Fans of Nora Ephron's I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman will find humor along with serious insights about women and aging in Barreca's latest challenge to women to "stop obsessing over hymens, husbands, and hangnails and once again direct our attention outward to the larger issues of... the creation of genuinely significant opportunities for women in all workplaces." But Barreca (Perfect Husbands & Other Fairy Tales) is more about laughs than lecturing, as she addresses the mysteries of finding the perfect bra, the indignities of bathing suit shopping at TJ Maxx, her relationship with her hair and the "Fifty-two Things I Learned by Fifty-one." Along the way, she points out what she considers to be the insipid concerns of holiday preparations or what exactly women may consider to be a waste of time ("Why, oh why, didn't I organize my closet according to color and texture of garment?"). Between the snappy observations, Barreca takes an opportunity to liken the progression of contemporary feminist thought to a car accident-"it's not so much that we're in a backlash as we're in a whiplash." (May)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
It's Not That I'm Bitter . . .: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying About Visible Panty Lines and Conquered the Worldby Gina Barreca
In a world where eye cream is made from placenta, Gina Barreca is the lone voice calling out "But wait, whose placenta is it?" She asks the crucial questions: Why is there no King Charming? Why does no bra ever fit? Why are there no tutus in XL? Why do more intelligent women have trusted psychics than have trusted financial advisors? While she definitely wants
In a world where eye cream is made from placenta, Gina Barreca is the lone voice calling out "But wait, whose placenta is it?" She asks the crucial questions: Why is there no King Charming? Why does no bra ever fit? Why are there no tutus in XL? Why do more intelligent women have trusted psychics than have trusted financial advisors? While she definitely wants everyone to know that she's not bitter, Gina does want to know why no one realizes that Anne Bancroft was only thirty-six when she played Mrs. Robinson, the quintessential cougar. In "It's Not That I'm Bitter..." Gina shouts out her message to women everywhere: "You are smart enough to conquer the world, so please stop weeping when you try on bathing suits at T.J. Maxx." As Gina declares "The world lies to us and we want to believe. We want to believe that, if we wear a pair of palazzo pants with a latex escape hatch built into the stomach area, we'll appear five pounds slimmer instantly… We torture ourselves, even though we are smart broads." In deliciously quotable essays on the ability of both chin hairs and tweezers to affect your life, the reason every woman believes she's crazy, the possibility that the "glass ceiling" may just be a thick layer of men, and thoughts on intimate conversations she'd have with Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, Cindy McCain and Sarah Palin, Barreca gleefully rejects the emotional torture, embraces the limitless laughter, and shows other women how they can conquer the world with a sharp wit, good shoes and not a single worry about VPLs.
"Gina Barreca is very, very funny. For a woman." – Dave Barry
“Some people are funny in an acid-edged cocktail lounge, like Dorothy Parker, in a smoky French cafe, like David Sedaris, or in a crazy English country house, like P.G. Wodehouse. Gina is funny in your kitchen, in the ladies' room of your favorite restaurant, in the awful dressing room with forty-seven ugly bathing suits around you. Gina Barreca is funny, for real.” – Amy Bloom
“Regina Barreca's prose, in equal measures, is hilarious and humane. Her no-holds-barred observations make me laugh, tear up a little, and nod my head in recognition. A witty paisana, Barreca packs a punch and lays bare our foibles.” – Wally Lamb
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Read an Excerpt
Am I turning into one of the Smith brothers?
You spend about fifteen minutes in front of the mirror every morning trying to see yourself in a new light.
To be more precise, you are trying to see your chin in a new light.
Armed with tweezers, reading glasses, and a mirror, you are a woman on a mission.
Once you begin, you are unstoppable. You have the kind of concentration envied by army generals and nuclear physicists. Nothing can distract you or dissuade you from the absolute necessity of your pursuit. Small children can scream, alarms can wail, windows can shatter, the earth itself can move beneath your feet, but you cannot, will not, look away.
You will get that rogue hair. The one you can only see from a certain angle in a certain light. The one so fiercely connected to your person that it must be part of your skeletal structure. You will pull it and triumph. In so doing you will feel a mixture of vindication and exultation both, a sense of victory almost unparalleled. Holding the hair up to look at it more carefully is like ridiculing a vanquished foe.
It is like winning a fabulous prize. It is an accomplishment, a final thwarting of an enemy, a valedictory.
Except, of course, that women are not supposed to have chin hairs. This means that a person, however bold in alternate venues, would collapse instantly if somebody caught her in the act of plucking. Imagine her guy walking in and saying, "Hello, sweetheart! Gee, what are you doing?" The woman would have to say, "I'm trying to do my own root canal. That's the only reason I had my lower jaw stuck out this way," and she'd start tugging on her molar with the tweezers to make the whole pantomime look real.
Life, as you know, is not fair. Some men have backs so hairy it looks like they're always wearing angora sweaters. Yet a couple of little white hairs and suddenly a woman feels like she should be auditioning for the opening scene of Macbeth. Like Blanche DuBois, she's afraid to be seen under a naked lightbulb even if the guy looking at her is Karl Malden.
So while, historically, women hid behind fans and veils, we now cup our chins in meetings and keep our faces pointed downward in what might appear to be an attempt at flirtation but what is really an attempt not to attract glare. See how many women you can catch staring at their chins in the rearview mirror when stopped at a light.
There's always one hair you can only see when you're in the car. I've seen women trying to use the Velcro from the back of their E-ZPass to remove that one. You have to get it while you're in the vehicle itself. You can never see it anywhere else. But once in the car, it looks like you've been grooming it for years, nurturing it along so that it's grown luxuriantly and with gusto, like you've been feeding it fertilizer and intend to do a comb-over with it.
Women live in fear that everybody else has been looking at that hair for years while they've been oblivious, going along, lalala, concerned one day about the size of their ankles and the next about the size of their bank account, when all they should have been obsessing over was the Hair That Could Strangle Pittsburgh.
In contrast, there are ads during prime-time network television for men's razors; there are devices, for goodness' sake, just to get the hair out of men's noses and ears. Can you imagine if women had vast quantities of hair growing in our noses and ears? Men would be shrieking and waving their hands in the air, running away as if from werewolves.
Men would not, for example, buy women little nose-hair clippers on our birthdays. They would not say with a little affectionate laugh, "Hon, do you think maybe you should trim your ears before we take the family photograph?"
If women had tufts growing from our noses and ears, men would bring exorcists to the house. They would hire professionals to drive the evil spirits from our bodies. And the ones doing it would be seen as optimists, because most men would move away and keep the shades down lest a hirsute babe walk by without warning.
But the time has come to admit this much out loud: I've got a couple of lousy, almost invisible hairs on my face. And I want them to stop making me nuts.
For years I hid my tweezers the way alcoholics conceal bottles, stashing them in the top drawers of ornamental cabinets and hiding them inside bags so that nobody could unwittingly stumble across them and know what they hide. I mean, you might have one cheap pair for your eyebrows, but when you get out the Swisscrafted stainless steel, everybody knows what's going on; you can't hide from the unsightly hair police.
In my house, every mirror has a pair near it. Every pocketbook. Every suitcase, too, despite my worry that a TSA security agent will one day shout to a fellow officer, "Hey, Ralphie, are the Leatherman Irongrip Tweezers in this here lady's luggage permitted on the flight?" "What is she, Wolfman Jack's sister?" That scene would be followed by outright prolonged laughter from the other 3,437 fellow passengers gathered around me. Including George Clooney.
Magnifying mirrors—starting at 3x and going up to 10x—have proved harder to hide. But I have lots of these as well, having developed a particular fondness for the ones with sticky-adhesive cups on the back so you can attach them like reflective starfish to any shiny surface. I stare into them as if gazing into a crystal ball.
Ah, self-reflection: if only it ended with the chin. But life is not so easy. . . .
Have you ever looked into one of those magnifying mirrors and discovered your pores are so huge that your face looks like something from the lunar landscape? Or perhaps you have, as I do in my office, a full-length mirror that makes you look four inches shorter and twenty pounds heavier than you actually are?
Do you spend time scanning your face and your body the way a proofreader scans a legal document? Do you have days when you think your looks are pretty good and other days when you think it would just be easier to put a bag over your head and a tent over your body before you leave the house? Does it matter when people tell you that they perceive no difference whatsoever between how you look on one of your really "good" days and how you look on one of your really "terrible" days? When they say such things, do you want to smack them?
Have you ever said to anyone, "Does this barrette make my head look fat?"
If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, my bet is that you're a girly woman; this particular brand of self-torture is supremely girly behavior. I wouldn't call it womanly because I reserve the word "womanly" for the more mature, practical activities I associate with being an adult. When I'm driven to distraction by the fact that I've only just noticed that my eyebrows seem crooked, however, I'm just living life as a girl.
It doesn't change much with age, either. I'm getting puppet lines around my mouth like a ventriloquist's dummy; that's new; that's glorious. And also, after a few hours, no matter what brand I use, my lipstick now starts to feather. That's the word they use—"feather"—but what is really happening is that my mouth seems to be seeping or spreading into the rest of my face like a stain. I've turned into one big advertisement for industrial-strength lip liner. Terribly attractive.
As far as I can tell, men don't do this to themselves. They look at themselves once in the morning and maybe they check their hair and their teeth toward the end of the day, before drinks and dinner, to make sure no food has lodged in either over the course of the afternoon. But they do not obsess the way we do. My husband, for example, is decidedly unsympathetic when I whine after looking into my 10x mirror for twenty minutes after having noticed yet another crease around my mouth or line in my forehead.
"Why do you do that to yourself?" he asks me.
For him this is not a rhetorical question.
"How can you not do this to yourself?" I reply. "Don't you want to see the slow erosion of that which you once laughingly referred to as 'your looks'? Aren't you interested in cataloging every flaw, blemish, and splotch?"
In all innocence, he asks, "Why on earth would anybody do that?"
I usually laugh and say it's the inherited behavior pattern, something genetically encoded, for the female of the species, rather like an appreciation of dollhouse miniatures or shoes with sparkles on them. He's stopped listening by this point, so it's always fine.
This morning, however, when I did my usual "I look awful today," checking out my potential back fat by looking over my shoulder, after having just put on a favorite suit, he said, "But I've always liked you in that outfit."
"But today I look like I bought it for somebody else. I refuse to be appeased."
He kept watching me as I examined myself. It was as if we were two observers looking at a third person. "You don't look any different from how you looked this weekend," he pointed out. "You didn't instantly assume gargantuan proportions or inflate like a life raft in the last forty-eight hours."
"But I looked better on Saturday!"
"You know what? I don't know how to break this to you, but you looked exactly the same. Same haircut, same face, same body."
"But somehow the combination looks all wrong right now."
"I'm telling you, you look exactly the same. Maybe you just don't feel as good. But don't blame the suit."
I can reel off all the reasons I do this to myself starting from when Doctor held me up and said, "Mrs. Barreca, you have a cute baby girl." (When my brother was born, apparently the doctor said, "You have a big, strong baby boy.")
I can tell you from an anthropological, sociological, biological, psychological (and economic! let's not forget economic) reason why I've inherited this script. And I can also tell you, in alphabetical order, a hundred reasons why this self-destructive behavior is worse than useless, not only for me but pretty much for every woman who feels this way.
Feminist, schmeminist. I want to look better than I look.
For example, I've just reached the age where I'm scared of hotel mirrors, of those unfamiliar and disinterested reflections. I'm nervous when I see myself out of context. Hotel mirrors give me new perspectives and that's no longer what I'm looking for. I want to see the version of myself that I know. Lit from the side and seen from two angles simultaneously, I can no longer tell myself that a man half my age would find me attractive. If I could just see myself straight-on with my carefully rehearsed and prepared spontaneous smile, in good lighting, it does seem at least possible. But seeing with no filters, with no familiarity, my rounded shoulders, my soft upper arms, the way the backs of my legs look, then all pretense falls away. Home is not only where the heart is; it's also where the good mirrors are.
The trouble is, all this knowledge gets eclipsed by the image in the mirror, the image that doesn't give me back what I hope to see. I can eat light or, worse, eat "lite," wear good clothes, and buy reasonable, non-clown cosmetics, and I can take care of myself.
But gradually, my longing to improve my looks via The Body Shop is being replaced by a longing to improve my looks via Photoshop. It's far easier and so much less messy, after all.
When I consider what it will be like when my "lite" is spent, when I think about facing issues far graver than whether my mascara is clumping, I want to do better, not just look better. I want to have less disdain and contempt for my body—this encasement that's held up pretty well so far.
I want to remind myself that I shouldn't worry so much about how my body looks as be grateful for the fact that most of it works. When I meet my own eyes in a reflection, I'd like to see the wisdom in them rather than the bags under them. When I glance at my legs, I want to remember the places they've taken me rather than how they looked when I was seventeen. And I want to remind myself that objects in the mirror are cuter than they appear.
Excerpted from IT'S NOT THAT I'M BITTER . . . by GINA BARRECACopyright © 2009 by Gina BarrecaPublished in May 2009 by St. Martin's Press
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.
Meet the Author
GINA BARRECA, Ph.D. is a professor of English and Feminist Theory at the University of Connecticut and author of Babes in Boyland, They Used to Call Me Snow White, but I Drifted and I'm With Stupid: One Man, One Woman, and 10,000 Years of Misunderstandings Between The Sexes Cleared Right Up (coauthored with Pulitzer Prize-winner Gene Weingarten of The Washington Post). She grew up in Brooklyn and now lives in Storrs, CT. Go figure.
GINA BARRECA, Professor at UConn, wrote Babes in Boyland, They Used to Call Me Snow White but I Drifted and co-authored I’m With Stupid: One Man, One Woman, and 10,000 Years of Misunderstandings Between The Sexes Cleared Right Up with Pulitzer Prize winner Gene Weingarten. She grew up in Brooklyn, NY but now lives in Storrs, CT. Go figure.
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