Archive for August 31, 2011

Men age better than women—fact or fiction?

Filming this weekend in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Photo by Barrett Griffin.


I’ve complained many times (especially in my “Holy Hypocrisy” and “Thank God Somebody Finally Said It” posts) about the fact that the heterosexual couples we see in television and film are often completely mismatched—the man is hopelessly out of shape while the woman has a body so tight and well preserved she appears to have come from the alien world of PlanetFit.

These odd pairings have always bothered me, but over the past week or so I had a tiny little insight into this problem . . .

. . . is it possible that middle-aged men don’t take care of themselves as well as middle-aged women?

I was forced to ask this question recently because I had to cast and produce a short film that will advertise my husband’s next book, Cemetery Girl.

We needed three actors—two adults to play the husband and wife in the book, Tom and Abby Stuart, and a twelve-year-old girl to play their daughter, Caitlin, whose disappearance near the cemetery gives the book its name.

We got lucky casting the latter since a friend’s daughter had just finished playing the lead in a local production of Les Mis and was anxiously looking for more work. (She was so dedicated she even dyed her hair for the part.)

But the husband and wife were harder to find. We didn’t need them to do much in the way of acting—they just had to sit at a dining room table and look upset after finding out their daughter has gone missing. So I scoured my Facebook friends with the director, looking for local men and women who fit these roles.

As it turned out, there were dozens of women I know here in Bowling Green who would have worked. Women of all stripes—blonde women, dark-haired women, thin women, curvy women. All of them just beautiful.

But the men were another story.

Most of them were either out of shape or out of hair or—how do I say this?—just frumpy, as if they simply didn’t care anymore what they looked like.

There were a few men who didn’t fall into one of these three categories, but I was still surprised by the fact that we had a dozen women to choose from and only a handful of men. And I couldn’t help but wonder: what does that say about our perception that men age better than women?

Of course, in our society, people automatically think men age better than women because men are allowed to have flaws—wrinkles, grey hair, pudges, etc.—and women are not.

So we just assume that men get better with age and women get worse.

But if you really think about it, maybe the fact that women are NOT allowed to age naturally is what keeps them working so hard to look good. Maybe there were more beautiful women to play the part of Abby Stuart because women feel so much more pressure to be beautiful.

In no way does this excuse the numerous movies and televisions shows that pair a hot woman with a schlubby guy, but it does make it seem a little more understandable.

Our mannequins have slimmed down too.
Coincidence? I think not.

We always talk about how much bigger Americans are now than we used to be . . . not only are we heavier, but we’re also taller than people were even fifty or one hundred years ago.

But there is one group of Americans that has gotten much much smaller . . . the women we see in our movies and television shows and magazines.

We know this from looking at pictures of Marilyn Monroe and Mae West and comparing them to everyone today from Zoe Saldana and Angelina Jolie to Giuliana Rancic and Calista Flockhart.

But it still surprised me when my friend Tasha sent me the photos she took below at an antiques store, and I saw that even old mannequins were bigger back then than they are now.

These images really speak for themselves . . .

If this mannequin’s body was held up as the norm today, I would be perfectly average.

And these pictures make me ask this question . . . if we keep getting bigger and our models and mannequins keep getting smaller, doesn’t that mean there’s some kind of connection?

Let’s get ’em while they’re young!

Two different friends of mine—Lola and Wren—have pointed out to me this week that a new diet book is about to enter the market and it’s for . . . wait for it . . .young girls.

According to the Los Angeles Times, “though the book is about a 14-year-old, Amazon pegs the reading level at kids between ages 4 and 8. The Barnes & Noble website says the age range for the book is 6 to 12.”

Yes, that’s right. It’s not enough to have a poor body image and an eating disorder when you’re a teenager. Now they want to get one before you’re out of pigtails.

The book is called Maggie Goes on a Diet, and it supposedly explains to young girls how they can lose weight through healthy eating and exercise.

Apparently “As the book opens, Maggie is called ‘fatty’ and ‘chubby’ by kids at school. So she decided to do something about it. She didn’t starve herself but switched to eating foods that were “healthy and nutritious” and cut way back on junk food, allowing herself a single “normal-sized treat” once a week. She also started exercising almost every day and later joined a soccer team.”*

I have no problem with a book that tries to teach kids how to live healthier lives, but doesn’t the author know that using the word diet is like planting a ticking time bomb inside these girls undeveloped stomachs?

And I’m not the only one who thinks so. Commenters on Amazon and Barnes & Noble are furious. One said, “The idea of this book makes me want to either cry or scream—actually both . . . It’s bad enough that the messages and images in the cullture have co-opted most women into loathing their bodies, but targeting the insecurities of young girls, vulnerable to the risk of developing an eating disorder, borders on promoting high risk behaviors and attitudes that are destructive both physically and psychologically. Please take this book off the market.”*

I completely agree.

The reason using the word diet in the book’s title (or in the book) is a problem is because studies have long shown that women who diet when they’re young—and young used to mean high school and junior high—are much more likely to develop eating disorders** and “Adolescent girls who diet are at 324% greater risk for obesity than those who do not diet”**

Did you get that?

Girls who diet are 324% more likely to be obese!

Isn’t that all the evidence we need to know dieting is bad for us?????

Simply put, if you diet when you’re young, you’re more likely to have a problems with your body over the long haul. That’s definitely been the case with me—I went on dozens of diets between seventh grade and college, and now even though I eat well and exercise daily and have low blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar, I still weigh more than the BMI chart says I should.

I’m not sure why women who diet when they’re young struggle with their weight when they’re older, but I suspect that if you mess with the way you eat, you also mess with your metabolism and how you burn calories, and your body never goes back to metabolizing in a completely normal way again.

I know as well as anyone that we need to do as much as we can to counteract the childhood obesity problem in this country, and it’s a subject I’ve discussed at length in my blog posts on the subject.

But teaching young girls to diet and obsess about their bodies is not the answer. It’s actually part of the problem.




With friends like these, who needs enemies?

I’ve recently had the pleasure of hanging out with a new group of women here in Bowling Green, and as a result, I’ve learned all about their interesting lives, including the ways in which they, like me, struggle with body image.

You’ll just have to believe me that these women are attractive, smart, funny, and fun. I’d show you a picture to prove they’re a good looking bunch of people, but it doesn’t seem necessary to do so, and I also want to maintain their privacy. At this point, I hope you are willing to trust me.

Because these are objectively attractive women, I was horrified to learn that one of them, I’ll call her Lola, had recently been criticized for her weight.

Apparently, some of Lola’s other friends were out one night when one of them said it was too bad that Lola had “let herself go.”

No, this other woman didn’t call Lola fat and unattractive, but she might as well have. We all know that’s what “let herself go” means.

What bothers me about this isn’t just that the insult isn’t true, though it’s important to point out that it’s not: Lola is a beautiful person. It’s that it came from another woman. Haven’t we learned yet that if we don’t support each other, no one will?

It also shocks me that any adult woman—a middle-aged woman no less—believes that there is only one way to be beautiful. I feel like I’m getting repetitive, but let me say it clearly: beauty is not just defined by a number on the scale. No, it is not about being super skinny, but it is also not necessarily about being wonderfully curvy. It’s about so much more than that. In truth, it’s about confidence and self-esteem more than anything else.

In addition, it’s worrisome that this woman doesn’t realize that our bodies change as we age and, especially, as we have children. After our stomachs are stretched out in front of us like a bulging canvas, we can’t expect them to lie as flat as they did when we were sunbathing at the age of sixteen.

It doesn’t surprise me that the comment came from a woman who is notorious for crash diets and obsessing about her body. She is a person who is extremely thin for her age, but despite this, she continues to try to lose even more weight. It’s sad enough that she cannot accept that, when nearing the age of fifty, she doesn’t need to have the same body she did as a teenager. But it’s even more disturbing that she spreads her poor self image to others like a virus.

Listen, I know that we’re bombarded with images of women every day that tell us that the only way to be beautiful is to be thin, but at some point, it is up to US to change things. We can’t immediately alter the way women are depicted in the media, but we can change the way we talk about each other’s bodies. Let’s all make a commitment to do it sooner rather than later.

Throw the TV out with the bath water

Do you ever feel like as soon as you start doing everything right—exercising regularly, eating well, getting enough sleep, etc.—they spring something else on you that you need to do in order to be healthy? Because I feel that way all the time.

And now, on top of everything else, they’re saying that TV will kill you. Maybe not right away. But eventually. According to an article published yesterday in The Daily Telegraph, researchers in Australia found that “For every hour of television watched after age 25, lifespan fell by 22 minutes.”

Twenty-two minutes less life for every hour of TV watched? That just doesn’t seem right.

But it’s not that watching TV by itself will kill you. It’s what you do while you watch TV and before or after you watch TV that’s the problem: “As a rule, the more time we spend watching TV, the more time we spend eating mindlessly in front of the TV, and the less time we spend being physically active,” said Dr. David L. Katz, director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University School of MedicineKatz. “More eating and less physical activity, in turn, mean greater risk for obesity, and the chronic diseases it tends to anticipate, notably diabetes, heart disease and cancer.”*

So the people who tend to watch TV all day long are the same people who overeat and don’t exercise? Tell me something I didn’t know.

I guess I’m just feeling a little bit angry right now. I don’t watch a ton of TV, but I do have a few shows I love to catch—30 Rock, The Office, Parks and Rec, Mad Men, Louie, Project Runway, and The Daily Show. Lucky for me, some of these are on during the summer and others during the school year, so I never get too much TV at any given time. But if this study is correct, every time I watch one of these shows, I’m losing eleven to twenty-two minutes of my life.

I guess I should just throw my 50-inch plasma out the window right now and do some more situps while I’m at it. I’ve already given up smoked meats and high-fructose corn syrup and processed foods and non-organic dairy or meat. I already work out almost every single day of my life. What are they going to ask me to give up next? Having sex and singing in the car?

TV was one of the few indulgences I had left that I didn’t feel bad about, especially since I’m not one of those people who vegges out in front of the TV for hours. Sometimes I even exercise while the TV is on! But now they want to take my Tina Fey and Jon Hamm away from me too.

It just doesn’t seem fair.

The Help: If “babies love fat,”
why aren’t we allowed to have any?


**SPOILER ALERT: There are no plot spoilers here, though I do give away one line of dialogue that doesn’t reveal anything about plot.***

If you haven’t heard (and if you haven’t, I imagine you have no internet or TV access and won’t be reading this blog), the film adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s novel, The Help, opened yesterday in theatres across the country.

I have not read The Help yet because of all the controversy surrounding the book—is it a moving story about a group of women trying to do their part in the Civil Rights movement? Or is it another one-sided portrayal of a white person helping black people overcome oppression designed to make viewers feel better about our country’s problematic history? (Like The Blind Side and Remember the Titans before it.)

I was afraid to find out the answer to that loaded question, so I avoided the book even while so many people I knew were devouring it. But when some friends of mine who had read the book and loved it were going to see the film on opening day, I couldn’t resist the chance to see a story I knew so many Americans would soon be experiencing (and discussing).

There are many notable things about the film—the fact that the trailer makes it seem lighter than it is, the fact that it bravely includes harrowing moments in our nation’s history, and the fact that it does an outstanding job of showing some of the ugly ways white people used to treat black people and children. At the very least, I admire the film—a mainstream one out of Hollywood—for doing the latter with such unflinching honesty.

But what I want to talk about today is what pertains to this blog, and that is how the women’s bodies were depicted in this film, which I found to be just as shocking and admirable as the unvarnished depiction of emotional and physical abuse.

Not long after the film opens, we see one of “The Help”—a maid named Abilene (played by Oscar nominee Viola Davis, pictured below)—caring for her employer’s two-year-old daughter and declaring that “Babies love fat!” while she hugs the child and reads to her.

Davis is not fat by any stretch of the imagination, but she isn’t skinny either. She’s normal. And once you see her standing next to her employer, a virtual reed of a woman, her point is obvious—women, especially good mothers, were not meant to be thin.

This is a jarring thing to hear in a film that came out of Hollywood, where thinness trumps almost everything (including talent), and it’s not even a statement I wholly agree with—thin women can obviously make good mothers—but it’s still noteworthy in that it’s saying something we so rarely hear in a movie today: curvy women have something to offer.

Not only does the film directly address the issue of body size, it also directly addresses the ways in which we create self-esteem problems in young women.

We find out that, throughout her life, Skeeter (shown above, played by Emma Stone) has been told she’s not attractive—by her mother, by the boys in her school, by society. And we see the same thing happening to Davis’ young charge, who also has a mother who doesn’t believe she’s beautiful (even though, oddly, I thought both of the actresses were beautiful).

These negative messages are counter-acted time and time again by “the help,” the maids who were in charge of raising these children and who taught them the importance of believing in themselves.

It’s also notable that, in many scenes, Skeeter resists being made up to look like all of the other young women in her town and is perfectly content to go out in flat shoes and wear her curly hair unstraightened. (Though sometimes, as shown below, she loses that battle.)

Though the body image issue is tackled directly in these random moments, it is addressed indirectly throughout the entire film by showing women who are not stick thin over and over and over again. Not only are these women shown, but some of them are even held up as models of beauty.

There is one woman in particular, Celia Foote (shown above, played by Jessica Chastain), who is seen as the sexualized object of desire by the men and the women in the film. Chastain’s character wears pedal pushers and halter tops and dresses that highlight her curves to the nth degree, sending the implicit message that having full hips and thighs and breasts and a big round butt is the ideal.

When was the last time we saw a woman with those kind of curves turning up the heat on the big screen? Sure, we see that with Mad Men‘s Christina Hendrick’s on television, but to be honest, I can’t remember the last time I saw a woman we are supposed to see as attractive in a Hollywood film with those kind of curves.

I’ll be honest, it was completely refreshing.

It was also refreshing to see women of all sizes looking real—especially the maids who had bodies of every size hidden under shapeless uniforms.

I’m not going to lie—there was something truly liberating about seeing Octavia Spencer’s breasts hang down lower than they normally do on a young woman in a Hollywood film. I actually wanted to stand up and cheer, “Look at her breasts! That’s how I look without a bra!”

Of course, the theatre was too crowded for that kind of display.

And, as I already said, even Hollywood ingenue Stone appeared many times in unflattering clodhoppers and unslimming buttoned-up dresses.

Not to mention that Allison Janney’s desperate portrayal of Skeeter’s ailing mother was something Hollywood hasn’t seen as often as we should have since Gloria Swanson first did the same when playing Nora Desmond in Sunset Boulevard. In fact, I predict Janney will win an Oscar for this film since she appears without makeup and with very little hair on several occasions, and the Academy is known for rewarding women who “uglify” themselves.

But it wasn’t just that the women looked real, it was that their bodies looked different.

Even the young women of the “junior league” (pictured above) who never stepped out of the house without their makeup perfectly applied and their hair perfectly set, looked unfamiliar to me beause they wore clothes that highlighted and enhanced their curves rather than hiding them.

And this made me feel a great longing for a time when women’s curves were appreciated, even shown off. I’m not proposing that we all go to work in our bikinis, but I am proposing that we reconsider why it is that the way women dress has changed so dramatically since the middle of the last century.

Many, many things have changed for the better (one of them being that we are welcome to wear as little or as much as we want or to not dress like a woman at all if we so desire; another being that we can now elect black people to national office rather than send them to a different bathroom), but the way we see our bodies and society’s current obsession with thinness is not one of them. It’s important to admit that it’s dangerous to have nostalgia for a time that when so many of us—women and minorities especially—were treated as second-class citizens or even worse, but that doesn’t mean I don’t wish we could resurrect this one aspect of the past.

Yes, The Help is an imperfect film that raises all kinds of important questions about why we’re not letting black people be the heroes in movies and stories about black people, but at the same time, it does something right: it reminds us that we have not always believed that babies are the only ones who like a little fat.

The Thin Pin Line: Fighting thinspiration on Pinterest
. . . a guest blog by Emily Threlkeld

I’m always a sucker for a new web service, so I recently joined Pinterest after some of the more creative people I follow on the web did so as well.

Pinterest is basically a visual bookmarking site where you can keep track of whatever you’re interested in . . . I have a board for recipes I want to try, a board for outfits that I think look cute, a board for artwork that catches my eye, and many, many more.

While you can add any images you want, one of the easiest ways to find new pins is to click on the Everything button, which takes you to a constantly refreshing page of what is being added to boards from users all over the site.

A click on the Everything button reveals the Pintrest zeitgeist—decadent food, fancy shoes, remote travel photographs, incredibly elaborate wedding crafts—with some inspirational quotes thrown in for good measure. It’s equal parts Martha Stewart, Real Simple, and Oprah.

Martha Stewart in her modeling days.

There’s a lot of beauty, and all of it is idealized. (Which makes sense, as ordinary wouldn’t necessarily be inspiring.) Of course, it seems you can’t have images of ideal beauty without emaciated women rearing their ugly heads.

If you haven’t heard of it, “thinspiration” is an ugly portmanteau that combines the words “thin” and “inspiration” with the intent of promoting eating disorders.

Yes, you read that correctly.

Thinspiration is the propaganda of the “pro-ana” and “pro-mia” community that encourages girls to develop anorexia and bulimia in the interest of staying thin. It’s called thinspo for short, a cutesy word that makes me want to vom, and not because I’m afraid that I’m fat.

Unfortunately, thinspiration tends to pop up in places where no one is paying attention.

Bigger companies like Yahoo, Microsoft, and Facebook have a history of seeking out and taking down this content. However, smaller companies like Pintrest don’t seem to have the time or resources to deal with it. Which means that in my recent explorations of the site, I’ve been subjected to some disturbing images.

First, it was an old Kate Moss standby: “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.” These words were in red capital letters superimposed on a black and white photo of Kate, looking not thin, but sick.

Others followed . . .

“Your stomach shouldn’t be a waste basket.”

“What you eat in private, you wear in public.”

Under the cons column of a chart listing the effects of being fat: “No bones to show off.”

You know, the usual shame, fear, and guilt that society seems determined to associate with food and weight.

I mostly ignored these pins as I came across them.

But in silent protest, I started my own strength and beauty board (pictured below and at the top of this post) and started pinning positive images I came across, including a quote from Madeline Albright that said, “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”

In that spirit, when I saw a photo of a woman’s torso in a pink bikini with white letters on her stomach that asked, “Are you sure you want that cookie?” I decided to speak up.

“Don’t hate your bodies, ladies!” I said.

To my surprise, my comment was followed by another: “I’m glad my boobs are not that small! So I will eat my cookie and maybe a few more!”

More women chimed in, culminating with one girl relating her history with an eating disorder and concluding, “I was never thin enough to be happy, not even when I was admitted to the hospital. Eat a cookie if you want one. Everything is good in moderation.”

So, yes, I am sure I want that cookie. And fortunately, a lot of other women are, too.

Had I not spoken out against that image, I never would have known how many people were on my side. If I had remained silent, those other women may not have spoken up either.

So let’s raise our voices and stay out of hell, shall we, ladies?


EMILY THRELKELD is a newlywed living in Raleigh, North Carolina. She’s also a writer and a photographer.

Would you like a side of padding with your curves? That’s what on the menu in Model-landia, a.k.a. the land of models

A little while back I wrote a post about Vogue Italia being the first fashion magazine to put a “plus-size” model on the cover. In fact, the entire issue was devoted to curvy women, and at the time I was thrilled and wondered if this breakthrough signified an impending shift in the way the fashion industry depicts women.

Though there is no doubt that curvy women are becoming more acceptable every day, there are still some significant problems with the way plus-size models are utilized in the land of models or what I like to call “Model-landia.”

There have always been issues in the world of plus-size modeling, but the more time goes on, the more I think most women don’t know about these problems. So if you’ll allow me, I’ll give you a quick rundown of the trouble spots . . .

1) The first and most obvious problem is the term “plus-size model.” It’s a problem because, out here in the real world, plus-size means size 16 or above. But in the skewed world of Model-landia, plus-size usually ranges from a size 6 to a size 12, which is extremely frustrating given that the average woman in America wears a size 14.

What that means is that women who are a regular size in our world are considered plus size in Model-landia.

It also means that “plus-size” models do not look like plus-size women.

(I often put that term in quotes to emphasize the fact it’s not an accurate one.)

This raises the question, if plus-size models aren’t really plus-size, then how can they wear—and model—plus-size clothes?

And that brings us to our second problem . . .

2) Plus-size models often wear padding to make themselves look bigger.

Yes, it’s true.

I’ve known this for years, so I was glad when plus-size model Marquita Pring (shown above) came out of the wardrobe closet in New York Magazine last week to admit that plus-size models sometimes use padding to make themselves look bigger.

Pring explains that, like other plus-size models, she uses “pieces of foam” that she lays flat “on each hip underneath [hosiery]. They’re like a solid inch and a half thick.”

But why do they do this?

They do it because the fashion industry wants their models—whether they are plus-size or just good old fashioned emaciated—to look skinny. They want them to have skinny faces and skinny legs and skinny arms. Even though they’re supposed to be curvy.

And there aren’t very many plus-size women in the real world who have skinny faces, legs, and arms. So their solution is to go out and find women who are regular size and then have them put padding in their clothes in all the right places—on their hips, their butts, their thighs, and their boobs—so that they look “curvy” but still fit societal standards for beauty.

(Really, we shouldn’t be surprised by this since it’s the same idea as the one behind the padded bra.) (And, in many ways, retouching photos.)

This may not sound like a huge deal—after all, at least we’re finally getting models with butts, hips, and thighs, right?—but it is a big deal because it creates another standard of beauty that none of us can live up to . . . the curvy woman who doesn’t have an extra chin and who has no cellulite or flab.

It’s just not real.

And in that way, faux plus-size models are no different than using models who weigh so little that they are technically underweight.

I’m not going to lie—this is a complicated issue for me. There is a BIG part of me that wants to have curvy women in our magazines no matter how we get them.

Despite this, I know in my gut that padding models is simply not the solution. And I really hope that someday . . . in a galaxy far far away from Model-landia . . . someone will find one.

View Full Size . . .
a guest blog by bestselling novelist Janna McMahan

A man would never write a book entitled I FEEL BAD ABOUT MY NECK.

The author, Nora Ephron, is an amazing writer. Her screenplays are enormously entertaining with such fully informed characters that Hollywood clamors to play her parts. So why whine about aging when she has so much more to say about the human condition?

Nora is just a scary example that even the most accomplished women still cling to an obsession over our looks. We are Dr. Jekyll and Ms. Hyde when it comes to our female image. Don’t judge me by my appearance! I’m more than just a pair of legs ending in a perfect pedicure. I have a brain inside this highlighted, flat-ironed, deep-conditioned head.

Few women, no matter their age, social status, education, athletic ability or success in work, are immune. Once I was enjoying an afternoon with my 94-year-old grandmother as she recounted her many great-grands and their birthdays with clarity. She became animated talking about the topic of age.

“Why people tell me all the time that I could pass for 70!” she chirped.

Apparently vanity has no expiration date.

But how did we get to a place with mirrors so magnified that our pores could pass for sponges? Where hair dye is always on the shopping list and a little pudge around the middle is seen as a character flaw? Women spend countless hours and billions of dollars on procedures and products. We’re constantly creaming and plucking and polishing ourselves to a high sheen.

Some are quick to blame the air-brushed perfection of women’s magazines, but women were obsessed with self-image way before the waif came into popularity. Surely today we are much too sophisticated to believe all that flawlessness.

A bestselling writer friend once told me a story about being shot by a hip photographer who had a thick portfolio of supermodels.

“Make me look like Kate Moss,” my friend had said.

The photog replied, “Honey, even Kate Moss doesn’t look like Kate Moss.”

We intelligent women give lip service to eschewing the pursuit of beauty, but if we see that woman who is a little rumpled, or GASP, hasn’t shaved her legs, we make a mental note that “she doesn’t care.” We all have to make the effort, right?

The one who likes herself as is. The one who isn’t always striving to lose that last twenty pounds or find the right solution to cover that flaw makes us feel strange. We are generations of women brought up by mothers who made sure we cared, so like Nora, the least we can do is feel bad about our lack of perfection.

Remember all the hoopla over Jamie Lee Curtis and her unretouched, makeup bare, normal gal body in MORE magazine? It was an impressively candid article. She said it took an army of stylists, makeup artists, hairdressers, lighting specialists, photographers and Photoshop folks to make her a movie star. I thought perhaps it would spark a trend of stars without makeup and shapewear, but alas it was not to be. Stars don’t want to be seen as real people.

That’s why they’re stars.

And honestly, how many magazines would be sold with normal women gracing the pages? We don’t want real; we want fantasy. The Dove Real Beauty campaign was a sweet concept, but who wants to look at your lumpy sister when you can turn the page and dream of thighs the size of pool cues?

I’ll admit that I feel better about myself after looking at I get a little glee from seeing the wobbly bits of a supermodel gone to seed, but why that should be I do not know. What I do know is that I’m not unusual in this. Maybe women are competitive by nature, but if this is the case, then we need to battle each other in academics and business and sports, not in beauty pageants and swimsuit contests.

We need to think of ourselves in our entirety, not simply as a physical projection, but robust in thought and accomplishment. A friend once asked if I’d rather look like Bette Midler and have her talent, or look like Christie Brinkley and have her talent. In other words, would I rather be wildly talented or extremely beautiful?

I picked Bette.

Still, life has not granted me immunity from the vanity bug. I work hard at trying to maintain the illusion of youth. While fifty looms I eat salmon and take vitamins and smear on sunscreen. I bleach my teeth and get facials. I exercise until I’m faint and drink water by the quart.

I clean up nicely for photo shoots. With the right assistance I can project the glamour needed for publicity. And while I hate having my photo taken, I do enjoy the unreal afterglow of seeing a star-quality image of myself. Unlike Jamie Lee, you won’t be seeing me without makeup if I can help it.

I like feeling pretty as much as the next girl, but at the end of the day, when the makeup is wiped away, I’m still just freckly ole me. And no matter what society tells me, I don’t feel the least bit bad about that.



JANNA McMAHAN is the bestselling author of Calling Home and The Ocean Inside, the latter of which was nominated as book of the year by the Southern Independent Booksellers Association. McMahan was a finalist for The Flannery O’Connor Fiction Award, and her short stories and essays have been widely published in places such as Wind, Limestone, Yamassee, The Nantahala Review, Arts Across Kentucky, Alimentum, Skirt!, MAMM, Cure, Appalachian JournalSouth Carolina Wildlife, Charleston and The New Southerner. McMahan earned a BA and MA from the University of Kentucky and the University of South Carolina, respectively. She lives in South Carolina with her husband and their daughter.

Follow McMahan and all her literary news at and


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