Monday, August 6, 2012

"Real" Housewives?

In The Bonfire of the Vanities, Tom Wolfe refers several times to rich women as being "starved to perfection." In light of the explosive growth in cosmetic surgery since that book was published in the 1970s, I have updated this phrase to "starved and carved to perfection." The Real Housewives franchise prompted the thoughts that led to this updating.

I have never actually watched an episode of Housewives of any locale, just caught snatches in passing by and read a few things in TV Guide, so these remarks are not based on deep research, just on superficialties. But if anyone deserves to be judged on superficialties, it's the women who appear on these unreal reality programs.

These women are not real housewives in any sense of the word. They are, most of them, very rich and very bored. They are also the products and the victims of the modern beauty industry. They are practically interchangeable in their overdone, overpolished "perfection." No part of their bodies is spared. They have been waxed and peeled and lasered. They have been dyed blonde, streaked, curled, hair-extensioned, blown out, and hairsprayed into unnatural immobility. Their faces show evidence of surgery and Botox, carved and injected into a similar unnatural immobility. Many of them have ruined their mouths in search of beestung lips. They are bronzed and blushed and mascara'd and linered until nothing real is left to see. The bodies of a few look normal or even pleasingly plump, but the majority are stick thin. Not one of them is, to my eye, attractive despite or even because of all the effort and pampering.

When I speak of starved and carved, I am referring specifically to the predominant look of anorexia so sought after in this country and perhaps in others, abetted by surgery to make sure the bones revealed are aesthetic, noses and jawlines in particular. Breast augmentation is a godsend to these anorexics because with a boob job, you can be 30 pounds underweight and still wear a C cup. (Anyone who gets herself made bigger than a C cup is not interested in looking good and will never look elegant, as any well-dressed woman will tell you.)

I don't know the ages of the "real" housewives, but most of them have the sad look of women trying desperately to be younger than they are. Despite the "tasteful" makeup, the engineered faces, and the carefully unelaborate coiffures, I find many of these women plain at best. Nothing wrong with being plain, but the endless pursuit of "beauty" saddens me.

I would like to live in a world where women didn't feel the need to wear makeup, to enlarge their breasts, to wear 5-inch stiletto heels. I wouldn't dare tell anyone not to; I'm not a dictator. But I hate the image of these starved and carved Barbies all over the media, broadcast and printed, where young girls see them and think they represent beauty. Appearance is only one kind of beauty, and a minor kind at that. The facade constructed by these women is the opposite of beauty; it is sham. Which is an antonym of real.

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