In recent blogs, I ruminated on the idea of innate femaleness, wondering if such a thing even exists. I have been reflecting on the differences between women who choose to beautify themselves and women who choose a more au natural look.
I believe that each of us holds within ourselves a standard of the ideal woman or at least a few images to suit our changing moods. Whether or not we choose to emulate those images is another matter. But to simply say that a woman “should” beautify herself for her own sake alone may be naïve and cavalier. This statement doesn’t take into consideration the mass female culture norms that bombard women every day through the advertising that contributes to shaping her inner view of how she should look. (Incidentally, I’m so grateful for Dove commercials). So how do we as women internalize this advertising onslaught in terms of how we choose to present ourselves to the world?
Or should we? If we refuse to be influenced by advertising—if that’s even possible—then where would we find our sense of style?
“Clothes can suggest, persuade, connote, insinuate, or indeed lie, and apply subtle pressure while their wearer is speaking frankly and straightforwardly of other matters.” ~Anne Hollander
February, 2010, while attending a writer’s conference in San Francisco, I was sitting in the hotel lobby. Heart racing and red faced, I was attempting to calm myself having just given my first manuscript “pitch” to an editor. The bumbling part of me threatened to overwhelm me with shame. Yikes!
As I took in deep breaths, I looked up to see a gorgeous young woman dressed in a stunning suit gracefully walking her very long legs in my direction. With her beautiful smile and outstretched hand ready to shake mine she said, “Hi, my name is Jenny, who are you and what are you doing here at the conference?” I told her I was trying to catch my breath and my composure. I declined her request to tell her about my book, still feeling embarrassed by my true confession pitch. Instead, I asked her to tell me about the book she was pitching (which has since been published). “Well, it’s about everything you ever wanted to know about after college….”
Despite our thirty-year age difference, I found Jenny delightfully engaging and easy to talk with. Eventually I began telling her about my book, beginning with the collage I’d made many years ago. In that collage, I discovered that no matter how I chose to present myself to the world, through dress and makeup, that in and of itself would not tell you, or me, who I am.
Jenny said something like, “Oh my, what a great thing to write about. Up until four months ago, I wouldn’t have been caught dead in a suit and heels. I would love to learn more about how to be feminine.” Jenny’s honesty and generosity is part of my inspiration for writing this blog. We have remained in touch with each another and I recently asked what she recalled of our “lobby” conversation. Here is what she remembers about our conversation.
“I admire women who embrace their femininity – it almost seemed like a foreign concept to me growing up. My mom worked full-time to raise two kids — her priority was paying the bills and providing for us – not on buying fabulous shoes, taking time for herself or dating. In today’s society, women are taught to work hard, to learn how to support themselves and be independent, and to succeed ‘in a man’s world’. Because of this, I never really learned how to embrace my feminine side until after I turned 25. I had reached success in other areas and now wanted to be feminine and fabulous – even though I didn’t know how. At the same time, magazines taught me that I needed to be skinny, blond and have big boobs – that was true femininity. As an athletic brunette with a small chest, I constantly measured myself against an image I could never achieve. So when I meet women who own their sensuality, who dress to the nines because it makes THEM feel great, and who can still come across as graceful, soft, and powerful yet relatable (you, Dawn, fit all of those categories) – I am immediately drawn in with wonder and amazement.” ” http://LifeAfterCollege.org http://twitter.com/JennyBlake
Let me tell you, the day I met Jenny, she definitely looked feminine and fabulous.
So again I ask, just how much of my proclivity towards all things soft and sensual stem from my innate femaleness and how much is social/gender indoctrination?
What do you think?
Does adorning oneself in a certain way represent one’s feminine side as Jenny expressed?
Do you share Jenny’s views?
Have you ever measured yourself against the prevailing “feminine” image?
How about men? Do you measure yourself against a prevailing “masculine” image?