Shadow Woman

Sometimes I think that we were all imprinted by those Barbie dolls we played with (boys included) and grew up believing that all women should look impossibly thin, hairless and tan. Unless they are already brown. Then they should be blond. They should have no body fat and enormous breasts. A magazine recently photoshopped a cover model so that her pelvis looked all out of proportion. Her bone structure failed to achieve perfect femininity.

Virginia Woolf once said that she was haunted by the Angel in the House. A Victorian ideal of the perfect housewife, mother, source of comfort to all. Quite beautiful, but who could be her all the time? Who could be only her? A writer, who by nature has to be self-absorbed, egotistical and moody, can’t be angelic most of the time. Maybe when hosting an occasional party, or on Halloween for fun. How oppressive to never be able to relax and be only human. The Angel didn’t have to step on the scale every five minutes, but she was forever baking things, arranging flowers, dedicated to pleasing her man, her family and all of creation.

The shadow side of the Angel, however she is defined, is the condemnation of the woman who fails, who is merely human. We all fail. We’ll never be good enough to reach a receding goal.

The Angel of the House becomes the slutty housewife, with curlers in her hair and babies crying. Barbie is fat, hairy, smelly– you know in your sinful soul that unless you are ever-vigilant, your physicality will reveal itself to your everlasting shame.

Echidne of the Snakes has a discussion about women and body hair. I’m old enough to remember when a young guy who grew a beard would be called dirty, smelly, queer, subversive and all kinds of things. But he went ahead and did it anyway, because personal appearance is really very important. Women in the Muslim world risk flogging to wear jeans. Why? Because being yourself in the world is worth suffering for.

So while I will defend anyone’s right to be themselves, and live in the tanning booth if they want to, I regret the body shame we are inflicting on women for just being natural humans. Virginia Woolf lived in a time of profound limitations on women, but she got to keep her clothes on. It would probably not have occurred to her to hate what she saw in the mirror.

Women creating their own personal style, plastic surgeons collecting unemployment, diet books remaindered. How scary is that?

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