Don’t you just love Ellen? She has a way with words. Always funny…yet always kind.
Don’t you just love Ellen? She has a way with words. Always funny…yet always kind.
Something to tide us all over until this stinkin’ cold goes away.
“Style is fundamentally a truthful statement… There are layers and layers of truth; and style, whether in dress or life, art or literature, is involved in their discovery.” –Freya Stark
I have been thinking about makeup lately. I used to think that makeup was something women put a huge amount of time and money into to get the attention of men, who often don’t even bother to shave. O, patriarchy, why you so mean?
I am lucky enough to have clear skin and dark blue eyes so I always figured that if a guy needs me to “put on my face” simply to notice me, then he’s not a person I really feel like being noticed by. I still feel that the Manhattan style of makeup is over the top, but New York has always struck me as being a hard-edged city and maybe it’s just a form of protective coloration, layers of powder rather than a sword and buckler.
Boston, as an academic city (we’ve got thirty colleges just within a few miles of the city center) tends toward the mildly androgynous. We probably have more comfortable women’s shoes in just a five-mile radius than they have in Manhattan and Los Angeles combined. And women who work/teach at these colleges are not an exception, whether they are full-time, part-time or graduate students (and the undergrads in baggy sweatpants). This always worked for me. As long as I looked “professional” and teacher-like, I figured that nobody would care if I didn’t take the time to put on makeup before running out the door guzzling my coffee and trying to remember my lesson plan. I get good student evaluations every semester. The rest is meaningless.
But in January, I started going to the monthly lesbian happy hour, which is a fascinating sociological activity. Where else are you going to find a sample of about eighty women with such a wide variety of clothing styles in the same bad bar lighting? More than half of our sample look like any other women you might see on the train every day. But there are a few types who stand out.
Fashionista/International Femme: Makeup, long hair, dress, heels. An air of being exactly where she needs to be. Even if I wore the exact same thing, if I was standing next to her, no one would notice my existence. I have had friends like this.
Grad Student Femme: Shortish wash-and-wear hair. Casual clothing, such as skinny leg jeans. Comfortable shoes, minimal makeup. The glow of youth.
College Dean-ish: An excellent haircut, whatever the length. Makeup, but never too much. Classic jewelry. Professional clothes, more femme than not. Classic but comfortable shoes, probably expensive. An air of quiet authority.
Grad Student Butch: Short hair with a little product for style. No makeup. Men’s style clothes but not necessarily menswear. Comfortable shoes, maybe spiffy. The glow of youth.
Flannel Butch: Plaid flannel shirt, dark wash jeans, expensive sneakers. Most of the jewelry is in one ear. One or more tattoos. A. The glow of youth AND/OR B. An air of quiet authority AND/OR C. Laidback attitude.
Bowtie Butch: Short hair. No makeup. Menswear, including either necktie or bowtie. Men’s style shoes. Laidback attitude.
Perhaps if I saw the same people in the bright light of day, the differences might not be apparent. But in the dim light of a bar, the women who don’t wear makeup, especially if they are over 40, look kind of grey and washed out.
So I’ve made a couple of visits to Sephora, one to get help in picking a shade of lipstick and one to get a 15-minute primer on how to apply eye shadow the right way and get help picking good colors. The young women (and one or two men) who work there are all made up to within an inch of their lives. But when they ask me what style I am going for, and I say, “Sorta like Ellen,” and they say, “Oh! You mean natural!” they are gung ho in helping me achieve a look that is as little like theirs as possible.
My shift in thinking about all this is primarily a shift in thinking from more outward–what do other people see when they look at me–to more inward–can I see my best self when I look in the mirror, blue eyes, Polish cheekbones and all.
It also helps that two of the faces of makeup companies in recent memory have been Sarah Michelle Gellar (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and Ellen Degeneres (Ellen the Homophobia Slayer), both of whom have fresh light looks that don’t scream, “Look at me! I’m wearing makeup! Ask me how!” Which is funny, actually, considering that is exactly what they’re getting paid to do… Ah, marketing, why you so sneaky?
Okay, so admittedly my profile, if they read it at all, says that a) I am bisexual and b) looking for a relationship with a woman and c) You Should Message Me If you are a little butch and a little bit beautiful, you care about the environmental crisis and you think Jesus was pretty queer, blah blah blah. So here is my first interaction with a person.
Guy: Hey, beautiful. I’m Wright. And you are?
Never thought I’d say that and it is only 50% true, strictly speaking, but God, people, READ THE FUCKING PROFILE.
Illustration by Mike Allegra. Hell, Mike’s Cupid is gayer than any of these guys. And I mean that in a Really Good Way. I’ve heard lesbians complain that Ellen Degeneres dresses “like a man” but these girls clearly don’t know a lot of straight men, because the vast majority of straight men in this country can’t dress themselves without a whole lot of help.
So Wednesday, my church did the Women’s Stations of the Cross, a service made up of short (1 page) monologues by all the different women that Jesus interacted with and healed, recalling their relationship with him and watching as he makes his way to his death. Written by Katie Sherrod, it’s a moving service, especially for those of us reader involved in it. The last time we did it, I read his mother Mary receiving his body, Station 13, which was harrowing. This year, I did 12, Mary Magdalene watching him die on the cross. Sherrod uses some of the ideas from the Gnostic gospels rejected from the canon by Constantine in 325, including that Jesus called her “beloved disciple” and that Peter was jealous of her–these details get seeded into a few of the other women’s parts as they look to her as a leader among the women followers. We love the service in part for its good theological and elegant emotional writing and for its being a service led by non-clergy who are all women. So not transgressive in a big way, but I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t play well in Rome.
I was going to go to the Holy/Maundy Thursday service on Thursday evening but ended up binge-watching Season 5 of Ellen instead. Watching the earlier seasons I remembered why I had stopped watching it in the nineties–her funny but hapless dates with men in the first three seasons reminded me too much of my own failed efforts in that directions. Oh, the irony. Season 4 and 5 are encouraging for similar reasons.
Since I had already gone through the crucifixion on Wednesday, I spent Good Friday evening at a lesbian happy hour, a monthly meetup that always draws 50-80 women of a variety of ages and backgrounds. A woman I had met the previous month and found interesting did remember me (teachers are better at remembering names than other folks apparently). She is a flannel shirt butch but also kind of feminine with a brightness about her that draws people to her, so she is always surrounded at these events. I met almost a dozen women, from a physical therapist to an MIT grad student
A doctor who is recently out and I were talking. She looked past me at a woman sitting at the bar, fifties and relatively feminine, and asked if I thought her attractive. Assuming she was asking for encouragement to go talk to her I said, “Sure.” She turned to the woman and said, “My friend here thinks you’re attractive” and introduced us. Luckily the woman’s older friend was a realtor, so we could talk about how the Internet has changed her field and I managed to conduct a four-way conversation about nothing much until I could drift into another small group. Before she left, the doctor said, “I’m always looking to help people!”
Thanks, doc. The next time I need a wingman, you won’t be the first I’ll call.
Another set of women, finding out that I’ve only been thinking I’m bi for three months, reacted in a way I’m getting used to: not quite hysterical laughter. Finding out I’m only out to four people, they assured me, “Oh, honey, your parents already know. They might not know they know, if they’re old, but they know. Your siblings and friends too.” Yes, yes, terribly funny. Glad I amuse. I suspect that being lesbian is more straightforward than being bi (you should pardon the expression).
They also thought that “since you like men” might explain my attraction to somewhat more masculine women like Katherine Moennig and Ellen Degeneres (and the lady in plaid behind me regaling her new friend about the gay scene in Santiago that she should check out on her vacation next week). I managed to get myself back into that conversation, successfully guessing that the vacationer was Swiss (I recognized the accent). I was drinking a mai tai, which had a purple flower in it, which I gave to the Chilean who talks like a born American and she tucked it behind her ear and went off and joined other conversations.
I met a writer who gave me bad advice about writing and relationships, neither of which I intend to take. When I saw Flower Girl again she told me she had gotten a lot of compliments on it. She wondered out loud whether she would get anyone’s number by the end of the evening.
I said, “You could have mine.”
She looked surprised, so I said I thought she was cute.
“It’s because of the flower, isn’t it?”
“No, it’s why I gave it to you.”
Eventually, we exchanged cards. This flirting thing is hard. I feel like I am trying to flex a muscle I haven’t used in years and never was very good at in the first place.