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Monday, 24 November 2014

Self-exposer (f.) needed

It takes a big ego to say aloud: I'm good-looking. Only in our privacy dare we hold such a view. Especially if it isn't true.

Post-diet, on optimistic days I used to toy with "bare" and "lined", imagining myself as Lee Marvin (see pic) but with a thinner nose.

Better eyesight has eliminated this. Blotched complexion, melted candle-wax eye-bags and wearied cheeks drive out secret comforts. Not that it matters. I write, therefore I may lie.

Actually it does matter. My central characters are women, their private thoughts are my happy hunting ground. All are endlessly attractive to me but only one is beautiful; beauty is part of Judith's story in Blest Redeemer. Clare (Gorgon Times) has a drawn face and is buck-toothed. Jana (Out Of Arizona) is blemished. Francine's face (Second Hand) is bony, her blonde hair as lifeless as silk.

Those are the easy bits. But what about their inner opinions of their own looks? Do they make secretly exaggerated claims or are they terrified? Do they care? As a male author, wanting to do my best (ie, tell the truth) on their behalf I face an insurmountable barrier. No woman is going to volunteer, even hint. I must invent. And I may not be plausible.

Unless some supremely confident being can throw me an idea. Too late for Clare, Jana and Judith. But Francine (life rent by hideous trauma) needs help.

Second Hand (behind the scenes)
Guess whose physical persona I had in mind here:

As old as the hills, Torvald had said. Pratt had a gaunt face, his mouth bracketed between vertical grooves. His clothes hung like those of a fat man who’d abruptly lost weight. A shock of white hair looked stagy, flagging a spurious form of wisdom.

9 comments:

The Crow said...

I would tell you privately what I think when I look in the mirror or while getting dressed, but not publicly. It would seem too vain of me, otherwise, I think.

Plus, I'm not attractive enough to get away with it.

The Crow said...

Regarding Lee Marvin: one of my all-time favorite actors, for whom I carried a crush from the time I was 14, when my adolescent hormone flood was at its crest. I much prefer rough, craggy-faced men to pretty boys.

Stella said...

Truly, I doubt many women think of themselves as "beautiful" in the classic sense. Quite the opposite.....are we not all critical of our looks? Mostly, I think women are realistic about the weak chin, the big nose, the too curly or too straight hair and they just get on with presenting themselves as attractively as possible, if it matters to them. If you actually looked like Grace Kelly you would probably realize your face could be your fortune. I do assume that if you do have a great face it might be distressing to see it sag and droop and you might spend more time thinking about beauty than the rest of us.

Roderick Robinson said...

Crow: Very spunky of you. However you've put your finger directly on the problem. Most women would be disinclined to go public for exactly the reason you cite ("would seem too vain"). An even more fascinating aspect of this subject is this: how many women would be prepared to launch an honest but secret internal dialogue aimed at an objective judgment of their own looks? One that would stand up to relentless scrutiny even though the results would never be passed on to someone else. Without being overly optimistic or pessimistic. It takes a hard personality to do this. On top of this, do you imagine the case would be any different for men?

And yet writers, not just me, do face treating such material since internal dialogues are often part of fiction.

As to Lee Marvin my personal opinion was that his looks went beyond rough and craggy - he seemed downright ugly. Especially about the lips which could get slobbery. But then this is pure speculation: only women are likely to come up with a useful assessment of any given man's sex appeal. Same but in reverse when it comes to men judging women.

Works Well touched on this more than once. Before it started mattering (ie, in my fiction).

Thanks for making your point about a subject that I doubt will bring in many responses.

Stella: Two points of definition. I was concerned about internal yet unexpressed thoughts (in effect, personal honesty) not visible behaviour. Also - although I wasn't specific - I was interested in all-round summaries rather than measurements set against a fixed standard called "beautiful".

I like your question: "Are we not all critical of our looks?" The answer seems to be yes but are we telling the truth? As Crow says "I'm not attractive enough to get away with it." Thus we slag off our looks in public - often in a joky, don't-take-me-seriously tone of voice - because to do any other would require courage (and confidence) we lack.

Incidentally, there are two ways round this latter restriction. If we really believe we're pretty we can publish a photo and only refer to it tangentially. Let the viewer make up his or her mind. Or we can use someone else's favourable opinion of us, again jokily.

You may well accuse me of "physician heal thyself" given the format of my home page. At the time I did explain my reasons. I said I felt entitled since the half-open mouth looked "sackless" (an excellent, under-used adjective for describing stupidity). I also referred to my turkey-neck. But was I telling the truth?

The Crow said...

I still will take on your challenge. Establish parameters, set the stage (if there is any).

Is your woman musing to herself or is she describing herself to a new friend not yet met (male or female - I would be harder on myself if I were talking to a man; wouldn't want him expecting something I'm not ever going to be).

But, then again, you know what I look like from photos I've posted on my blog.

Roderick Robinson said...

Crow: The fact that I've seen your photo doesn't matter. What I'm interested in (because it's normally inaccessible to me) is what goes on in your head when you're considering your looks.

At one time or another such considerations have happened to women in all my four novels. Of course the range and depth of these considerations has varied widely depending on the circumstances but let's set the scene at the low end of significance.

You're in a shop or bank and a man is going out of his way to be helpful but it's taking time. You have time to think. The guy isn't a teenager, nor Lee Marvin, he's closer to your age. You ask yourself: who's he seeing? And you try to answer that question as honestly as you can purely for your own consumption. Since little in the way of useful conversation has passed between the two of you any answer has to be based mainly on the physical you.

One word of warning. In writing publicly about oneself there is a tendency (in all of us) to be self-deprecating. You may have noticed one or two of Tone Deaf's commenters have drawn attention to my tendency to do just this: I suspect it irritates them. And they're entitled.

What makes my request quite different is that you will only be talking to yourself (or would be if it were happening for real). You don't need to put yourself down, you can afford to be honest. Thus if it were happening to me I would, if I were entirely honest, be compelled to dwell on my physical good points as well as the bad, which are much easier and more interesting to write about. I am tall (VR wouldn't have married me if I hadn't been), my nose is straight, in repose my face is cylindrical not melon-like, I have a full head of hair which can look OK if I've washed it that fortnight, I suspect (but cannot be sure) that my face is showing interest in whoever I'm talking to, my fingers are long like those of Chopin's - an inheritance from my paternal grandfather, a Baptist minister who never did a day's manual work in his life. Less obviously advantageous: I tend to use big words, my sentences parse and I speak with a regional accent - a smartyboots, in fact from out of the sticks. But that could well be self-deprecatory.

Keep it to 150 words or - preferably - less. There's no need to be solemn. It should take time because it may probably be the first time you have ever done this. When you've finished you should be uneasy with what you've done. If so, send it to me by email as you initially proposed. Thereby grievously disappointing anyone who has followed this exchange of comments.

Blonde Two said...

Right then - time for a bit of honesty.

I think that I am quite attractive, sexy even but ... to say that out loud is possibly the least attractive thing that a woman can do. Or is it? The inside working of the male mind is as much a mystery as its counterpart. Do men value self-confidence or modesty?

And does it matter if we don't understand each other? Surely that is part of the magic>

Roderick Robinson said...

Blonde Two: As I wrote this post I had you in mind as the exception. You were already on record, saying what you 've just said above. But you were the rarity. I was impressed by your willingness to say it and thought no less of you for doing so. If I cared to look further I think I'd add that your claim was in keeping with the extrovert style of your blogging - up front and to hell with the horses.

Self-confidence vs. modesty. Received wisdom says that men distrust the former quality in women. In my experience it's a question of degree. If self-confidence is used as a means of establishing social and/or sexual superiority this can become wearisome. Conversation goes out of the window and what is left is arid arm-wrestling.

Used at a less assertive level (eg, being able to respond brightly and articulately during those first uncertain moments of a social encounter) can be attractive and reassuring to a man who may - during that same moment - be putting himself on the line. I am not talking about agreement, the woman's response may be argumentative; but it's OK if the tone taken suggests dialogue rather than domination.

The trouble with modesty is that it can be the enemy of social progress. Nothing moves forward.

Yes, of course the mystery matters. But I was describing a special case - a male author who is aiming (it's his fault; that's what he chose to do) to make a fist of creating a woman's inner thoughts. Of course such attempts won't be authentic but will they be sympathetic - in the wider sense of that word.

Avus said...

As you are experiencing, R.R., improved clarity of eyesight has some disadvantages.....but not very many, I trow.