Wise Women Friday: Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

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Words of wisdom from the American writer Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (1896-1953):

The test of beauty is whether
it can survive close knowledge.

Hmmmmmm. Speaking as the girl who once acquired the nickname "Plumpbelly," I think I have earned the right to say that this sounds a bit like a plain-girl's hope for justice in a cruel, lip-stick smeared world.

The Greek gods had never heard of Venus before she walked naked out of the sea, but she was so beautiful they figured she must be divine. They whisked her away to Olympus. The storytellers will tell you the Vesta, goddess of the hearth, immediately gave her throne to Venus and went and sat by the fire, where she preferred to be anyway. Personally, I think Vesta saw the writing on the wall: when it comes to women, beauty trumps.

True story: in seventh-grade science, me and my plump belly and my trussle-head hair sat in front of two girls: Eve and Ellen. Eve was your basic seventh-grade-boy fantasy. She had boobs. But she also had a flat waist and a pretty face and good hair, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Ellen was tiny. No boobs. But she had clear skin and good hair and blah, blah, blah, you get the picture.

What was it about these girls? They didn't talk much, so far as I could tell. They did not seem to have any special sparkle or wit, but people obsessed over them. They fawned over them; they watched them.

Those girls terrified me. They were like the Bomb, volatile forces capable of leaving a deadly fallout. One word, one look, and you were broken or made. But I wonder now if they ever even broke anyone or if they ever even wanted to? All I know is that I stayed as far away from Eve and Ellen as I possibly could, and, of course, I pretty much knew that I better go sit by the fire anyway because that's where my tribe congregated, away from the thrones, away from the goddesses.

These days, I have many friends who are beautiful, just beautiful. And I'm still surprised every time they descend from their thrones and come and talk to me. I don't say this because I seek some sort of flattery or reassurance, so please do not flatter or reassure me. I say this because beautiful people still sort of scare me, even at close knowledge.

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Desiree said...

Okay, I keep returning to this post waiting for the comments to flood in. But they're not. One hour, two hours, three hours, four.
And you know why?!?!?

Cuz now we're frickin' intimidated. I don't know if Eve and Ellen considered themselves beauty terrorists. What does Ms. Finn think of herself as a writer? Because I'm thinking of just chucking the lap top, kiddo, and heading towards the hearth.

(which I like on cold days, but never in September)

Lynne said...

If you've ever spent much time around middle schoolers you would have a different perspective on this. Being a substitute teacher for mostly middle school I've seen the ugliest girls be the queen bees and absolutely gorgeous girls shy away from it all and stand on the side lines. It's attitude more than looks or anything else. That being said, there are some girls confident, beautiful girls who are just to mature and uninterested in the scene to get involved in it.

As for the quote, I love it. A great personality can make anyone look great in person even if there not so great in a photo. It's in the eyes, don't you think, when a attractive mean girl (or dull girl) look around the room and you think, ewww! Does that make sense?

pasadenaadjacent said...

Really, at times you are just to funny and spot on.

I remember my 7th grade science teacher was named Mrs Endhart and my favorite LA dance club in the 80's was 7th grade on Spring.

Shell Sherree said...

You always get my mornings off to a wonderful start, Margaret! I'll join you by the fire any day of the week. By the way, if a dude named Peter Paul Rubens was in your class, he'd have considered that nickname the ultimate compliment.

Susan C said...

Cynthia Varkonda was my Eve. She wore her long, blond hair in ringlets and her bracelets always matched her dresses. Boys and girls flocked around her at recess, even though she scarcely said a word. I never flocked because I didn't know what I could possibly say to her.

But then in 7th grade I realized she wasn't one of the "smart" girls. I felt a little sorry for her, even though she still had beautiful hair.

Funny how our 7th grade images stay with us for a lifetime. That's why I wasn't able to enjoy being a "skinny" woman. It brought up too many bad memories of being a skinny (i.e. undesirable) girl.

altadenahiker said...

First of all, I love the Rawlings movie more than I love the books (sad but true). Cross Creek is one I can watch over and over.

Secondly, in praise of beautiful girls, they were always the ones who were nicest to me as I entered new school after new school from new state to new state. True story.

Thirdly, our last names sucked, didn't they?

pasadenapio said...

I believe I ran into Eve and Ellen a few weeks ago. Yep, now that I think about it I'm quite sure.

They're alcoholic has-beens now, traveling the Vegas-to-Reno circuit by Greyhound Bus and selling their saggy baggy bodies for nickels to put in the slot machine and ciggies to draw into their emphesymic lungs.

I asked these two hags to describe their true inner beauty. They told me to move on or they'd call a cop.

gaelikaa said...

I once had this beautiful friend Valerie in Ireland before I came out here. Heads literally turned when she walked into a room. Tall, clear skin, sharp features, long golden hair, terrific sense of humour...but for some sad reason, incredibly low self esteem. In her darker moments, she was extremely suspicious of men who were attracted to her because of her looks alone. She told me that she would much rather be appreciated for her intelligence. She didn't want someone who wanted her for a 'trophy girlfriend'. Plenty did. Isn't it strange?

Linda Dove said...

All my high school 'beautiful people' are coming out of the woodwork on Facebook suddenly b/c our 25th reunion is next month. Suddenly, they're friending me (Sabrina was my Eve), and--ever on the hearth--I'm wondering why they'd want to. I suspect it's just to check on my recent photo, to see how I've aged in comparison to them. Sad, huh?

Cafe Observer said...

The test of Truth is whether it can survive close questioning.

Q: uh, what's Eve doing now?

altadenahiker said...

Oh, and actually Margaret, your org last name is very Dickensian. It would belong to a prosperous and jolly fellow who befriends our waif hero.

Olga said...

Looks like you struck a nerve with this one! Maybe I am the only one in the world who remembers 7th and 8th grades with the greatest fondness. I was far from an Ellen or an Eve, but I had the best of friends at that time and a clear picture of the future (that faded in the hectic hubbub of high school and college and adult life). Truly, the seeds of the personal qualities that are my authentic and "best" self took root then.

JCK said...

I think beautiful people both intrigue and terrify us. It can't be helped, they just draw your eye. Whether it be a child, woman or man.

I wonder what Eve and Ellen were thinking then?

7th grade is very vivid for me, too.

goodeda1122 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
... daisy... said...

mmmmm... yes. I kind of remember my time at school and those "goddesses" who were worshipped by the boys. I kind of envied them back then, but not really their beauty... I wished I had their confidence! Anyway... I have confidence now and even if I'm not one of those beauties I like myself the way I am and even if I quarrel with myself and I sometimes wish I could divorce me, deep inside I love myself... :-)
But you're right they are intimidating... :-DDD
Is there a standard in beauty? I don't think so... and perfection? Well that's something really boring...

pasadenaadjacent said...

I come from the land of Eves (or at least the Eves who produced them). I hear about them through my mother. For the most part, they grow up and lead perhaps predictable, but otherwise contented lives. And they can afford the best food and plastic surgery needed to keep their looks a bit longer.

Margaret said...

Dez: I am always thinking of chucking lap top. You know that.

Lynne: It is the eyes, isn't it. I know what you mean.

Shell: Why would Rubens have found the name a compliment?

AH: I hate to break it to you, but the pretty girls probably knew you were in their tribe.

PPIO: Wow. I had no idea Even and Ellen had come to such a dismal end. Thanks for the update :)

gaelikaa: I think you are right that beauty does not equate with self esteem, but isn't if funny how those on the outside think it confers such power.

Olga: I think you are right on in recognizing that somewhere along the line we tend to lose sight of our authentic self. I'm gonna think about that for a while.

PaperTurtle said...

I love this post. You are so right on (but what else is new?!?!).

I had to chuckle because it seems like EVERYONE has a memory from 7th grade. Mine was that a boy told me I had a big butt and the stupid thing (now that I look back) is that I believed him.

This was an interesting post, and interesting comments to read as well. Thanks, Margaret. It's never boring here! :o)

Petrea said...

I've been to a couple of high school reunions. I find that, just as I've changed a great deal since high school, other people have changed as well. Linda, I wouldn't be surprised if people have sought you out on networking sites because they're interested to know what you're up to.

I think the beautiful people don't always know they're beautiful. And if they do, it might not be the most important thing to them. Just because a person is beautiful doesn't make her a bitch. I knew a girl in 7th grade who was beautiful and sweet; her parents were in an awful marriage and her heart was broken early.

25 years after high school she finally married her high school sweetheart. It was a dream come true. 10 years later she had to have the police remove him removed from her home. She's still beautiful and I wish her only happiness.

Margaret said...

Well, now you guys are making me feel shallow. But I notice it's the people with the really good cheek bones who are sticking up for the pretty girls.

Petrea said...

Oooh, I just remembered this girl I knew in college named Janet. Stunning girl. Gorgeous. I wasn't close to her, but we were on the same dorm floor. I remember she was always very frank.

Once we were at the store together and I witnessed what her life was like: every guy in the place hit on her. Must have been six or seven guys, all either asked for her number or said something lewd.

She was a bitch to each and every one of them.

I asked her later why she was so nasty. She said she had to be, or else those guys'd be knocking down her door. I'm pretty sure she was right.

Petrea said...

Oh--and mine was Diarrhea Birdturd.

pasadenaadjacent said...

Your not shallow but I am feeling a little ignored. Thats what happens when you don't have a pretty picture next to your comment