Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Pooch

I don't know why we do it, though my theory is that it started off as a strain of pugnaciousness in the pop-cultural idea of "sexy" in the early 90s.  Whatever its ultimate causes, there seems to be a weird physical tic with an (my) entire generation of American women:  the mouth pooch.  It's most pronounced when you watch "women of a certain age" on TV, and I'd say reality TV is most rife with it (even those with implants still pooch - perhaps even most of all).  What's irritating is that I catch myself doing it all the time, and though a lot of my "concentrating" or emotional facial sets come from mom or are at least something I'd think of as natural, the mouth pooch definitely isn't.  I end up looking like this:

Now, obviously our pal here is *going* for that face.  She's a character whose strongest motivation is to prove how "strong" (read:  angry) she is, so the pooch is every bit the out-thrust-lower-lip facial "dare" expression it ever was in the comics of kids standing up to bullies - or of bullies, at that.  She is, I believe, actually younger than I am, and the hardness about her face goes with a hardness in every other aspect of her persona - and that brand of hardness became, to a lot of women my age, in years long since past, an emblem of power and a certain kind of confident attractiveness.  The high-held chin of a twenty-year-old woman becomes the hatchet-faced caricature of a middle-aged one, and what we cultivate as challenging and empowering at one age may ossify into something less appealing at another.  It may also lead to odd and unpleasant lip implants

It all began ... I won't say "innocently" enough, in the post-seventies age of supermodels with some physical presence, one of whom in particular burst on the pop-cultural scene with a notable brashness and astounding clarity in an image not often cultivated when she emerged.

Image:  LA Weekly
Anna Nicole Smith
Unabashedly curvy, Anna Nicole's Guess campaigns were also considered nearly pornographic, and the message (even if, twenty years later, it looks to some a bit less outre') was and remains abundantly clear.  I'm here to be looked at, and not as a piece of art ... boys.

Another one took the message to boys and girls equally, and had lips hardly in need of pooching.  Look how Angelina Jolie smiled before she became a plastic product:

Look how she LEARNED how to smile as she was transformed:


Even in her latest role as a maturing woman insisting upon respect, Jolie's lips will never release her - nor most of her early-2000s fans, at a bet - from their poison kiss.  She's trapped by a sexuality she traded on cannily when it was less embarrassing - and, even as she collects more and more maternal cred and wizens convincingly into an icily aristocratic looking rich philanthropist with causes, those modeling years, those years making out with her beloved brother, the Billy Bob's blood in a phial around her neck years, *still* inform everything we think of her ... and, to some extent, everything we think of that brand of appeal women tried to invent and then found imposed, during a decade or so when we thought women artists and activists might become relevant, only to find Grrl Power had subsumed thought, self-ownership, and personal power into another fashion statement, another marketing method for cosmetic companies and Hollywood to determine "edgy" body consciousness and reduce ideas to already dated fads aging badly.

It doesn't feel long ago, to me - seeing the brash statement of personal appeal and watching countless people emulating it, catching myself doing the same.  It doesn't feel long ago - seeing vintage clothes and dance and habits re-emerging and becoming something more than marginalized "women's work" (so very cool we were, picking up knitting needles and sewing - like grandma, but DIY-stylee, punking things up (hah), taking ownership).  It doesn't feel long ago - Grrl Power and Lilith Fair and Buffy and PJ Harvey and Ani.  Even then I was already "old" - so could see these things, and think feminism might get somewhere by unexpected, but refreshing routes.

It doesn't even feel all that long ago I watched most of these things either fade away ("the year of the woman" in music - and now all the women are girls with a certain size of waist, a certain shade of pink or blue hair, a certain obedience to their own strictly modulated image) ... or simply grow old.  Or die.

Anna Nicole's death wasn't upsetting for me, but being pretty near her age myself, I understand the world she grew up in intimately well.  I don't understand selling my body as if there were nothing else to give - but I have seen it enough, and not always from so afar, to find it  heartbreaking, even when all the punchlines are so loud.  I remember, in those final months before what now seems must have been inevitable - back when I didn't have cable, and so actually watched Entertainment Tonight, and witnessed the meticulously constant, intimate dissection of her spiraling, ending life.  I remember thinking, "Yes, she's lost weight, and yes, she seems so delicate and so sincere - but she has a hardness to her now."

I remember noticing, over and over and over, the pooch of her lips.  The pushing-away of her very face, the eyes constantly hidden behind false lashes.

Every time I catch myself, still for too long, at my desk at work, paralyzed in an insensible rictus of hatchet-faced concentration, or headache, or inertia - I have got the mouth pooch.  I've looked at myself doing it - it DOES not suit me.  I have a nice enough mouth, but exaggerating it is no favor to anybody looking at my face.  Mom never taught me that face, not as an artifice (and I acknowledge ALL sorts of affectations).  It's not a natural expression.  It seems almost drawn out of me by all the vicarious drama of reality TV, by the expectations of femininity for those of us born at that certain time, by the frustration of its loss, by the hardness of age.  I try to exercise my face, and every day a dozen times I try to force it to relaxation.  The pooch comes back.  The stupid exaggeration, the same effect plastic surgery tries to impose, the same hardness I used to see on "older women" and have cursed myself with bearing now.  It weirds me out, and I haven't figured out how to put a real, final end to it.

Image:  The Daily Tay
(This is Melanie Griffith, by the way)

But at least I *can* ...

Getty Images

1 comment:

Mo said...

Great post. Work it over once and submit it where a bigger audience can benefit. Excellent use of the word 'ossify.' (Thanks for the parenthetical MG ID; it was both necessary and hilarious.)