On Being a Woman

My first reaction on seeing the Vanity Fair cover photo of Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner was “So this is what you have wanted?” “This is what being a woman is about?”

Besides the obvious fact that there is nothing real or authentic about the image – surgically altered, made-up, and photoshopped – is this image in any way representative of what it means to be a woman? And particularly a 65 year old woman? This is not the image of a woman that I would want my daughters or granddaughters aspiring to. This is certainly not the image of the vast majority of women that I know. Is being “feminine” really about make-over glam shots dressed like a hooker? An AP article quoted Eden Lane as saying “All the women I know would LOVE to have the chance to have photos of themselves as beautiful as that one taken by Annie Leibovitz.” REALLY? I guess she and I know a whole different group of women. Sure it might be a fun thing to have an occasional make-over glam photo session, but the reality of most women is nothing like this image. Not to mention that real women have a whole lot more worthwhile things to do than to get manicures, hair extensions, shop for clothes, and have photo sessions. And is there really anything “beautiful” about such a phony portrait? You might as well just pay a famous artist to paint a portrait of a beautiful woman and claim it is you, or photoshop your face onto a fashion model’s body.

It appears that Bruce is still playing dress-up and wanting to be a princess. Is this what he really thinks being a woman is about? His creation is just that – a creation – made by the intentional choices of someone with the vanity and money to look like what he/she wants to look like. It is more reflective of the unrealistic celebrity world that he has been living in than of womanhood. It is disturbing to me that such a message of superficial beauty and phony womanhood is being praised.

I have heard whining about criticisms of Caitlyn’s appearance and claims that this reinforces the objectification of women. But this is exactly the way that Bruce chose to introduce Caitlyn, so why the surprise? The presentation was only and all about appearance. Look at what he chose for his woman-self. Starting with the hair – voluptuous flowing locks that would belong on a 20-something. A 65 year old woman’s hair would likely be shorter, thinner and some mousy-gray color – which is beautiful in it’s own way – and real. The face – where are the wrinkles? Who gets to be 65 years old without wrinkles? Wrinkles show the beauty of a life lived. And the breasts – of course, he chose a D-cup. REALLY? Real women’s breasts come in all shapes and sizes. Some of us go through life with little more than Bruce had as a man – but they are real. He could have done without the silicone and been just as much a woman. Those more amply endowed, by age 65 would be showing the effects of decades of gravity. But he got to choose youthful, perky D-cups, which look somewhat grotesque on someone that age. He apparently had all his body hair removed. Of course, men have body hair in some different places than women, but women still have to deal with some annoying body hair. With money however, he can avoid unpleasant, tedious parts of being a women like shaving legs. Not to mention all of the other fun aspects of having a “real woman’s body” that he gets to avoid because he is NOT REALLY A WOMAN.

Maybe if Caitlyn had come out looking like the 65 year old she/he is, wearing a simple, conservative dress and talking about serious women’s issues rather than about make-up, she might have been taken more seriously than just another pretty face. Without her saying or doing anything substantive, all we have left to comment on is appearance. But then again, he has no frame of reference to make any credible statements about women’s issues anyway.

I have come to know many “real women” in my lifetime and I can tell you what a beautiful 65 year old woman looks like. She has a crown of soft gray hair making her look royal. She has bright wise eyes, that have seen much through the years, but somehow continue to focus on what is most important. She has an engaging smile, with the accompanying little wrinkles, that continues to smile even when there is not much to smile about. Her posture might not be too straight and her head slightly bowed, but there is dignity and grace about her stature. She has arms that reach out and fold you into a soft, cushy embrace. Her body may be much less shapely than when she was young, but she dresses stylishly and modestly and practically. She may have hands with age spots and enlarged arthritic knuckles but they keep serving with a loving touch.

So if Bruce Jenner, or any other man, wants to become a woman at age 65, or at any age, it is just not possible. There is so much more to being a woman than dressing like a woman, being made up like a woman, or even being surgically altered. For being a real woman is something that starts with genetic reality and takes years of life experience within a truly feminine body.

Note: For an expert opinion from Dr. Paul R. McHugh of Johns Hopkins Hospital 

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