Guest Post: The Woman Formerly Known As Beautiful

The Woman Formerly Known As Beautiful, Sarah Auerswald & Yvonne Condes

Guest Post #1

It’s a rainy Friday, but an exciting day here at betweenparents.  My lovely friend Shannon has agreed to step away from her busy desk at The Woman Formerly Known As Beautiful to guest post.  You can find a lot of her articles on the Huffington Post and you can find a lot of her there too.  (Read on for an explanation of that tantalizing bit!)  Shannon’s dialogue always makes me laugh and I’m terribly jealous that she’s so damn funny, insightful and beautiful.  Meet Shannon…

Good friends, whether Nude or Never Nude, make 40 beautiful. (Shannon’s the one wearing the briefcase.)

10 Things I Know About Beauty Now That I’m In My 40s

The 40s are good. You’re too old to be a young fool and you’re too young to be in Depends.

In my teens and 20s I never felt beautiful enough. I thought I was too skinny, too flat-chested, too pointy-chinned, too hairy-thighed and I had no idea what to do with my thick, frizzy, Irish thatch-roof hair. Having been raised Mormon I also had no idea the lady garden could be manicured, hence I could’ve repopulated the entire rainforest with my pubic hair.

There was also the small matter of being attracted to philanderers. For the longest time I thought they cheated because I wasn’t beautiful enough. Two words. Halle Berry. Men who cheat do so because they’re cheaters not because we’re not beautiful enough.

In my 30s I was pregnant twice which meant I felt fat and invisible. I coined the name THE WOMAN FORMERLY KNOWN AS BEAUTIFUL when I was 7-months pregnant with my second child, standing in line at the meat counter at Bristol Farms in Beverly Hills. Five butchers (count ‘em…five!) were helping a young, non-pregnant Pussycat Doll select a pound of cackle while I festered swollenly nearby trying to order one freaking carne asada!

Eventually I passed out from hypoglycemia due to LACK OF RED MEAT and when the paramedics arrived they forgot to collect my 50-lbs.-up limp form off the ground because they were too busy helping the Pussycat Doll carry her boneless, skinless chicken cutlets to her car.

Now here I am in my 40s. I’ve got a loving, solid husband. I’m not pregnant and I know what to do with my hair (and not just the hair on my head). So far this is the best decade for me when it comes to feeling beautiful. Here are some of the things I know about beauty now that I’m in my 40s…

They’re just not for 40-somethings. I’ve spent more money trying to find shapewear that will keep my muffin top from spilling over my low-rise jeans like Gak from a pre-schooler’s fist than I can afford. Which leads me to this…

You’re going to feel like you’re in a hot, sweaty body cast when nothing is actually broken. See #1.

I spent the years after giving birth missing my formerly slender frame instead of appreciating my newfound voluptuousness. I actually had breasts for the first time! But instead I worried I was too fat. I fixated on the afore-mentioned muffin top, what I perceived to be neck flesh you could pack the contents of an overnight valise in and the concern that my nose was getting longer.

So I did something radical, I posed for nude photos at age 46 and the kicker? I posed in the exact same positions I’d done at age 26.  No, I’m not a professional stripper named Santana, but I had body image issues in my 20s and the nudes I took back then helped me see myself with gentler eyes.

When I saw this round of nudes I thought my plan had backfired. I was mortified by what appeared to be a broad-flanked crone (and my nose has gotten longer). But in the words of Kenneth Alton, a lovely man who commented on my nudes on The Huffington Post–

“I have often considered it a trifle foolish the way that shallow youth is considered inherently beautiful. There is such a terrible beauty which only age brings, a depth of power that only deepens the sense of mystery that utterly, completely­, captivates­.”

Feeling beautiful in your body is one part maintenance, one part acceptance.

There’s no shame in it. I woke up one day and noticed my eyelids were heading for the border with a chalupa in each fold.  I had a brow lift/blaphorestomy and I love it. I’m me, but perkier.

See Joan Rivers and Carrot Top

Forget about losing weight. Just move. It doesn’t matter if it’s walking around the block with your dog or doing a mini-triathalon. It could even be just making love in a challenging position (Humpbacked Bridge anyone?)

This is the time to inhabit your body fully, to thank it for taking you this far, to breath into it and feel all of its furthest reaches. Just move. If you don’t like it at first do it anyway. Eventually moving your body will feel like coming home.

I’ve become friends with a 26-year old mom (who could be my daughter) and she’d been pestering me to go to a speakeasy with her in downtown L.A.

I had a million excuses not to go. Downtown was a half-hour drive, and what if there were traffic, an earthquake, the end of times? Parking was too difficult. I was exhausted after a long day of working and mom-ing. Also, Dancing With The Stars was on!  When I heard that come out of my mouth I realized I was dangerously close to the abyss of mediocrity.  So I made myself go.

When we got downtown there was a movie being shot in the streets. Lots of foot traffic and interesting people. When we walked through the door of the speakeasy we were transported right back to Prohibition-era Chicago. The place was tiny, hidden, all varnished wood with vintage glassware, bartenders and waiters that looked like they came right off the set of Boardwalk Empire. There was a little upright piano accompanying a Billie Holiday chanteuse belting Lady Sings The Blues. And. There was an absinthe fairy.

I came-to at a cockfight in Guadalajara having grown an impressive handle-bar mustache. I hitch-hiked back to L.A. with a border coyote and made it home in time for morning drop-off at my daughters’ elementary school.

That adventure lit me up for a week. And there’s nothing more beautiful than a woman with adventure and novelty in her eyes.

When my kids were little I was in the trenches. There really wasn’t time to learn new things because I was just trying to stay ahead of the onslaught of needs, crying, pooping, barfing, keeping them alive and not sleeping.

But now my kids are 7 & 9, and developing their own unique interests. So I started my blog a year ago at 45. It’s forced me to learn about social media, networking, computer apps, photography, filmmaking, editing, lighting, performing and writing. That’s not to say I do any of those things well (yet), but I find them endlessly challenging and interesting. I can feel my atrophying brain coming alive again.

“Exuberance is Beauty” – Roland Barthes

That means no “make it quick” little pats on his back. It means standing toe-to-toe with him. Wrapping your arms around his back. Running your hands through his hair (if he has any). Pressing your cheek to his so you can feel his stubble, smell his skin. Looking him in the eye, even if it frightens him a little and then, to paraphrase Barthes again, pressing your lips to his so that through your mouth your soul can pass into his.

Now that is beautiful.

That’s all I got, ladies!

Today’s Challenge: The 10 Minute Post (Poetry)

Gotta run really soon.  This weekend I went to a poetry workshop that I didn’t think I was going to.  Thought I’d cancelled, hadn’t, fulfilled obligation and was sucker punched by the beauty of Mark Doty’s Sweet Machine (as introduced by equally luminous poet Linda Gregerson).  If you like poetry at all, read this book.  Let me know you’re reading it and we can Skype to read passages out loud and sigh over them. Here’s just one quick sample:

What did you think, that joy
was some slight thing?

Art can change you.  Even if you’re rushing around, old tissues spilling out of your purse and mismatched socks in need of darning, you’re still susceptible to that gotcha intake of breath, of feeling.  When words and images (or music or movement) cause a split in your brain and you babble like the proverbial drunken brook about happiness and sadness and a kaleidoscope of things more like colors than coherent emotions.  This rushes in and doesn’t necessarily last long.  You can prolong it by rattling on, but do this at your own risk.  Write about it and risk having your slender readership run away screaming, “She’s mad! Mad I tell you!”  But I guess ignoring all of this wild beauty would probably send the muse packing.


Beauty forever

Makeup Forever ad

I’m sitting here in my hot living room, wearing shorts and wondering if my legs will ever be tan again.  Further perusal of said limbs leaves me with the distinct impression that things aren’t what they used to be, but I’m okay with that.  At least okay enough that I’ve been running around in these old cut-offs for the past two days.  All of which leads me into this new post.

Lauren Greenfield, a photographer and filmmaker, has work featured in the Beauty Culture exhibit at The Annenberg Space for Photography that I wrote about in a previous post.  She posted an article today from about the exhibit.  The article written by Alene Dawson is titled, “What is beauty and who has it?”  It’s a short article and focuses mostly on the inclusion of more diverse models in the world of fashion and cosmetics.  But it’s really the question “what is beauty?” interests me.

Back in March, Makeup Forever debuted a series of ads that claim to be unretouched.  They go so far as to back up with claim with a notary public.  A friend pointed out these ads to me and we joked about how ridiculous it is that advertisers are using claims of not Photoshopping as a selling point.  I immediately thought of the dairy labels that state no growth hormones are used on the farmer’s cows.

Not only are these ads circulating, they’re getting press and winning awards.  My first reaction is that it’s a step in the right direction.  To risk being corny or sounding overwrought, beauty is something I try to see, write about and create in my work.  Not all poetry is about beauty, but there is something inherently beautiful in trying to capture the moment in the exacting, accurate, fresh way that a good poem does.  The subject matter can be garbage cans.  The music can be fragmented.  The meaning revealed only after digging deep.  It’s the intention of the artist that carries the piece.  This is true of all art forms, not just poetry.

Cosmetic surgery is not an art form.  I’m not talking about cases of reconstruction.  I’m referring to the attempt to eradicate the aging process.  When I watch movies or see ads in magazines, I’m constantly wondering what I’m seeing.  Who I’m seeing.  Is it the real woman (increasingly this applies to men too) or a pulled on, plumped up, injected version of a woman?  Our society reveres celebrity and equates it with beauty.  Living in LA, we are bombarded by images through billboards that move, bus stop ads and TV screens that pop up everywhere from local cafes to elevators.  I’m wondering how this influences our idea of beauty.  What is our ideal?  Can we cull a personal definition of beauty from this barrage of images?

The article from CNN talks about the difference from blond-haired, blue eyed Christie Brinkley in the 1970’s to the more diverse models we see today.  What we prize changes over time and among different cultures.  One easy example is today’s emphasis on thinness versus the ideal Rubens’ painted.  But this isn’t really the problem I’m trying to dissect.

I recently joined as a contributor.  A featured article on the front page by Lian Dolan talks about the “Hot Moms” Phenonmenon in LA.  She talks about the ridiculous beauty tips and the race among celebrities to drop their baby weight.  I liked this point Dolan made–Eventually, “hotness” appeared to be a value more highly regarded in a mother than competency or compassion.

Of course, it’s not only women with children who are under scrutiny.  And this post only scratches the surface of a large and deep topic.  But Dolan’s article caused me to think about how we, as women, define ourselves.  The adjectives we use in describing ourselves.  For me today, it started with stubbly legs and spider veins.  I decided a little appreciation was in order.   So I shaved my legs smooth and rubbed in lavender lotion.  For my next feat, maybe I’ll write an ode to knobby knees.