Saturday, December 29, 2007

How to Look Good Naked

So, a couple days ago I received this email that said, "Being that you are a trusted voice in the female blog community I would like to invite you to a special online advanced screening of 'How to Look Good Naked'..."

In marketing-speak, that simply means, "Your blog has enough readers that we want to include you in our viral marketing campaign," so don't worry, it didn't go to my head! But I was curious about the show, Lifetime's new adaptation of the UK show of the same name, which features host Carson Kressly of "Queer Eye." So I checked out the preview of the first episode (airs on Jan. 4), and was impressed.

My regular readers know I'm a big proponent of self-esteem for real women. I've been known to go off on frequent rants (causing my husband to recoil in alarm and even hide) against the unrealistically thin women that prevail in the media. I love the Dove "Campaign for Real Beauty." And therefore, "How to Look Good Naked" is right up my alley.

In the preview episode, a somewhat Reubenesque but nevertheless nice-looking woman is taken under Carson's wing to change her body image. After a grueling and tearful self-analysis, countered by Carson's encouragement, she undergoes a series of experiences to teach her she truly is beautiful just as she is. The woman learns that beauty stems from a lot more than body shape, and she also learns that her body, just as it is, is perfectly attractive.

Other shows teach self-esteem. Other shows do makeovers--and this one also includes the clothes, the haircut, the makeup. But what sets HTLGN apart is that in the end it does get down to the issue of one's unadorned, naked self. Carson persuades his protege to do a nude photo shoot, with absolutely amazing results. From this experience she learns undeniably that she is attractive and sexy--without losing 40 pounds or having plastic surgery.

I've been noticing lately on some of the makeover shows we watch, just how much "ordinary" individuals look like celebrities if they simply have access to the same designers, stylists, hairdressers and makeup artists. It's quite enlightening. On the flip side, you know those hideous candid shots of celebrities you see on the covers of the tabloids? I used to think they were doctored in reverse, but now I truly believe these gorgeous stars are just that plain, or even homely, without help.

It all boils down to an interesting truth. We have been duped...or duped ourselves...into believing there is a whole huge segment of the human population that is beautiful, and we don't belong in that segment. We can see why they feel sexy and are sexy...and therefore conclude we ourselves ought not hope for the same.

But the truth of the matter is, the truly perfect natural beauties of the world are extremely rare. 99+ percent of us are flawed, celebrities included; the human race abounds with pot bellies, bad complexions, boring hair color, teeth that need straightening, big noses and small breasts. Women have to work a bit at looking good, be that by a good haircut, proper clothes, or eye makeup.

And far more importantly, women need to realize that beauty and sexiness spring from the mind, not the body. Helen Mirren at 61 still echoes her sexiness when she starred in "Caligula" almost 30 years ago. Is "Sex in the City"'s Sarah Jessica Parker conventionally beautiful by anyone's standards, even with benefit of stylists? The sex appeal of Mae West (weight), Barbra Streisand (nose), and Bette Midler (lots of things!) have very little to do with natural beauty and everything to do with talent and attitude.

But I'm like the umpteen-millionth person to say this. You hear it all the time. The problem is, you always forget to apply it to yourself. And that to me is the great success of "How to Look Good Naked." Watching a woman who really has nothing on you being told by strangers and passers-by that she is sexy and pretty...that's powerful stuff. You really do walk away from this show, find a mirror, and take off your clothes, and think, "I can be beautiful too, without the diet and facelift."

You'll believe it. Try out the show and see if it doesn't make you feel it too. And that's my honest, uncompensated endorsement.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Why DO I feel romantic toward my husband?

Earlier this month I posted an essay called “Why don’t I feel romantic toward my husband?” My daughters have subsequently referred to that post as “when you wrote about Davie.” While I did, in a sense, write about their stepfather in that piece, I was actually addressing a question emailed to me privately from a reader. And while I was writing about truths I think are fairly universal, I know feel rather compelled to write about the flip side of the issue.

So Davie, this one IS for you! Just a few reasons that pop to mind why I do still feel romantic toward my husband after 15 years....

1. That runner’s physique and fabulously tiny ass that first attracted me are still amazing. Davie would deny it, but at 46 he’s still a lean, mean and toned machine. I take it for granted now, but I shouldn’t; in Wisconsin trim men are not that easy to find! And as we recently determined, he is exactly five times stronger than me.

2. He’s really smart. Smart enough to build a computer, and to store in his brain approximately 5.3 billion facts about politics, history, and sports. Also smart enough to always know which direction to turn when coming out of a store in the mall, whereas I never have a clue.

3. He’s gallant and chivalrous. These are also vanishing traits. He’s always happy to drive me around. He’s always delighted to rescue my daughters from their latest crisis. Whenever I ask if I can help shovel snow, he says no. Cheerfully even.

4. He yells while watching football games like any red-blooded American guy, but also cries at movies. This man is a 10 on the straight-to-gay spectrum (meaning that when he’s really attracted to another man, it only means he’d love to buy him a beer), but he loves romantic comedies, enjoys cooking and decorating shows, and is a total sentimental slob about Christmas.

5. He hasn’t the slightest problem with my endless parade of celebrity and non-celebrity crushes, and even facilitates them at times. Who else would accompany his wife to Ottawa, Canada in February just so she could see her idol coach a hockey game? (Well, he does like hockey, but still.) Meanwhile, he also indulges my platonic but no doubt slightly annoying crush on our cat Cody.

6. He is cute and funny and has a fantastic vocabulary. Consequently he is entertaining every day. Davie still doesn’t quite believe that being funny is the sexiest thing a guy can do, but I keep reminding him. I’m right, right ladies?

7. He is 100% honest, loyal, faithful and true. In fantasy these are not necessarily romantic traits--we all like our bad boys--but in reality they are probably the most important erotic/romantic traits of all. Davie has never lied, cheated, deceived or been less than totally candid and open about anything in all the time I’ve known him. I’m not sure he could even if he tried and he has no interest in trying! Being able to completely trust someone is an indescribably wonderful thing.

I could go on (and I’ll bet Davie would kind of like me too, LOL), but you get the idea. It all boils down to the fact that he is a wonderful husband, especially for me in particular. That doesn’t necessarily inspire romantic feelings every hour or every day (especially when your wife is menopausal--the only thing wrong with being 51), but sometimes it just has to.

And every hour and every day it does make me very, very happy. Merry Christmas, Davie! I love you.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

I Want an Angel: On Josh Groban

I heard the other day that Josh Groban’s new Christmas CD “Noel” has been at the top of the charts since its’s gone double platinum. First of all, let me say I think it’s extremely cool that a Christmas CD is a #1 seller. And it’s really sweet and wonderful that the particular album is Josh’s.

The young man truly seems to me like a Christmas angel incarnate.

I first encountered Josh when he was 20 and played a high school kid on “Ally McBeal.” He was adorable even before he opened his mouth to sing...and the voice completely blew me away, partly for personal reasons. You see, I went to high school with a guy whose voice was incredibly similar, and he was cute too. I think the only reason I never had a crush on Glenn Siebert is that I knew it was too hopeless to bother with. (He grew up to become a professional music professor and opera singer, and still sounds sublime.) So here was this young reincarnation of Glenn Siebert, Josh Groban, with those tousled curls and dark brown eyes...and such a sweet and gentle persona. I don’t care if I’m old enough to be his mother--I’m only flesh and blood.

And besides, I’ve never actually lusted for this boy. It’s too delightful to adore him chastely, to simply bask in his gifts. You can close your eyes and forget all the ambiguity and imperfection of real life, and let this voice fill your soul, this voice that is so absolutely flawless.

Angels, they say, are perfect.

You could certainly do worse than Josh Groban if looking for a Christmas angel. He is a Christian, and very supportive of all manner of great charities, both with his singing and his pocketbook. In a world of celebrity scandals, you won’t be seeing him in some compromising photo in the tabloids soon.

I appreciate that. I really do. I know no human is perfect, but a man with such a lovely face and such a heavenly voice--well, one really does want to pretend he is perfect. It’s very kind of Josh to keep that in mind in his daily lifestyle.

Now, while I don’t purport to make Josh an object of lust, neither do I deny that beauty and perfection are erotic, in a certain way. In fact, when the mind and soul long for perfect beauty, they bring the body along; that is, the pleasure and satisfaction of beholding such loveliness are physical sensations as much as emotional ones. This kind of passion may be more akin to religious fervor than sexual desire, but it is still an intense form of love.

Angels, they say, are pure spirit.

And as such, they of course do not traffic in the physical, including intercourse. Sex is irrelevant to angels, and yet I would suppose they experience passion as profound as any we sexual beings feel. I wonder then if in their discourse with each other and God, their experience is perhaps a little bit like what I feel when I listen to Josh Groban.

And if that’s true, it’s no wonder so many of us have bought the CD. It’s Christmastime, and we want an angel.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Why don’t I feel romantic toward my husband?

I remember when I was a young newlywed of 21, and found myself attracted to a co-worker. Up till then I thought that when you really loved someone, you only had eyes for him. Wasn’t that how it was in the love songs, movies, and books? Stricken, I confessed to my husband. He just smiled and assured me I was perfectly normal, probably mostly because he’d had the same experience for a lot longer.

Thirty years later, I have a lot clearer understanding of romantic, sexual love. Without doubt it is among the most exciting, inspiring, life-enhancing human experiences...but the part it plays in long-term relationships is much smaller than our culture would have us think. There are times I feel romantically/sexually towards my husband, but more often I feel different emotions that are not particularly romantic or erotic: comfortable, appreciative, secure, content, etc.

In fact, many of the emotions that spring from a healthy longstanding relationship are anathema to romance. In essence, romantic love is fascination with a being who seems both a perfect mate and somehow out of reach. That’s why all love stories tell the tale of the boy getting the girl (or vice versa), and end when he does. That’s why love songs are about yearning, pining, longing, missing, losing, and so on.

From a Jungian viewpoint (aka the one I have, LOL), this fact is easily explained. Romantic love is an animus phenomenon. What I mean by that is, it is always tied in to our conscious psyche yearning for its subconscious opposite self. Before I say something else unintelligible, let me illustrate. My own animus, my subconscious “dream lover,” is completely and uniquely mine (the perfect mate) and yet, being subconscious, is not accessible to me at will. Rather, he projects himself upon whatever person I’m infatuated with, attracted to, etc. Hence he seems elusive, out of reach. And there you have it, the formula: the perfect mate, who is somehow out of reach.

A husband, of course, is not out of reach, or at least not in a healthy marriage. Experience has proven him also not the perfect mate. Who is? Therefore, it’s very difficult to sustain feelings of romantic love, at least the classic “love song” type. You can love your husband, even adore him, you can most certainly be attracted to him and associate all sorts of pleasures with him, but those achy feelings of longing we think of as romantic love? Not so much.

Meanwhile, it is highly likely any given woman will periodically encounter male figures--be they “real people” or celebrities or characters in books, on TV, or in the movies--that provoke romantic feelings. These “animus bearers,” as Jung termed them, just happen to have the traits for which your particular soul yearns. In some women these animus feelings will be relatively mild, perhaps just a lively interest. In others, the emotions can be so powerful as to be confusing, unsettling...even make a woman question if she’s flipping out.

And most certainly make her feel guilty about having more passion for some actor than for her husband.

Such a woman is making two errors: One, she is underestimating the significance of her bond to her husband. The healthy marriage bond is based on a lot more significant things than intense emotion. Two, she is confusing her very real attachment to her animus (that subconscious part of herself) with feelings for an external person she probably doesn’t even know well. I don’t mean that to sound accusatory, we’ve all done it! And in fact, it’s so FUN to do it, I’d actually advise you to indulge, as long as you keep everything in perspective.

This all translates to the following simple answer to the question posed in our subject line:

You can think half the day about Matt Damon / Hugh Jackman / Christian Bale, or whomever, and still have a perfectly normal and healthy love for your husband. In fact, look for romance in your fantasies, and love in your relationships, and you will do pretty well.