Beauty of a Woman Blog Fest III: In Praise of the Selfie

Closeup decorative grunge vintage woman with beautiful long hair
This is my third year in a row participating in this celebration conceived by the lovely and talented blogger August McLaughlin. Inspired by Sam Levinson’s poem 
The Beauty of a Woman, which you can read on August’s blog here, the festival celebrates beauty, women feeling beautiful, aging gracefully, and that inner glow. And this year August (who is quickly becoming her own generation’s Susie Bright!) has introduced a #GirlBoner edition of the BOAW fest to celebrate not only the beautiful but the sexy. Check out August’s blog today through Wednesday March 3rd for posts, stories, prizes, and links to other great blogs!

The Beauty of a Selfie

photo 4So I am a little behind on the cultural phenomenon now engraved into the Oxford English Dictionary as THE word of 2013 and known by all teens and tweens as the selfie. Even as I type, my spell checker wants to correct selfie to selfish. But here’s the thing, I have come to embrace the selfie, and its near cousin the photo bomb, as mini-celebrations of girl beauty for two reasons: startling insights and pure entertainment.

The Insightful Selfie

Since I am a selfie novice, I haven’t yet entered the wild and wonderful world of filters and photoshopping with my efforts. In a throwback to Polaroid days, what the camera clicks is what you get. But I have learned the art of KADildayphoto1holding the phone high as I look up into it (to eliminate neck wrinkles) and slightly to the side (to minimize my elongated nose.) Here is the me close up and in everyday clothing. And, hey, she’s not half bad…an affirmation devoutly to be repeated. In fact, my “about me” picture on this blog is a selfie that I took on a day when my eldest had left PhotoBooth up on the Mac and I saw that my hair and makeup had held up to a long day of wrangling words and young ladies. Of course we all know that moment of horror when we look DOWN into the camera. But UNLIKE the Polaroid days of old, there is a delete button on the thing.

The Entertaining Selfie

photo 2

I have laughed a lot taking selfies with my daughters. My girls make faces, they goof off, they rarely smile in that contrived way achieved with the warning of a camera in your face. Selfie-taking is hysterical! No, really. Check out the photo bomb talent! I have also posed with my parents, my parents-in-law, my husband, and my dog (he’s particularly great at the selfie) but have not yet accosted any celebrities to see if they would be willing to step into my personal photo stream. (Yes, I’m talking to you Matt Damon!)

photo 3The truth is, selfies make me laugh, and in review, they comfort me somehow and make me look back at myself in a way that my mirror doesn’t. I acknowledge the potentially angst-ridden nightmare that perpetual selfie-taking represents for young girls who have not yet formed their sense of self and who seek external validation. Trouble lies that way. But I’m sticking with my personal claim that selfies are fun, selfies are fearless, and selfies are fabulous. And the girl in that photo? Well, she’s beautiful.

So I know you all take selfies…wanna share? 🙂 Any selfie stories? Celebrity moments?

Don’t forget to check out the Beauty of a Woman BlogFest III at August McLauglin’s site. And you can see my previous two entries at BOAW I and BOAW II.

And a little more selfie link love:

Pusheen the Cat’s Guide to Selfies

Selfies Are Good For Girls by Rachel Simmons on Slate

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Summer Breezes and Immortality

We’ve been enjoying some fabulous summer days here in Coastal Virginia. When I was sitting out on my back patio recently, the delightful weather brought to mind that most famous first line of Shakespeare’s most famous sonnet:

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

So I looked up Sonnet 18. And here’s the thing about Shakespeare: there’s always more to his writing than one meets in the initial read.

First, here is the full text as taken from the 1609 Quarto Version and reproduced on shakespeares-sonnets.com :

Sonnet 18

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed,
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course untrimmed:
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,
Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st,
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

Now, a few things I found to fascinate me in this sonnet, which those of you more familiar with The Bard’s works may already know:

1) Shakespearean scholars are fairly unanimous in thinking that this poem and, in fact, roughly the first two-thirds of the 152 sonnets in the 1609 Quarto are addressed to a young man by the poet (also a man–Shakespeare). One interpretation I read concluded that this was not particularly shocking on Shakespeare’s part, but rather, a representation of pure love, or love untainted by desire. Another interpretation identified the young man referred to in the sonnets as a rival poet who competes with Shakespeare for the favor of the “dark” lady addressed in the latter third of the poems.

2) This sonnet is possibly the most quoted love poem in the English language.

3) The real aim of the poem, as contained in the final couplet, is to point out that a man (or woman) can be made immortal and unchanged by time through the wonder of words written down. A kind of technological breakthrough of parchment and quill.

4) The 1609 Quarto Version was published by one Thomas Thorpe, who in an echo of our 21st century concerns about pirating of copyrighted material may have stolen this version to compile and publish it without Shakespeare’s consent. (Though this point was debated in the research I read on the 1609 printing.)

In exploring this most famous “Summer’s Day” sonnet, I have found a new favorite in the Sonnets of Shakespeare. Sonnet 141 has a sharp, dark texture but it still extols love, ever mysterious.

Sonnet 141

In faith I do not love thee with mine eyes, 
For they in thee a thousand errors note;
But ’tis my heart that loves what they despise,
Who, in despite of view, is pleased to dote.
Nor are mine ears with thy tongue’s tune delighted;
Nor tender feeling, to base touches prone,
Nor taste, nor smell, desire to be invited
To any sensual feast with thee alone:
But my five wits nor my five senses can
Dissuade one foolish heart from serving thee,
Who leaves unswayed the likeness of a man,
Thy proud heart’s slave and vassal wretch to be:
Only my plague thus far I count my gain,
That she that makes me sin awards me pain.

“The poet runs through a catalogue of the senses, to see what it is that attracts him to his mistress. In fact he finds nothing, and therefore concludes that it must be some perverseness in his heart that forces him to love her and to be her slave. His reward is that she gives him penances for the sin he is committing in loving her….There is therefore an element of parody in this sonnet of Shakespeare’s…For that reason it brings us down to earth with a bump, for it tears us away from the tortured conceits of the sonneteers, and perhaps from our own idealisations of the beings we love, and forces us to accept that the things we love often have an earthly and earthy beauty, much less than a divine one. For we also know that love is a power beyond rationality, and that it does not depend on the beloved being made of coral, or ivory, or rubies, but of flesh and blood with all its imperfections.” —shakespeares-sonnets.com

To that I say, “Yes. Oh, YES!”

Do you have a favorite sonnet or poem? Would you rather capture pure, untainted love or earthy, real love in your writing? Does writing something down make it immortal?

Seals and Crofts Summer Breeze from 1972

Beauty of a Woman BlogFest: The Beauty of Aggression

I offer buckets of thanks to blogger August McLaughlin and her wonderful idea for a blog festival. Inspired by Sam Levinson’s poem The Beauty of a Woman, which you can read on August’s blog here, we are talking about beauty, feeling beautiful, aging gracefully, and lots of other girlie–and not so girlie–stuff. Check out her blog today and tomorrow for stories, prizes, and links to other great blogs!

Here’s my contribution. And may I just say, this blogging thing never really turns out how you expect, but something is always revealed…

I went to college in Los Angeles, which is a varsity league kind of place for people concerned about how they look. Especially young girls—young women. I hadn’t picked USC because of the preponderance of pretty people; I was more interested in the solid reputation of the International Relations department—I know, geeky of me, wasn’t it? I quickly realized (like in the first 10 minutes of checking into my dorm!) that my J. V. grooming skills were not up to the task of competing in this world where everyone was tan, blond, and fabulous, not to mention somehow connected with the film industry. I was thrown into a river of piranhas when I didn’t even know how to tread water.

My parents were native Californians but I was from Philadelphia by way of New Mexico, and I had the short haircut and pale skin to prove it. My mom, who had nurtured me all the way to this crossroads–her second child, her last child, her only daughter–looked around at the sudden influx of Barbie look-alikes (and maybe at my shell-shocked face) and promptly took me shopping. God bless her! Believe me, shopping was not, and is not to this day, anywhere on my mom’s list of favorite things to do. But a few hours at the Galleria, and several hundred dollars later, she left me sitting on my dorm room bed feeling a little better because now I had a few OP (remember those?) tops and some cute shorts to go with them. Who wears shorts in September in Philly? But I wasn’t in Philly anymore, I was in Southern California. Still, I cried when my mom walked out of the dorm and got in her car. Buckets.

I eventually found my niche at USC, academically and socially. I grew my hair out, enhanced the blond, had a boyfriend, and graduated with honors. One night near graduation, I was in a friend’s room primping for a party. A friend of hers was there too. This other woman was drop dead gorgeous, a standout in a land of standouts. She didn’t go to our school. In fact, she wasn’t in college at the time, but earning a living as a model. I was sitting on the bed sipping wine and watching my friend curl this knockout’s long, shiny blond hair. They were both in their underwear so as not to get hairspray and long strands of hair on the little black dresses they were going to wear. I have such a clear picture in my head of them laughing together in front of a floor length mirror. I didn’t feel part of their group of two, so I wasn’t talking, just sitting. Out of the blue, the beautiful girl turned to me, flames shooting out of her lovely eyes, and yelled, “Stop f*%ing STARING at me!”

I bobbled my wine glass. “I’m not staring,” I mumbled. Then I made some excuse and left the room, fighting tears. My friend later apologized to me for her friend’s outburst, but I had shrugged off the sharp needle of hurt by then. What kind of inner imbalance and pressure was such a woman under to react that way to me? I asked myself snottily.

Maybe I should have asked, What kind of vibe was I giving off to cause that reaction? I was so envious, after all. And I had been thinking (even though I knew better), Look how beautiful she is, it must be so easy for her…

What I really WANTED to say back to her (later, when I thought of it) was, “I’m NOT staring at YOU. Get over yourself, bitch.”

Maybe what I should have said was a much more honest, “Oh, wow. Didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable. I was just thinking how amazing you look. And envying you. What products do you use in your hair to make it shine like that, or is that just God-given luck-of-the-draw?”

Here’s the thing. We women compete for men and resources and position. We vie with our looks, our brains, and our bodies. We judge, we evaluate, we make improvements, we collude with each other at the expense of others, and we send out little darts that draw blood. But I have always thought (and it’s not a terribly original thought, just a true one): What if we used all that energy we spend competing on collaboration? We could rule the world, maybe. And wouldn’t that be a beautiful thing?

In my late twenties and thirties, I plunged into all the feminist and post-feminist manifestos: Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth, the classics of Simone de Beauvoir and Betty Friedan, Ms. magazine. One book stuck with me though, and I have it prominently on my bookshelf even now. Natalie Angier’s Woman: An Intimate Geography spoke to me with her truth and her language. Here she is on why we struggle to conflate the aggression that wells up inside us with the image of ourselves that our culture hands us:

“The problem with ignoring female aggression is that we who are aggressive, we girls and women and obligate primates, feel confused, as though something is missing in the equation, the interpretation of self and impulse. We’re left to wander through the thickets of our profound ferocity, our roaring hungers and drives, and we’re tossed in the playground to thrash it out among ourselves, girl to girl, knowing that we must prove ourselves and negotiate and strut and calibrate but seeing scant evidence of the struggle onscreen or in books or on biology’s docket. We are left feeling like “error variants,” in the words of one female scientist, wondering why we aren’t nicer than we are, and why we want so much, and why we can’t sit still.”

So for our celebration today of The Beauty of a Woman, I offer a toast to women: Here’s to roaring hungers and profound ferocity. Beautiful, dangerous, and strong. May we feel the envy, but reach out a hand anyway.

What about you, my readers? Were you ever in a place and time you felt out of your league? Was it the people around you, or was it really YOU causing your discomfort? Can women work together, collaborate, share? What makes you feel beautiful?