“You look like you’ve got no bosoms at all!”I’d come down the stairs of our small cape, padded into the kitchen, and dropped my towel to model my sophomore year swim team suit. The suit was black with a splattering of colors across the torso and uncomfortably tight so as not to account for drag that might add crucial tenths of a second during a race.”Do you have to wear that suit?”My brother, a senior at the time, sat at the dining room table which was used only as a computer table. We ate instead on a card table in the kitchen. He sat constantly there, typing faster than kids did in those days and tying up the phone line for hours with his “modem,” but I was sure he was aware of the embarrassing conversation taking place a few feet away.Never again, I decided back in my room, stripping angrily out of the swimsuit, would I ever go shopping with my mother. Certainly never swimsuit shopping. I’d get a summer job, buy my own damn bathing suit.I took heart when, in college, an appreciation for curves, even the conspicuous curves of the lower body that I’d been on a mission to hate and destroy, surfaced. I let go of the toxic eating habits, the disordered eating which I only then faced in hindsight and named “eating disorders.”
Yet, I feel the old, familiar fear when I see being embraced the body I don’t have, the body I can’t have. Still in college, I overheard a young woman saying to her friend, “She’s so pretty; she’s got a skinny body and big boobs,” I surged with anger. Didn’t she know that an ideal woman should have the flowing, melodious symmetrical curves of an hour-glass, a shape so pleasing to the eye that ancient Greeks shaped their amphorae and not a metronome turned on its head? More recently I watched an episode of The Housewives of Orange County wondering, What would they think of me? I didn’t think much of their ridiculous reaching. But it was more than that. I wanted them to realize this, to suffer, in effect.I welcomed the term when I began to hear tranny used to describe women who- as the term implies- resemble transsexuals, men who, in their attempts to look like women, embody results that are in some places oddly inflated, in others hollowed; a version of woman that is so far removed from a natural woman that prehistoric man would likely render her unrecognizable.Not that I’m a fan of meanness, which is somewhat of a trend these days.
I don’t (with the occasional exception) refer to women as bitches. What’s so urgent to differentiate a female jerk from a male one, as if their femaleness makes them a rarer, far worse sort of crabby or anti-social person? An overused, mostly unnecessary word, I don’t endear my girlfriends with it. I don’t watch American Idol and when I do see a clip, I don’t relish Simon- or the others, perhaps off the radar due to their relative passive aggressiveness- belittling the show’s contestants. I did purchase a keychain that said Like what you see? Dial 1-800-YOU-WISH. I got a kick out of pretending to be so obnoxious, pretending to be a woman who calls herself a bitch. It’s a small and simple thrill for a passive, non-confrontational wimp like myself to attach a beacon of outlandish, outspoken vanity to something as personal as a keychain, nearly always on my person. I felt on some level I’d joined a sisterhood with the scantily clad obese women on talk shows where, “I know I’m fine!” explodes from their sturdy diaphragms. Christian Siriano, winner of this last season’s Project Runway, fit right into the modern trend of meanness, its pop-cultural leaders including G.W. Bush, aforementioned Simon Cowell, and Perez Hilton. Siriano was undoubtedly clever with his plentitude of expressions; trendy and likeable in his cute, petite, gayfully gay manner. Which might account for his popularity and ability to get away with his harsh and crude language when critiquing people and their fashions. Though it’s mean, unabashedly impolite, and only perpetuating the masses’ license to laugh at the dismay of those being laughed at, bringing the term tranny into the limelight has timely relevance.
As I write it, red squiggles litter my computer screen. I checked the dictionary and it wasn’t there either. With ever increasing surgery and youth maintaining or regaining treatments, it’s only a matter of time until this word asserts its place in language and its recognition by Webster. Like many of today’s popular slanders it essentially states, You’re ugly. The type of ugly is markedly American and its emergence completely organic.At the time of my own burgeoning womanhood, grunge was the look and there were still a few popular musicians who couldn’t have otherwise pursued careers as supermodels; the subtle irreverent beauty of the lead singer of 4 Non-Blondes and the lack of concern concerning looks of old-time blues singers, apparent in its scrawny or hefty men, the case in Blues Traveler. Flipping to MTV intermittently throughout the past decade, the music station’s contents morphed with the before-your-eyes speed of a flip-book cartoon. The emblem of youth counter-culture became a vehicle for horrifically materialistic, self-absorbed sixteen year olds planning their birthday parties, advertisements and promotions that prey on teenagers’ insecurities screw-driven into more slots than allowed in mere commercial breaks, and a few music videos resembling soft porn.
These pulsating images broke up the fast-food commercials that left my insides dripping and empty, my mind cavernous and craving. I was in my second pregnancy, scooping rainbow sherbet from a three pound bin, in intermittent adherences to the doctor prescribed bed rest. High school was long gone and yet I hadn’t felt more peripheral to stereotypical beauty since I was six and, Cinderella being my icon of womanliness, mourned the blond hair that would never sprout from my olive skin and in a shoe store curled up my toes while trying on sneakers just so the number on the inside of the tongue- small and inconspicuous as it was- would be smaller. (It backfired, making my feet appear even bigger. The saleslady detected with her flattened, prodding thumb that, “These are way too small for her; her toes are curled!”)My longing for blond hair was unfettered by helplessness or despair. I took longing to be a part of myself. After all, my neighbor and playmate Lindsey, with her Norwegian roots, wanted my brown hair, a girl who was fascinated by and markedly unafraid of insects, whose long, nearly white locks were splattered with mud and twisted into snarls by the end of each play date.
Despite my defiance, holding my own in an image-obsessed society, like the detestable women of Orange County and Girls Next Door whose seemingly only goals are to be hot, my longing no longer feels so bearable and there is the reasoning that it needs not be bore. Beauty standards seem more stringent than ever. This, coupled with the tools of technology has introduced extreme measures and strict constructs. Today’s atmosphere is one in which women feel tremendous pressure to appear always young, yet the result is an unnatural appearance. Excessive usage of cosmetic technology has resulted in a case of science imitating art imitating science. Beauty has intersected the gaudy, exaggeratedly glamorized look that is not unlike the look of men who try to look like women, whether as drag queens or transsexuals.
If it’s all part of a natural process, this shouldn’t last, which might account for the backlash against extreme beauty and its measures. With every era follows that era’s antithesis; realism followed romanticism which was spurred by industrialism. The conditions leading to a backlash against extreme beauty are the culmination of a natural progression that created the standard of beauty it now spurns. Society cyclically rejects ideals of beauty that it created. Women dye their hair, dab their thighs with anti-cellulite creams, implant false teeth, cheekbones breasts, and buttocks while stripping away the fat of the inner and outer thighs, arms, and buttocks. (There is confusion, at this juncture, concerning buttocks.)
Needless to say, everyone is on a diet. Women have plastic surgery to look younger, but end up looking like women who’ve had plastic surgery. Poor Priscilla Presley was joked about following every episode of Dancing with the Stars. Would this woman, best known for who she is the widow of, prefer to be called an old hag if she could go back and reverse all the work she’s had done? Is it better to be a freak than to be old? Two beacons of beauty meshed during the twentieth century to create the uniquely American standard of beauty: Hugh Hefner and the Gay Man. As fashion precipitates beauty, fashion’s empirical source is primarily gay men. The majority of great fashion designers are gay men.
We all know from reality TV that they sit there in their Fifth Avenue or Parisian studios, forefinger pressed to chin, acutely eyeing the girls who audition the imaginary runways in their tight offices, assessing and selecting the blessed few who will make viable their designs as only a real, live woman can do. While the editors of Vogue and Elle and the rest are women, fashion begins here, with the designers. Clearly, their idea of what makes for an attractive woman differs from the corresponding view of straight men. That’s why all us girls were so shocked- happily so, when years of thinking we ought to look like high-fashion models, chosen because clothes on them emulated clothes on hangers, some guy told us, “We like a little meat on your bones.”Instead of coming to a screeching halt, the skinny, asexual ideal of the fashion world merged with the playmate of the sex world. Women seemed to either forget or ignore that the buxom blonde is one man’s (very successful, mediocre in looks, morally decrepit) “type”. The centerfold may be the first sexualized, naked female form to which most adolescent boys are exposed. This seminal form creates a sexual imprint on the young mind, therefore having a huge impact in defining an entire country’s prototype for attractiveness. The hybrid of these two beauty archetypes is a fair woman of youthful appearance, long, slim legs and hips, and back-breaking breasts supported by a bird-like back.
This theory of beauty evolution, in any case, has been my reasoning in determining that my looks are not derogatory. The relief imported in the existence of the word tranny is the assurance that it’s not so great to look like one of Hugh Hefner’s girlfriends. A few months back, before LipoDissolve itself dissolved, I watched for the umpteenth time as a woman told the presumed off-camera interviewer from where she sat perched on a stool, how grateful she was that the product had rid her of “saddlebags.” Disgusted by the onslaught of similar ads, I ranted aloud about the manipulative peppering of words that marketing execs had apparently discerned were sweet spots on the malady of female body image. Saddlebags and muffin top had been invading my consciousness like some sort of mantra. “What are saddlebags?” asked my husband, so disarmingly naïve. I’d known what saddlebags were since puberty. After all, they were my first wobbly bits to sprout.”What?” he asked, perplexed. “That’s the sexiest part of a woman!”That initial rebellion against all my mother bought into was the beginning, as I wondered why the time on the clock after completing my fifty fly was less meaningful than how I looked afterwards as I climbed out of the pool.
It’s a process, I’ve come to accept. So why should I want another woman, struggling against forces to which she has not yet rebelled, to be criticized for her looks and her yearning and grasping to be admired for them? While I take pride in my unorthodox beauty, it too will fade. Then I will need more than a theoretical answer for: What is the purpose of a woman without beauty?My rebellion has never ceased and has been misdirected. “She looks like a fish!” I huffed at the imposing from of Angelina Jolie on the big screen. My husband, who was my boyfriend at the time, had chosen Tomb Raider and I criticized her in an attempt to make an impression on him. I walk behind a group of teenage girls and think that’s what my legs are supposed to look like. I see a music video and think maybe I should be there, revered for what I’ve still got to shake around. I read a century old Kate Chopin novel, and am embarrassed by my weakness. I see a Botticelli and appreciate that men have, throughout history, found beauty in the actual, unmolested female form.