By Alta Campbell
Sometimes I forget that I am no longer pretty. I will catch myself scanning the room at a theatre, for example, instinctively looking for an attractive man, as I have for decades of living single. I meet a man’s eyes and smile, just a little, knowing that he is likely to smile back. And then I remember. I am no longer pretty. I can no longer assume that he will smile back, unless he does just to be polite.
I know. This is frivolous. I am 68 years old. I am not supposed to care about my looks, especially at this age. It’s what’s inside that counts. Beauty’s only skin deep. Beauty is as beauty does. And all that.
Yes, all that is true, but it isn’t the only truth. Looks matter. In this country they matter a lot, especially for women. Both women and men can be powerful in other ways, by earning money for example, or contributing to society, but a woman also feels the pressure to look good. For men, it’s nice if they are handsome, but they don’t have to be.
We cannot deny that looks matter. Women spend millions of dollars on makeup, hair color, face lifts, beauty products—all to look young and pretty, preferably beautiful. Perhaps looks should not matter. Perhaps all of a woman’s energies should be focused on personal evolution, on using her talents to their greatest potential, on making the world a better place. Of course all of this is important, but looks still matter. We all want to look in a mirror and be pleased at what we see.
I was a teacher once and during my student teaching my supervising teacher told me that I was fortunate to be attractive. It would make my job easier, she said, since the students had to look at me for an hour every day. That surprised me since I thought that looks should not matter in a profession as important as teaching. At least I thought teaching was important, pure even, its goal being to inspire the young, though I often thought that my culture did not agree, but that’s another story. Even there, in a classroom, looks mattered, though I must say that my attractiveness did not seem to help my teenage students behave any better.
Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy my life, and I am happy to be healthy and aging at least somewhat gracefully, but sometimes, just sometimes, I would like to be that young woman again who returned to my car in a parking lot once to find this note on the windshield:
“We think you’re a fox! Have a nice day.
Sincerely, The 2 guys in the pickup (smiley face)”
Some days I wish I were still a fox!