Columnists > Voices

Beauty at any price

The tanning, tucking, tightening terror of summer is upon us

Issue: "John Bolton: Take cover!," May 7, 2005

It's not the most important passage in the Bible but one that has intrigued me for years. Jezebel, peering out her palace window, imperiously surveys in the distance the dust cloud of Jehu's horses as he "drives like a madman." Jehu son of Jehoshaphat is on an errand from the Lord, his purpose set like flint to take out this Baal-worshipping daughter of Tyre. Queen Jezebel, always the smarter half of the marriage to Ahab, knows what Jehu has come to do-and so she coolly makes her way to the vanity table, calmly (as I imagine her) regards her visage in the looking glass, and paints her eyes in antimony (2 Kings 9:30).

I called a friendly Old Testament expert to see what he made of it, and he thought Jezebel figured a little sex would help the situation. But I demur, both on the grounds of her tone in verse 31 and as a woman. I think the truth is darker still. At the risk of being risible, I offer that the lady wouldn't be caught dead without her makeup on. In the remaining half hour of her life, looking square in the maw of death, when her options are whittled down to futile resistance or repentance, the woman is concerned that she look "hot."

Summer is upon us, and men have no idea what women in this far-flung land go through. The anxiety starts building in March, and the first odd warm day augurs a cascade of warm days ahead, when there will be no more disguising another year's ravages of gravity and the culinary lapses of winter. The canny ads promise "40 pounds by Memorial Day," those devious hawkers of beauty and true love being well aware of their clients' quiet desperation. Naomi Wolf, in her 1991 bombshell of a book, The Beauty Myth, informed us that "33,000 women told researchers they would rather lose ten to fifteen pounds than achieve any other goal."

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There is no indication that the sentiment has gotten anything but more intense. Over a decade later, in today's "Makeover Nation" (U.S. News & World Report, 2004), we have not only nail salons, tanning salons, waxing services (for almost any cubic inch of skin) that include depilatories or laser removals of hair, but also chemicals that will lend your skin the melatonin mother nature denied you. We have mainstreamed the magic formerly affordable only to the stars-taking out a line of credit to tuck, tighten, suction, implant, and inject poison, all a devil's bargain for a few weeks of looking like Gwyneth Paltrow (if Gwyneth Paltrow even looks like Gwyneth Paltrow).

I have the cure, ladies. Here it is. It's seeing life from The Other Side. In The Great Divorce a newcomer to heaven, observing for the first time the goings-on under the sun through new eyes, notes the following flatfooted encounter between the "Solid People" of heaven and a vamp (such as may grace the Cosmo covers) dropping in for the day from below:

"I think the most pitiable was a female Ghost. . . . This one seemed quite unaware of her phantasmal appearance. More than one of the Solid People tried to talk to her, and at first I was quite at a loss to understand her behavior to them. She appeared to be contorting her all but invisible face and writhing her smokelike body in a quite meaningless fashion. At last I came to the conclusion-incredible as it seemed-that she supposed herself still capable of attracting them and was trying to do so. She was a thing that had become incapable of conceiving conversation save as a means to that end. If a corpse already liquid with decay had arisen from the coffin, smeared its gums with lipstick, and attempted a flirtation, the result could not have been more appalling. In the end she muttered 'Stupid creatures,' and turned back to the bus."

Oh, to have the eyes of Saints in glory every minute of the day, my sisters! Much of what we crave we would not crave; much of what we fear we would not fear. And looming summer days would hold no terror to our souls.

Andrée Seu
Andrée Seu

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again.


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