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Sexier than Thou. An Effed-up Value.

Mein Herr, chair

Tired of being compared to a barnyard animal for those extra pounds? Sick to death of being ranked against every other woman at your office, school, or neighborhood? Infuriated by the fact that men routinely troll strong women of amazing quality, intelligence, and skill with hateful rhetoric based on physical appearance? Then why, when women are more than half the population, do we put up with it?

Beyond that seemingly simple concept, there’s more. Somebody please explain to me why, as sisters who can only benefit from raising our sex as whole, do women perpetrate this crap? Why are we encouraging our country to stay this adolescent?

I don’t want to sound too harsh, but…a nation where the value of half its population is commonly and frequently ranked according to our ‘fuckability’ by the less enlightened of the other half is clearly a country that should be sent packing from pre-school with a note. “Until Sam can treat his classmates with respect, he needs to stay home.” The things we teach our children should make us hang our sexist heads in shame. It’s like our entire adult population never got out of junior high. Sorry to reduce it so far down, I know that there are many terrific men out there, I know that tens of thousands of women and men are working hard to change this mentality, but this is an essay, not a novel or a dissertation, so I only have so many words to make a point.

I’m not saying that admiring someone’s appearance or appreciating sensuality is bad. It is not bad. It’s human, and feeling lust is in our DNA. Procreation is a powerful engine. I am a big fan of all things sensual, from fun flirtation to up against the wall, sweaty, growling like a bobcat passion. I can look at a gorgeous woman or man and think, “Damn, she/he/she-he/whatever, is hot!” and appreciate the moment. That’s not what I’m talking about. What I am talking about here is being reduced (read that as—demeaned, lessened, lowered, relegated, otherwise ignored, or any other version of being put in a lower place) to existing solely for someone else’s gratification. I’m talking about perpetrating the myth that the most important thing a woman can be, the thing that women envy her for the most, is attractive to men.

Frankly, it pisses me off.

And this isn’t new. From the time I was a very young child, I was taught that being pretty was special, it was valuable. Television, magazines and the people in my life backed this up again and again until I was sure I had absolutely no right to ever be unhappy or feel lonely, even as conventional thought isolated me more and more from what I knew in my heart and soul was the truth. So, I’ve been pissed off for a few decades now.

The truth is that while looks are fun, they are not important. Being handsome doesn’t uplift or sustain you in any way. Being considered attractive can have its place, like making people smile, or showing off this year’s fashions on the runway but as a value it isn’t real and it certainly doesn’t form a foundation for anything worthwhile.

I’m older now but I think I have a reasonable grasp on this subject. Yes, I was on the cover of Playboy several times, yes I made a lot of money modeling lingerie, and then being the actress with the ‘good body’ in many films and TV appearances, but it wasn’t always comfortable for me, I was more than tits and ass and I knew it. A glance at my resume will not tell you how many jobs I refused because I thought they would be degrading, not to me, but to women in general.

We’re guilty too, we girls. Come on ladies, buck up and admit it. We perpetrate this ridiculous shallowness. Not by choosing to dress or act ‘sexy’, that’s our right damn it!, but because we allow men to make us compete with other woman in this very limited arena. And, more insidiously, because we actually buy into it, convincing ourselves that we are better than someone else for something so shallow. Men have been using that weakness to make us fight against each other since the days when man caves were a primary residence—their bad. But when women willingly climb into the ring—our stupidity.

Talk about setting ourselves up for a fall. There is always someone hotter and younger coming along behind you dummy. And no matter what, you will age and no amount of money or plastic surgery will keep you 22 and your butt high. I mean, what the hell ladies? Talk about setting yourselves up for a fall. Not much job security in putting your eggs in that basket.

I don’t even want to go into the political aspect of this right now. The fact that women vote for men who would dismiss them as worthless and disgusting based on their faces and bodies is a whole other subject that leaves me wanting to bounce from one side of my living to the other smashing my fists through the dry wall, and since I’m living in a rental right now, I’ll reserve that rant for later.

Just because a woman is ‘attractive’ or ‘sexy’ in your opinion does not mean that she does not have other worth, or even that she appreciates or invites your assessment. If you want to feel smug because a woman your boyfriend once leered at has gained weight, go for it. Just remember that it’s a tiny fraction of who she is, but your need to put her down there is a huge part of who you are.

Oh sure, who am I to talk? I did plenty of nudity in films, but I never took a part that was just me taking my shirt off for the titty count. The ‘titty count’ is how I would refer to the fact that, when I was a working actress, a movie had to show tits three times to get a foreign distribution deal. Often with smaller movies that’s where filmmakers made their money, and I didn’t begrudge them that, but I wouldn’t be only that. The role had to be worth it in some way, an acting challenge.

Don’t get me wrong, I know it’s awesome fun when you keep the power of your sexuality, but it’s soul crushing when you are expected to give it away.

In my first starring role there was a huge, fight-slash-attempted-rape scene that was written to be played completely naked. I felt helpless and dirty about it. Not because of the nudity per se, but because of the insinuation and context. I had it out with the producer and director and told them that I would not do that scene naked, they screamed and hollered and threatened to sue me, but I held my ground. A week later, when the mandatory prison shower scene was being filmed, I stripped down to skin, climbed in under that luke-warm water and dutifully lathered up. The producers had been expecting me to refuse to do the scene, they even had a lawyer on the set. I remember the confused, but happy, look on the director’s face when we finished shooting the scene and wardrobe brought me my robe. I said to him, “Do you understand now? I have no problem with nudity or sexuality, but I have a serious problem with using rape as an excuse for nudity and arousal.”

And you should too.

Conversely, there was a moment in ‘Caberet’ when, dressed in very skimpy black lace and thigh high boots, in the middle of the outrageously sexual song ‘Mein Heir’ I would pause, nail the audience with a sly smile, then rise onto my six inch heels leading with my pelvis while raking, no, daring the audience with my eyes. I didn’t even think about it until the choreographer came backstage and said, “Do you have any idea how powerful you are in that moment?” It hadn’t occurred to me to look at it like that, but after that night, it got better. Yes, it was fun to own my character’s sexual prowess, but it was way more fun to belt the songs, to dance with talented dancers, to act the scenes with emotion that wrenched and exhausted me until the show finished with me a depleted heroin addict close to death.

But enough of me justifying and rationalizing, back to the point. Women are wonderful, soft and sexy and strong and ruthless. We are smart and kind and cruel. We are doctors and authors and teachers and politicians and even murderers. But still, any time someone feels the need to be negative about a woman, deserved or not, the default insult is almost unfailingly about her appearance.

Time to rise my darlings. Enough of this BS. I appreciate a gorgeous woman in a sexy setting as much as anyone, because I’m not homophobic and women, all kinds, shapes and sizes of women, are sexy. And while I appreciate a gorgeous man as well, I don’t have the need to reduce them to sex toys either. I get it, my darling romance writer friends, it’s our turn to objectify men the way they have us, but do we need to? Hopefully the answer is no.

If you won’t put your foot down and refuse to enter that bogus arena for yourself, do it for your daughters. If you don’t have any daughters of your own, do it for everyone else’s.

Stand up for us all by refusing to put a woman down for her appearance. If you need to criticize someone’s appearance, check to be sure why you feel compelled to do so, and maybe find a more intelligent thing to say.

Maybe the world deigns that you are ‘attractive’ and maybe it doesn’t. Who gives a shit?

Not me. Not any more. I gave up that competition and started to look for what was worthy inside of people long ago. I not only saved my sanity, my life went from a mirror to a kaleidoscope of light and color and heartfelt connections.

I’m not buying into that bullshit I was fed for one more minute.

Because people are remarkable.

Even the good-looking ones.

But not just them.

Look deeper.

Love more.

Because you’re worth it.

Shari, September 13th, 2017

 

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Skipping Middle Age

 

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older and softer

Recently I posted a picture of myself with no make up or photo shop tricks, and a fan from my movie days commented, “Wow! You look so different.”

Really? I look different than I did thirty-five years ago after teams (meaning multiple people in each) of hair and wardrobe and makeup and lighting and camera experts worked on me for hours to get that perfect shot?

Shocker.

Now, I don’t think he meant it meanly, but it gave me pause. Should I be insulted? No, because he’s absolutely right. Should I be amused? Oh yeah, because it feels much better (and is much smarter) than feeling hurt and indignant for denying the superior forces of gravity, time, and ‘nature’s changing course, untrimmed,’ as young Will would have put it in a sonnet.

Face it. Or should I say, Wrinkly face it. I look different and you will too.

Because it goes like this—and really quickly by the way.

You’re young, you’re naïve enough to get away with stupid mistakes, (live and learn, you shrug as you laugh off getting called out for pretending to be an expert on some shit that turns out to be some stranger’s dead wrong opinion you overheard in a coffee shop) you’re healthy, you’re gorgeous…

and then you aren’t.

Why stretch that excruciating transition out over thirty or forty years? Why torture yourself by denying the inevitable? Why beat yourself up at every one of those learning curves? All those middle aged ‘firsts’ that smack you upside the head because you were actually delusional enough to think you were going to be young and cool forever.

I’m talking about firsts like:

The first time you realize that cute guy or girl doesn’t just not notice you, they don’t even see you.

The first time you go to your doctor and instead of offering solutions, she just says, “These things happen as you age.”

The first time you get that AARP packet, (and it won’t be your last, those people are ruthless!)

The first time you realize you’d rather sit your ass down and watch kids play instead of challenging them to a race across the monkey bars. (Although I do still love a good playground!)

The first time you meet a twenty-year old who says you remind her of her grandmother. Her grandmother! And you realize you could easily be.

Take some advice from 56 year old who had a really good run in the young and stupid years, and who is now happier than any other time by a factor of at least 10.

Ready? Now focus because this is profound, I mean this is some seriously deep shit. Here it is.

When you get to about 40 say, “Fuck it. I’m old.”

Skip all that bemoaning and worrying, and suffering for the loss of your figure, hair, mind, sexual attraction, ability to blame your youth for your ignorance and/or bad behavior, and being able to read anything smaller than the top line of an eye chart in noon sunshine. And you get to enjoy all this while you gain weight, forgetfulness, jowls, and wrinkles that look like a compressed trail map of Yellowstone National Park complete with accurate topography. And let me tell you, if you’ve never hiked Yellowstone, there are thousands of criss-crossing trails, glacial ridges, mountains, valleys, and not a few geysers.

Brace yourself baby. Your ego is going to take a hit.

You used to eat spicy food, now you can’t. You used to drink all the tequila you wanted and bound out of bed the next day. (Can I get a white wine spritzer?) You used to be able to wear a bikini with pride, now it takes a certain amount of denial verging on belligerence, or at the very least a tankini.

Prescriptions take the place of most recreational drugs. (Notice the use of ‘most’ wink wink. CBDs rock for menopause and arthritis!)

For some unknown reason, you will need to blow your nose all the time. Sure, I had the same problem when I was 18 and 19, but when you snort a gram or two of cocaine every day that can happen. Now, the only white powder I use on a regular basis is Dr. Scholl’s moisture absorbent foot powder.

Dancing until two was an every night occurrence. I’m still up every night at 2 am, but now it’s to go pee.

You have to be on LSD to pretend you are still 29 and expect other people to buy into it. Your thought process there approaches the hallucinatory and the odds are strong that it will be a bad trip.

Let’s look at this from another angle. I’ve always been mystified why women lie and say they are younger than they are. The logic is lost on me. If you are, say, 50, and you lie and say you are 42, you risk people thinking, “Damn, she is not aging well at all!” The best you can hope for is someone complimenting your plastic surgeon. But if you are 50, but tell people you are 59, it’s far more likely someone will think and even say, “Wow! She looks fantastic!” Of course the unspoken finish to that comment is, ‘for her age.’ I mean, if what you’re worried about at my age is people notice that you’re aging—which translates, let’s be honest, to being vain—then you need to think this mo-fo through.

What are you grieving? Oh no, boo hoo, as you age you’ll loose the leering, sleazy admiration of jerks who think you exist solely for their sexual gratification. How ever will you survive the loss? “Alas I confront the gaping void! Such tragedy befalls me! Oh woe, calamity, the end of all I hold dear! Darkness descends, beauty fades and my worth is ended!”

Can we just take a moment of silence for your mental sanity, and your values?

Of course that’s what we get as a country for equating youth with beauty and beauty with happiness.

Talk about setting yourself up.

The moral of the story is; get the f’ over yourself. You are going to age, and as you do so you will begin to disappear more and more in the eyes of youth and a societal ethics you helped to create by valuing your own youth and beauty above things of actual importance. Will you panic and cling to the illusion that you can stop the clock? Or will you relax and enjoy the easy fall into shorter walks and birthday cakes that increasingly resemble burning man less the fun drugs and nudity? What is your option to aging? I’ll let you think about that for a minute.

Got it? Yes, the option is death. And whether you take the longer way or the express, your ticket disembarks at the same destination, so you might as well enjoy the ride.

You get to choose when you make your wish. Will you use that flame to set yourself on fire and end the shame of, dare I speak the word, unattractiveness? Or will you use the light of experience, of years, to be enlightened?

Is there an up side to living to be less physically attractive? What can we learn from all these bonus years on the planet?

Lots. You don’t have to impress anybody, and you learn to be fine with that.

You learn to say, “I don’t know,” and be fine with that.

You learn to be fine, in a completely different way.

You get to be who you are.

Finally, at long last,

You can be who you want to be.

Hello old friend!

Oh, it’s me.

 

Shari, August 19, 2017

 

 

Rules of Engagement.

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My husband was a bit grumpy when I got home from a recent trip to Northern California. Perhaps it’s because he’d been working 12 to 14 hour days, perhaps it’s because some of the jobs he’s doing on our house right now are, well, disgusting. Okay, when you rip the siding off of a tool room that hasn’t been attended to in fifty some odd years, and find several generations of woodland creatures, adults, juveniles and babies, living behind it,that’s kind of cute, granted. But the fact that their nests are built on the carcasses of their ancestors and decades of excrement bulging through the insulation, it is definitely un-cute. Pulling out the nests of hair and urine-stained, shredded trash doesn’t leave you with a particularly ecstatic feeling. Maybe the fact that I was off hiking in woodland bliss and searching for new homes instead of helping him could have contributed to his vague emotional distance from me, as unreasonable as that sounds. It’s unlikely that I’m ever at fault of course, but hey, anything is possible.

For my part, after a few fun days with our daughter up north, taking in the air and the redwoods and the wonderful food, I spent my five hour drive back thinking about how much I missed him, and how incredibly lucky I am to have him and our life together. I arrived excited to see him, surging with all the passion that I started with for him, plus the years of love and fun squared on top of that, so I’m in a great mood, eager and loving.

Then I drive up to find him standing in the garage, sweaty, bleeding, and filthy, breathing with difficulty, having done as much work as an assembly team in a factory. I didn’t quite get the greeting I had anticipated. Our normal ‘mesh’ is a bit off.

Okay, we’re miles apart, and by the time I get through touring all the work he’s done and telling him all the things he worked so hard on that I’m not crazy about, (hey, I told him about all the things I loved too!) he’s a sliver snappy. I’ve learned over the years not to engage when one of us is in a mood, but that’s not always easy when one of us is feeling vulnerable or pissy.

Because when we try to talk from that frazzled, electrified place, the chances of going off on bizarre tangents ranges from excellent to certain. I will, for example, accuse him of playing the martyr role, he will insist that I have never, ever, ever, ever, ever been happy with anything he has ever done. We both are dead sure that everyone in the world will agree with our personal, and diametrically opposed, points of view. We fall into accusing each other of evil plots against our marriage, of seeing the worst in each other, of never being loved or appreciated.

Too dramatic? You should try running a theatre for 25 years, I’ll show you diva. So, when one of us gets ramped up, the other one takes a turn at playing police psychiatrist on an active shooter site. He will stand at a safe distance from behind the open door of his truck and shout into a bullhorn, “I understand you are upset, but put the rifle down and we can talk.”

When I’m pissed, he withdraws into his den or his work and lets me rage freely, swearing and sighing for all the world at this miserable lot I’ve pulled, but he never misses giving me a goodnight kiss, or offering to share a funny movie once the high octane burns itself out like a nasty oil spill on seawater. When it’s him who is wound up beyond the ticking point, I make sure he has snacks, water, first aid when the time comes, and I stay busy, lurking until his defences are down. This is quite a bit like a siege, but instead of firing flaming rocks into his castle, I’m lobbing sandwiches and beer.

So we went through our evening working our wounded egos out on our own, avoiding flare ups that might lead into something we both know isn’t even about whatever projectile we’re launching, and we commit to talking tomorrow. (That part is important, and the appointment must be kept!) We’re both exhausted and strained, and there’s that touch of unfamiliarity that comes when you’ve been away from each other a few days and haven’t had a chance to smooth it over with a cocktail or three and an episode of VEEP.

In the morning we sat down to talk, and instead of starting with communication, which would be bright, we’re both wasting time and energy justifying our ‘reasons’ for not being particularly generous of spirit or spilling over with kindness, it’s all round about, egos, and excuses, but one theme inevitably emerges, we both feel misunderstood. I thought he thought this and he thought I thought that, and we were both dead wrong.

So we smile sheepishly and I kiss him. “I’ve got an idea, let’s just go back to being madly in love.”

His face crumples into a handsome smile and he says teasingly, “Then you have to be nice to me.”

And I stabbed him with my pruning sheers.

No, not really. We just both laughed at ourselves and each other, and kissed, and got back to the business of loving and being grateful.

Sometimes you just have to get over yourself, and remind yourself how fucking happy you are.

I know I do.

Shari, April 30th, 2016

Who am I NOW?

As the evil disney queen in a book video a few months ago. It suits me.

As the evil disney queen in a book video a few months ago. It suits me, fantasy and literature.

Who am I now?

I haven’t been on my website for a week or so or posted anything new, and so I was surprised to see that I had 3000 hits in a single day hits a few days ago. This was, to quote Zoolander when his message machine tells him he has 12 hundred messages, “A little above average.” and I wondered why.

Sure, I have a new book out and “Invisible Ellen” is doing pretty nicely, but that couldn’t be it. And then I remembered that my girls told me my ex had done this show called “Celebrity Wife Swap,” and I thought, “Oh, it must have aired.” I knew about the show, but only because he and his wife had wanted the girls to be on it, which caused some friction, but my daughters had the sense and the backbone to refuse. Neither of my daughters are fans of ‘reality’ TV, and—though admittedly I’ve never watched CWS—that show seems…uh, let’s just say…not exactly creme of the crop, and they didn’t want to be associated with it. Bless their classy little hearts.

Now, I didn’t see the show, don’t ever intend to, so maybe it’s a steaming pile of art and I would be sorry to have missed it, but my instinct tells me no.  I have never once looked at either my ex’s or his wife’s websites and I definitely steer away from anything involving them in social media, (I know, I know, I’m writing this, but I’m trying to make a point!) I know I won’t like what I see, so why go looking for it? To be honest, I don’t really know them, and have only the barest of contact since he announced with a smug smile that he wouldn’t be contributing to college, then drove away in his Porsche. He tells a different story, no doubt in his public version of himself and has an image of himself to maintain, as many people do, but I deal with the reality, usually damage control, and that’s plenty. I do my best to disassociate from that whole, publicist-generated, artificial world version 2.0.

So it interests me that people would see that wife swap show and look me up. It’s a weird interconnected web out there. It feels remote to me and my everyday life. I think of how I’ve tried to focus my life away from that kind of negativity and on doing work that is worthwhile to me. That’s not to say I wouldn’t work on a show for the money if i really needed it, the key to avoiding that is to keep your cost of living down so that having to prostitute yourself is kept at a minimum. From someone who once starred in “Death Spa” that may seem a bit bogus, but hey, things have changed.

You see, at first you want the things that everyone else envies, I don’t know why, but that’s often what our society teaches is desirable. You want to be sexy, and famous, and beautiful and rich, and then you grow up and want to be valued for something real. Well, some of us do anyway, others get caught in the cycle. For me, after living by my looks modeling in New York and ending up a cocaine addict, which I beat myself at 22, I had to come to terms with the fact that being valued for what is on the outside is very, very lonely and untrue. Then I wanted to be famous, because that impresses people, right? But when I got a dose of that, It just felt just strange. When many people meet someone they’ve seen on TV or film immediately there is a veil, an artificial wall, that separates you because they think you are something you are not and, falsely, feel different from you. I hated that. You give up privacy and often even the ability to spend time in public with your family comfortably. I’ve had people put their kid in my lap while I was eating at a restaurant and start video taping. I love meeting new people, but that was just invasive, (especially since I was eating spinach). Now I have many wonderful friends, who I first met as ‘fans’, don’t get me wrong, but there is a difference between meeting people on an equal footing, and people wanting to document meeting you as a trophy for being on a show or in a movie that you don’t even think is very good.

That didn’t feel right to me. It’s lovely to have people like and respect your work, and name recognition as a novelist is important as well as for an actor, but when you have to constantly pretend to be what you’ve created, meaning some kind of public persona, it is, for all but a few, confusing to the point of soul-crushing. Egos get all out of whack. But I did love acting, the art of it, making an audience breath together or laugh as one, and since the film and TV roles of quality weren’t coming to me, I turned to theatre where I’ve done my best work, respected the writing and myself, and felt the joy of working with an artistic community that betters the many, instead of the few.

And writing has always been my first love. Though I’m proud of all of my books, I don’t think there’s any question that “Invisible Ellen” is the kind of book I’ve always wanted to write. Hopefully, it’s original, funny, heartwarming, and uplifting. Those are qualities I feel good about.

So, one day soon, maybe I’ll get thirty thousand hits on my website because my new book, “Emerging Ellen” is hitting the stores. I certainly hope so, but for me, that’s a different kind of attention, one I can spread around and share. Oh, and it would go a long way toward helping me pay for private school and college, which would be lovely, and for my charity as well. Meanwhile, I’ll drive my used Ford Escape Hybrid, give what I can, and laugh and love with my girls and my family, support my friends’ many endeavors and try to create something new and worth reading or watching.

Because that’s who I am now.

Who do you want to be? Go get ’em baby.

 

Shari, July 25th, 2014