Do I Look Okay?

 In his book, Ways of Seeing, John Berger,  the English art critic, novelist, painter and poet, writes:  

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 is 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. And so she comes to consider the surveyor and the surveyed within her as the two constituent yet always distinct elements of her identity as a woman. She has to survey everything she is and everything she does because how she appears to men, is of crucial importance for what is normally thought of as the success of her life. Her own sense of being in herself is supplanted by a sense of being appreciated as herself by another....  

One might simplify this by saying: men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves. The surveyor of woman in herself is male: the surveyed female. Thus she turns herself into an object -- and most particularly an object of vision: a sight.

 Last weekend I briefly became embroiled in a somewhat contentious discussion in another group about the pressures on women to maintain a particular appearance. In the way these things often unfold, a couple of men just could not take in that the pressures on women are different from those on men, in much the same way that many men responded when the #MeToo discussions began. Of course men also face pressures but not so much about how they look. I remembered this quote from John Berger and offered it as a way of seeing what I was trying to say. No dice. I got frustrated and left the discussion. Once I would have hung in and tried again and again to make the same point but I have finally learned that doing that does not change any minds and only serves to further aggravate me.

I have realized that I rarely leave the house without asking my husband “Do I look all right?” though he never asks that question for himself. And when I do, I am still scrutinizing myself, still assuming I have to meet some external standard in order to be okay. 

How about you?


© Cheryl Fuller, 2018. All  rights reserved.