One of the reasons I like reading The Monthly is because it does usually take me about a month to read. I leave it in the toilet, and because the articles are long and substantial, I can't just ingest one a visit (unlike Who Magazine, which I can read in entirety during one wee stop).
The June issue has an article written by Anne Manne on 'The New Narcissism'. It's an essay about the shift from inward to outward in human self-perception.
Of course, keeping a blog is probably exactly what she's talking about. There are so many of us out there now, and people are starting to think more and more about what blogging is all about, and who should be doing it, which makes a kind of vicious circle (or should that be bitchy circle?).
Me me me, I'm so interesting, read all about me. Ahem. It's a bit disconcerting, when you stop to think about it like that. But, hey, it's been nearly two years now and I haven't run out of steam yet, so let's move on. If it's any consolation, I don't think I talk about myself nearly as much in 'real' life. Unless you ask what I've been up to, of course, and it's always surprising how many people don't ask.
Anyhoo, I'm going to focus firmly on myself in this post, absolutely aware of the irony of using Manne's article as a launch-pad. Ready? Lets go.
Manne wrote about the change in sense of self over a hundred years, that we have moved from a moral sensibility to a more physical sensibility. She illustrated this by using two diary entry from an adolescent girls, once from 1892:
Resolved, not to talk about myself or my feelings. To think before speaking. To work seriously. To be self-restrained in conversation and action. Not to let my thoughts wander. To be dignified. Interest myself more in others.
... and one from 1982:
I will try to make myself better in any way I possibly can with the help of my budget and babysitting money, I will lose weight, get new lenses, already got a new haircut, good makeup, new clothes and accessories.
What I want to know is -- HOW DID SHE GET MY DIARY???!!
I was 14 going on 15 in 1982, and that's exactly the sort of crap I used to write.
You see, in 1981 I was a spotty, greasy, thick-bespectacled, long-stringy-haired kind of bookwormy girl who hung out at the local rollerskating rink with all her better-looking friends and would skate around the rink (to the soundtrack of Xanadu or some such crap) looking wistfully at a long, dark, lanky, spunk-rat who didn't know I existed. He knew me and my name, but preferred my girlfriends, and tended to ignore me. So I wrote wistful aspirations like 'Must change my hair. Must get new glasses. Persuade Mum to buy me a bra. Maybe then he'll look at me.' (I can prove this, I've still got the dratted diary.)
All the fairy tales I'd devoured told me that if I transformed myself, I'd get the lad. So I did my best. I persuaded Mum to let me get a haircut (flicks! on both sides!) and a new pair of glasses. I got some new threads and I tried wearing make-up. I shaved my legs. (This caused a whole new argument within my family. Dad put his foot down about someone my age shaving, Mum told him that she'd done it at that age so butt out. He made a bigger kerfuffle when I stopped shaving my legs a number of years later. My response was for him to make up his mind.)
I went to the skating rink with my friends after my makeover... and blow me down with a fevver, it worked. The nice young fellow skated straight over to me and proceeded to chat me up. After a moment I realized that he didn't recognize me, that he thought I was new to the area. It was only after he saw my friends that he worked out who I was, and he didn't mind. We ended up being the first big relationship of my life.
You'd think I felt like Cinderella. But actually, no, I felt like Sandy from Grease. Delighted with my new image, but destined to never maintain it, because it was just. not. me. After I moved away and time gave me a chance to think about it, I felt cranky that it had worked, and annoyed that I'd had to undergo all that just to make him look at me. Thank goodness there had been no plastic surgery, nothing irreversible.
I got crankier as I got older. Hair, shoes, face, dress size, all seemed to be things that conspired against me. During my uni years I worked out that it wasn’t my vital statistics conspiring against me, it was ad agencies, women’s magazines and dress designers!
So I entered a time of late 80s/early 90s leftie feminist anti-fashion statements. Shapeless clothes, hairy bits, no makeup, hennaed hair, sensible shoes. Eventually, over the last ten years or so, I’ve moved back to a middle ground, only because anti-fashion is really as high-maintenance as fashion. These days I wear a bit of lippy, I shave my legs, I dye my hair to hide the greys (but only on top*) and I choose most of my clothes to roughly fit my figure. Of course, I’m never going to win beauty prizes, but I do enough to look ok without having to think too much about it.
Growing older helps. I’m moving closer to the point where society won’t care how I look either. As I get there, my ‘beauty regime’ will not be nip and tuck, but pluck (my chin!) and moisturise. I can live with wrinkles, and I’m working out the best way to phase in those greys without having a gruesome tideline through my hair.
And in the place of all that faffing about, I've got extra reading time, time to spend with my son, time to pat the cats, time to think about art or solve the problems of whomever I'm helping at work. Well, that's the theory. Most of my time seems to be spent working. And Anne Manne has good things to say on that, too.
It’s great having a life that isn’t dominated by the physical. And I’m not talking sex here, thanks, I get my fair share of that. I mean an inner life that isn’t worrying about whether my husband will leave me if I don’t lose two kilos. So what if he does? I’m sure my art would improve. Bring it on, life! (Just not today.)
I’m sure those research agencies that supply societal trends to advertising agencies have a ‘type’ that I fit into. I’m sure there’s more of me out there. We’re resistant to ads, hostile to marketing gestures, determined not to be sullied by trends. I’m probably being manipulated in other, subtle ways, but if I find out about them (and I make a habit of glancing through industry journals when I get the chance) I’ll resist those too.
I've never embraced the whole 'new me' thing, and I guess I have first boyfriend Clive (yes, true name) to thank for bringing the point home when I was so young. I think I've moved a long way internally from that 13 y.o. I hope so. I'm still writing about myself, but I do that as a sort of gentle life affirmation exercise. If I gave up tomorrow I'd go back to writing occasionally in my journal. But blogs are magic journals, and they talk back -- don't you?
That's more fun than just writing to and for yourself.
* I mentioned other grey hairs in a comment to this excellent post at Sarsaparilla)