I recently was invited to help a friend who was to be featured on a television program that would be reaching millions of people. It was to be an unusual interview in that what she was being asked to share was her deeply personal experience on a very important topic. We sat together for several hours on the days leading up to the event as she developed and shaped the ideas, concepts and message that she wanted to share during the interview.
She asked if I would be willing to join her on the day of the actual interview and I said yes. That morning found me sitting with her, her make-up artist, and her hair stylist while she and I tweaked her message, putting the final touches on what she was to share.
Fair warning. One of the things that I never quite understood is the whole “make-up and hair styling” thing. I had always copped an all too common masculine. chauvinistic, dismissive, judgmental, somewhat ridiculing, belittling, mocking, negative attitude about the whole getting “made-up” thing. Why would anyone spend hours washing their face and combing their hair? How ridiculous! “Just be yourself, if others don’t like it, tough”. Ahhh, male ignorance (at least mine) - it never ceases to amaze and often embarrass me. I have no doubt that such an attitude hurts others too, especially women.
Now, I still am in possession of a “social” filter that has taught me to not say things like this out loud, but I feel the thoughts. I have always felt them. At the same time, I’m not particularly proud of carrying such negative judgmental energy.
So, I found myself sitting and working with her as her make-up artist and hair stylist were doing their thing. Over the course of the next three hours, in spite of myself, I watched something totally extraordinary happen. I became transfixed by the process of witnessing what I now understand is their art. I mean, they are true artists. Their canvas was her.
Step by step, little by little, I watched an even more incredibly beautiful person emerge. I was reminded of what Michelangelo was reported to have said when someone asked him how he could create such stunning beauty from his carvings of blocks of marble such as his statue of David represented. He said something to the effect that David was in there waiting to come out, all he, Michelangelo, had to do was to take away the parts of the stone that didn’t belong. That’s what I saw happening before my very eyes. They took away the parts that weren’t her, and left a perfect work of art.
The result was that the outside of my friend perfectly and impeccably matched the incredibly deep, touching, beautiful, moving and, quite frankly sacred message my friend was able to communicate during this interview. At that moment in time, her outside matched her insides perfectly. Total congruence.
So, once again, I walked away from another experience, humbled by my ignorance and judgmental self. Reminded of just how much I don’t know and how distorted what I think I do know may be. I was reminded of how my opinions often make reality smaller than it is. How opinions like this (and who knows how many others I unquestionably unconsciously carry) can be hurtful and damaging to others and myself.
I was reminded that my opinions about women and their make-up and hair styling “thing” was one of the ways that I oppress them. I was reminded that put-downs, mocking and making fun of this and other ways that I characterize women (or any other group) and their behaviors are part of a much bigger and darker problem. Sexism, racism, ageism, ……… ism……. Such attitudes are effectively violent.
I’ve been searching for ways to “help” those populations most targeted by the social and political forces of these times. I am always grateful for the opportunities to be reminded that I am either a part of the problem, in this case the institutional oppression of women, or a part of the solution. In this case both.
I was humbly reminded by this experience that I might best “help” by examining my own thoughts and behaviors that represent the problem.