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Why, when saying “thank you” is the known proper response, do we suddenly feel like we don’t know what to say? The answer lies in the true meaning of embarrassment: We feel embarrassed because we care about the relationship we have with the person we feel embarrassed in front of. We may feel embarrassed that we didn’t say something complimentary to them first, or that we’ve done something (or worn something) that separates us from the other person status-wise, or that we’re suddenly acutely aware that the person holds us in some sort of esteem. We know full well that “thank you” would suffice, but it can also feel like “thank you” leaves something out.

The Beheld: Values, Stereotypes and Big Feelings — Part 2

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It’s been several years since I’ve started being more fluent in beautytalk, and between working at image-conscious magazines and running a blog that is specifically designed to examine women’s attitudes and feelings about beauty and being looked at, it’s second nature now. Compliments and questions related to style or appearance easily tumble out of me; if I’m meeting a woman cold, like if I’m at a party where I don’t know anyone, chances are that’s the first thing out of my mouth. I’m always sincere about it—compliments fall flat if they’re a lie—and at this point I wouldn’t even say that this line of conversation is intentional. But I know where it comes from, and I know what I’m hoping to elicit when I do it.

Here is my trouble: I fear that I am forgetting how to connect with women in any other way. I found myself at a dinner party a while ago with a woman whose manner intrigues me; she’s one of those people whose words seem to matter more than other people’s, so wisely does she choose them. I was seated next to her, and my first words to her were something about her shoes (which were gorgeous, so I’m not entirely to blame here). She smiled and said Thank you, as one does, and after we had each nodded acceptance of the compliment and ensuing gratitude, neither of us had anything further to say to one another. Rather, I didn’t know how to get to that further point—at least not without her doing some of the heavy lifting along with me.

The Beheld on Girl Talk

The Beheld’s Beauty Blogosphere

Great piece at Deadspin about the use of code words to talk about female gymnasts’ bodies, now that the field (at least in the States) has made significant progress in not stigmatizing athletes built like Mary Lou Retton and Shawn Johnson. They’re no longer “stocky”—they’re “athletic”! “Plenty of lean, flexible gymnasts have nothing in common with dancers in terms of musicality and interpretation. We call them artistic because we can as easily imagine them in a tutu as in a leotard.” I remember feeling uneasy about this sort of thing with the Nancy Kerrigan-Tonya Harding showdown: Commentators talked about Kerrigan’s “grace” and Harding’s “athleticism”—and certainly Harding is athletic. But you know who else is athletic? Um, Nancy Kerrigan. It’s the fucking Olympics! And certainly Harding couldn’t have gone as far as she did without being rather graceful herself. Ugh. (Thanks to reader Willa for the link!)

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A handful of reviewers have suggested that Peggy is the one who emerges as the only independent woman of this episode, the only who who isn’t “truly” owned by someone else. I disagree wholeheartedly: Yes, Peggy is autonomous in ways that Joan, Megan, and Betty aren’t, but the point of this episode (and in some ways, the entire show) is to show the complexities of autonomy and ownership. Megan can afford career autonomy because Don is paying the bills; Joan, who essentially told Roger to buzz off when he bugs her about helping out with their son, is painted as having made the decision to sell her time only when the price really is right.

The Beheld talks Mad Men

A handful of reviewers have suggested that Peggy is the one who emerges as the only independent woman of this episode, the only who who isn’t “truly” owned by someone else. I disagree wholeheartedly: Yes, Peggy is autonomous in ways that Joan, Megan, and Betty aren’t, but the point of this episode (and in some ways, the entire show) is to show the complexities of autonomy and ownership. Megan can afford career autonomy because Don is paying the bills; Joan, who essentially told Roger to buzz off when he bugs her about helping out with their son, is painted as having made the decision to sell her time only when the price really is right.

The Beheld talks Mad Men


I was on the other end of the feminist beauty argument than where I’d prefer to be: I was saying there was something politically off-putting about a grown woman smelling like cake, and she was saying that the right to revel shame-free in sensual pleasure was something feminists had fought for, and I think we settled it by meeting midway at peppermint foot scrub, but I don’t really remember

Autumn Whitefield-Madrano, The Sweet Smell of Sexcess

I was on the other end of the feminist beauty argument than where I’d prefer to be: I was saying there was something politically off-putting about a grown woman smelling like cake, and she was saying that the right to revel shame-free in sensual pleasure was something feminists had fought for, and I think we settled it by meeting midway at peppermint foot scrub, but I don’t really remember

Autumn Whitefield-Madrano, The Sweet Smell of Sexcess

I was enlisted to play the role of co-editor this issue, in part because several of my favorite interviews have been repurposed, and in part because it features my response to Jonathan Franzen’sassertion in The New Yorker that Edith Wharton’s lack of physical beauty was one of the few things making her sympathetic.

You’ll have to subscribe to read my whole critique of his (baffling) position; unsurprisingly, I think it’s shortsighted nonsense. But here’s a recurring thought I had when writing it that I didn’t put in there because I didn’t want to detract from my own argument: Edith Wharton wasn’t ugly. I don’t usually make proclamations about any individual woman’s beauty on here, but what the hell, she’s dead.

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I was enlisted to play the role of co-editor this issue, in part because several of my favorite interviews have been repurposed, and in part because it features my response to Jonathan Franzen’sassertion in The New Yorker that Edith Wharton’s lack of physical beauty was one of the few things making her sympathetic.

You’ll have to subscribe to read my whole critique of his (baffling) position; unsurprisingly, I think it’s shortsighted nonsense. But here’s a recurring thought I had when writing it that I didn’t put in there because I didn’t want to detract from my own argument: Edith Wharton wasn’t ugly. I don’t usually make proclamations about any individual woman’s beauty on here, but what the hell, she’s dead.

Read More

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