Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The enemy that is the mirror

How often do you look in the mirror?

I’ve been thinking a lot about aging lately for several reasons, not the least of which is my upcoming fortieth birthday.

I regularly speak to my mother in Colorado via Skype, and we usually use the video camera. My mother is an extraordinary woman, and I’ve been mulling over a post dedicated her, but there is literally so much to say that I haven’t been able to clear my thoughts enough to delve into it.
My mother is also very beautiful. She always has been, right from being elected the homecoming queen in her small town Texas high school to being 67 years old now. People turn around and stare at my mother in the street. She’s that kind of beautiful.

So the other day as we were skyping, she began to make a face like she was blowing out the candles on a birthday cake, simultaneously pulling her skin up around her ears.

Me: What are you doing?

Mom: A temporary face lift?

Me: Stop that right now!

Mom: Why?

Me: Because men never do that!

I had just finished flipping through one of my favorite books of all time, Ways of Seeing by John Berger. I first read it when I was in art school, and for twenty years it has remained on my top ten.

I had just read this passage:

“According to usage and conventions which are at last being questioned but have by no means been overcome, the social presence of a woman is different in kind from that of a man. A man's presence is dependent upon the promise of power which he embodies. If the promise is large and credible his presence is striking. If it is small or incredible, he is found to have little presence. The promised power may be moral, physical, temperamental, economic, social, sexual - but its object is always exterior to the man. A man's presence suggests what he is capable of doing to you or for you. His presence may be fabricated, in the sense that he pretends to be capable of what he is not, but the presence is always towards a power which he exercises on others.
By contrast, a woman's presence expresses her own attitude to herself, and defines what can and cannot be done to her. Her presence is manifest in her gestures, voice, opinions, expressions, clothes, chosen surroundings, taste - indeed there is nothing she can do which does not contribute to her presence. Presence for a woman is so intrinsic to her person that men tend to think of it as an almost physical emanation, a kind of heat or smell or aura.
To be born a woman has been to be born, within an allotted and confined space, into the keeping of men. The social presence of women has developed as a result of their ingenuity in living under such tutelage within such a limited space. But this has been at the cost of a woman's self splitting into two. A woman must continually watch herself. She is almost continually accompanied by her own image of herself. Whilst she is walking across a room or whilst she's weeping at the death of her father, she can scarcely avoid envisaging herself walking or weeping. From earliest childhood she has been taught and persuaded to survey herself continually.”

As a woman, I can only affirm what Berger describes, and I hate it viciously.

And I can ponder my own aging.

My own need for a temporary facelift as I gaze into the mirror.


byjane said...

Berger is one of my top reads as well. And to totally puncture all attempts at seriousness--have you seen him???? He is one cute guy!!!!

jennifer said...

Ohh... I have to check that out.

Jennifer said...

Each time I come here you creep me out a little more. The first part of the passage you cited? That is the only part of that book that I very distinctly remember.

jennifer said...

Maybe I really am you... what are you wearing?

Jenn in Holland said...

on being in my forties

anno said...

I love this post. Now I am going to have to read Berger. Or look at him. Or something.