If thou includest a scene in thine manuscript in which a woman gazeth upon herself in a mirror, allow her not to be pleased atwhich, lest thine gender be exposed as male.
I open this week’s sermon with a passage from the Book of Verisimilitudes, the chapter devoted to telling men how to write the way women think. I kind of touched on the topic of what woman think when they look in the mirror way back in October 2010, when I cited the following passage from Daily Kos contributing editor Laura Clawson:
“My editors at Harlequin used to joke that they could always tell when a man had written a manuscript. Somewhere in the first fifty pages the heroine undressed in front of a mirror…and liked what she saw. That sounds like a good idea, having a body that you can admire when you are buck-naked in your own bathroom. But what clearly seems a better idea, a more appealing fantasy, is to walk by that mirror and simply not care.”
The fantasy, Clawson wrote, “is not to be beautiful but to have an identity for yourself that is not caught up in your appearance. Romance heroines rarely know how beautiful they are. This isn’t because they are too stupid to look in a mirror or too low in self-esteem to understand what they see there, but because they are presenting the fantasy of being something other than body, of not having any of this cosmetic-advertisement stuff matter.”
But then I read this in The Hunger Games, which was written by a woman:
The Creature standing before me in the full-length mirror has come from another world. Where skin shimmers and eyes flash and apparently they make clothes from jewels. Because my dress, oh my dress, is entirely covered in reflective precious gems, red and yellow and white and white with bits of blue that accent the tips of the flame design. The slightest movement gives the impression I am engulfed in tongues of fire.
I am not pretty. I am not beautiful. I am as radiant as the sun.
OK, Katniss is not naked. But she certainly likes what she sees. Later on, she’s so intoxicated with her new look that she twirls around on stage like, as she says, “a little girl.”
So is the book endorsing the idea of having “this cosmetic-advertisement stuff matter”?
I don’t know. It seems to me natural that human beings like looking good. The definition of “good” can vary greatly, but dressing up has the power to knock down seemingly unbreakable barriers. I’ve witnessed, for example, the secretly pleased smiles of metal heads who usually wear jeans and black blood-dripping-wraith tee-shirts when they slip into their tuxes before prom.
Not caring about what you see when you’re wearing nothing at all? Sure. Actually liking what you see? Why not? I mean, really. Who’s stopping you? A man in your life? If there’s a man in your life who makes you think something’s wrong when you’re naked, you need a new man, not a new body.
And here’s a little secret: When a guy writes a scene with woman standing in front of a mirror naked and liking what she sees, what he sees is a naked woman.
And, believe me, he’s liking it.