Tuesday, March 15, 2016

We Don't Owe the World Our Beauty: Thoughts on Political Rhetoric and "Frankenstein" #SOL16 Day 15

“Ariana Huffington is unattractive, both inside and out. I fully understand why her former husband left her for a man – he made a good decision.”
Read more at http://www.marieclaire.co.uk/blogs/550112/donald-trump-quotes.html#OL61TlRlC1rTeKUV.99
Ariana Huffington is unattractive, both inside and out. I fully understand why her former husband left her for a man – he made a good decision.”
Read more at http://www.marieclaire.co.uk/blogs/550112/donald-trump-quotes.html#OL61TlRlC1rTeKUV.99
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These days I feel unattractive. I've gained some weight. I joke about being vain, but I am. I think about how I look. All the time. I've searched my soul about why, and two reasons stick in my mind: 

First, I was born with a birth defect: I have strabismus. My left eye crosses. Or did until I had it surgically corrected in eighth grade. That's 13 years I lived with my left eye focused on my nose. Gilbert Vincent (his real name) tortured me in grade school. He resurrected the torture in eighth grade. I went home and announced that I would not return to school without having my eye fixed. I had the surgery in March 1971. I spent three days in the hospital. 

I've had two additional surgeries to fix my recurring eye problem. I'm obsessed with my eye. Sometimes it looks droopy. I worry that students will not know when I'm looking at them. That's how I knew I needed the second surgery; a student asked me about my eye. 

The other reason I think about my appearance stems from my relationship with my sister. "Gaylene is the pretty one. Glenda is the smart one." That's the refrain my sister and I grew up hearing from our paternal family. 

You'd think I'd be past such shallowness now. In many ways I am, but this election cycle has made appearance an ugly issue that heightens my awareness of my own insecurities, especially as a 57 year old woman. I've long passed the "cute young thing" phase of life. Consequently, when a friend posted Diane Vreeland's words about beauty on Facebook yesterday, they hit the mark: 
Yet here we are in 2016 with a man--a frontrunner, no less--screeching about how ugly some women are and how important it is for a man to have a physically attractive woman as a possession. 

"Arianna Huffington is unattractive, both inside and out. I fully understand why her former husband left her for a man--He made a good decision." 

"You know, it really doesn't matter what the media writes as long as you've got a young and beautiful piece of ass." 

And these are only two of the egregious remarks Donald Trump has sneered. Can anything be more shallow? Can anything be more offensive? Can anything matter less? Words are the beginning of marginalizing women.

I've spent a lifetime trying to measure up physically to the shallow mantra of the media and fashion industry, and so has nearly every other American female. I remember the 90s when Hillary Clinton tried to start a national conversation about healthcare and childcare to have the talking heads castigate her for wearing a headband, for having bad hair. 

When I teach Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, I begin with a project designed to draw students attention to the gender issues inherent in the novel. I have them select "beautiful people" from magazines. Then I have students cut out various body parts: eyes, ears, noses, hair, torsos, legs, arms, lips, etc. 

We collate these into piles based on the respective parts. The kids then select parts from each pile. Next, the students take the individual parts they have chosen and organize them into a "beautiful creation." To finish the project, this year I had students compose museum placards. 

We had a gallery walk, and each student introduced their piece by reading the placard. 
Vanessa and Parker display their projects.

Jhonary with his "beauty." 
Before we took the tour, I shared the passage from Frankenstein that informs this project. It's from Chapter 5: 

It was on a dreary night of November that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils. . . . I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs.
How can I describe my emotions at this catastrophe, or how delineate the wretch whom with such infinite pains and care I had endeavored to form? His limbs were in proportion, and I had selected his features as beautiful. Beautiful! -- Great God! His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing; his teeth of a pearly whiteness; but these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes, that seemed almost of the same color as the dun white sockets in which they were set, his shriveled complexion and straight black lips.

It's the intent to create beauty, to create a physically beautiful being by SELECTING each part based on its physical beauty that I want my students to note and discuss. 

As readers of Frankenstein know and my students discover, Victor Frankenstein's beautiful ideal goes terribly wrong. His singular focus on beauty brings multiple catastrophes

The different accidents of life are not so changeable as the feelings of human nature. I had worked hard for nearly two years, for the sole purpose of infusing life into an inanimate body. For this I had deprived myself of rest and health. I had desired it with an ardor that far exceeded moderation; but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart. Unable to endure the aspect of the being I had created, I rushed out of the room, continued a long time traversing my bed chamber, unable to compose my mind to sleep. At length lassitude succeeded to the tumult I had before endured; and I threw myself on the bed in my clothes, endeavoring to seek a few moments of forgetfulness. 

There are many reasons I dislike Donald Trump, but the most personal one is his obsession with the way women look. An article in Vanity Fair asks, "What's Behind Donald Trump's Obsession with Beauty Pageants?"  The rhetoric that suggests a woman's value rises and falls based on her looks scares me for the young women I teach. 

Donald Trump is a media construct, a composite pieced together from headlines and embellishments, theirs and his. The media has it's "dream" candidate, a object for the 24-hour news cycle. "Breathless horror and disgust fill my hear" when I think about the potential outcome of the November election. If the nightmarish scenario of a Trump presidency is one we awaken to the first Wednesday after the first Tuesday in November, we'll be forced to remember. We'll have no opportunity for forgetfulness. 




8 comments:

  1. I have nothing to say about Trump, other than to say that he is vile.But I love your project - so meaningful in high school.

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    1. I love how you said nothing about Trump! ;-)

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  2. I have nothing to say about Trump, other than to say that he is vile.But I love your project - so meaningful in high school.

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  3. This is amazing. Dead on. I hate to say it, but in some respects it was our mothers and grandmothers who socialized us in these ways. I am really hoping people are waking up to what would happen if this man were elected. He's vile, as Tara said. On another note, I did love the project. Very cool and thoughtful.

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    1. I thought about talking about the mother impact on my vanity. I have so much more to say on this topic. Ken pointed out to me that being sick and medicated for the past three weeks is affecting my perception of myself. He's right, of course, but...

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  4. Please submit this post to Huffington Post, or New York TImes, Washington Post, or somewhere, by golly! This is so right on. The man is absolutely asinine. How in the world is any woman supporting him? It stuns me. Thank you for this. (Oh, and I am 56 with so many of the same issues about myself - don't you think we are the most invisible people on earth, we women of a certain age?)

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  5. I think many people are obsessed with youthful looks. For some reason there is a negative cloud hovering signs of aging. Aging is not a disease it is a natural part of life intended for many reasons. I am sorry to hear you were brought so much pain at a young age just because of your eye. Good news. You turned out a spitfire ;) Thanks for sharing your thoughts..

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    1. Also.. I don't know why I am Call it believing... This is Mary. I am ok with my blog struggles Glenda haha

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