Doing Femme – Middlesex
I just finished reading Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex for the second time. I remembered barely anything about it, and I worried that I would have many moments of “that’s sooooo problematic” wincing, because I know a lot more about gender and sexual politics than I did when the book came out. But, in fact, that didn’t happen even once.
Here’s a passage that I bookmarked while I was lazing about in the tub the other day. It’s about Calliope’s first visit to a beauty salon, where she is going to get her upper lip waxed. I love this description of the salon owner. Femme for me is so much about intentionality, ritual, and love… and not quite so much about achieving any external standard of beauty.
It was Sophie Sassoon’s personal attention the women came for, the feeling of safety the salon gave them, the assurance that in here they could expose their flaws without embarrassment and Sophie would take care of them.
It must have been the love they came for. Otherwise the customers would have noticed that Sophie Sassoon was herself in need of beauty advice. They would have seen that her eyebrows were drawn on as though by Magic Marker, and that her face, owing to the Princess Borghese makeup she sold on commission, was the colour of a brick.
But did I see it that day myself, or in the weeks that followed? Like everyone else, instead of judging the final effect of Sophie Sassoon’s makeup job, I was impressed by the complexity of it. I knew, as did my mother and the other ladies, that to ‘put on her face’ every morning it took Sophie Sassoon no less than one hour and forty-five minutes. She had to apply eye creams and under-eye creams. She had to lay down various layers, like shellacking a Stradivarius. …
Sophie Sassoon’s face: it was created with the rigor of a sand painting blown grain by grain by Tibetan monks. It lasted only a day and then it was gone.
Have any of you read the book? I have so much more I could say about it… maybe in the comments, yes?