From the Inside Looking Out, Sunday, November 15th
We are getting the outer bands of a storm crossing over Northern Europe from East to West. I made it to the bakery and back just in time. I’m convinced that the French would go out to buy fresh bread in a category 4 hurricane if necessary.
I realize I didn’t mention in yesterday’s blog that one other thing we don’t have, that I used to feel was absolutely essential, is a full-length mirror. Vanity dies hard, even at the advanced age of 75! The only mirrors in this apartment are in the two bathrooms and the half-bath, that were installed for taller people than I am. I can only see my face, neck, and shoulders. When I feel that I must know what the rest of me looks like - clothed - I call up the elevator and stand just inside to check my profile. It’s usually not a very reassuring experience. But the bigger issue is, why do I still care? I have lots of theories about how a person, and especially women, develop deep feelings of either pleasure or shame about their body, depending on what our culture deems beautiful or wanting.
I was very much a perfectionist about most things when I was growing up. I wanted to get the best grades, be in the clique of the most popular kids, receive awards for the best whatever, get into a prestigious college. After doing pretty well in high school at coming close to most of those goals, I got knocked down quite a few pegs in college. It was a shaming experience for me in many ways, not the least of which was that I was only invited by two sororities - both Jewish - to become a pledge. All my dorm mates were being called back to multiple sororities. Since I grew up in an environment where coming from a Jewish family wasn’t a minus - at least not overtly - it never occurred to me that this aspect of who I was would play so heavily into what the social part of my college experience would be like. What I didn’t realize at the time was that Northwestern University had a Jew quota of about 8% in 1963. We were rarities on campus and even rarer in non-Jewish sororities. Instead, I blamed myself for any flaw I could conjure up in my personality and physical appearance. That experience became a sort of trauma that I have more or less carried around to this day.
I may never give up on the notion that one’s physical appearance is an essential aspect of who one is. I know intellectually that this isn’t true, but deep down, it’s hard to let go of. Confinement makes the subject a non-starter. I am coming to realize that no matter how lumpy and wrinkled I look, nobody really cares. I have a warm smile that no one sees anymore and a friendly personality that is hard to share with anyone in person. I stay in touch by blogging, Zooming, emailing, testing and calling. I don’t think the recipients of any of these means of connection think any the less of me because I’m older and more misshapen than I was 20 years ago. Confinement is a solitary but necessary experience, not only to avoid being sickened by Covid, but also in my view to have the time and the courage to look one’s self in the mirror and try to see beneath the mask.