Mixed messages

January 31, 1994|By Susan Ager

THE newspaper ad for Cosmopolitan magazine displays a nymph-like woman lying on the floor. Her sleeveless dress is four inches above her knee. Her left breast is half-bared.

She says: "I came back to the office after getting a beauty make-over and a coworker made a weird comment. She said trying to look good was antifeminist. Is there any reason a girl can't be smart, serious and wear eyeliner?"

What's wrong with this picture? What's wrong is that this woman calls herself a girl but looks like a babe -- or what we used to call a sexpot. She may be smart. She may be serious. But you wouldn't know it by looking at her. If she worked in a real live office, she wouldn't be recognized for her brains.

She's sending mixed messages -- "Respect me" and "Ain't I hot?" and while most feminists have no problem with a little eyeliner, they know mixed messages are big trouble, especially when we're trying to hang onto whatever respect we've earned.

Most people want more than respect, though. Face it, they want lust. They want others to think they're attractive.

Does anyone lust for Janet Reno? Would Vogue dare ask her to pose? Would she ever say yes? Hillary Rodham Clinton did -- and women are in some muddle about what that means.

That such a woman would pose for the nation's premier glamour magazine, in passive, look-at-me-because-I'm-beautiful shots, makes some of us dizzy.

Uh-oh. Is this envy? Don't we wish we had her beauty and, better, her self-confidence? We wonder whether a make-up artist, a hairstylist and a genius photographer might not make us look sexy, too.

Meanwhile, another voice in us interrupts: "Why bother? Why submit to a beauty industry profiting from women's insecurity?" We're annoyed that Hillary submitted.

But eyeliner and envy and personal ethics aside, Hillary Rodham Clinton is the best role model for women ever to occupy the White House. That we're debating these photos shows how far we've all come. To hold her self-assurance against her would surely be antifeminist.

Susan Ager is a lifestyle columnist for the Detroit Free Press.

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