Ms., More, and On My Vanity

Some 20 years ago when it first showed up on the newsstands, More magazine made sense to me. Finally. Even in my 30s, when my skin and body were far tighter and smoother than they are now, I appreciated a fashion magazine that did not cater to the supple skin and skinny builds of starved young beautiful teen models. It was a piece to provide balance, I thought. More and Ms. My magazine reading.

Both served as a substantial and quick break from babies and students and classes. Little pockets of sanity and guidance in crazy days of  . . . omg dare I say “super mom” life? Both providing a mature and intelligent perspective to women in the world, and women in front of the bathroom mirror. I was both, and I appreciated all the validation I could get in the ever-evolving balancing act of modern woman. Today I feel unbalanced, a stacking doll on a telephone wire. Adding a layer each year. A rounder bottom upon which to wobble.

Is it that I’m older? I look at More today and I am sourly disappointed. Did it always blast me with messages focused only on capturing beauty, fame, wealth? Even after your 20s, it tells me, you can still reach the American dream, which appears to be skin like a 17 year old’s, wealth like old white men, and fame like a rock star. I read through it and I feel so un-evolved. Not more grounded in who I am as a woman, mother, home owner, professional. No, less. As if to be a modern middle aged woman, I must give up all that mediocrity and mundanity of personal and simple American success to buy into product and brand as sold to me by a corporate world catering to my every feminine need and thus sexuality. What?

Ms. while ‘always being there’ as it boasts it has been, is an unfortunate metaphor for what women did not become. The idea of skinny supple inferior won. Ms. went from monthly to quarterly to non print. A non-profit asking for dollars. I’m sure many see it as the beggar on the street of women’s magazines. Because More dumped more money into the image Ms. battled, and won? Shiny skinned women with two-story houses, and jutting cheekbones, sober children, full refrigerators. More feeds the majority of women who have elevated the minority of women into some revered stature of impossibility. Beautiful. Rich. Healthy.

Ms. does what it has always done, and does it well, telling the deeper stories of strength of survival from women across the world. A solid and vital voice that is hidden. Not lip glossed on a magazine stand. Not surviving on purchase, only gift.

Where, then, do we go, post presidential election 2016, for insight and inspiration on how we’re doing, us women. No, Oprah is just not it. Nor is Hillary. Nor is Gloria Steinem. And certainly not Susan Sarandon and Diane Keaton. If those women were doing it without profound wealth and fame we would have something in common. But the class divide is not to be ignored. We are a culture of propagandizing all things comfortable. Wealth appears comfortable to those of us without it. And beautiful. And why? Because, we continue to believe, on too common and too rooted a level, that  ultimately, if beautiful, and shiny, then we look sexually appealing. And then we have purpose. Oh.

Sheila Fiona Black is my hero. Susan Tweit. Denise Chavez. Women working in the trenches. Writing. Teaching. Living simple lives. Donning themselves in elaborate colors or quality, words and wisdom. And their comfort in themselves, their homes, their shoes, is admirable and graspable. Fame and fortune are not theirs. The internet and small bookstores bring them our way. And, of course, there are even more private heroes.

I look at my mother. Never wore make up. Never shaved her legs. Never professed feminism. Only professed honesty. Humor. Kindness. Good pies and clean children. A strong cup of instant coffee and a tuna fish sandwich. She was beautiful enough to put on the cover of a magazine. But she was not rich. She was wealthy enough to keep nine children fed and a 3000 square foot home running. But she was not famous. She was remembered fondly upon her death for being the favorite aunt by most of her 70 nieces and nephews. The modern one. The lady that would tell it to you straight. To whom you could talk about anything. Birth control. Marriage. Catholicism. Politics. She read. She voted. She went to church or she didn’t and investigated that guilt as an option, not an incurable disability.

She berated her intelligence and my father supported her in that. We all laughed when she sang, and she sang anyway. She was a true friend to many. She bore the burden of my father’s infidelity and her brother’s incest with stamina and honor. She cried alone. Too much alcohol. Too many cigarettes. A woman torn, and unable to stay in confident for very long.

Who are the heroes my girls follow? What characteristics do they value in the women they come to know?  Where do they store their confidence?

On My Vanity

I. Barbie

smiles evenly,
as sweet as the 1950s
offering her Playboy shape
to little girls
to dress up to
die for.

Barbie is a virgin, closed up
clitorectomy. Moral.
Pure as a scalpel. Mattel
made her perfect.
Her waistline is as small
as a peanut.

Never softened
not loosened, not loved
with the pounding
of conception,
the pushing of birth,
she is a prostheses
of womanhood.

Walking with high heel feet
will never jostle
the symmetry
of her synthetic

The skin doesn’t hang
underneath her upper arm
doesn’t jiggle when she wears
a sleeveless dress
and blows a kiss.

The sprig of her body
is as stiff as a dead one;
and her knees creak
when you bend them.

Barbie perches
on my vanity
between the perfume oils,
the dry skin creams
and the family photo
of Katy’s wedding,
where we five sisters wore
blue-flowered bows,
as tight as girdles,
slippery white pumps, pearls
and smiles as shiny as vinyl.

II. The Blessed Mother

Covers her closed legs
with sun rays, robes
with sleeves to the floor.
A halo and stars
Mary the model
for why a girl
should stay idle.

We build altars for her,
crown her, with white ribbons
and roses
we dance around her
clean our souls.

She offers blessings
from the fruit of her tidy womb,
sweet apples of redemption.

The crescent moon
beneath her satin feet
is as faithful as gravity
carrying her safely
to witness baptisms,
abortions, nativities,
and grant forgiveness.
Her reliable smile.

When restlessness
unblankets me,
chases me into the weight,
of nighttime’s unfamiliar,
Our Lady’s glow
from the votive
on my vanity,
guides my footsteps,
as softly as a hymn,
away from my bad dreams
about children I never had
and men that I did.

III. Mom

didn’t have sex
it appeared
that her frequent bulge
was the innocent result
of a closed bedroom door.
A candlelight dinner.
We couldn’t know.

She has arms of soft flesh,
butter leaf lettuce.
She doesn’t shave, wax
or use make up, a housewife,
a hostess who knows the freedom
of a sleeveless dress

and the luxury of clean carpet,
dust-free chandeliers,
a good party
garmented with handsome children,
mellow bourbon,
fine cheese, and pimento olives.

Her strength, her straight
back, her beautiful red hair,
her perfectly crooked
smile, nine babies later,
she wears the posture
of womanhood.

The sewing box mom sent
rests on my vanity
hiding all the buttons
I will never sew.
The discount spools of thread
keep the secrets
of a straight stitch
and a strong hem.
Mom unraveled that world
for me once,
and I wish I’d listened.
My daughters watch
my pierced fingertips,
my uneven stitches.

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