Keeping Up Appearances

“Because I’m worth it.”

That’s a slogan that was launched in the 1970’s by the cosmetic line L’Oreal of Paris. The “revolutionary” idea was that women do indeed have intrinsic value; therefore, pampering themselves with beauty products is a sign that they have discovered and deserve the right to flaunt that worth. The TV ad was born out of a feminist movement in the “me” generation going on at the time, and yet for decades before then, women had been fighting for their rights in the marketplace and in the home. They had struggled for redefinition of their value—and rightly so. As a result, they have had great successes in sports, academics, and in the workplace; and yet they still haven’t gotten away from the idea that appearance is often upheld as an even greater attribute than perseverance, aptitude and wisdom. Why? My friend, Angie, reminded me recently that our minds are like tape recorders, chronicling every message we receive, be it subtle or blatant, and that as we grow older, we replay those tapes in our heads when faced with a question of worth.

One of the early recordings in my brain was a message on the 1960s popular TV sitcom, The Andy Griffith Show.  In one episode entitled “Ellie Saves a Female,” the storyline follows a farmer’s daughter, an only child, who is denied the use of makeup, hairstyling, and perfume—“pleasures of being a woman.” Against the protests of the lady druggist, Ellie Walker, the farmer refuses to let his daughter Frankie (nee Frances) dress and present herself as a woman because he needs her to be his farm hand. However, Andy, the local sheriff intervenes and convinces the farmer that his daughter, who is just an average worker because of her gender, would be more valuable to play the role of beautiful girl so that she can attract a strong young man who would ultimately benefit the farm. Andy calls Frankie a “fair farmhand,” which is compared to a phrase he coins about her as “quite a girl,” he convinces the farmer that he isn’t using his daughter correctly. Though today this conclusion would be an outrage, the theme may still be recorded somewhere in our minds. We are still letting our worth be driven by such skewed philosophy. The tapes are still running.

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