Dorothy, my maternal grandmother, knew what to do when someone was taking her picture. This was not due to the Gladwellian 10,000 hours of practice put in by modern girls, but because her uncle was a professional photographer. There are lovely portraits of her from the time she could stand where she’s popping out some version of this: face the camera, line your left heel up with the instep of your right foot, tip your head just a hair towards the outstretched toe, then find an arm position and facial expression to match the occasion. Here, that being some boy about to give her a corsage. The bob! The shoes! The gorgeous dresses they got to wear in the 1920s!
This mirror selfie approximation of the pose took about 30 tries and I’m not even kidding. It’s the best I could do. Grandmother’s foot trick is subtle, brilliant and surprisingly hard to not over play. Turns out the rest of it requires standing up very straight and then relaxing your shoulders and neck so that your head just sits there. Who knew. Today’s fashion statement involves second hand, black Old Navy jeans, the same brown belt I wear every day, a scoop-neck Patagonia t shirt and a DIY cardigan. If you have a tightly knit sweater you are tired of, or that makes you sweat too much, you can find a pair of scissors, slice it up the front and voila; a cardigan. No, it does not unravel into a big mess. I’ve committed this wanton act of creativity many times and your should too.
In the photo above, taken in the late 1960’s perhaps by my father, we have the adorable baby yrmama surrounded by her grandma, mother, brother and grandpa. Grandma was a figure larger than life – affectionate, bossy, and very hardworking. No one in this photo is very comfortable in front of a camera except, it appears, Grandpa. Baby yrmama doesn’t care much either way about the camera but hates the way her mother and brother are holding on to her lest she bust out in unruliness. Ha. Little did they know about who they were dealing with, literally.
In the photo to the right we have full-grown yrmama. Today’s hairstyle was achieved with a big old handful of mousse and a nice long wall squat under the hand drier in the pool locker room. yrmama was blessed with teflon hair that rarely needs combing and I’m not even kidding. A secondhand magenta madras shirt is layered under a rust sweater that yrmama actually bought off the rack at Target when she went to a genealogy conference and found she had not packed warm enough clothes for scouring the nearby graveyards for familiar names. That strategic clashing creates a nice glow, don’t you think?
I’m now more or less the same age Grandma was in the first photo and I think I look something like her. My life is very different than Grandma’s but like her I am very hard-working and very bossy. I’d like to say I’m as affectionate as she was but I’m not sure it’s true.
I have three daughters who always look terrific in photos whereas I usually look apologetic. I remember a time when I could not stand to look in a mirror with someone. I just didn’t have the confidence to see what I looked like while someone else was looking at me too. My daughters all spent a good portion of their adolesences practicing what to do when a camera shows up. They can effortlessly “find their light,” strike the pose, flip the hair, tilt the head, jut the hip, tip the chin and exude confidence.
I don’t really know what I look like. I’m always surprised by mirrors and photos and unpredictable reflections. Photos confuse me because I look like I’m trapped inside an unfamiliar voluptuous mound of flesh. That effect is especially highlighted if I’m caught sitting in a chair, trying desperately to look tall, thin and blond and perhaps not even there. My son, who was born looking like a super model and never even had to practice, recently took a brilliant photo of himself on the beach with me in my bikini, sitting in one of those painful cloth folding chairs. Good God. In some photos my face sags, like a gravity burst is sucking the joy out of me. I look like one of those droopy-eyed dogs. Sometimes I look like my mother. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if the photo is of me or my oldest daughter.
In the past few years illness has messed dramatically with my size, from normal (the way I’ve always been, the size and shape I was from high school through my late 40’s) to way too skinny, to normal again and then shooting past that to mildly plump. Every time my clothes don’t fit I give them away and restock in my new size at Crowded Closet and Goodwill. Resultingly, there’s hardly anything I’ve worn for years like I think most people have, clothes in which I might feel nostalgia, or like my same old self. I pull a hanger from the stuffed rack at Goodwill and think, “omg, that’s huge,” when it’s actually my size. When I was too skinny the shorts my size seemed impossible so I tried to make slightly larger, reasonable sizes, work and they literally fell off my narrow butt.
So, I’m practicing. Maybe I’ll watch some instructional videos on how to look like myself in a photo. Meanwhile, I’m becoming very clear on the fact that this corporeal form of energy pressed into matter that is my vehicle through this lifetime is just that. It’s doing a fine job of helping me hurtle through space and time. I like it! Now, if I can just learn to seemyself in it as the molecules get switched out for new ones and the pattern continues to break down (aka aging) I will have won.
I’m not even kidding, but the sun came out. Everything in the world feels more relaxed. I had the House impeachment debate on in the background all day yesterday because it just seemed like the kind of event I should acknowledge. But today we can move on. And I’m still burnt out on politics. But will watch the stupid debate tonight anyway.
So the look for today is navy blue cotton leggings (Kohls 2016), a very thin navy blue striped sweater (Goodwill clearance) and a spectacular pair of robin’s egg blue boots.
When one’s feet look this good, what else does one need? yrmama has always been all about having fun getting dressed, but the combo of these magical boots and my polished wood cane led the mind beyond.
Last summer at an Ehler’s Danlos syndrome conference there were a bunch of wheelchair riders, brace wearers and cane walkers. The more assistive equipment one had – a scooter, oxygen tank, iv pole – the more aggressively cute the personal style. Bright red lipstick that said, “I know you just want to talk to my service dog but hey, I’m the person here and you have to look at my face.” A pink wig that said, “I know you want to stare and think it’s awkward that I’m using a chair, but goddamit, look me in the eye.” Same for fantastic shoes, or a beautiful vintage dress with crinolines. An effective way to get people to stop fixating quite so much on your unusual circumstance is to draw even more attention to yourself. “If you’re going to look, I’ll give you something to look at.” Or maybe, “This light is going to shine so bright that the glare in your eyes will make you forget everything but me.”
After the Liberty and Justice Celebration we stayed on in DesMoines for a couple of days to attend the Pete Summit. It was “leadership training” for core campaign volunteers from across the state and if yrmama is a “core campaign volunteer” … they should look for people who are less cynical than yrmama.
I like Pete, but despite my signed Commit to Caucus (a “CTC” to the real insiders) and the t shirts and yard signs I’m still my old deeply skeptical non-joiner self. If it weren’t for this doggone blog (thanks Sharon) I would probably not be doing any of this, but there I was, in a junior high school gym with 175 fellow core campaign volunteers from all over Iowa and a lot of extremely bouncy, youthful campaign staffers. The first morning we were treated to a bonus visit from Pete himself and we even sat next to the nice sixteen year old girl who has become Chasten’s new best friend. I’m not even kidding – when she was sick he called her. JM said, with a healthy mix of jealousy and awe, “She’s going to get invited to the inauguration.”
Despite now being well-trained in interpersonal persuasion tactics meant to be used on the Pete-curious (they actually call you that), what I really want out of this is a little different. I really want people to caucus and vote for whoever they want. I want them to be able to talk about their “values” (wth. Talk about a mushy concept.) and political ideas, which in itself is kind of revolutionary. I want them to feel like their ideas matter and that their vote will ultimately make a difference.*
This training skipped over the fact that Iowans, for the most part, consider talking about politics bad manners. I was explicitly taught to not talk about politics, religion or money except in special circumstances. I think there should have been a session on how to create “safe spaces” where Iowans would feel like talking about their “values.”
I know that the way to motivate Iowans is not to talk them into things, or jump up and down and yell zestfully, or set expectations for them, but to tell them that their work and ideas are valuable and appreciated. I was at a volunteer appreciation dinner the other night for a different organization whose army of volunteers brought in $100,000 of revenue in September, one price tag on a used pair of socks at a time. That’s what they tell us all the time there – your work and ideas are valuable and appreciated.
In the comments – were you taught that there was a set of topics unsuited to common civil discourse? Have you ever been persuaded to take a position?
*Hey! Let’s do a thing where the presidential candidate with the most votes wins!
It’s kind of nobody’s business how anyone does their makeup, and it’s a super duper shallow thing to comment on. There is nothing remotely Quaker about it. At the same time, since it is so fundamentally shallow, does it really matter if yrmama has something to say about it? She was going to compare the appearance of Nancy’s eyes to Donald’s but that’s dumb so instead we will will focus on her own:
As a white person ages the hair and skin all even out into a sad, dull beige. The flesh that has not melted into bloated blobbishness creases, leaving one with the face one deserves, based on the accumulated ratio of smiling to sneering or lip-pursing.
You might say, “But yrmama, that is a remarkably fresh, plump and colorful eye socket-region there in that photo. What the heck are you talking about? Certainly not personal experience.”
Aha. This is a photographic record of my eye-socket region as an art project. In my youth I had visible eye lids. I had honey-kissed tresses. Were you to see the before shot you would register a nice chunk of silly-putty with a blue circle in the center, very one-dimensional, and a colorless, straw-like fringe of “hair” above.
The rich hue of yrmama’s hair is now from henna. That’s easy. But the three-dimensional eye-socket area shown above required a Google how-to and a shopping trip. This effortless, natural appearance involved deft application of primer (not even kidding), three shades of brown eye-shadow, brown mascara, brown liquid eyeliner and “moonbeam” colored highlighter.
When I was teaching myself how to paint faces with oils I marveled at the way I could sculpt something that appeared three-dimensional on a flat surface with color alone. Then I began to notice the eye-socket areas of ladies on television when they blinked – it looked like there was a dark line drawn in an arch between the crease of the eye and the eyebrow, like a drawn on second eyebrow. I also read that studies have found that humans find faces of other humans most attractive when there is a lot of contrast between the features and the more featureless expanses of skin. These revelations led to today’s art project.
Now it’s your turn. Was it worth it? Is makeup a sign of spiritual bankruptcy?