Our Looks/Our Lives: Sex, Beauty, Power, and the Need to Be Seen

Overview

Do You Like What You See In The Mirror?

We all want to have it. Beauty. Today more than ever, our physical appearance determines how we judge ourselves and are judged by others. Like it or not, we live in the age of the Empty Package, when how we look takes precedence over such enduring qualities as integrity, kindness, and honesty. Now, in this provacative, entertaining book, the acclaimed author of the international bestseller My Mother/My ...

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Overview

Do You Like What You See In The Mirror?

We all want to have it. Beauty. Today more than ever, our physical appearance determines how we judge ourselves and are judged by others. Like it or not, we live in the age of the Empty Package, when how we look takes precedence over such enduring qualities as integrity, kindness, and honesty. Now, in this provacative, entertaining book, the acclaimed author of the international bestseller My Mother/My Self reveals the truth about how looks affect our lives, and how life affects our looks.

In this thoroughly honest and upbeat book, Nancy Friday probes the power, allure, and mystique of beauty including: fashion, fear of competition, shoes and sex, adolescent pain, envy, the double standard of aging, fairy tales, feminism, love, and more. Part memoir, part history, Our Looks, Our Lives will forever change the way we all look in the mirror.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061097942
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 5/1/1999
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 848
  • Product dimensions: 4.23 (w) x 6.77 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The Gaze
My Mother's Eyes

I am a woman who needs to be seen. I need it in a basic way, as in to breathe, to eat. Or not to be seen, that is the other increasingly attractive option, to give up the lifelong preoccupation of finding myself in others' eyes, the need to be taken in so that my existence is noted.

Ambivalence explains so much of life. As in, I love you, I hate you. As in, how much to show, how much to let another see of one's needs, one's naked self. What bliss to show all and be adored; what agony to be judged, then abandoned after having revealed so much of one's fragile self. Better to show nothing. But then, who would have seen us?

Do we begin life all open? Is ambivalence born of little rejected bits of the exposed self? Once, long ago, we were naked. We loved-no, love is learned--we needed the first eyes, the arms that took us in. Did they love what they saw? We can't. remember and so we stand at the mirror, unbuttoning the top button, inviting the eye, and then buttoning back up, playing it safe. But love is not safe; when we fall in love every but ton is undone, the risk of rejection taken. These eyes that look at us promise adoration. Of course we save our hottest rages for the people we love the most. How dare they take their eyes off us after all we've shown them? We love them, we hate them. High ambivalence. Aren't the first suspects in a murder always those who are the nearest and dearest?

Ambivalence certainly explains my frame of mind regarding the influence I am willing to give external mirrors. I take it very seriously indeed, what it would mean to shed thebaggage that has weighed me down all my life, others' opinions, the way they see me. And, quite literally, to travel with one small suitcase, my promise to my husband.

You are already thinking that this is not about you, who are not a clotheshorse or a starer into mirrors. Perhaps you have already begun to disdain my vanity. But your life has been as fashioned by mirrors as mine; none of us escapes the influence that our looks have had on our lives. Later we may choose to live without mirrors, but we begin life very much in need of reflection. Did you begin rich or poor, seen as the Christ Child or left, invisible, to make yourself up?

Perhaps you ducked outof the competition over looks so many years ago that you can't remember. But once you did want to be seen, taken in, and loved. If you don't today, consider that it might be because you tried and lost. Lost to your brother or sister; maybe got lost in the abyss of invisibility, a parent demanding that all eyes be on her or him. Who wants to remember such pain? Perhaps, instead, you won and were hated for it. Envy can be a killer.

The universal power of looks is free-floating, an electrical charge between hungry eyes and the objects of their desire: "Let me feast my eyes on you. Let me take you in." It is an open market, traded on more exhibitionistically today than at any time in my life. Nearnaked bodies demand our attention on the streets, undressed fashions fill the restaurants, the television screens in our living rooms: "Look at me!"

Those of us who are old enough remember a world that prized invisible virtues such as kindness, generosity, empathy, which are out of fashion today. Now we wear our identities on our backs. Who cares about invisible values? "See me or I won't even know I exist." Ours is the age of The Empty Package. Vanity is all. You are part of this story, believe me.

In the beginning, loveliness is all. The more drawn a mother is to her child, the greater the likelihood that the child will survive. The more consistently the infant's needs are met, the more beautiful and good the mother. To each, the other is perfect. When that face is present, life is sustained; absent, there is no warmth, no love. What does the infant know of standards of beauty, or the good mother care? The child may be too fat or too thin, the mother plain, but when I remember the early Renaissance artists' golden beam painted between their eyes, joining their gazes, they were flawless. When you and I take in that ancient idealization, painted in countless variations by-as many artists, we recognize what we once had and lost, or longed for all our lives.

We never outgrow our affinity for what is conveyed in the luscious paintings of mother and child, the most compelling of which I feel to be circular and cinematic in composition, belly round, affording a keyhole through which one spies and feeds on the intimacy of others. And there is that equally heartbreaking icon of the Pieta, Mary holding the dead Christ, her Child, in her arms, His head once again on her breast. There was a man who was jailed several years ago for desecrating that particular sculpture, hacking it with his rock hammer because, he is said to have told the authorities, "Mary isn't looking at Him!" Indeed, Christ's mother stares downward, her gaze not on His face.

Those Madonna and Child images were, in fact, my least favorite when I was a young art historian; I preferred the cool asymmetry of the post-Renaissance mannerists to Raphael's passionate equilibrium.

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