Katie J.M. Baker has read Elizabeth Wurtzel’s new essay in Harper’s Bazaar so that we don’t have to give them our money. She notes that Harper’s has probably chosen to publish the piece in order to troll us, and this is a valid point, but you know what?
It worked. They pushed one too many of my buttons. I’m gonna respond to this shit.
Since Wurtzel’s latest offering is all about how young women don’t pretty themselves up enough, I’m going to put a lot of pictures of myself in the response. Given the subject matter, I think it’s appropriate.
So. To begin, here is my author photo. It’s how I look with combed hair, natural light, a decent digital camera and, I will not lie, a liberal dose of Photoshop.
A certain amount of pulled-togetherness can be achieved when you have a sunny afternoon, a room of your own, and a copy of Pixelmator. Shown below is how I look right now, after a hasty dinner first thing after getting home from work, in my Mac’s lousy webcam:
Before anyone gets started, please note that I’m not fishing for compliments. If you tell me I’m ugly, I will point and laugh. If you tell me I’m beautiful, you’ll get a face-full of yawn. I’m just trying to bring a dimension of realness and immediacy to this post. With me so far?
Good. Here’s some of Wurtzel:
I long for the impossible standard of female beauty as a daily chore for all, not because i want the world to look better—-I want it to be better. I want everyone to try as hard as I do to please be gorgeous, because it’s not that hard, girls. Looking great is a matter of feminism. No liberated woman would misrepresent the cause by appearing less than hale and happy.
Where to begin? Fuck it, here goes: It is not our feminist duty to make a daily chore of looking great. To tell women they need to look no less than “hale and happy” even when they’re exhausted and miserable is the opposite of feminist. We should not have to make ourselves look like all of life is a constant stream of coke up our collective nose. We have other priorities to balance, and we should feel free to meet our responsibilities without worrying that some empty-headed fortysomething is disturbed at the sight of our imperfect faces.
From the essay:
I realize this is obnoxious to say, but it just takes discipline. I do Gyrotonic sessions three times a week for an hour at a time, and nothing more. I also don’t eat meat, and I take resveratrol. But I have a Mister Softee every day, and when I eat out, I always get the dessert du jour. But I walk everywhere, eat tons of leafy salad and green vegetables, and, above all, I try to be happy and work hard.
From Katie J.M. Baker:
Wurtzel never EVER leaves the house without remembering to “rub on some SPF 30 cream and fresh sugar rose lip balm” because she believes that it’s “common decency to be presentable.” To be clearer, she is “horrified by the onset of slovenliness.” HOR-RI-FIED.
Listen, Harper’s, if you’re trying to work some product placement into your articles, there must surely be some better writers to help you bridge the revenue gap.
Furthermore, while it may be very edifying to other privilege-blind, self-absorbed rich assholes to learn of Wurtzel’s beauty regimen, it means precisely fuck-all to, for example, a 25-year-old single mother raising a preschooler in a food desert paved in pedestrian-unfriendly streets. There is quite a lot more than just “discipline” involved here.
Demanding standards of appearance are of a piece with anything else. The current state of slovenliness is a sign of a nation in decline and of a despairing distaff population. After all, on the left there is Michelle Obama, and on the right there is Sarah Palin, who are each a few years older than I am. Both are busy working mothers, both are in amazing physical condition, and both have striking personal style and coruscating charisma…like me [they] probably had parents who imposed a work ethic that translated into discipline in all aspects of life; when we were growing up, not all girls were winners just because they participated.
I will admit, it sure would be nice if I could look like the pale Anglo equivalent of Michelle Obama, but there is a major difference between her and our average busy working mom. If I had her money and her staff, I’d probably look pretty damn awesome, too. We must all make do with what we have.
You know what’s conspicuously absent from her “demanding standards of appearance”?
It is only women who must work demanding jobs, raise awesome families, and still look fabulous all the time. It’s only girls who have to prove we did more than just participate. Men don’t have to worry about the state of their skin, hair, lips or waistlines. Men can just get on with their lives.
Even with my Harvard degree, when I ran out of money while writing my first book, I was happier to serve cocktails in high heels than to get money from my mom. And now I walk miles in Marni’s five-inch platform T-straps.
And when I was working at the Recycling department to pay for my textbooks at Salisbury State, I wore my bedroom slippers around campus like they were real shoes, and everyone thought I was adorable. Your argument is invalid.
What you’re trying to do is convince us of the parallel between looking hot and working hard, but what I’m seeing is a woman who won’t be able to walk in bare feet when she’s 50 because her legs will be malformed from all those hours in ridiculous shoes. You can have your platform T-straps; I’ll keep my range of movement.
“When I look at the meticulous style of these women and then walk around Manhattan — New York City, the international capital of fashion and beauty — and see women in their twenties who have already given up, my heart breaks. I am not a mean person, but the sloppiness angers me because it is about a wounded world.”
Those 20something women are overwhelmingly unemployed, underemployed, or overworked and undercompensated; underappreciated; under attack. They wonder when they’ll be able to move out of their parents’ homes. Those are just the ones who are lucky enough to have parents who can give them a place to live and not abuse them. Some are struggling to pay their share of the rent on the minuscule apartment they’re sharing with three other “girls.” They have no idea how many decades it’ll take to dig themselves out from under their student loan debt. They’re dealing with all that shit…and you’re upset because they don’t put enough effort into looking pretty.
I do not owe the world a pulled-together appearance. I am not obligated to look happy for anyone. I am obligated to get to work on time, pay my bills, and not punch anyone who says stupid shit just to hear themselves talk. I don’t make the world a better place by shaving my legs or tweezing my eyebrows; I only shield narrow-minded, sexist people from mental discomfort. I care much more about writing my books—which have something more substantial to say than just, “Look at me, I’m so pretty! It’s not that hard!”—than I do about staying properly moisturized and exfoliated. Anyone who tells me I should spend less time developing characters and plots and more time taking yoga classes and getting my nails done is cordially invited to bite my ass. You wanna see pretty faces? You’re on your own.