"Actually, I like the way I look."
July 16, 2019 4:47 PM   Subscribe

"What is new is that I have decided, at the age of 60, that I am a goddamn knockout. Like Dorothy at the end of the film version of The Wizard of Oz, I had the power I sought all along. I rub my thighs together — sorry, couldn’t resist — and tell myself over and over that I am beautiful and, what do you know, suddenly I am." Crime novelist Laura Lippman reflects on aging, eating, wanting, and leaping in her Longreads essay, "Whole 60."

Musical accompaniment:

* Steve Earle, "I Ain't Ever Satisfied"

* Mavis Staples, "I Like the Things About Me"
posted by MonkeyToes (40 comments total) 74 users marked this as a favorite
 
Flagging as fantastic. Thank you for posting it.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 5:06 PM on July 16 [2 favorites]


Beautiful.
posted by Mary Ellen Carter at 5:24 PM on July 16 [1 favorite]


I loved this, so I looked up her books. They look like exactly the sort of mystery/thrillers I always avoid, but I checked some out of the library anyways, because I want to read more from this author!
posted by elizilla at 5:26 PM on July 16 [2 favorites]


That’s the final step in accepting one’s gorgeousness. You then have to concede everyone is gorgeous.

Oh god. Everyone *is* gorgeous! This makes me so happy!
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 5:49 PM on July 16 [28 favorites]


I really like this. And it turns out she is married to David Simon. So count me as another who will be looking up her fiction!
posted by allthinky at 5:58 PM on July 16 [3 favorites]


I have decided I like the way I look and I’m the expert. Who has spent more time looking at me than I have?

Hell yeah
posted by sallybrown at 6:19 PM on July 16 [19 favorites]


I'm picking this as my sentence: I don’t care if you think I’m fuckable.
posted by drlith at 6:27 PM on July 16 [32 favorites]


By the time I got to part 3, I decided the rest of this needed to be read while eating the fancy chocolate bar I had asked my husband to get me on his way home today.

It was, in fact, exactly what I wanted.
posted by Ruki at 6:30 PM on July 16 [23 favorites]


This was just what I needed. Thank you.

I'm not where she's at yet, if I will ever be. But it truly hit me when she was writing about how beautiful she finds her younger self in her old pictures. I was a fine-looking girl, and I was completely incapable of understanding it, and what she says suggests the possibility that something, like the Sibylline books, remains.
posted by Countess Elena at 6:46 PM on July 16 [10 favorites]


I wore a strappy tank top today, with zero fucks given. This was a monufuckingmental day for me. And I'm not even 60 yet so I may end up wearing shorts after reading this.
posted by Room 641-A at 6:53 PM on July 16 [17 favorites]


I just pulled a couple of Lippman novels off my shelf to look at the author's photo, because, honestly, I don't recall seeing her picture and registering anything about the way she looks or how much she weighs. Looking at the photo, I have to say she's conventionally attractive at the very least. Yes, the picture has her doing the hand under the chin thing, but to my eye she doesn't really need to perform that kind of slight of hand, and maybe her arms are a tiny bit thicker than waif-like, but she's got a fabulous smile, kind eyes, and a look of confidence. She'd nowhere near linebacker territory. I'd be thrilled if my professional photo looked half as good as hers does. Looking at the picture I would have never suspected that she had the type of doubts and thoughts that led her to writing the article above.
posted by sardonyx at 7:38 PM on July 16 [1 favorite]


Once again, I am reminded to thank my mother for (presumably deliberately) never ever discussing her own or anyone’s bodies around me until I was in my 30s. How did she do that? Because she’s a fucking superhero, most likely, but my self image is so incredibly immunized as a consequence of it.
posted by deludingmyself at 7:49 PM on July 16 [23 favorites]


FUCK.

YEAH.

I loved this not just for the content but for the way she wove the narrative together. I will need to read some of her books ASAP!

One of my favorite podcasts, Food Psych — it is so good, friends, if you need a new podcast — starts every interview with “So tell me about your relationship with food growing up.” It’s always fascinating. I’ve started asking it when I’m getting to know someone, since most new friends come from fat liberation spaces and we talk about food anyway, and it’s a really fantastic and interesting way to get to know someone’s life story. This essay was kind of like her answering that question in depth. Thanks for sharing it!
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 10:17 PM on July 16 [10 favorites]


Thank you for this! Lippman and I are nearly exactly the same age (three weeks apart) and I really needed this. I was on the beach in Nice a few weeks ago and saw women my age and older, my size and bigger, wearing fabulous swimsuits. Bikinis, gilded animal prints, tassels etc and they totally owned them.
Everyone does look great!
posted by shibori at 11:45 PM on July 16 [11 favorites]


"Looking at the picture I would have never suspected that she had the type of doubts and thoughts that led her to writing the article above."

Let me tell you about some women I know. Conventionally pretty-- sleek blond hair, well-proportioned symmetric faces with the "right" kind of nose and lips, skinny hourglass, clear skin, blablablablabla.

They have all these doubts because any woman is susceptible to these doubts, because we are told what we are worth is our beauty, and the standards of beauty we must meet are set by photoshop so no woman alive can meet them. This keeps the beauty industry running.

There's so much in this article that's good I don't want to criticize it, but. But.

Not every woman is beautiful.

We say this because we want to say that every woman is worthy, and we have been taught that for women worth=beauty, and so we fight for every woman to be beautiful.

(Note how we never say "every man is beautiful".)

Not every woman is beautiful. This is a fact. There are women who are ugly. There are far more women who feel ugly than are ugly, but that is not the point.

The point is that every woman is worthwhile and important, whatever she looks like. No woman should have her value as a human being judged and determined by her physical appearance, whether it is good or bad. We are more than the sacks of flesh we move around in, however pleasingly said sack is arranged.
posted by Cozybee at 12:06 AM on July 17 [50 favorites]


> Not every woman is beautiful.
> We say this because we want to say that every woman is worthy


A grand irony that the beauty-as-a-measure-of-worth fallacy is now so deeply embedded in our culture that people actually say "every woman is beautiful" to mean "every woman is worthy". The words appear to have become synonymous in this context :(
posted by merlynkline at 12:59 AM on July 17 [18 favorites]


That’s the running theme: These men do not want to have sex with me. I joke about this with the radio show’s producer, tell him I have found common ground with my Internet trolls: They don’t want to have sex with me and I don’t want to have sex with them. But who am I kidding?

They totally want to have sex with me.

posted by kokaku at 5:35 AM on July 17 [5 favorites]


Wow, this is an amazing essay, thank you for posting this. I'm on the wait list at the library for her newest novel, and this just makes me look forward to it more.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:48 AM on July 17 [2 favorites]


Fantastic, thank you!
posted by Kwine at 6:10 AM on July 17


Maybe I worded that badly.

What I meant to say is that I've looked at a lot of professional portraits during my career. In a lot of them, you can get a sense of what people are awkward about, with regards to their appearance. it comes across in the way they're posed, in the expression on their faces. There is usually something.

Stepping outside of the person's head, as an outsider, I've developed a pretty good eye, so I try avoid using pictures where a large nose is made to appear more prominent or stray hairs are way too noticeable or something else pushes its way into the viewer's attention. The last thing I want to do is give the person in the photo a reason to become self-conscious or to present them in an unflattering light to others. I'm not saying the person in the picture is unattractive, but I am realistic enough to say, the photo (for whatever reason) isn't the most flattering.

I'm also personally and intimately aware that not everybody photographs well, and that includes attractive people. This is especially the case when what makes a person attractive is their energy or their character or their presence or their animation. Using myself as an example (not that I'd call myself attractive), I hate the way I look in pictures, but I can tolerate video of myself, because something more me (or something I like to think of as me) can come through (although there is no guarantee that it will 100 per cent of the time--good lighting and camera angles also help).
posted by sardonyx at 6:40 AM on July 17 [3 favorites]


Yes! Yes! Yes! I love this from the article: "What would happen to the global economy if all the women on the planet suddenly decided: I don’t care if you think I’m fuckable.”

See also, Lizzo:

Think about how I'm gonna feel when I step up on the catwalk
Think about how I'm gonna feel when I got that ass that don't stop
That ass that don't stop, that ass don't stop
And think about how I'm gonna feel when I take it all off
But I don't do this for you

posted by pangolin party at 6:47 AM on July 17 [8 favorites]


i agree with cozybee. i am not beautiful. no one has every told me that i am, and i have never thought that i am. i weigh 300 pounds. no one ever will tell me i'm beautiful. i'm not really okay with that because society, but i am working on believing that i'm worthy of xyz just as i am.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 8:27 AM on July 17 [7 favorites]


Well, I weigh over 300 pounds and I think that I’m beautiful and people tell me that I’m beautiful on a consistent basis — not just friends or my partner. I think what we’re talking about here is conventional beauty which is something we learn through culture. In America and many places we’re taught that means thin. It almost always means white. But it is learned, not truth.

If you spent time seeking out unconventional beauty the way you view people will start to change. And because I seek out people who do that too, my body, grotesque to many, is viewed in a different light. Sure, we tend to prefer symmetry in features, but that doesn’t really vary as much as body size and shape.

I’ve spent about half my life seeking out images of people outside the beautiful norm, making myself see them. Do you know how much effort it takes to notice bodies that aren’t pushed as the ideal in media? We’ve been trained not to see older bodies, bodies with disabilities, bodies with birth defects, larger bodies, masculine of center women, feminine of center men, non binary bodies, even simply non-white bodies. Despite the effort, it takes a relatively short amount of time of consciously consuming media with those bodies and rejecting as much media as you can that doesn’t before your mind doesn’t flinch away from unfamiliarity.

That’s what I think Lippman might be experiencing. It isn’t as hard as you’d think, considering the toxic water of beauty standards we all swim in, to reevaluate what makes a human beautiful — to start to notice entire categories of humans that previously we thought it was impolite or embarrassing to notice. Like a child being shushed and whisked away by an embarrassed parent when they notice and want to look or ask about a fat person or a person in a wheelchair, we’re taught that certain bodies are shameful and that the polite thing to do is ignore them. (We’re also told by media that being fat is catching, so I think a fair amount of people avoid having fat friends because you might let yourself go like them.) The art of noticing body diversity can be quite a revolutionary act to many of us.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 9:05 AM on July 17 [19 favorites]


I wrote that whole damn comment but I meant to say that I agree with you all — beauty is not a requirement for worthy. I hope my previous comments didn’t imply otherwise.

The body positivity movement that’s now a watered down and limited framework for true body liberation has shifted so much of the conversation to beauty. To insisting that we must love our bodies before anyone can love us, to insist that we must feel beautiful at all times. It’s bullshit and harmful to anyone who doesn’t have access to conventional beauty. It’s just another way that we tell people that they’re ugly and then tell them they’re responsible for fixing that, just wrapped up in a different package. Like we wrap up diets as “wellness” now — looking at you, Weight Watchers.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 9:11 AM on July 17 [9 favorites]


I totally agree with Lippmann that everyone is beautiful. Does everyone have the kind of beauty that gets put on the cover of Vogue? Definitely not. Very few people fit the current cultural mainstream idea of female beauty. That doesn’t mean the people who don’t fit aren’t beautiful, especially if you consider all the different ideas of beauty through the last thousand years. Or everyone you know’s personal preferences—aren’t there types of looks you find attractive that aren’t mainstream, that other people don’t agree with you about? There are enough personal preferences to cover everyone. I read good advice from Bobbi Brown as a kid—that feature of yours that really bothers you, that you worry other people notice? Play it up because it makes you noticeable and different and embrace it.
posted by sallybrown at 9:36 AM on July 17 [3 favorites]


My wife is over 60. She might tell you that she's not beautiful. She would be mistaken. Worthy is a given.

Great essay.
posted by Artful Codger at 10:24 AM on July 17 [3 favorites]


Let me make my point another way, for the chorus of people fixating on my assertion that some people are ugly.

It is not empowering, it is not comforting, it does not make me feel better about my insecurities to be told "but you're beautiful" or "but you're beautiful to me". Any focus on my appearance as the measure of my worth (edit for clarity: I mean, as a significant virtue, not the sole measure), no matter how positive that measure is, feeds the sickness.

I am better, I am healthier, when I look in the mirror and say "I like this", and I mean the person, not the way the person looks.
posted by Cozybee at 10:51 AM on July 17 [9 favorites]


Once again, I am reminded to thank my mother for (presumably deliberately) never ever discussing her own or anyone’s bodies around me until I was in my 30s. How did she do that? Because she’s a fucking superhero, most likely, but my self image is so incredibly immunized as a consequence of it.

Last week I was giving away a whole bunch of clothes and asked my mother if she wanted any of them. She was surprised to hear that they didn't fit me anymore -- and I said well, yeah, I've gained like 15-20 pounds. Of course they don't! And she was simply too mortified to even accept that information -- she replied that well, I didn't LOOK like I had gained 15-20 lbs. As if she'd been busted for accepting my body uncritically when it was, sneakily, totally unacceptable.

Ten years ago I would have silently digested that comment and then silently not-digested any food until I was back to an "acceptable" number. These days I just shake my head and hope that one day my mother will know the joy of eating something she really, really wants. And of not worrying about her own body or anyone else's for even just one day.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 11:01 AM on July 17 [6 favorites]


@thethornbushes have roses, that is an amazing comment. I hope one day I let go of all the toxicity I've built up around all this stuff and approach the world like you do.
posted by pelvicsorcery at 11:13 AM on July 17 [1 favorite]


sorry for the threadsitting, I just went for a run and it turns out I have more to say.

it's funny how this virtue that women are judged by is something that is entirely for other people's consumption.

When I am smart, brave, confident, clever, kind, those are things that build me up and make my world a wider place. But when I am pretty? I give other people pleasure when they look at me. I don't see myself, my looks are irrelevant to me, except inasmuch as they affect how other people treat me.

When I run, it is because I want to be strong, I want to have energy, I want my body to be able to help me accomplish the things I want to do. Also, it is cool to watch my body slowly learning something, to see that it, too, can become more capable, have its horizons expanded.

I do not run to make myself more consumable for other people.*

So much of this essay, it's central thesis, is about doing things for yourself, taking care of yourself for your own reasons. "I ask myself what I really want and then I eat it... There are doughnuts on the kitchen counter, fancy ones. Do I want those? No, I’ll crash and burn in a few hours."

And yet this is an essay about loving yourself and it still can't escape the thread running through it about having other people want you. And I'm arguing but I do also understand her point, that the appearance of older women is a punchline, that choosing to see her own beauty is a conscious act against a hostile culture that denies it. And yet, and yet, this is a piece that cannot escape from the hostile culture that created it.

It is clear she is trying (I’m almost 60 years old and some part of me is still worried that not enough men find me fuckable. What would happen to the global economy if all the women on the planet suddenly decided: I don’t care if you think I’m fuckable.”). But, and maybe this is part of the point, she still hasn't escaped it.
---

*Even though that is what I am told I should be running for. If you are physically fit-- if you can run a half-marathon with good time and lift weights and do a split-- whatever it is, if your body does what you want it to, and does it well-- but you are not skinny, you will get comments. People will give you unsolicited advice about what to change so you will lose weight, at the gym. If you tell them you're not there to lose weight, those people then react with either bafflement or outright hostility.
posted by Cozybee at 11:56 AM on July 17 [7 favorites]


But, and maybe this is part of the point, she still hasn't escaped it.

I found her point to be different—that our looks are for our own consumption also, and that’s the pleasure she takes in now seeing herself as beautiful. I agree with her on that—my looks are not irrelevant to me. It’s not just other people looking at me—I look at myself too. Thus the point she raises about her daughter observing her looking at herself critically in the mirror. It’s not just looking at yourself and viewing yourself as you think others see you, it’s saying “I know myself best, I see myself the most, and I like the way I look, I view myself as beautiful.”
posted by sallybrown at 12:08 PM on July 17 [5 favorites]


Up until this exact moment, I never even thought to consider that my looks were for my own consumption also.
posted by lauranesson at 12:12 PM on July 17 [9 favorites]


What a wonderful and terrifying thing.
posted by lauranesson at 12:13 PM on July 17 [6 favorites]


What a wonderful and terrifying thing.

It is sort of freeing and confining at the same time. (What’s the balance between taking pleasure in looking at yourself and being narcissistic?) But I do think it ties into the enjoyment people take in dress-up play even as kids, or trying clothes on as adults, playing with hair or makeup products, self-portraiture, maybe acting, certainly taking selfies and playing around with filters and distortions (what I can make with my own image?).

I also don’t get the sense from this piece that she would judge someone for saying “I think the physical concept of beauty is a rigged game, and I won’t participate in it.” Or “I look at my body and love it because it can do incredible things, not as an artistic object.”
posted by sallybrown at 12:19 PM on July 17


Reading sallybrown and cozybee's comments, I'm reminded of a phrase I really like from Beauty Redefined: "My body is an instrument, not an ornament."

That does get into ableism, which is why I think we need to acknowledge how nuanced this all is. Bodies that aren't strong and healthy are no less worthy than bodies that are. Just as beauty shouldn't be the price we pay to exist, neither is physical fitness. But one can still take pride in feeling beautiful and feeling strong without negating another's right not to feel any pride in those things.

My feeling fat and beautiful does not mean that I think it's a necessity for anyone else. I did take offense at the idea that no one would ever tell someone over 300 pounds that they're beautiful because it's a broad statement that I think misses out on social conditioning about beauty, but that's a lot different than insisting that all women need to find themselves beautiful.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 12:33 PM on July 17 [4 favorites]


>That does get into ableism, which is why I think we need to acknowledge how nuanced this all is. Bodies that aren't strong and healthy are no less worthy than bodies that are. Just as beauty shouldn't be the price we pay to exist, neither is physical fitness. But one can still take pride in feeling beautiful and feeling strong without negating another's right not to feel any pride in those things.

yes, absolutely. I didn't mean to suggest my value is my body's fitness. I was just trying to illustrate how fitness, something i pursue for my own pleasure, is "supposed" to be about beauty, and that that's messed up.

But I can love myself when my body is too sick to run, when it is hurting me, when I feel, sometimes, like it has betrayed me. I can even love my body then (although sometimes it is a challenge)-- it is keeping me alive*, and that labor alone is enough to be grateful for.

*or hasn't successfully killed me yet...
posted by Cozybee at 12:44 PM on July 17 [2 favorites]


Oh totally, Cozybee, I didn't think you suggested that at all. I just meant that the quote about the body being an instrument could imply that our body's worth as an instrument depended on a certain measure of ability.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 12:50 PM on July 17


I did take offense at the idea that no one would ever tell someone over 300 pounds that they're beautiful because it's a broad statement

thorn bushes: i didn't mean to imply no one over 300 pounds could ever be told they're beautiful. i follow a lot of superfats on instagram and they are told all the time they are pretty/beautiful/attractive. what i said was no one will ever tell me i'm beautiful. sure, someone might say "you're such a beautiful person" but that means i have a nice personality or whatever. what no one will ever say to me, based on my appearance is that i am beautiful. and even if they did, it would be "for a fat woman," not just beautiful full stop. the most i have ever gotten is "you look nice" and that was when i was putting a LOT of time and money into makeup and clothes and hair. but what i am trying to teach myself and be okay with is that my physical appearance/beauty is irrelevant to my worth as a person, which was trying to be the point of my first post.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 1:20 PM on July 17 [2 favorites]


When I finished reading "Whole 60," I knew exactly where I wanted to talk about it--thank you all for this conversation.

I"m still thinking about the penultimate paragraph, about not entrusting one's value to others, about not waiting, about being less self-critical and choosing, instead, to leap. My past self needed these words. My current self needs them too. I like sallybrown's formulation: it’s saying “I know myself best, I see myself the most, and I like the way I look, I view myself as beautiful.” And Mavis's words: "I like the things about me that I once despised."
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:45 PM on July 17 [4 favorites]


Late to this post, and just wanted to comment that this comment:

"Looking at the picture I would have never suspected that she had the type of doubts and thoughts that led her to writing the article above."


made me compare and contrast with the Grace Dent article (and the turn she's decided to take with regards to self-worth) posted just a couple of days ago.
posted by cendawanita at 2:16 AM on July 18 [2 favorites]


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