The Importance of Being #beautiful

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Dove recently launched another of their ‘every women’ campaigns with #choosebeauty. Their campaigns successfully work on the self-deprecating, self-hating woman, you know, the one that doesn’t know they’re beautiful, like really beautiful inside and out until a major advertising initiative tells them so, all set to muted tones of blue, cream and other unobtainable minimalistic basic design shit.

It’s important being beautiful isn’t it? Like really, really important. Forget health, forget love, forget kindness, it’s all about beauty and if you’re not conventionally beautiful that ok because we’ve got you covered – unconventionally beautiful? Or maybe you’re big and beautiful or better yet-  beautiful on the inside? Oh man, we’ve got a slogan, meme, affirmation or cute instagram pic telling us to be ‘our own kind of beautiful’ for that – we’ll even put it on a mug, frame, canvas painting for you and that’s because it’s important that you’re beautiful because as long as you are beautiful you’ve got value, purpose, you’re ok to be here.

But what if you’re not beautiful? If it’s not of interest to you, or important.

Is it ok to not be beautiful?

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I asked my fiancé this question a few weeks ago and his response was expected, the norm ‘but you are beautiful’. Ah, even in the eye of the beholder it is important. I wasn’t fishing for reassurance and I’m not doing that now, writing this, either.  I was asking him in the wake of all these #beauty campaigns  if were we missing the point. Sure it’s nice to be the most viewed painting in a gallery, but it doesn’t necessarily make you the most valuable piece of art in the exhibition. It all seemed a bit desperate I told him, like it was important everyone was beautiful, more important than say making sure everyone had clean drinking water or education.

I understand the need for self-acceptance. That is important. Being able to say ‘I’m great how I am’ is something we should all strive towards (at 35 I’ve only just started on this little journey) but why is it never ‘I’m great how I am because I speak four languages, love walks with my dog and I pay my library fines on time, every time.’  Why does it always need to be ‘I’m great because I’ve finally come to terms with my ankles’  – surely we’ve got more to offer then that. Can our lives have value without this constant pursuit whether it be from external or internal forces to be seen as beautiful no matter by what the prism we’re seeing it?

I’m asking a lot of questions aren’t I? I guess I’m thinking out loud a lot about this. I tried an experiment the other day. In a group of people I said ‘I’m not beautiful’ – as expected, because it’s expected everyone jumped in with ‘no, are you kidding! My mother thinks you’re very striking! You know you’re gorgeous right?!’ – now I’m not admonishing my friends, that’s their jobs as friends,  fuck as humans on this earth to tell me I’m beautiful but why are we so reluctant to reply with ‘ok, so you’re not beautiful, but you’re a fucking dynamite in the sack and your socially aware design work is going to change the world.’ I’m just saying there’s a lot more to people at the end of the day but if we don’t see them as beautiful do they really exist?

Now I’m not saying if you’re not beautiful or don’t want to be seen as beautiful that you’re ugly. Embracing the ugly is just as problematic, because it’s just validation of the physical as is beauty and anyway isn’t one persons ugly another persons Jimmy Smits?

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We’re all to blame for this. Even I watch those Dove campaigns and get all ‘oh but she’s so beautiful in her muted toned cardigan…how does she not know she’s a supermodel? …how does she get up the morning if she doesn’t have beauty?’

I’m still not sure where I’m going with this, I wanted to start a conversation and now I’m interested to see where it goes.

Beauty is all around us, it comes for the most part from what we as humans, beautiful and not beautiful, create – painting, music, sculpture, perfume, books, poems, film, dance, irrigation, architecture, engineering, science. I’m just wondering if it wasn’t so important that we be beautiful, I mean if we didn’t spend so much time and money making sure we’re all beautiful, that wbeauty-is-not-about-mere-appearances-beauty-quotee might bring so much more achievable beauty into this world. A rambling thought I know, but a beautiful thought nonetheless.

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My mother kept her maiden name and I didn’t lose my sense of identity

 

 

I’ll admit, I have a complicated name. I’m one of those people with two official sets of ID but that’s not the worst of it – my mother you see, kept her maiden name and so I also have a double barrelled surname, but not a hyphenated surname, because my mother argued, even back in the 70’s, that her and my father were two separate people, with two separate names. The government however did not agree, and made my mother make her maiden name one of my middle names.

So for the first few years of my life I was Louise Marguerite Woodruff Sanz. My mother however stood by her maiden name, never becoming a Mrs Sanz and sure as hell never answering it to it. In primary school I remember her refusing to answer my friends when they would refer  to her as Mrs Sanz. As far as she was concerned it wasn’t her name. She preferred everyone to call her by her first name, which believe it or not, even my teachers preferred than having to address her as Ms Woodruff  – her actual legal name. It was that look of discomfort I recall the most. That educated, regular people would prefer to call my mother Mrs Potato than by her maiden name. It was the sort of thing 1970s German dissidents did, not middle class mothers from Brighton.

Contrary to the popular rhetoric I even hear bandied around today, I didn’t grow up as a rudderless child, without a sense of place or identity because my mother didn’t share the same name as my father, I actually did ok, more than ok really. To be honest  I was more affected by the knowledge that when my father immigrated to Australia, he was made to change his name from Miguel to Michael, because Australian’s couldn’t pronounce Miguel. My father was forced to change his name because apparently the Australian tongue struggles with the letter ‘G’. Tell that to all the Gerry’s, Gerald’s and Greg’s you know.

I was always insanely proud that mother had her own name (she was also a vegetarian – I didn’t know Mexican food came with meat options until an ill-fated trip to a Taco Bill in the late 90s). She explained her choice to keep her maiden name as ‘easier’. It was on her driver’s license, all her legal documents, to change it would be too much of a hassle. And then what if my father and her got divorced, more paperwork, but most importantly, it was her name. She’d had it for 25 years when she met my dad and it wasn’t something she was willing to part with it.

As I got older, I got more emboldened to move my mother’s name out of the ‘middle name’ abyss it had been relegated to and put it into everyday life. At 12 I was signing my homework off as Louise Marguerite Dymphna Woodruff Sanz, much to the horror of my teachers, who constantly felt the need to raise this in every parent teacher meeting – again more concerned by the incorporation of my mother’s maiden name, than the latest addition – my Confirmation name – Dymphna, Patron Saint of Incest Victims and the Mentally Ill.

By the time I was a teenager and had started writing soppy teen memoirs for other teenagers to act out on stage, my mothers name was now part of my surname, even though, legally it was still my middle name, that is until the law changed and no longer did it need to be hyphenated.It was free. I was free. My brother and sister never really seemed fussed, they liked being Sanz’s. It didn’t bother them, which only made it cooler, cause it now meant in my family I was the only Woodruff Sanz, that, along with my teen moustache set me apart from everyone else in the world.

Things however got complicated when I was granted a Spanish Passport. My name was changed to Luisa Margarita Sanz Woodruff. You see in Spain, the mother’s maiden name comes after the ‘family’ name. Given I had a Spanish Passport before an Australian one, it was now my only official form of ID, aside from Double Dare Champion Card from 1993 and so when I got my driver’s license I went in with my spanish passport and to this day, 16 years later, that is still the name on my driver’s license.

As I writer nothing gave me a stronger sense of satisfaction than to play with all my names as I signed off a ‘Written by’ credit. There was L W Sanz, L Woodruff Sanz, Louise Brandis, Mrs Jonathan Brandis, Louise W Sanz, LMW Sanz, Louise M Woodruff Sanz, LMD Woodruff Sanz. The possibilities were endless but then I started doing stand-up and introducing Louise Woodruff Sanz proved troublesome.

If I’d thought the pronunciation of ‘G’ was hard for people try W’s and S’s and Z’s. After a while, to make things ‘easier’ I shortened it to Lou Woodruff Sanz. It was still too hard for MC’s who were often distracted by mic stands, warm beer and the glamour of stage life. So I went with Louise Sanz. Nup, still too complicated. And so it was with heavy heart it went to Lou Sanz. Like a vegas headliner and just ambiguous enough so as not to reveal my gender before coming out on stage. It was inevitable then that confusion began. People were now getting frustrated, concerned even betrayed. Was the writer Louise Woodruff Sanz the same as emerging comedian Lou Sanz? Was this a Jeckyll and Hyde kind of thing? Was she transitioning? What the fuck was going on!? Who did she think she was!? And even though I was following a long line of people with stage names, mine was not because I didn’t like my name, it was because I wanted to make things easier on everyone else. After all that struggling I went back to Sanz because it made things ‘easy.’

But of course legally, I’m a Woodruff Sanz, so now I have alias’s. I have files that say ‘Lou Sanz, legally known as Louise Woodruff Sanz, also known as Luisa Sanz Woodruff.’ It can sometimes make getting things like credit a little complicated as nothing sounds dodgier than listing all the names your account could be under. Everyone just wants me to make it easier on them, change my name so that don’t have to press the space-bar more than they’d like .

A friend of mine though pointed out that when I get married, things will get easier, because well, you know, if you decide to have kids it’s important they know what family they belong to. That we all share the same name, so it’s only natural that if I chose to have kids with my partner we’ll have to have the same name.

‘You’re right’ I said, ‘but I worry about all the paperwork my husband will have to go through. He’d be better off keeping his own name. It’s easier.’

‘You’d make him change his name?’ she asked, not amused by my killer come back.

‘If your main concern is my hypothetical families unity and sense of identity, then it shouldn’t matter whose name we use.’

She was stumped…I knew why, when there are articles on the internet titled ‘How to let people know you’re keeping your maiden name’, I often forget how very far we’ve actually come since the days my mother decided to go against convention.

I was making things awkward…and I’m probably always going to. It’s ‘easier’ for me.

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Australia, the land where wog brown isn’t real brown.

 

I read an article in The Age recently, because yes, the newsagency had sold out of Grazia – BAM! No, I was really reading The Age and no it wasn’t something I’d already read a week earlier on the Guardian Newspaper website and then was re-reading syndicated as ‘our’ news in ‘our’ newspaper, no this was proper Australian news, an entire article devoted to the ‘perish the thought’ idea that Australian women are more likely to list their ‘absolutely cannot live without beauty treatment’ as spray tanning over leg waxing, like I said my brain is actually perishing at the thought. I mean imagine the site of it, furry tangerine coloured women wondering around, freely and clearly without a thought for prioritisation. Personally, as a person of ethnic extraction I celebrate this coming together of colour and leg hair. Viva la revolution!

Earlier this year I was asked by UN Women (calm down, the Melbourne branch) to go into high schools and talk to you young women  and inspire them, well I was there to talk at them, a presenter from Getaway was there to inspire them. At the end of the session a young Greek girl raised her hand to ask a question and when it became clear this wasn’t a question about Getaway it was directed at me. It was a question asking why girls like myself weren’t ever seen on Australian TV, well not in things that weren’t Fat Pizza, well look not on any other channel other than SBS and to be fair, SBS 2. I jokingly remarked that years ago when I was first starting out in television in Australia an exec at one of our ‘ethnic orientated television stations’ actually told me I wasn’t ethnic enough for them, a sentiment re-iterated to me again earlier this year by the same station. I hadn’t conceded defeat though I told the young girl, cause well given my tanned olive skin I was hoping to score an audition for Home & Away. As the polite laughter died down another girl raised her hand ‘but wog olive skin isn’t the same as real olive skin is it?’  And then she motioned to the spray tanned glossed veneer of the presenter from Getaway ‘I mean that’s real olive skin nowadays isn’t it?’ And before I could object every girl in the room nodded in agreement.

It’s not the first time I’d been told the colour of my skin wasn’t what people considered ‘real olive’ nowadays. When I was in my 20’s I moved to the UK where lovers of the fake tan, muffin tops and chubby Page 4 blonde lived in harmony together. Given I didn’t have a muffin top or a desire to get my ‘knockers’ out for a lads mag I thought I was safe from this orange goo seeping into my life, but my Gordie housemates had something else in mind. Every Saturday morning after a night on ‘the pull’ my housemates would waft into the kitchen smelling of skin varnish and draped in sarongs to stave off streaking. A bottle of turps was always kept within grabbing distance in case of any furniture smudging. For the most part they left me alone, after all I didn’t even dye my hair, some people were such as myself were clearly beyond help, well that was until one day when I was ambushed while watching a re-run of Big Brother Up Late, my only witness Russel Brand talking to me from the TV as my arms were held down and  I was slathered in fake-tan because and I quote ‘we just really wanted to see if it would work on your skin’.

Of course amongst all those that don’t think my skin can actually be called olive and tanned these days because it doesn’t come with instructions to prevent streaking there are some purists like Tom, a guy I’d worked with at a music festival a couple of years back. We ran into each other again at a friend’s BBQ in the chilly winter Melbourne months when he saddled up next me and asked if I’d like a sip of his white wine and yes it was a euphemism. When I told him I was allergic to semen the conversation moved on…

‘You should keep that tan Lou, it suits you, how’d you get it?’ He hovered close enough so that I knew his body was covered in a combination of Lynx and skin.

‘It’s natural, I have olive skin.’ I replied navigating the hummus that only seemed attainable if my hand were to brush his against his person. I decided against using any dip with my bread.

‘You know Lou I’ve never touched olive skin before.’

The air vomited around us both…

‘It’s the same as any other skin.’

‘I doubt it Lou, here touch mine.’

He held out his arm…

‘Or if you’d prefer’ he began to mime unzipping his trousers as I turned away and silently began to cry – I really wanted that hummus, this bread was nothing without it.

‘Can I touch your skin?’ he asked.

‘No.’

‘If I bought you a drink maybe you’d let me touch it then?’

‘ Can we please stop talking about touching skin?’ I watched as the last of the hummus was devoured by someone who didn’t have to push past Tom’s penis to get it.

‘You’re a feisty girl aren’t you Lou…I like feisty girls, feisty Spanish girls, maybe you and I can get together one night and make paella together.’

‘I’d prefer it if you just fucked off.’ To be honest he was bearing the brunt of my frustration over my lack of hummus.

‘Ok Lou, no need to be a cunt about it. It’s all good. Anyway, if I’m honest I prefer dark skinned blonde girls; at least they care enough to pay for their tan.’

A few weeks after that encounter I was on a tram when a young woman approached me interested in where I went to get my skin done. I didn’t bother even explaining it was my natural tan, all I said was ‘make sure you ask your spray tanner for the colour that existed before orange became the new olive.’

THE END.

 

 

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The Reader: Your Literary Career: Choose Your Own Adventure by Lou Sanz

 

Ok, so someone once told you that you bear a striking resemblance to Harper Lee and you thought yes, yes I do, and so of course the only logical thing would be to become a writer. And so that’s what you’ve decided to do. Great. Welcome. Pull up a chair. Can I get you a drink? No? Of course, me too, I never drink before midday either. Now before we go any further I’m going to get you to grab a pen, because to be a real writer you’re going to need a few things: latent carrier syphilis, a cravat and a Twitter starter account for writers (follow Stephen Fry, Benjamin Law, Marieke Hardy and current left-wing political poster boy – insert applicable name here). It would also do you good to develop an irreverence to Augustus Burroughs (e.g. he’s just like me, but I’m not gay, he’s the symbolic cock in the arse of my life), an apathetic and uneducated understanding of Cloudstreet (e.g. everyone knows it’s New Zealand’s answer to Angela’s Ashes) and an almost anecdotal dedication to Margaret Atwood (try you need a certain amount of nerve to be a writer at your next Camus cheese-and wine appreciation night). Done? Great. Now you’re a writer! Might I be so bold as to say the hard work is over? So what next? Should you start a blog? Sure, why not?….

So you’ve decided to toss acid in the face of the teen queen we like to call conventional publishing and start a blog. You call it Thinking of You, the story of a young boy spurned by his father’s love exploring his relationship with his now deceased mother, set in a seaside town. It’s a really good blog, too, so much so that after encouragement you decide to upgrade it and expand your readership. An ex of yours, who to this day believes it wasn’t cheating as long as you didn’t know about it, offers you some career advice, the only thing they’ve ever been good at getting up. They suggest funding, but what path to take? You could apply to the Australia Council which is, after all, about the promotion of new vibrant and diverse talent, which you have in spades, if you do say so yourself or you could register for Google Ads?

You decide to apply for an Australia Council Grant….

It was five months ago but you did it: you applied for an arts grant. Unfortunately, blogging isn’t recognised as a legitimate artform and your submission is denied. But hey, we encourage you to apply again in the future and might we suggest you try your hand at short stories. You can pick your sorry self up from the pub floor and apply for another grant for something else in four months?  or – fuck it – just throw in the towel here. Your choice.

You apply for an arts grant, again, and you are denied, again. But hey, they encourage you to apply again and encourage you to keep writing and thus the dance begins again (if you want to apply for Google Ads go for it.) But congratulations my friend, that empty or almost chronic feeling of failure accompanied by a burning desire to keep on trucking, well, that’s the feeling of being a writer, a real writer, so don’t despair, you’re a real writer now. Go buy yourself a t-shirt! Your career begins and ends right here.

You decide to apply for Google Ads….

After carefully accessing your blog traffic with Google Ads, you finally start to see some revenue from your writing. You celebrate by buying a stamp to put on the envelope that holds the letter to your Year 10 English teacher – a rampant alcoholic and failed writer who once had an open letter published in The Sun (yes, before it amalgamated) – telling them you’ve made it, you’ve finally made it. You celebrate by writing your own open letter to the Green Guide about a recent episode of Two and a Half Men asking why a wifebeater is allowed on prime-time TV. A Herald Sun writer hits upon this small but poignant letter and they demand your resignation from The Australian, which is fine given you don’t write for The Australian, but as the writer from the Herald Sun doesn’t actually read, they weren’t to know. Bless ’em. As a result you are commissioned to write for online publication The Drum. With your Twitter followers now around the hundreds, the possibilities open up before you. You could submit an article to some indie fashion / badgesavvy culture mag – let’s just call it Spankie ? –Sign up for a radio course at some public / volunteer-funded station?  or record a spoken word single of Mandy Moore’s ‘Crush’ on rhythm guitar and enter it in triple j’s Unearthed contest ?

You submit an article to Spankie, then wait for a reply. You can hear crickets in the background. You bide your time by subscribing to it, maybe they’ll notice? Nice try. Should you do the radio course while you wait? If not, your career ends here.

You decide to do a radio course at a hip volunteer station ’cause after all you have heaps of cool ideas… wait… there’s a really long waiting list. To bide your time you subscribe, maybe they’ll notice? Don’t worry, someone will die soon enough.Should you enter Triple J’s Unearthed?

Otherwise, your career ends here.

You decide to record a spoken word cover version of Mandy Moore’s underrated hit ‘Crush’ – and it’s cool now ’cause she’s married to Ryan Adams – and enter it in triple j’s Unearthed. It does so well it pretty much kicks the latest indie comedian’s single in the dick, and not only does it win but it goes on to become the number one most requested video – a homage to Kate Bush’s ‘Running Up That Hill’ directed by some guy who used to play the drums in Powderfinger on Rage. Invited to headline at Splendour in the Grass and various other summer festivals, you finally find the time to draft that short story you’ve been meaning to write, and then when you’ve finished writing it you decide to have a crack at a book? Wait, no, fuck that, you apply for an arts grant to write that book, like any clever sod would?

You decide to write a novel aimed at a local indie press entitled I Forgive You, the story of a young boy spurned by his mother’s love, exploring his relationship with his now deceased father and the brother he never knew he had, set to the backdrop of a once prosperous mining town. But before you do that you’ve got to complete a double shift at a Portuguese chicken family restaurant and then go to rehearsal because the band you manage is playing a venue where the boys ride fixies and the girls work in PR, and the gig is tonight and you promised them you’d be there, and then you’ve got your writers’ group like the next day and you haven’t done anything for it yet and it’s your turn to read and that girl’s going to be there, the one that’s really into Janette Winterson and Sarah Waterson, and sure she’s got a girlfriend but that’s nothing: the well-placed whisper of a Hunter S Thompson quote will wet the legs of any writer girl. Look, you’re just too busy right now living life to write about life and win the Vogel and anyway, MasterChef is about to start, so it really isn’t a good time.

Your career ends here.

Your Literary Career: Choose Your Own Adventure was published in The Reader November 2010

http://www.emergingwritersfestival.org.au/reader/

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