Our society is so sexist that saying that you like to look at women is opening yourself up to assumptions. Do I like looking at other women because I'm gay? Do I like looking at women because I'm comparing myself to them or because I envy them? Do I like looking at women because they're naturally more attractive than men?
None of this is true. I don't like looking at women because I'm objectifying them as things to be desired or emulated. I actually like looking at women because I'm interested in women. I'm interested in how they move, how they dress, how they make themselves happy.
I like looking at young women and seeing the risks they take with fashion. I like looking at older women who have found the clothes that they are comfortable in. I like looking at women thinking, women working, women reading, women holding hands with their partners or talking with their children or laughing with other women. I like seeing a woman, any woman, any shape or size or age or colour, walking or pushing herself or skipping down the street and taking joy in her surroundings.
Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong FreeDigitalPhotos.net
It's not just women, of course; I like watching people in general. But when I see an interesting woman, someone who is beautiful according to her own lights, it's easier for me to make that imaginative leap into her skin. For me to imagine her happiness, her worries, her wonder.
This is what I do when I'm writing, I guess, so this everyday watching and empathy and interest is practice for that. Or maybe the writing is practice for everyday.
I had a really pleasurable experience in the hairdresser the other day. I went in to have my hair cut and dyed, which is always fun, but as I was sitting there with the dye in my hair, a woman came in without an appointment. She was in her fifties, I think, though her face was unlined, fresh, without any makeup. Her hair was a long grey ponytail secured with a scrunchie.
'I haven't had it cut in years,' she said to the hairdresser who met her at the door—an impossibly, frighteningly glamorous young woman with a mane of blonde hair and skin-tight jeans. 'It was a disaster last time so I haven't dared.'
I couldn't hear all of their conversation but it was clear that the customer was reluctant to have anything done, but also very much wanted a transformation. The hairdresser coaxed her, sat her down, brushed her hair out of the scrunchie, talked about strand tests. Eventually, the customer got up, put back in her scrunchie, and said, 'I'll have to think about it.' She left.
Five minutes later she was back. 'Let's do it,' she said. Her voice was brave and slighly giddy. And while my own hair was cut, I watched that hairdresser cut that woman's hair into a glorious confection of silver.
She looked stunning. She wasn't a model, she wasn't Helen Mirren, she was herself. She stood up straighter and smiled. And I felt like applauding.