there is no such thing as natural beauty
I really hate movies and modern novels that romanticize the south, particularly ones that feature cardboard cutout caricatures with poorly imitated southern drawls. Yuck. Even so, I’ve always liked Steel Magnolias, which I think is a well-done movie all around. In it, Dolly Parton plays a hairdresser named Trudy, but (let’s all just admit) is really playing Dolly Parton. There are so many wonderful lines in this movie, which centers around a group of women who all get their hair and nails done at Trudy’s beauty shop. I thought about it because we’re in Tennessee right now visiting Jeff’s family, and my mother-in-law paid for me to get a pedicure at a local salon here, where her best friend cuts hair, and in which lots of local ladies apparently go regularly, as far as I could observe while sitting in the foot-soaker throne. There’s a part in Steel Magnolias where Trudy draws aside her newly hired beautician and shares the cardinal rule of her salon: there is no such thing as natural beauty.
I’ve always wavered back and forth on the low to high-maintenance continuum, depending on my surroundings. In high school, it was fine to be grungy (as in Seattle) and I was. In college, I moved up the low to high maintenance continuum just a notch, because suddenly I was surrounded by future business women of America, who woke up at 6:30 a.m. to prepare their visage. My natural tendency is to shun unnatural alterations to my appearance, and I always had a natural distrust of make-up, but I can certainly be persuaded to wear it, and have been persuaded, sometimes aggressively. I won’t even talk about living in New York, and being escorted to a Lancome counter in Lord and Taylor by a friend who was trying to help me out. Now that I’m in the Midwest though, I’ve slid back down a few notches toward grungy again, and I have to say, it feels good.
Jeff and I come back to his hometown of Cleveland (not Ohio–Tennessee) several times a year from our northern outpost. I haven’t lived in the south since 1999, when I graduated from college and went timidly northward. The rest is a long and not-that-interesting story, but basically, I haven’t managed to get back, which reminds me of the title of that Thomas Wolf novel, which I haven’t read, You Can’t Go Home Again, except that my story lacks conflict, drama, descriptive language, climax, denouement, or really anything that makes a story interesting. It’s just the way the chips have fallen, and I’m not tortured over it, although resettling in different regions does take some adjustment, and I still undergo a little bit of shock and bemusement each time I travel back and forth.
Sometimes I forget that there is any difference between the different regions of the United States, and that the real differences are only the stuff of the pre-globalism regional writers, like Eudora Welty, Flannery O’Connor, William Faulkner, and so on, not the present-day wannabe regional writers, who worship regional differences and blow them all out of proportion, and desperately want to be identified with said regional differences. But then I actually travel and am reminded that human beings really do have a tendency to settle into territorial pockets, and behave in a way that bears the imprint of those who live nearby. Even television and Starbucks cannot change this, and I am no exception: I have been influenced and changed by the regions, subcultures, and company I’ve kept, each time I resettle. When I come into the Southern Baptist culture of Jeff’s family, I feel myself unwittingly altering myself yet again to please and blend in (would I have dared to get daisies painted on my toenails anywhere else?). I’m beginning to think that not only is there no such thing as natural beauty, but there is no such thing as natural, at least for me.