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A Brie Grows in Brooklyn

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An Open Letter to Elizabeth Wurtzel: By Bianca Ozeri

Bianca wrote this impassioned response to Elizabeth Wurtzel’s recent article in Harper’s Bazaar, "Looking Better At 45 than 25." I love impassioned letters, and I love Bianca, so I asked her to post it. 

I just think it’s funny that Elizabeth Wurtzel is advising women on how to look put together, because if my eyes aren’t fooling me, she kind of looks like a mess.

But maybe it’s because I don’t appreciate multi-color highlights and pancake make-up. In any case, without further ado, here is Bianca’s letter.

Dear Elizabeth Wurtzel (and your horrid editorial),

Our mothers probably would have gotten along. A Brooklynite with stale notions of empowerment, my mom can apply liner and lipstick while driving her car, her impossibly narrow feet will die, I assure you, in vintage heels, and when I go out at 11 PM for some milk, or a sweet tooth satisfaction, she encourages me to change out of sweatpants because, “Bianca, you never who the cashier is going to be.” (Rarely do I comply, rarely am I enticed by the bodega clerk.)

Needless to say, my female progenitors would agree with your diatribe on personal appearance—perhaps even your endorsement of catcalls. I do not.

Even so, I, like you, take after my mother. I’m the twenty-something in whom you’d find some hope (albeit, the warped, inane hope you seem to be yearning for in your essay) in posterity. My brunette Carrie Bradshawian curls cascade down a yogically toned back. My face, scrubbed twice daily, bears flawless skin, and my wardrobe of peplum skirts, houndstooth slacks, and trellis-stitch knitwear, would do you proud, I’m sure. I enjoy spruceness. And yet, after reading your editorial, I thought significantly about dragging my armoire across West Street, burning it down in Battery Park, and dancing around its remains in a liturgy devoted to furthering your heartbreak (“When I … see women in their twenties who have already given up, my heart breaks.”). In the end, I decided you weren’t worth it, and wrote this letter instead.

You say in your subtitle that “self-improvement is a matter of self-respect.” I agree. I feel like a better version of myself when I exchange that persistent daydream of rekindling with my ex for reflection on my unfinished short story. When I use the umpteenth rejection of my work constructively instead of allowing it to perpetuate yet another day of deflated confidence. When I leave the house sans makeup and glowing because, quite frankly, Revlon’s Cherries in the Snow is not an integral part of my dignity.

Self-respect, obviously, is invaluable to self-improvement.

According to your piece however, that respect, yet again, is connoted by pristine physical appearance—something you claim missing from my generation. Now, I know I just gloated (almost as badly as you did), about my put-together appearance, but I can be equally as frowzy. In fact, I’m presently writing this in a TriBeCa café in moth-eaten leggings and my grandmother’s oversized button-down. And I assure you, Elizabeth, “[my] current state of slovenliness” does not feel “a sign of a nation in decline and of a despairing distaff population.” On the contrary, the ease in which I left my apartment four hours ago in this uncomely ensemble is a sign of my security. It’s an indication that my self-respect comes from a place far less tangible, much more spiritual, than the clothes on my back and the shade of my lips. You will know it by the way I carry myself in a century-old kaftan.

My “slovenly” days in fact, are often a conscious attempt to resist what has become my automatic compliance with this society’s destructive standard of beauty. They are the days I am emancipated from idealism. If, as you say, “looking great is a matter of feminism,” then clearly I’ve missed the memo. For never do I feel as feminist as when I am challenging advice like yours, that says attraction translates into diligence, happiness, and resolute self-respect. To anyone who knows anything, it’s clear that your equation is backward.

If, as you say, it’s “nice” that “construction workers still whistle,” then clearly you and I are on two different pages of feminism. Because last night I turned to the bedraggled man in the subway who hurled kisses my way, like he were calling his fucking dog, and told him plainly, “You disgust me.” He descended the stairs defeated, and I felt proud to have defended my subjectivity. I spoke exactly how I felt directly to the person who made me feel that way. That honesty, which too many times had lay dormant before my degradation, made me feel so much more a “liberated woman” than “appearing hale and happy.”  

I’m not saying that we should exercise our feminism by dressing like schlubs and telling off every bricklayer and cop to stare us up and down. I’m saying that there’s a fine line, especially in today’s media-inebriated culture, between encouraging a confident appearance, and beauty for the sake of approval. You, in this month’s Bazaar, crossed it.

The heart of the matter, Ms. Wurtzel, is that if you feel like triweekly Gyrontic sessions and Fresh Sugar Rosé lip balm, fantastic for you! If I feel like outworn Flax pants and and a bare countenance, fantastic for me! I resent that from such you think you can collect an apt judgement of a woman’s emotional stability or feminist disposition. And I feel it is you who has “given up” on me, not I on myself.

As someone 22 years your junior, to whom “Looking Better at 45 than 25” seems directed, your editorial felt less an urgent notice to young women and more a desperate opportunity to gloat, seeing as you “want everyone to try as hard as [you] do to please be gorgeous, because it’s not that hard.” Ya know what? I agree with you, it’s not that hard. Throw on whatever the fuck makes you feel good, girls, and confront the day with what matters: heart. There you have it, gorgeous.

Sincerely Slovenly (and wishing you would vanish from the writer’s sphere forever),

Bianca Ozeri

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