I’ve been thinking about beauty. Physical beauty, that is. The kind that other beholders bestow upon us or that we claim for ourselves, and what it means to be a woman in our culture when physical beauty is altogether absent. The protagonist I’m writing is alone and unlovely, lost in a world of images the way Vivian Maier must have been in her attic bedroom after a day of caring for another woman’s children. I wouldn’t have been able to write about this character twenty or even ten years ago—not because I was beautiful, but because I still could get what I wanted out of life, even operating from behind a less than compelling facade.
That isn’t the case for everyone. There are some women for whom physical ugliness is the defining feature of their lives. These are the girls who are never kissed, never desired, who are teased in school and probably later as well, whom even the most kindhearted lovers despise. They dwell in the margins of society, guilty of what for an American woman is the ultimate, unforgivable sin: ugliness, accompanied by eternal virginity. Nothing incites male scorn so much as an unfuckable woman.
It’s a lot to think about. What part does our physicality play in shaping the people we become? What resentments build? What entitlements? How can we learn to love ourselves when we are unloved by others? What happens to sublimated desire, what chain reactions are ignited? The questions go on and on.
How has your subject matter changed over the years?
Self-portrait by Vivian Maier