Sunday, February 13, 2011

Preparing to go out for dinner - should I care how I look? Can I NOT care?

Last night Larkin Garbee, co-owner of James River Tile and Stone Art here in Richmond, hosted a five course Valentine's Weekend Dinner to celebrate the exhibition of my paintings which she is holding at her establishment through March 13.  It couldn't have been more wonderful.  She and her staff did a fantastic job displaying the artwork.  The dinner was delicious.  Each course was paired with a different wine.  Then at the end of the evening there was a raffle.  Four people won the centerpiece from the table, a beautiful candleholder carved out of rugged walnut.  Then the last person won a $1000 commission from me.  I'm very excited about the woman who won - she and her husband have two small children (10 months and 3 years, I think she said), and she'd like to have a picture the kids can feel comfortable with as they grow older.  They're very comfortable with nudity now, and the mom is hoping they'll continue to be so as they get older.  Seeing an image of their mom throughout their lives would only, I would think, increase the dailiness and normalcy of it.  I love her thoughts on it and look forward to painting her!

The Preparations : }
I had to laugh at myself as I was getting ready for the dinner.  I felt very excited about it because I would get to meet a lot of people who are interested in my work, and I didn't have a clue how it would be.  Around 5:00 I pried myself away from the work we were doing stretching a canvas because I knew I would need some time to get ready.  It seemed important to look nice.

Therein lies the irony, right?!  Here I am espousing that women are gorgeous simply because they exist, and I start to get all worried about how I look:

* I need a haircut - my very excellent haircut of 3 months ago is no longer so chic and tidy.
* I hadn't shaved my legs in a month or more - winter takes away that incentive - I was thinking I'd wait til shorts weather, but I figured I'd need to wear stockings, and you never know who'll look/care/notice/judge.
* I considered that I might put on makeup - which for me, at the most, consists of lipstick - which Chris hates because he doesn't like getting it on him - it feels so unnatural to kiss my coated lips too.
* I planned to wear my snazzy red dress which makes me feel brilliantly gorgeous along with a fabulous peacock shawl which a dear friend of mine gave me.  I put on the dress - no problem - then flung the shawl around me.  I tried it this way and that, pulled it over my shoulders and held it in one hand.  Put half of it over my shoulder with the other half hanging down.  Tried it on like I meant it.  Chris looked at me and laughed (in a friendly manner) and told me I am just not the type of woman who can wear a shawl like that - I don't have the right panache.  I don't stride and strut quite right.  I love it when women wear shawls well, but I think he may be right.  I myself am not quite able to pull it off.  So that left me needing to stay warm in a sleeveless dress in mid-February.  I rummaged through my closet with increasing concern that I wouldn't find a thing.  I tried on silk overblouses, but my artist's eye just wouldn't let me wear pink with red or orange with red, and the purple one wasn't the right style.  All the while I was aware of time ticking away.  Finally I chose a mustard colored loose jacket I wore for my opening at October and hoped no one would know it was a tried and true outfit.

All the while, I was thinking about the utter absurdity of worrying about how I look when that's my whole message!

Chris, too, was working hard to look just right.  He wanted to know what color shirt he should wear.  Maroon.  And pants?  Grey.  "Should I really wear grey khakis?  Are they fancy enough?  Should I wear these?"  I replied, "Sounds like you don't think you should wear the grey khakis."  Finally he came to terms with wearing the grey khakis.  Then I noticed that the back pocket was almost worn through, so he had to change them anyway.  Back to the drawing board.

We laughed at our efforts and how different they are from how we normally dress - my standard dress these days is painting pants, a turtleneck, and a sweatshirt.  Some days I'll put on something else if I'm going out first, but usually I'll even go to the store or to teach or to meetings dressed like that.  My social engagements are fairly limited these days to places where being dressed like an artist works.

Chris finally decided on nice slacks, a maroon shirt, maroon and grey tie, black shoes, and a sports coat that almost matched.  I wore my red dress, panty hose, a mustard colored loose jacket, and red shoes with no heels (nothing will get me to wear heels - I had plantar fasciatis (sp?) a few years ago, and heels hurt my foot within moments of putting them on.)

Chris watched me put on the panty hose - it may have been the first time he'd seen me do so.  He asked if all women go through this.  I told him I guess I put them on like anyone else does - gather up the leg all the way to the toe, slip them over the toe then pull them up to the knee.  Do the same on the other foot. Then stand up and grimace broadly while trying to get them up to the waist without creating a run.  Shimmy and squirm and pull and grunt while trying to get each leg even.  Reach inside them to pull up underpants.  Pull up each leg separately to get them up to crotch level so you don't experience a wedgy the entire evening.  Pull up on each leg gently yet firmly so there are no sags or bags without causing a run.  Hope you don't have to pee until you get home again and can get out of the things.

Chris asked why women don't wear stockings like they used to.  I explained about garter belts but then remembered that I used to wear thigh highs when I had to wear anything, and they were a much more comfortable solution, unless they'd lost their elastic and tended to fall down around my ankles while I was carrying a kid from the car to the store or wherever.

Should I care more how I look?
I don't know - I guess I have to recognize that I am simply not equipped to be a fashionista.  I just don't have it in me to care about the right color panty hose for the season or the right shade of lipstick.  Actually, I felt very fashionable (in a sneaky kind of way) over Christmas when my nieces sneered at the idea of wearing lipstick and said no one did that anymore - gross!  Perhaps I'm actually leading fashion trends instead of just being oblivious to and disdainful of them!

Seriously, though, I never have followed fashion trends.  My mother always looks terrific.  She's a snazzy dresser, matching her ensemble and jewelry and other accessories beautifully.  She has a real flair for looking terrific.  But I have never heard her mutter about how she looks or whether something she's wearing is in fashion or whatever.  She dresses without fuss, as far as I know, and looks good.  I don't think she's ever bought a Vogue magazine or anything like that.  So I grew up not really knowing that women worry about how they dress (thank goodness!).  At my high school,  we wore uniforms, so at the time I might have become aware of dress, I didn't.  I'm thankful for that.  My high school was full of very wealthy people who, I'm sure, had wardrobes far more extensive than mine and who probably didn't shop at Sears and JC Penny.  If I had been aware of their wardrobes and had felt a need to compete with them, I think I would have felt quite inadequate.  That could have been painful.  Instead, I put on my black watch kilt, regulation white oxford shirt, blue cardigan, blue knee socks, blue shoes, and camel's hair coat and went out the door to have a great time learning! 

I pay attention to what I wear when I go out, and I like to look nice, but I am blessed with a husband who thinks I am the most beautiful woman on earth no matter what I wear, but he especially likes it when I'm in jeans and a T-shirt, so I don't worry about dressing for him.  The times I get most concerned about how I look are when I'm going out with other women.  I think that's true for most women - we assume our women friends will notice what we're wearing and how we look and may even comment on it.

I think actually, that most of our anxiety about how we look comes from worry about the judgments of other women.  How sad.

How about if we stop talking about looks altogether?
I have an acquaintance who recently had a baby.  She has asked people to NOT comment on how the baby looks - don't tell her she's pretty or cute or any of those other endearments which come so naturally.  I was put off by that at first because I felt stymied - that's what came flowing out of my mouth naturally.  What else was I supposed to say?  But she has really helped me become aware of just how ingrained it is in our society, or at least in me, to comment on a baby's looks - and, of course, it doesn't stop with infants.

What if we stopped commenting on how people look?  What would happen if we began, instead, to comment on their brilliant thoughts?  or their wonderful ideas?  or their courageous actions? or their feelings?  or sensitive thoughts?  I wonder if we would focus on those positives how long it would take to shift things from an outer to an inner focus?

If you're up for it, try it for a few days, and let me know how it feels!  I'm very curious to see what's possible if we give up our worries about our physical selves and focus on our interiors instead...

1 comment:

  1. I could argue that being an artist is partly/mostly about noticing and celebrating the physical world - so should we not paint? I am being a devil's advocate because I have (as a 44 year old single, slightly overweight woman) been asking myself the same type of questions. Should I can what I look like? Should I care about how thin I am? Do I want men to find me attractive physically? How much do I want the attraction to be about my body?
    I am torn; either I feel frustrated at my looks or I feel frustrated with a society that has turned attractiveness into a homogenized, static, thin, post-card. I find that there is really not a whole lot of middle ground in the older people's "dating" world.
    I wear flowing, over-sized clothing and one man I dated was shocked when he saw me naked for the first time. He said, "You are hot!" His shock and comment both annoyed and pleased me. This experience sums up my experience with the world I have been thrust into.