Wednesday, January 12, 2011


Reverse discrimination is an interesting phenomenon. I am sure there are a lot of ways to express reverse discrimination. But I am thinking of plain people being snooty towards beauty. I hate to admit it, but I am quite guilty of this. I am periodically reminded of the fact. The first time I was forced into awareness was when I was a college student. My dorm had two very beautiful and somewhat glamorous women. One had been the winner of a beauty contest. They really were isolated by the other women. This was the early 70's when applying make-up and doing your hair was just not in fashion among college women. We were nature girls and learning to be liberated.

I overheard a conversation between the two beauties once about how lonely they were, and how tired they were of people treating them like dirt because they took pride in their appearance. I had NEVER once considered that they might feel lonely or put down. I felt so disparaged just standing near them that it certainly seemed impossible that I could ever impinge on their self esteem or happiness by the actions of my lowly, homely self. What a shock to me! They really were kind and sweet, and never stuck up in the way they interacted with others. It was only my own perception of my inadequacies that made me think of them as high and mighty.

And yet, even after that revelation, it has been very difficult for me when I meet other women who strike me as beautiful and glamorous to treat them as regular people. I suppose the same is true of men like that, but I meet far fewer men in that category, frankly. In law school, there was a pair of blonde women who were quite beautiful and always in full make-up and nicely dressed. Some of my crueler classmates dubbed them The Gold-dust Twins. I hope they never heard that. I was reminded of the incident when I watched the movie, Legally Blonde, and realized that I still harbor that hostility and reverse discrimination. I assume that the beautiful and stylish cannot possibly also be intellectual. And that is a ridiculous fallacy. It's just very hard to uproot!

Now, the fashion is for women to always present that polished appearance, wearing cosmetics even to the gym. I never mastered it. It's a darned good thing I'm a librarian and an academic. Don't know how I'd manage if I really were in a profession that demanded that Look. So many of the young women I see in law school and the undergrad manage this on top of everything else they do each day. I really don't know how they do it. And I am not sure it's a good thing. I used to say, I'll use nail polish when men do, or I'll wear high heels when men do. But, by golly, I've seen both, by now, and I'm still not willing to do either on a regular basis.

I hope that young men and women both can avoid the self-destructive messages that all the body-image dictates tend to bring on. The recent movie, Black Swan was a very honest depiction of the dark, destructive under-side of ballet, where a young star is shown dieting and going bullemic and ultimately falling apart into madness. The same destructive dictation of the feminine ideal is apparent in the fashion industry. A colleague long ago who had previously worked as a model and a dancer once commented on both fields as being peculiarly misogynistic. Fashion models and Barbie dolls teach us all a ridiculously unattainable ideal of what a woman should look like.

The image is actually from Legally Blonde 2.

1 comment:

Marie S. Newman said...

When I was a junior in college, I lived next door to a senior who was planning to go to New York after graduation and become an actress or model. She was blonde and tall and svelte, and tended to keep to herself. I don't remember what her major was, but she seemed to spend a lot of time reading. I always assumed she didn't interact with her dorm mates because she felt superior to us. What I remember most about her was that she didn't work on being beautiful--she didn't have to. The rest of us spent a lot of time trying to improve our looks, but this woman never did. I never saw her wear makeup or nail polish, and I envied her. One day, I ran into her in the laundry room and finally took the trouble to talk to her, and found out that she felt crippled by her profound shyness. She didn't wear makeup because she didn't want to stand out and call attention to herself. I asked her if her career choice made sense for someone who wanted to blend into the background, and she looked at me as if she didn't know what I was talking about. Not much introspection there as it turned out. But I felt guilty for having assumed she felt superior when in fact she was too shy to engage with people. A number of years later, she turned up as one of the stars of a hit television show; she has also acted in a number of movies. It was nice to see that her dream came true.