Elizabeth Wurtzel's essay in the Atlantic last week was a typical Wurtzel piece. She told us that she still looks good even though she's 45 and gave us her recipe for looking great in her trademark uncomfortable way. It's full of bitterness and jealousy and name-dropping and sadness and rambling digressions and the occasional, interesting turn of phrase.
The reactions to her piece runs the gamet from train-wreck to a huge train-wreck. I feel too bad for her to add to the pile on. She doesn't seem happy, despite her insistence that she is happy.
My first reaction to her piece was to show it to my nieces and tell them, this is what happens when your identity is too tied up with your appearance. Beauty is a short period of our lives. After 35, you gain weight. Gravity takes its toll; your neck, eyebrows, boobs all head south. If you have put a lot of stock in your looks, it's a depressing, downhill battle.
In recent years, feminist critics have concentrated their efforts on getting more women in the workplace and in the executive office. Wurtzel herself has told us that a real feminist is not even married. Today, I'm missing the old school feminists with their sensible shoes and unshaven legs. I think a real feminist takes value in her brains, kindness, unique talents, hardwork, and not on the fact that she still looks good in a mini-skirt in her mid-40's.
There is nothing wrong with looking nice. A pair of skinny jeans and Lenny's fabulous hair cut makes me feel wonderful. But I'm grateful that I was never beautiful, because aging has no effect on me. I'm going from young and quirky to old and quirky. I'm not ordering Cindy Crawford's face creams on the HSN or sculpting my abs in Pilate's classes. I do the basics, but I don't care that much.
In some ways, I understand Wurtzel's frustration. Society does have a way of casting off middle aged women in their Lands End swim suits and Clarks loafers. But the way to get attention isn't to insist on fitting into tight clothes. It's by saying smart things.