Thursday, November 24, 2005

Beauty: Mind of the beheld?

"I want to be beautiful. I want to be really beautiful. In fact I want to be goddamn stunning."

"Um, but you are beautiful. I think so anyway. You look sort of...interesting."

Ella tosses me a disdainful look. "Oh interesting! Everybody tells me I look interesting. Interesting is not beautiful. I want beautiful."

I have never seen her like this. Her voice hard, her face, almost flinty, haggard from a week of continuous vomitting, because of a demoralising visit from the people who made her paranoid in the first place - her family. I went over because I happened to be in the city, and that's where she lives. Now I am wishing I hadn't. Her superhuman self-control is down, and I see the trapped creature inside. It looks out at me with starving eyes, clutching at words, seeking reassurance, believing nothing.

Beauty is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying...?

Ella shows me a picture of her sister. Her sister is dazzling. Hollywood beautiful. Her sister has this wonderful new man in her life. A man who's a saint, by all accounts. And Ella wants such a man in her own life.

But all relationships peter out into nothing and her latest lover has found a new love. He didn't bother to tell her it was over. She found out at a dinner with someone who, not knowing her connection with Mr Flawless remarked casually: "What a lovely, lovely man. And his girlfriend is simply gorgeous."

"Er, what exactly do you think you have to do, to be beautiful? I venture tentatively. Since there is not an ounce of superfluous flesh on her, I'm thinking it will be plastic surgery. At this moment she seems crazy enough for anything. I consider playing Unpretty by TLC or suggesting that she read The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf, but desist. The way she's feeling now, she might actually slug me.

For a while Ella is silent.

Then: "I need to accept that I am beautiful."

"Phew." I let out a sigh of relief and smile inadvertently. "Just that."

"Just that? You think that's easy?" Her face hardens once more. Oh God, this is like walking on eggs. I don't seem to be able to say anything right.

We talk a bit about desperation. And how trying too hard pushes whatever we want away. And about how she may have chosen to be alone at the moment to sort certain things out. And how her life is really very rich and fulfilling (ordinarily you need to book weeks ahead to see her).

But they're all words - and behind the words, there's the insistent: "I need to be beautiful. I need to be dazzling. Like my sister. I want men to look at me, the way they look at her. And nothing you say is gonna make a difference. That's just the way it is."

Fast forward two days: I am having dinner at a food court with my friend Cyn. We're both scarfing sushi like it's going out of style and Cyn is telling me about some of her latest conquests. Her air is one of tolerant amusement rather than conscious pride.

"I tell you ah, that fler is mad. I mean, I say I'm not interested and he thinks I'm playing hard to get. I drop him off at his place and he leans over and kisses me. On the lips. Now if was one of our Malaysian guys, I wouldn't take it seriously, you know what jokers they are. But these Indian Indians. So I say, Savi, look, I'll sleep with you, no problem, just as long as you don't think it's going to go anywhere."

We erupt in laughter. I say: "Gosh Cyn, I can't believe you said that. How'd he take it?"

"Aiyah you knowlar. Thought I was joking. Finally he became so heavy-handed that I had to start ignoring him to get him off my back. Don't like to be mean, but if they can't get the picture when you tell them nicely..."

Lately, she has acquired a stalker who sends her obsessive SMSes, shows up at places he thinks she might be and keeps telling her: "You're the kind of woman I can see myself with." "Which part of no don't you understand?" is lost on him.

Everytime I run into her at uni, at least five guys will stroll over to chat. There is just something so irresistible about her.

I wonder at this. Of course, Cyn is an attractive woman, but she's not that much more attractive than Ella. The difference is that she takes all the attention for granted. There are no destructive tapes playing in the background telling her she has to prove herself. She attracts attention effortlessly because frankly, she doesn't give a shit.

There is a lesson here of course. But it's not one that can be transmitted to anyone who really needs it. Those who feel the desperation will go on feeling it. They will starve themselves, overdo it at the gym, search for salvation in a $500 moisturiser, spend five hours a week at the hairdresser, simonizing, simonizing, simonizing the paint job.

It wont work. It never works. But that's OK, try it anyway.

After all, what doesn't kill you can only make you weaker.


lemontree said...

and then there is an ella and cyn inside each women; fighting to dominate each day. some days cyn wins. somedays she loses.

Jenn said...

That's a very astute observation Lemontree. I guess it's true. Ella scared me because I recognised her desperation in myself. And Cyn makes me happy, because with her, I can just relax.

Andy said...

Here's a male point of view, and it may be atypical since not all my girlfriends may be what you would consider "Hollywood" beauties, but they were all gorgeous to me: self-confidence is what makes someone beautiful. Intelligence, a sense of humor, kindness and honesty also help.

Great post; perhaps my favorite of yours so far, Jenn. I especially liked "What doesn't kill you only makes you weaker." Yah. I always thought Nietzsche was full of shit on the "...makes you stronger" stuff.

Jenn said...

"Blush". Thanks Andy, you always make me feel great. It is self confidence, I think. And kindness that makes a woman (or a man) attractive. Have you ever met those people who try too hard and after a while you just wanna walk away and you think, "loser" although they may actually be quite attractive?

I'm glad you agree with me re: Nietzche. Stronger indeed!