There's been some fab discussion out there, mostly among Barbara Jane, Ver, and Gladys, with even a bit thrown in by Bino, about Images of Beauty and femininity.

I'm pretty ambivalent about the topic - torn, in a sense. I'm not a make-up type chica, donning the stuff only if I think the occasion warrants, which usually means times when heels and the perfect dress are required. Thankfully this is rare in my life, as demonstrated by how I usually have to buy makeup new each time I use it - the stuff ages, getting funky after a year or so, and yeah, that's really how often I wear makeup.

My mother is never seen without at least lipstick - her regimine has become more simple as she has grown older and her skin has grown more prone to allergic reactions to makeup. But lipstick remains her passion.

Getting "all dolled up" for me is just that, a practice in making myself into something of a doll, which is kind of fun every once in a while, but nothing to look forward to, really. *chuckle* I guess that's why, along with my lack of curves and short hair, I'm often mistaken for a guy.

The Debut was not part of my coming of age...in fact, very little marked my turn to womanhood, other than a wry smile from my mother that seemed a mix of wistfulness for my childhood and a projection of her own uncertainty about what it meant to be a woman in US society.

The minks, the makeup, the parties, the dresses...to my mother these were all signs of silly women unable to hold concepts of Chemistry, Physics and Medicine in their smallish brains. But at least they had rich husbands who could afford such luxuries - to her it was more pitiable to be a housewife, a woman without career or much ambition, who seemed more interested in the cleanliness of her bathroom than the History of the Pyramids.

Femininity was about being smart, in my family, smarter than other women and definitely smarter than men. And being smart meant being good at science and having little to do with preening.

But lipstick...that little tube of emollients and dye...she called it her one vanity, scowled at me for not holding her same passion, offered me samples she'd gotten free from the cosmetics counter (with $50 or more purchase).

I often wonder if she really wanted more, to have both the makeup and the science, but that our family economics could not manage the burden. Was it easier to say she didn't want the stuff rather than admit that her makeup budget had gone to clothes and tuition for her children?

*chuckle* This essay has gone in a direction unintended...

But back to authenticity - there's this undercurrent, an idea that to be Woman and therefore Feminine, then certain rituals have to be observed. Women's magazines and advertising are based on this concept, drilling the observer's mind with images of thinness, flawless skin, pearl white teeth...to create these images, the rituals are created - makeup, teeth whiteners, exercise and diet programs. The images are self perpetuating - to be the image, perform the ritual. Perform the ritual, create the image.

To question the cycle, either directly through discourse, or indirectly through non participation, is to be outside, and to be outside is to cast suspicion - is the questioner actually Feminine, actually Woman?

There's also this idea that to be Feminine is to be not-Masculine - identification by negation. A woman who dresses down (no makeup or dress) or agressively (no florals or bright colors) is accused of being too masculine, of trying to be too manly, and somehow less...which then brings up this whole set of codes about Men and Masculinity...And a woman who is not Feminine, like a man who is not Masculine, are folk not to be trusted, viewed as ones outside-the-norm. Inauthentic.

This also curves into my recent explorations into Babaylan - given my proximity to babaylan practitioners, it has been difficult to figure out what babaylan spirituality is all about. I've been trying to get to the core, to find the legends, to find the objects, to find the rituals...these are not easy to discover, and there is always the question of Source Material. Just looking through the 'net about Bathala, I've come across questions of whether Kali as a martial art is 'authentic' ie. PreHispanic.

The discussions seem to parallel those I've found regarding Reiki/Seichim/SKHM, a layered hands on healing system that I've recently discovered I have strong links to...my teacher was something of a rogue and there's question of whether his methods are 'authentic.'

The easiest method to prove "authenticity" seems to be to trace lineage, which student was taught by which teacher who was taught by which teacher and so on. There is a similar track when looking into Babaylan, and this can be extended to practices of femininity. Who taught you what? And was she really "feminine?"

Is it possible to deconstruct the process of authentication, to decolonize The Debut, to defang Femininity Mavens, to defrock the Keepers of the Truth?

There's also the question of the Authentic Voice of the Artist. How does she find this voice? How does she find the strength to sing it? How does she withstand the comparisons and judgments that come from public performance?


bino said...

i love this entry. maybe you can turn it into a full-blown essay, if it isn't already? it has so many interesting layers to it. thanks for the good read.

Rebecca Mabanglo-Mayor said...


Thank you for reading it and giving such great feedback! Yes, I'd like to work this into a longer piece. Glad to know it's got strong bones.