I'm sort of fried tonight because I just finished photocopying the syllabus for my new course on feminist theory. It's an existing course in the program but my first time teaching it; expect me to spout off about it for the next ten weeks. It starts with Mary Wollstonecraft and ends up with Judith Butler and intersectionality. It will kick my students' asses - and probably mine, too. Karmic justice.
But since I'm fried, I'm only good for a brief rant. Driving to the office at 9:30 p.m., after the kids were tucked in, was an obstacle course. With human bodies as the obstacles. Two days before classes begin, my little college town is a bacchanalia of late-summer partying. The college boys saunter along in their baggy shorts. The college girls teeter along, clad in strategically placed scraps of fabric. By the hundreds, they're tripping off the edge of the sidewalk or walking down the middle of the street.
Yeah, the dress code is pretty sexist. But that's not what got my dander up. I was struck, again, by how tan the young women are. I can appreciate the slenderizing value of a good tan. On the rare occasions when I've managed to get some color on my thighs, they seemed to shrink three sizes.
But as a pasty-faced native of North Dakota, I've rarely been tan. Best case: People stop asking why I'm so pale. If I live long enough, maybe my freckles will merge.
You know what? That's okay. I'm 44 now, and while no one will mistake me for 20 anymore, I'm holding up reasonably well. I'd be nothing but a mass of misplaced origami folds by now, had I visited the tanning salon as often as my young female students do. The demand to be tan has escalated dramatically since I was their age.
There are lots of things to criticize about the beauty ideal, but the imperative to be tan is particularly evil because it imposes a double bind with a time lag. What makes you "sexy" at age 20 will make you look haggard and old 20 years later. (I realize I'm leaving skin cancer out of the equation. Clearly, if you're having to undergo surgery and chemo, that won't make you prettier, either.) My students realize that tanning will lead to wrinkles later on, yet it all seems abstract. For them, aging is still something that happens to other people. I thought the same thing at age 20.
I wish there were a way to get this across to young women. I joke about it and my point sails right past them. I don't know how to discuss it seriously without sounding like an old scold. I suppose I could tell them that they'll still want to appear sexy and desirable in 20 or 30 years - but that's probably a little too close to hearing that your mother still wants to get off.
LOLcat in a bind from I Can Has Cheezburger?