The Luck of the Draw

I know a woman who talks at length about herself and rarely has questions for others. At times her boastfulness becomes spectacular, in which case she can be entertaining in a scandalous way. She does have some redeeming qualities—her wide range of knowledge and her general eagerness—and I remind myself of them as needed. Because this woman is not attractive, I have plenty of room for her, and I respect the battle she has fought to find her footing on a lopsided playing field.

There is a video circulating on Facebook, a clip of Dustin Hoffman describing a revelation he had while making the movie “Tootsie.” After the make-up artists had turned his character into a woman, he was disappointed. He wanted to be a pretty woman. Why hadn’t they made him pretty? The make-up artists said, “Sorry, Dustin, this is as good as it gets,” and all at once Hoffman understood the angst a woman in the same predicament must feel.

I was not moved by his realization that unlovely women are sidelined, or that he had contributed to this prejudice by avoiding them. What struck me was that he had not felt similarly shunned. Dustin Hoffman is not conventionally handsome. One might assume that at some point in his career he had felt a measure of solidarity with his female counterparts. Evidently not. Ambition and talent had made him a star, and the fact that he did not look like Rob Lowe had not been an issue.

When it comes to appearance, greater expectations are placed on women. Being the fairer sex can be a tough business. A homely woman works around herself, employs distracting behaviors. She can be a comedian or a wallflower; she can be endlessly accommodating or, like the woman mentioned above, defiantly triumphant. Whatever methods these women use, they must find a way to make peace with themselves. Some never do. Goaded by a culture that promotes beauty at all costs, they fall victim to disease or never-ending anxiety.

Good looks can befall any fool. Unlike genius, which can have far-reaching benefits to society, beauty is of value only to the bearer, for whom it serves as a passport. Deserving or not, those with pretty faces can sit at any table, can enter realms that others can only dream of.

If you possess an able mind and body, rejoice in your good fortune. And if in the bargain you were handed pleasing features, fall on your knees.

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Published by

Jean Ryan

Jean Ryan, a native Vermonter, lives in Napa, California. Her stories and essays have appeared in a variety of journals and anthologies. She has also published a novel, LOST SISTER. Her short story collections, SURVIVAL SKILLS and LOVERS AND LONERS, are available online. STRANGE COMPANY, a collection of short nature essays, is available in paperback as well as digital and audio editions.

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