‘Mayim Balik Shamed for “Victim Shaming,”‘

The headlines read.   It is not okay any longer to suggest that the way a woman dresses (or looks) has anything to do with being sexually harassed. “Sexual harassment is about power.”  Okay.  Yes, let me state up front that anyone who harasses another is exerting their power in some way over another whether sexually harassing or hazing or general bullying.  Definitely about power.  And Balik, who is a neuroscientist, understands the reward centers of the brain better than most of her audience, too and definitely understands the chemical satisfaction of power raging through the amygdala.

Yeah, But. . .

She also understands sexuality better as well.  Weinstein was getting off at his power, but he was also sexually aroused.

The problem with shaming Balik is that she is making a point about Hollywood that people want to pretend isn’t true, especially the actresses who get the jobs.   Look at the list of the actresses harassed.  Any Roseanne Barrs?  Any Phyllis Dillers?  Women who look as if they represent a good portion of American, “regular” women?

Nope.

All of them are “exquisite” on the beauty scale.  Barring our personal preferences for a snaggle tooth or a heavy brow, all of these women meet what neuroscientists have PROVEN we prefer and rate in terms of beautiful.  They are “symmetrical;” they have the open-bright eyes, smooth skin, sharper cheek bones and full lips that denote youth.  . (Even the handful of actresses still working without those qualities, had them when they started out in the industry: Judy Dench and Shirley MaClaine whose acting chops carried them beyond youth, with rare, oh so rare, luck.)

And their beauty is exactly why they get these get jobs.  Jobs that require them to more often than not use their sexuality across the screen.  Their derrieres and cleavage are on display and often centered in frames without their faces.  Or their faces are close in and personal where their perfect skin is apparent (Can you think of one famous actress making a living with pocked skin like Ray Liotta, Edward James Almos, Mickey Rourke?).  Their roles are often filmed with their lips parted and their eyelashes fanning over their come hither eyes, their fingers trailing along the opening of their blouses.

And here is my point, these beauties work in an industry where their sexuality IS the reason they are working.  Yes, they work hard and are good actresses and often even superior actresses.  But they cannot deny that their appearance is why they are there in the first place.   On screen they have to dress and behave as people simply do not (or are not supposed to) in real life.  Look at the business women in television or movies. Their skirts are so much shorter or tighter than is professional in a work setting.  (That this is causing young people to blur the line and struggle with professional appearance NOW in real life is a post for another day. . .)  The characters’ makeup is so much heavier than people wear .  Their cleavage is much more obvious; even policewomen characters look sexy with buttons opened at breastbone level.

Think of the movie American Hustle. In real life, women were only wearing Amy Adams’ revealing outfits as hookers, dancers or models on magazines covers.  But the actress was required to walk around as if this were normal dress in the 70s.   Even the recent movie,  Deepwater Horizon opens with a sex scene focusing on the “wife’s” body (and in a bit of fair turnaround, Mark Whalberg’s).  Plus, whenever a “real life event” is turned into a movie, can you think of an example where the actress wasn’t far more “attractive” on those neuroscience scales than the real person they were playing?  Erin Brochovich, Leigh Ann Tuohy, Norma Rae, Karen Blixen, even Tina Turner?

And this is the point Balik may have been trying to make.  In an industry where the actresses’ sexual attraction gets her the job, we cannot be surprised that they are then sexually harassed by the man deciding who gets the job.  We cannot pretend that their bodies and their skin had nothing to do with it.

And this is the direction the argument SHOULD be going: The industry has gotten so sexualized, overall, that these women are already “meat” before they walk into an audition or a negotiation.  And THAT has to change. Not just in the boardrooms or offices, but on the screens.

I know that those shocked by Mayim Balik’s article are rightly saying that they should be allowed to be as sexy as they want without any boundaries being broken. Yet then in Hollywood at least, isn’t that a ridiculous, twisted game?  “I must turn you with my appearance to get my job, and then allow you to turn on audiences with my package, too . . .but you must respect me as a person.”  That’s off.

Why aren’t they building an argument, instead, against being meat from the moment they enter Hollywood instead of trying to suggest their appearance is irrelevant.

 

 

Where’s the Hair?

Image result for hairy chest caveman

Men’s body hair?   I for one don’t understand where it is disappearing to.  Well, the chin, obviously, since hipsters everywhere are trying to impersonate Rip Van Winkle.

I’m beginning to miss body hair in general.  The other day, my youngest son was glancing over my shoulder while I was poking through a magazine.  On one page was an ad for a hair removal product.  The pretty model held an old photo of herself as a pre-teenager.  Her arm used to be covered in black down.  Not too crazy, just the sort that Italian girls might have sported when I was a kid.

Son said, “EWWW. Yuuuuck.”

“Huh?” I replied, as he pointed to what was grossing him out.  “That hair?  So what?”

And here’s the thing: he says, NOT something about her or other girls, but about himself: “I hope my arms don’t ever get like that.”

Well, my beloved kiddo, they MIGHT!

I was expecting him to say something negative about girls, but apparently very few girls even at his young age have any arm hair any more.  Are their parents shaving it off?  Waxing it?  They are not old enough for laser. . .I think.

I find his reaction so very ironic because when he was an infant, one of his self-soothing gestures was to suck his thumb while he gently yanked and smoothed the hair on my arm. . .or his father’s or his grandparents’.  I mean, my arm hair is  a smattering of blonde, or at the very darkest, light ginger growth, but it is graspable.  Oh, the sweet memories of his nursing, while he played with the little hairs on my wrist.

I’m sure there is some deep Freudian something at the root of his pubescent yuck of a hairy arm on himself.  I’m not sure I want to go there.

But more than likely, it is simply modern culture that is destroying his future self-esteem, should he grow up to be as fuzzy as his grandfathers.  Or Mom.

I know the trend of shearing the body to the skin is nothing new on the female side of the genders.  Years ago when I was divorced and had jumped back into the dating pool, I tried the waxing.  My arms suffering first, which bled,  stopped me from trying the wax in a more hairy, more tender region for sure.  In fact, my arm hair became ingrown, once the somewhat curly bits started filling in, causing a rash the likes of smallpox.

I had to go on a first date on one of the hottest days of the year wearing long sleeves. And of course, the date asked me, why the hell are you dressed like that?

Because YOU IDIOTS have decided hair is gross.

Even farther back in time, before the naked pubic bone trend, while I was teaching in a southern, “traditional” school, meaning a place where the men still saw themselves as the lions of the home, we came to a reading passage in a book which mentioned something about hair on a girl’s legs.

A young man shouted out how disgusting that was.  A young lady next to him said, “Lots of women around the world never shave their legs or their armpits.”

“Not their armpits?!!” he griped.  “That’s just plain dirty!”

“So,” I said,  “Really?  Why don’t you shave your armpits then?  Somehow YOURS are nice and clean? And hers,“ pointing at the girl  ”Are dirty?”

“Well. . .yeah!” said the boy.

I said, “HOW?  Don’t men sweat more?  Don’t they have more hair?  If so, how is it cleaner exactly?”

He started turning red.

I continued, “I think you should stand up now and say to all the ladies in class that you are simply a cleaner human being than they are, but that you could be even cleaner.  And then offer to shave your pits.”  He put his head down on the desk to shut me out and said not another word.

The hypocritical thing is that I did shave my pits then.  And I had no intention of stopping and no intention of men ever doing it.

I’ve accepted that this is just how things are.  So much so that a few weeks ago when everyone was up in arms over Sansa Stark being graphically raped by Bolton in Game of Thrones, and more so when R. R.  George Martin stated this was simply realistic to the time period setting, I couldn’t be bothered to ask, “If you are trying to be realistic to a time period then why is Cersei not covered in leg hair, or worse, why does Cersei have a ‘narrow landing strip’ of hair on her pubis.  Pretty modern. . .”

But the bald woman has become so “normal” I stayed out of that argument on misogyny.  I figured it was the actress herself who wouldn’t be caught dead with hairy legs on T.V..

BUT NOW. . .men are joining the changing trend .  And I don’t like it.

I happen to love a hairy chest, arms and legs on my men.  Whether a tiny smattering in that concave area between the pecs, or a thatch from shoulders to naval and below;  Think 1980s Alec Baldwin or Sean Connery? YUM!

I feel badly for men in general, and my sons specifically, that now they are beginning to suffer the grooming demands of a hair-fearing culture.  Sure, I can see the appeal of a slip-and-slide chest that some women crave.  But the vanity and the procedures behind maintaining such is so unappealing.  If it is natural, okay.  If not, don’t go there, Guys

I also feel badly for the young ladies whose mental picture has been so shaped by their culture that they cannot love a downy chest the way I can.  The Black silk that lines my husband’s stomach.  Tingly nirvana, Women!

And I hate that my children may have ANY itch of self-loathing due to the demands of hair-hating women.  My oldest son whose chest is fuzzy blond does pick and pull at it, and has wondered aloud about shaving it.

I cannot tell him that when I was back in the dating pool years ago after his father and I split, I dated a MUCH younger man. To my shock, the guy groomed his privates and shaved his chest. And even as recently as he had done so, I was completely turned off by the mere stubble on his stomach, and the weird crew cut feel of his pubis.  Of course, I guess men are used to that feel from their wives or girlfriends . . .but I’m not going to discuss that with my son.

Not quite.  I simply said, “Not all women want a naked little boy chest.  Some women prefer MEN.  Keep your hair.”

Come on!  If we can shape people into this current baldy viewpoint, let’s reshape them back to the other.

The Bastardization of Beauty: Sick or Sexy?

Several years ago, my sister-in-law died of a rare form of cancer.  She was strangled from the inside out by something called pseudo-myxoma peritonei, or jellybelly.  A gelatinous cancer grows and cuts off inner organs, in her case, her digestive system.  Every few years, over a decade, she would have surgery to scrape out the substance, until there was just too much to remove.  Then, she quite literally starved to death.  Horrifying and sad. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone, ever.

However, being a woman who could go up and down in her weight range, especially as she aged,  Lori could enjoy at least one thing during the final years when she was sickly thin: the compliments, the size zero bragging rights.  “You look so Fabulous!”. And she almost seemed to forget that this had nothing to do with her choice. She was proud.  But then the end came near, and she was thinner, then even thinner, too tired to enjoy her model-like figure.

Yet the compliments continued.  She could only eat certain foods pureed, which would then mostly be emptied through a thick tube surgically attached to her belly.  Chew, swallow, remove. Not everyone knew that.  So you’d think that the people who asked, “What’s your secret?” could be forgiven.  However, our attachment to the svelte image is so powerful, that no, even those who knew Lori was dying, were an eesny bit envious of the fact that she was wearing  a teenager’s leggings.

This five foot seven woman who wasted away in front of our eyes was America’s standard of beauty. The constant imagery of The Thin has really screwed up our value system.

A year after she died, her sister, another of my dear SILs,  (which we affectionately address one another as Sissel) began having health problems of a different sort.  She has always had food issues, one week allergic to something, the next not.  Can’t eat chicken, can eat chicken.  Avoided sugar, yet jammed anything sweet into her mouth before she could stop herself. She, like the majority of women, began to battle her growing weight as she moved closer to middle age.

About six years ago, she was diagnosed with IGG deficiency. an autoimmune disease.  This helps explain her fluctuating food reactions.  Then last year, her Celiac artery was semi-blocked. Surgery successfully opened it.  Though no tests can show that her system has shut down, no test can illustrate a blockage anywhere, she is certain that she has gastroparesis or an intestinal blockage; she is able to eat hardly anything.  Gastroparesis is when the duodenum, the sphincter at the bottom of the stomach is paralyzed.

Her doctor goes along with it and uses the term gastroparesis loosely, believing my Sissel when she says she is full, nauseated, unable to eat another bite. My  SIL will swing between a diet of certain extremely bland (and fat-free) foods, a total liquid diet and nothing, stating that she just cannot eat another bite. The other day, my mother-in-law threw her annual corned beef and cabbage party, complete with Shamrocks and Irish Ditties.  When the rest of us, who ate like kings complained about “tickin'”, my SIL chimed in about how huge and uncomfortable she was, complaining about how hard it is to eat and nourish herself.

She had indulged in a calorie free bottle of Sobe, a soft cooked baby carrot, and half a water cracker (and those last two only because she just couldn’t resist.).  Her brother, my husband, asked her why she was drinking calorie free drinks if even water fills her up?  Good point.  If one supposedly cannot get sufficient calories without pain and effort, shouldn’t every sip have a calorie if possible? Well, she answered, she just doesn’t want sugar to be her calorie load.  She reports that her body can only digest about 800 calories a day and then seems to shut down, get backed up, become painful, nauseated. She wants her drinks to be for hydration only.  Yet even the calorie free drinks fill and block her.

Confusing.

Though the only evidence of a medical issue at this point is anecdotal, though we get conflicting illogical info from her all the time, we are all expected to play along, and feel sympathetic to this gastroparesis.  And we do.  The woman weighs herself every morning and evening.  This supposedly tells her if she is facing a few days of severe indigestion as her food just sits in her bowels, unmoving.  This weight change of a pound or two upward, lets her know she is about to be backed up.  Who cares that. EVERYone weighs more at the end of the day; she sees this as a sign and stops eating anything but a low calorie liquid diet.

I know that she might be right. She might really have a true medical event going on; she and her sister have had the rarest of conditions.  But then again, she might have an eating disorder.  Or she very well might be reliving her sister’s experience, sort of like men who suffer phantom pregnancies.  The two were very close, and Lori’s loss was painful for everyone.

Sissel has dropped 45 lbs. She hovers just beneath 100 lbs. Five foot 5..  If she drops below that, she will be forced on a feeding tube. Her legs look like a child’s, her ribs pronounced.  I feel sympathetic pain believing they might break just looking at them. She sleeps too much now, struggles to work because she lacks energy, literally.  800 calories ain’t much.

But again, everyone thinks SIL looks great!  (And they aren’t being kind and mannerly. They mean it. They wish. They envy. . . They joke about how to catch her “disease.”) SIL has been happily posting fresh pictures of her newly slender frame on FB.  Before that, she never bothered with Selfies. She has taken to wearing clinging clothes.  Her husband says how bitter sweet it is to see her wear things she hasn’t been able to fit in for over twenty-five years. Her mother’s friends compliment her on looking like a teenager.  My SIL loves this attention.  So do they.

Another close friend of ours spent last summer with a fever,  vomiting everything. Doctors finally found a perforation in her bowels. A possibly deadly diagnosis. They saved her, but not before she lost fifty lbs. Again, the compliments rolled in. She felt like hell for months as she healed, but even her mother began sniping about how beautiful she was now; don’t regain the weight. (Her mother has actually been hospitalized for an eating disorder.)

My husband and I discussed how insidious this imagery-this thinking- is. When we reverse the gender, the underweight physique is so obvious, even deplorable.  If my husband weighed 120 lbs., or even 140 lbs, comparably adjusted for his height and gender to match my sisters’ puny sizes, would anyone ogle him with delight?  Would any woman admit that this man would then be her sexual ideal the way some men can only be sexually attracted to emaciated women?  Tony loses three pounds, and the whole family thinks he is sick or working too hard.  But folks everywhere find malnourishment in women intoxicating.

I can’t. Not anymore. Take the show Modern Family: I see voluptuous Sophia Vergaro as a beauty; I now watch Julie Bowen uncomfortably, who if you review her career, is a skeleton of her former self. She didn’t get that way as she aged, naturally.

I know there are certain people who are genetically thin-ectomorphs make up a small portion of the American population.  But my two sisters and my friend, even Julie Bowen, aren’t those people.   My Sissel says she is already looking at a menu that will help her keep her new figure should she ever eat normally again. . .How does she not see the flaw in her design? To remain that small demands she doesn’t eat normally.

I’m also aware now of how few calories someone must choose to eat if they are middle aged and want to be as thin as my sister. Way too few.  Undernourishingly few.  To do so, those dieters are denying themselves not only the pleasure of food, but health.

I know that culture often defines what we perceive.  But seriously, has culture gone so far down the skinny path that we no longer recognize illness, physical (or even mental).  We now think, oh, such beauty, when we are actually seeing self-denial, self-punishment, anorexia, even death?

I know this is not an original complaint.  But really, just like we had to push to change the habit of getting a dark tan to remembering to wear sun screen, can we change the image of sexy back to something safer in women?  Can we look at a woman who weighs 142 lbs. and think, lovely, healthy, centered, sexy, ever again? I’ll bet Sophia Vergaro isn’t 100 lbs.

Thinking of Love: Nonverbally

I recently had an epiphany about romantic, expressive men.  And for a bonus, I also got the elusive relationship closure that so many of us seek.  It was a surprise gift from the universe. . .and my unsuspecting husband, Tony.

On New Year’s Day, I ran into a lover from my deep, dark past.  He, his grown daughter, my husband and I sat for about thirty minutes socializing, very quickly catching up. Meanwhile, Former Lover kept, as they say, making eyes at me.

This was not an affair that had ended well.  But it had ended so long ago, I no longer hurt to see him or speak with him.  We are both plumper, a tad greyer, and definitely more lined, but it felt like we had just seen each other the last week.  We chatted and joked briefly, and then my husband and I climbed into our minivan and sped away.

That was not the closure.  Former Lover had been a man who, met years after I lost my virginity, had actually woken my sex drive.  Our connection, though doomed, was immediate and ridiculously hard to define.

He was a musician and an artist.  No matter what time of day or night, he had some instrument of creation in his hands, a drum stick, a worn nub of charcoal, a guitar, maybe even a teapot.  It was not the Art or the Music that seduced me as is cliche; instead, his sheer joy while lost in his work and play was impossibly attractive. Oh, and he was.  . .is British, for all you Anglophiles out there.  I know, a sexual awakening, creative Brit?  Aren’t they supposed to be uptight and cold?  He wasn’t. Former Lover was prone to saying things about his heart beating faster or not being able to think straight when I was near.  And when words failed him, his body never did.

Much later, a short year into my relationship with my husband,  I was uncomfortable and feeling insecure.  I knew he loved me; he tells me so every day, in those exact words..  But. . .something was missing.  We had more than a few conflicts over the fact that he doesn’t give physical compliments very often.  And if he does, they come across as forced or awkward.  “Uh, well, don’t you look cute. . .”  At first, I just thought he was not verbal.  But, no, he was voted most talkative in his high school.  He can articulate. In fact, he fully compliments my cooking or my intelligence all the time. And one of his greatest assets his how much we talk, late into the night.

I then suspected that maybe, though attached to me, he didn’t really find me sexy or even pretty.  I figured, he was a practical man who had made a practical choice and had married the smart, talkative, nurturer, instead of the empty, distant model.  He would get perturbed, annoyed and then angry with me for voicing these thoughts.  But I periodically have had trouble shaking this sinking feeling.

I said to him, “There have been men in love with me before, a number of them who wanted to marry me. I KNOW what it feels like to have a man want me.”  And this wasn’t it.

I reflected back on the men who had loved me, some of whom I had loved in return.  All of them had been expressive about their love and their desire.  They would tell me how gorgeous my eyes were when they gazed longingly into them.  One man used to sigh into my then long, curly hair and go on and on about how he wanted to one day die in it.  (Not as creepy as it sounds when you are in the middle of being loved.)   One used to tell me I had the most delightful ass on the planet. Another, as I mentioned, described how pit-pattery he felt.  I believed every single word from these men. It was the passion they exuded, the eyes that seemed only for me, that made their musings true.  They openly and verbally reacted to my attempts to look nice when I dressed up, to my natural appearance, and my very smell.

NO, I am not a raving beauty.  But these were men who knew how to make me feel like I was.

And my husband isn’t one of those men.  Yet, that expressive passion I enjoyed from former beaus, even my ex-husband and Former Lover, is how I have always felt about my man. Tony.  He drives me insane with desire: His smarts, his goodness, his love making, his very being.  (To gain a picture, he somewhat resembles Clint Eastwood from the early Dirty Harry days. In fact, I had never found Clint a sex symbol until I fell in love with my husband.)  Whatever this former lover awakened in me, my husband puts to bed in the very best way.  He is the sort of lover every woman wants-gentle at times, considerate, but with just the right amount of manhandling to get his way.  I compliment him all the time.  I’d finally come to believe that inside, My husband feels the same way, when once, frustrated at my insecurities, he shouted, “You are the best thing that has ever happened to me.” Enough Said.

So. . .a few weeks after this reunion, you might suspect how I’d react to receiving an effusive email from Former Lover.  (He knows people who know me.)   In it, he expressed how much he was still feeling toward me, and easily tossed out these words:  “My relationship with you was the most honest, intelligent, intuitive, erotic, and fulfilling of my life.  You got into my psyche more deeply than anyone ever did.”  He went on to express how he wished we had married all those years ago, issues be damned, and gone and lived the last two decades together.  In less than so many words, he was secretly seeing if I was “available.”

Nice to hear 20 years later, eh?  Do you wonder if I was tempted?  He was off to Central America in a few weeks.  I could easily jump on a plane and restart my life all over again.

I was stunned.  Angry a little at the tardy sentiment.  Envious of once again hearing such fine words. Irritated that he thought it appropriate to interfere in my love cocoon.  But also tickled pink. Tickled, tickled, tickled.

Though Former Lover hoped I’d keep all this hush-hush, I immediately told my husband, full transparency.  I was uncertain how he’d take it.

In stride. His first comment: “See, you still got it, Baby.”  Well, hmmm. Okay, yes. After how many gained lines and pounds?  “This guy sees you after 20 years and thinks to himself, ‘I want some more of her. I made a grave mistake all those years ago.’”

I also told my husband how sometime earlier last year I had written an amends to this Former Lover-we both owed one to the other for blowing up quite a lot of our world when we imploded as lovers.  I had tried writing before years before, but now, in Al-Anon and working a 12 step program, I felt the need to do so, with full responsibility. I’d written a heartfelt note, but suddenly my computer frizzed as it can do.  My words of contrition all disappeared.  I saw this as a sign to keep my mouth shut and mind my business.

Tony tells me this:  “Making an amends is for you.  God knows you did so with good intent, and cleared your mind. It doesn’t matter that the guy didn’t receive it. That this guy surfaces only months later, we run into him accidently, and now he is ‘resmitten’ with you, gives you a sense that what had happened years ago was real, true emotions on both sides.  Doesn’t that feel good to know now?”

There’s the closure, especially since I can respond with an amends now.

Here’s the epiphany:  All the men who have loved me in the past have been EXPRESSERS in various ways, artists, writers, musicians, even a stand-up comic.  They dealt daily in the world of sharing what was inside their hearts and souls.  I had veered away from men like Tony-business and math-minded, practical, relatively conservative.  In college, those practical guys had been the ones who seemed too preppy, they peed in the ice machines, and date-raped women in their fraternity houses. (How’s that for a childish generalization.) I stayed away from them.  But somewhere in my middle age, I got sick of the liberally slanted men.  Getting a divorce from my son’s Dad, an artist who had taken over a decade to figure out a career where he could actually contribute money to the household had left me cold.  And all my other boyfriends-even this Former Lover in question- had spent their lives stumbling  along, too, leaving all the heavy lifting to their wives or girlfriends.

Opening my mind, once I was single again, I found this trustworthy, practical, dependable Man, Tony,( . . .and yes, a former frat boy,) who has trouble verbalizing his attraction and his love for me in more words than “I love you, Baby.”

I had sacrificed the oh, so easy sway of big, fat words, for the strength of a solid man’s man.  And I’ve only benefited.

Those loving words in the former lover’s email were very pretty.  But also extremely simple to say, and not do for that guy.  My husband finds it much easier to do than say.  He understands commitment in a way no one else in my world ever has- takes care of his part of our world and then spoons me to sleep.  He also stands in the greeting card aisle for hours, reading all the cards to find one that says what he cannot.

The other night, my oldest son met his Dad for a movie.  After the film, en-route to somewhere else, he had a crappy flat tire on a major highway, and couldn’t get the spare loose.  Whom did he call?  Not his artsy-emotional Dad whom he had just left, but his step-Dad, Tony who quickly gave him directions to wait in the car safely till he got there.

This stoic man is the love of my life; I’m his, and we both know it.