I’m a creative, experienced, multi-purpose artist
who can take projects start to finish in a variety of styles.
Good designs sell – mine sell out!

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Friday, November 18, 2011

"Vanity"

Growing up as a lonely wolf child in the woods, I didn’t develop the usual self-awareness of my appearance. It didn’t help that I went from a beautiful child to something, em, not cute. Adults made loud statements over my head. “What happened?!” “She used to be so pretty!” Nobody bothered to point out when my gawky parts started to actually work together in a more acceptable way. If a guy gave me a compliment when I got older, I dismissed his comments as an obvious attempt to get me into bed, with the understanding that guys will do anybody if given the chance. Compliments didn’t put a dent in my inner laments about my unfortunate looks.

Even so, sometimes I got dressed up and people responded well enough to me. I figured it had something to do with being pleasant and/or interesting. Since I knew what it felt like to be dismissed or insulted for my looks, I wanted people to value my insides because looks might be taken away in a car crash, or will definitely be taken away with age.

When I was 29, I put on a black velvet dress. It was long-sleeved, off the shoulder, and tea length. I wore pretty high-heeled shoes despite the fact that my date wasn’t much taller than me when we were barefoot. I painted my lips very red, and caked on black eye liner. Ta da! My date looked at me with disapproval. He had shown up in khakis and a sweater for our double date to the theater. Since he had grown up in NYC, he thought he was more sophisticated than us rubes in Cleveland, and said I was overdressed. I didn’t care. I felt like wearing black velvet and I did. I felt like Madame X in John Singer Sargent’s famous portrait.

During intermission, I raced to the restrooms before the doddering old ladies could get there and reapplied my red, red lipstick. I descended the sweeping stairs of the Palace Theater, and paused on the steps with my hand resting gently on the balustrade. I was completely unselfaware at that moment. I was just searching the crowd for my date and friends, but I noticed a lot of men looking at me. I was confused. Toilet paper on shoe? Dress tucked into pantyhose? I looked for some sort of confirmation in the wall of upturned faces and noticed a local newswoman staring up at me with absolute hatred. Her face was pitted in a way I’d never noticed on tv, and hatred made her ugly. Why did she hate me? I continued to scan the crowd, found my date, and watched the men’s faces turn towards my date with some disbelief. Ha! So much for his khakis and sweater and disapproval!

He dropped me off after the theater, but didn’t come in. My brother was living with me at the time and joked that something was wrong when I couldn’t “get lucky looking like that!” There was a mirror over the mantle, and I examined myself in it. I had an absolute consciousness that I was peaking at that very instant. It was never going to get better than this, and I’d probably never wear velvet again. Everyone should know what it feels like to be the belle of the ball, at least once. At the same time, I also felt some loss. I hadn’t understood that I looked pretty good up till that point, and now it was going to all go downhill.

Having just lived through another birthday, with the usual inventory of my wrinkles and other signs of inevitable decline, I’ve had to face my vanity. I’m not 29 anymore, but I’m not 80 yet either, and I have at least one very excellent memory. That memory keeps me a little warmer inside when I walk past a mirror and notice that I haven’t combed my hair today and my sweatshirt has a new smear of paint on the front. Internally, I’m still the wolf child.

For the record, I also have some artistic vanity, and don’t like posting my art with one of the masters, especially when I whipped this little painting out this afternoon and Sargent spent considerably more time on his masterpiece.

“How can anybody learn anything from an artwork when the piece of art only reflects the vanity of the artist and not reality?” ~ Lou Reed

30 comments:

  1. Wait a minute ... you're from Cleveland?! I spent my first 27 years there. Great painting, by the way!

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  2. Wonderful expression in your painting! The explosion of red behind her, her outstretched hands, and that foot extending forward show so much exuberance and joy. Beautiful!

    And whoa, that's some theatre! Khakis and a sweater is too underdressed for that! I'm glad you stuck to your velvet. I certainly hope you took a photo!

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  3. Small world Lanny! I'll admit my date probably wasn't the only one in khakis and a sweater, but most people still dress up for the theater around here, Bella. No photos, except in my mind :) Thanks for the comments and thanks for the follow Jess!!!

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  4. Lovely painting and post. John Singer Sargent is one of my favorite artists!

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  5. I think you should wear that to the grocery store!

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  6. I can just see you standing there, dressed in velvet and completely unaware of how beautiful you looked. Your date was wrong. Love the post Linda and the illustration.

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  7. I have a strong desire to wear that dress to the grocery store now, but I've got to admit that it would take quite a miracle to get into it again :) Sargent is one of my favorites too. I love the way he composed the people in his paintings and the way he blocked out colors in such a striking way. Thanks for the comments!

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  8. Really lovely and honest story, although a bit sad to think you believe that 29 was your peak, even if you just mean purely in "looks". I understand what you are saying, but what one loses perhaps in perfect, youthful skin, one gains (one hopes!) a wisdom that adds a different kind of beauty. Ok, end of my $.02. :)

    It's a really neat painting. For some reason my favorite part is those stocking-ed feet posed just so. Very nice!

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  9. I love the image! This post brought back a lot of memories for me...there are often days, I'd love to go back to a previous time and tell myself, "You are so amazing, don't let anyone tell you different!" Thanks for sharing something that I think many women can relate to. You're stunning, so I can't imagine you anything less than that as a child and young woman! :)

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  10. Great painting - with the inner beauty shown eminating! And very insightful commentation as always. Yes, we all have our vanities - and our vulnerabilities. I know that I for one like to just blend in when in a crowd, but your "belle of the ball" memory is intriguing!

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  11. Gosh, Linda, I think you are wrong. You look nice, delicate and smart. Okay, you might be right about not being 29 any more, but why would we judge beauty a youthful way exclusively?
    Paula (certainly 29+)

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  12. Beauty is in the eye of the be"howl"der. Hee hee! :o)

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  13. Heisann Linda!

    Once again you have posted a wonderful story accompanied by a skilfully done watercolor.
    Thank you!
    I miss mental energy for the moment ... hoped to draw and post a work for the topic vanity, but I'm not sure if I manage!
    I regret that we (my sister and I) have the childhood home up for sale. So far we have not received any bids, so still I have a chance to keep the house!I have offered her the value of the rate in money, but she hesitates...
    Time will show the ending of my childhood's home next chapter.
    Have a nice week, glad you're her ;:OD)
    See you at http://ordetermitt.blogspot.com/ for some weeks.

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  14. PS Glad you're here - I meant to wright! DS

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  15. I think a lot of us girls can relate to that story, and I think there's nothing wrong with being a wolf child; if anything, a wolf child knows a lot more about humanity than the perfect Barbie doll.

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  16. <-- Not Barbie :) Great comments. Thanks! Though I've got to be honest and say there was a terribly unattractive period in my life. I just wish someone told me when it ended. I share Indigene's desire to tell my younger self positive things, but Cindy and Paula are right in saying that our beauty is far more than what we look like. Hoowwwwwllll!!!! (Calling my pack of beautiful wolf girls...)

    Odd to say, but let's all hope Vilt og Vakkert's (Wild and Beautiful) house doesn't sell!

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  17. I love how your blogs are so poignant and laced with humor and sarcasm. Great post. I felt like I was there and you did look stunning! But you’re not getting older Linda... you’re getting gooder! Love the illustration! (Visual and literary)

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  18. A lovely story again, Linda! I love the introspection you weave into the theme each week. And, of course, the always amazing art that goes along with it.

    I can relate to the getting-older-but-not-old-yet! And the vanity creeps in. However, I'm kind of liking the silver strands and I don't fret TOO much over the wrinkles-- it's the acne I can't stand. That's just WRONG.

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  19. Is it wrong for me to laugh about acne? Thanks for the comments, and an FYI, Jack's wife is going to have surgery soon, so send out good thoughts and prayers!

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  20. I passed a milestone this year and I'm 20 only in my head. But all things considered, I think I look better now than I ever did the self-conscience and timid child I was in my 20s. Beauty truly comes from within. I'd wear velvet again if I were you.

    Thanks for the comment and visiting my blog.

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  21. Lovely story! Made me think about peaking... As an eternal optimist I tend to think it is waiting for me in future but...

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  22. Sometimes I think I'll be a very cool 80, but I can still miss having a good waistline :) Thanks for the comments!

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  23. What a great story! Have you read Strapless: Madame X and the Scandal That Shocked Bell Epoque Paris by Deborah Davis? She definitely knew what it was like to be way more than the belle of the ball!

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  24. I'm late here this week Linda, no excuse, I have not been to the ball! I loved that story, it was told so vividly, I can really see you there on the stairs dressed in black velvet. I am glad you have sailed past your watershed birthday with the humour you always show. Hope it was great.You are certainly still the Belle of the Ball in my eyes ;0)
    Jane x

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  25. Lovely illustration and another great story.

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  26. Thanks for the reading suggestion. Girl with a Pearl Earring is a good read too, which is about Vermeer. Thanks everybody!

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  27. Heya Linda, it's me, late Finnie :) So you just whipped that up? Amazing, amazing your talent. She is shining that girl, she has that glow, the self confidence, but we feel the way she has suddenly realised that she is alive.

    I think you have caught the moment, that moment of elation so well.

    So men will do anything to get a woman into bed aye? Can't trust them, I always say to people, even when they don't ask my advice (which is always)

    It's funny how we go through stages in our lives, isn't it. For me I got sick of strange women leaving notes on my car (eg Park so close to my driveway again and I will smash your windscreen, buttface!)

    I once had a beautiful Tahitian woman shake her breasts at me and yahoo me - and I did the usual thing and looked behind me to see who the real object of her attention was - it wasn't until later on that night that I discovered the reason she had big hands.....

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  28. You're hysterical Andrew! Can't trust men, and can't trust women with big hands either. LOL

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  29. how true... :)

    actually the story is true (apart from the hands), but she was a real woman - but luckily my wife was there to save me :)

    I hadn't realised breast shaking was a mating behaviour till then.


    In Tahiti they have mahus, men who are bought up as women in households that only have boys.... they are not exactly beautiful (imho) whereas the real women are quiet beautiful (also in my humble opinion)

    no one stares at the mahu - as it is well accepted (no one stared except me that is :) )

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  30. I can only wonder what the mahus think about all this? Do they get married, or are they gay? Learning new things every day!

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