckon I was probably slightly above average.

I look at photographs from 4-5 years ago and realise that I didn’t see myself in real terms. I thought I was ugly then, but that girl was slim, clear-skinned, had shiny, healthy hair and was well-slept. Pre-kids I liked my figure some of the time but agonised over the best way to dress it. I fussed about with makeup and hair stylers. I once paid $350 to cut and colour my hair. I am soooo embarrassed! That much money would see my hair cut for around 5 years now!

I don’t really blame my age, weight or having kids for my ugliness. There are enough “Yummy Mummies” out there to make my less-than-deliciousness quite odd. There are three factors really – time, money and the fact I no longer give a “rat’s”.

This ugliness of mine is situational, but I can’t decide whether or not it is temporary. There ARE benefits…

I used to take upwards of one and a half hours to get ready to go out. Anywhere. Now I am ugly, it only takes 10 mins from shower to car keys. If I keep that up until I am 80, being ugly just saved me some three years of my life. I’ll take that to the bank.

I used to stand in front of the mirror for a long time. Even being conservative, I would put a minimum on it of about 20 mins a day (not including dressing/makeup time etc). Sometimes I would admire the person looking back at me, but mostly I just criticised her. I don’t look in the mirror anymore. There’s another 253 days or so. Cha-ching!

No more makeup, face masks, nail polish, hair dye, 3-step facial routines. My current wardrobe cost around $90 for the lot. I own exactly 2 pairs of shoes (and one of those is a pair of purple flip-flops). That’s a lot of money saved. That would now be debt if I still insisted on spending it.

So, what have I been doing with all this extra time on my (un-moisturised) hands? Listening, looking and thinking “outwards”. I listen to Radio National (love!!!), take an interest in current affairs, read an incredible number of books, look at the people and things happening around me and really THINK about stuff.  I believe that I have become far more interesting…

I also think I am a much nicer person than I used to be (my feet don’t hurt, for one thing, so I’m not so cranky!) The biggest change for the better, I believe, is that once I stopped being “beautiful” I could stop caring about my “rank” in that room… and everyone else’s too. I stopped scouring magazines and TV shows for celebrities’ flaws to “prove” they are not really “all that”. In fact, I hardly notice how people look at all – I genuinely care a lot more about what they are doing and saying. I like myself more for this.

But I do sense myself being judged. There is a sort of moral panic that happens when a woman opts out of the endless worry about what she should aspire to look like. There are a lot of people gaining money and power from our insecurity. A woman’s worth has been defined by how they look for so long that people are bound to object.

The reaction of some young men is particularly amusing. I am definitely a MILF (Mother I’d Like to Forget!). Their usual assumption that any woman talking to them is having a crack leads to abject horror that someone that looks as I do might DARE to think I had a chance with His Gorgeousness! Actually, I was just saying “excuse me” because you were mooching for too long in front of the cereal I am trying to purchase. Sorry to infect your optical personal space with my eye-polluting ugliness. I’ll slink back to my swamp cave now…

Other women can be just as bad. Why don’t I care more about my lack of attractiveness? It makes them very suspicious. It is impolite in the face of a compliment like “I love your dress” to not shoot back with “Thanks… I hate my thighs!”  Perhaps they are concerned that if I don’t participate in that “face-value” system, I might turn to passing judgement on their other attributes…?

There are things I am seeking to add back into my life – exercise, proper diet and sleep, for example. Since my life is going to be far more interesting from now on, I think I want to live as long as I can, as well as I may. I accept that this may even have the side-effect of resulting in my being a little less “ugly”…

but I cannot go back to the Tyranny of “beautiful”. I won’t… and you can’t make me!

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Hump Day Heroes: The Running Guy

Back in a former life in 2009 BC (before children) I used to cycle into work a few days a week with my husband along the Brighton foreshore. It was a great way to commute and we managed to avoid the disaster that is the Melbourne train system in Summer (extreme heat makes the tracks swell, blah blah, excuses etc).

We would leave the house wearing our strange mixture of Skins and mismatched gym gear at around 7am and wind our way down, through barely wakeful streets, to the bike path snaking alongside my beloved Port Phillip Bay.

We got to know many interesting characters (from afar) as we whirred along the path: the fashion parade of pooches accessorising with their proverbial look-alike owners, the roller bladers (90s much!) power walkers, boot campers, early risers and the odd slightly out-of-place shady figure whose purpose seemed to be to make me pedal faster!

None left so great an impression on me as The Running Guy.

His dress was sporty, but somehow camp and theatrical – something like a 1980s tennis pro raiding the wardrobe from Xanadu: knee-hi cotton socks (with colourful band around the top), the shortest of athletic shorts with white piping detail, a sleeveless muscle top and a sweatband nestled atop a shaggy mop of hair.

It was not really his outfit, however, that was so endearing – although as a clue to his personality I would have to say it indicated a complete lack of self-consciousness which I totally admire.

It was more the way he ran…

We’ve all seen that Mark Twain quote 101 times:

“Sing like no one’s listening, love like you’ve never been hurt, dance like nobody’s watching, and live like its heaven on earth.”

Well this darling man certainly runs like nobody’s watching! His form is very “Forest Gump does Jazzercise”. It suggests that he is truly enjoying both the freedom and confines of his slight body as it slices through the air. He is in his bliss, out of touch with reality and totally at one with the universe. It is for this that I so admire him.

I saw my Running Guy the other morning as I drove my husband into the city (on a clandestine Gateaux run). We spotted him as far around the bay as Beaumaris. Another fragment of insight, another clue towards solving the mystery…

And as my husband and I smile at each other in silent acknowledgement of having spotted our “friend”, he will never know that we see him… and silently wish him “Godspeed”.

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Mindfulness brings inner… pieces?

“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.”  – E.E. Cummings

Frederick McCubbin, The Pioneer 1904

Frederick McCubbin, The Pioneer 1904

I have been practising ‘Mindfulness’ for a while now. I refer to the psychological version which is based only loosely on the Buddhist practice; a meditative process whereby you allow your thoughts to arise and let them pass without judgement.

It is a simply lovely idea. Problem is, I sometimes have a little issue with the non-judgement bit. Far from decreasing my anxiety, I think I caused some new ones.

Case in point, it turns out that some part of me honestly believed I would one day grow up to be a colonial pioneer.

Yes. I know. Let me explain…

You may have seen a Nicholas Cage film I particularly enjoyed called The Weatherman. Nick (may I call him Nick?) plays a character who realises that our youth presents us with an endless hallway of options, each door leading to a different person whom you could turn out to be. As time passes and more of those doors slam shut, you end up with a single reality – the “you” that simply is. It is not as depressing as it sounds.  

Anyhoo, apart from finding it charming that I still thought (at 30) that I would “grow up” to become anything, I was a bit disturbed by the “possibilities” (and they belong in parentheses) I was mourning the loss of. They were quite specific and often characterised by the clothing involved.

Which brings us to the moment in which I realised (with some genuine shock) that I wasn’t going to, at any stage in my life, be a colonial pioneer.

I could see it all… a dusty, brown dress made of serviceable fabric, with my hair twisted severely into an obedient bun. I would be standing purposefully on the wraparound verandah of a homestead, mixing something in a porcelain bowl…

Some small part of me truly believed that this was in my future. Not a tree-change to the bush in the modern era, mind you. Federation Australia. Like a Frederick McCubbin painting.

Another scenario (and outfit) saw me needing black “geek chic” glasses, donning an angular all-black outfit with a signature dash of red. This “me” would enjoy haiku, modern plays, non-fiction books and would be some sort of semi-professional (psychologist perhaps?) with an inner-city practice looking out onto a Zen garden. A ZEN GARDEN. And this person didn’t have kids. Even my poor addled brain must surely realise that you cannot grow up to not have kids that you already have – and I must stress that I wouldn’t want to – but there it was…

So when these thoughts floated up from the Magic 8 Ball of my mind, I was finding it hard not to judge myself for dreams that involved a Tardis and/or a completely different set of life choices. What kind of whacked-out careers fair was my subconscious attending?

Eventually, I suppose, I have learned to enjoy this improbable bucket list. I still think it might be fun to be a Tudor courtier and I might from time to time almost seriously rehearse my audition song for The Voice, but for now the sensible part of my brain thinks, “Hmmm, maybe a freelance writing career could be pleasant”.

I haven’t picked out the outfit yet, though.

What is the strangest thing your inner voice has revealed to you?

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Hump Day Heroes: Marc Frissard (more specifically, his pains au chocolat!)

“You never forget a beautiful thing that you have made,’ [Chef Bugnard] said. “Even after you eat it, it stays with you – always.”  – Julia Child, My Life in France

ImageIf Chef Bugnard is right, Marc Frissard must be a walking chocolate pastry thingamy by now; absolutely everything this genius makes is perfection itself.

Gateaux by Marc Frissard is a salon de thé on Hampton Street, the main drag of Melbourne’s bayside suburb of the same name.

I first came across this small, pink and white shop in early 2011. After gaining… let us just say a lot of weight during my first pregnancy, I was walking my way to salvation… but ended up at salivation instead. 30 mins or so into this ill-fated foray into exercise, I was taking my first bite of what I am convinced is the world’s best pain au chocolat.

“How do you know it is the best in the world? Have you tried them all?” you may well ask. While I would be most amenable to the idea of trying all the pains au chocolat in the universe (time and finances permitting) I simply don’t need to. I am THAT sure.

We are talking crisp-topped, cushiony-soft, light and buttery (never greasy) pastry, wrapped around a still-molten chocolate centre (well, they are at around 8am when I eat them fresh from the oven!). Good chocolate too. Not the dreadful compound stuff they use at many inferior non-Gateaux bakeries around the place.

I could go on about the croque monsieur (tasty? It defines the word!), the hot chocolates (real chocolate melted in warm milk – the sure cure for the worst of bad days) or the tiny jewel-like cake confections in the glass cabinet, but they are none of them the hero of this story…

What is truly miraculous about Gateaux is the fact that each and every time I bite into one of those pains au chocolat, it restores my faith in humanity.

Why?

Marc is an artist. His wares are both beautiful and delicious, the kind of “good” that can only be a reflection of their creator’s very soul. The best I can figure, despite all the terrible things that happen, if there are still people out there who have so much goodness inside them that they can create such beautiful things, we may yet be OK.

There are few things in life that offer this sort of reassurance.  That is why, even though I have now moved far away from Hampton Street, I still sometimes make a three-hour round trip to drive my husband to work… and stop at Gateaux on the way for a car-party for four!

Do you have a special something in your life that makes you feel this way?  For your sake, I hope so!

PS to any readers that do not reside in Melbourne, Australia, I say this: a plane ticket is a small price to pay for perfection!

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Millennials: Putting the “Y” in “Young and Stupid”?

Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers.

A good friend of mine recently had me try to guess who and when this quote is from… don’t Google! Guess… it is worth it!

While you are guessing…

It got me thinking about the sharp criticisms frequently thrown at Gen Y (also known as Millennials). I am around (19)83% sure that a lot of the charges against us can honestly be put down to the fact that we are simply young and inexperienced – which I totes get can be, like, super annoying! 

Probably some of the bile has some truth to it; perhaps we really are selfish, lack common sense (despite our high-levels of education), expect to be handed life on a silver platter without having to work for it and display an inability to pay attent… … … sorry, what?

But is this who we are… or just who we are right now?

Do older generations truly believe that there was something in the water when our parents conceived us? Some anti-morning sickness drug whose side-effects have resulted in an entire generation of screen-addicted, baselessly overconfident, perpetual youths who can’t stick at anything? Surely we are, at least in part, a product of our influences, our culture and our environment?

I might gently remind the Baby Boomers that their parents similarly disapproved of their youth culture – the likes of Simon and Garfunkel, it was predicted, would surely cause an epidemic of drug use and promiscuous sex! With so many young people growing up at the same time, the Boomers were also accused of idolising youth and of believing they were the “special” generation.

Fast forward a decade or two and Gen Xers were labelled the materialistic “me-generation” of the 1980s and 90s. The product of MTV and Kevin Smith movies (think Slackers and Clerks), they were criticised for being cynical and more interested in philosophising than working towards long term careers and family.

Somehow these allegations seem to have proven at once true and also unfair…

Both generations seem to have grown out of their more selfish tendencies and morphed others into more admirable qualities. Is it so unlikely that Millennials may yet do the same?

So, I return to the quote at the start of this post. Did you guess at its origins?

The answer is…

 Image

Socrates!!!!!
(As quoted by Plato)

This dates the comment at somewhere around 400 BC.

Young People: irritating their elders since… well, forever.

So what do you think…
Are Gen Y especially objectionable, or just objectionably… young?

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Hump Day Heroes: Tavi Gevinson

Image

Tavi Gevinson in New York, Feb 7, 2013

Every Wednesday I am going to post about someone who inspires me… and why they might inspire you too! A Hump Day Hall of Fame if you will.

I will begin this tradition by honouring an amazing young woman, whom I believe to be truly bigger than her body, her age, her reputation and even her success. Her name is Tavi Gevinson.

Sure, I am inspired by the fact that Tavi started her blog at age 11, quickly captured the attention of some 30,000 readers and followed that white rabbit called success all the way to the New York and Paris Fashion Weeks among countless other things.

I love that Lady Gaga has called her the “future of journalism” and that her parents were relatively unaware of her blog… until she was going to be interviewed by the New York Times!

I think it’s great that Tavi (and her similarly impressive contributing authors) are writing, editing and producing meaty, relevant and varied content for young women to devour. Not just what’s “hot right now” in nail polish, but articles about art and science and… yes, ok nail polish. Well, duh!  

I should confess that I haven’t visited Tavi’s website (Rookie) or read her blog (The Style Rookie) that much. Yet.

So, why write about Tavi Gevinson? Because I want to grow up to be just like her…

You will find any number of Tavi’s public presentations and interviews on the Internet and I assure you that they are worth the Google-induced RSI! While many teens would struggle to address their class for a book report, she has the confidence to take the stage and speak with authority in front of hundreds of people, three times her age. Like me, they appear amazed at her ability to share her ideas and stand beside her heroes instead of simply worshipping them.

One of the things that most impresses me is that she identifies as a feminist. That’s a brave move for a 17 year old girl who started out writing a fashion blog…

I have only recently come around to the idea of Feminism, I am ashamed to say. Of course I believed in equality for women, but I naively held that all too common belief that it was a movement exclusively for angry, man-hating, bra-burning women scorned; a club which I couldn’t join and own a Daisy Razor at the same time.

The modern teen girl has little in common with the above stereotype. She possibly doesn’t anticipate facing gender discrimination, unashamedly likes and wants to be liked by boys (and/or girls) and already wears Victoria Secret. So far beyond the fight for the right to vote and have our own credit card are we that many believe the war has been fought and won.

But as Anne Summers has so beautifully put it, “progress is not success”; more subtle forms of sexism still exist.

She would likely roll her eyes, but girls need role models like Tavi; her work is helping this newbie generation of women discover that Feminism can be less about aesthetic, all about attitude and not at all about telling girls who they are not allowed to be.

And that’s got to be worthy of the Hump Day Hall of Fame!

 

 

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FOOI to FOMO

 “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom” – Anaïs Nin

Now I reluctantly face what I am told is the end of my youth (having just recently turned 30), I find myself asking “what next?”…

One minute I was standing in the wings, waiting to make my grand debut, then all of a sudden I realised that Life had already begun and I was too busy worrying about what I was going to do with it to do anything in particular.

I guess I look OK on paper – a career put on hold to play Mum to “two under 3”, a loving husband and a mortgage. I may just be living some version of the Australian dream.

So why the nagging sense of dissatisfaction with life in general?

I was chatting recently with a uni student who, at almost a decade younger than me, enjoys more “i” in her Gen-Y than perhaps I do.

As she recounted a recent holiday to Thailand where she voluntarily flung herself into the air using a parachute and a speed boat, despite near-crippling fear, because (groan) “everyone else was doing it!”, she reminded me of the concept of FOMO. That’s “Fear of Missing Out” for those of you playing at home.

FOMO is the plague of the “Starbucks” generation. Sing along if you know the words…

We stand paralysed in front of a menu of endless options where you worry that every choice you make discounts the ability to consume something possibly more thrilling and tasty than the option listed before.

Some (suffering FOMO) order everything in the attempt to “have it all”… discovering option after option that could be “the one” and leaving the store poor and over-caffeinated.

I am beginning to realise that I am more familiar with FOMO’s evil half sibling, FOOI (?!?!) Fear of Opting In…

This is characterised more by a fear of failure to enjoy any of the menu items sufficiently, thus you order nothing and go down the street to the Vietnamese bakery where you can still order life with milk and two sugars for $2.50 and be done with it.

Better familiar mediocrity than a hazelnut cream frappe that ends up in the bin – right? RIGHT?!?!?

See, I am no longer so sure…

Realising (not quite too late) that FOOI is even more objectionable than FOMO, I have resolved to spectacularly fail at something every once in a while.

Hence this blog. This is to become the first of what I hope shall be many failures – having an opinion on something… in public! It will cover my take on “stuff” as I try to shake off the mediocrity that comes with fear and indecision.

Do you suffer FOOI?  Have you risked it all and won… or better yet, failed and lived to tell the tale?

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