A freedom worth fighting for – being yourself

Betsy PickleOpinion

Back in the early 1980s, I couldn’t stand the pop group Wham! featuring George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley. The songs oozed too much treacle for me, and I particularly disliked Michael’s hairsprayed-to-death bleached-blond coiffure and all those white teeth.

Fortunately, the duo did just fine without me buying their albums.

It wasn’t until the next decade came along and Michael released the music video for “Freedom! ’90” that I got over my bias against him. The song had depth – along with a good beat – but the video was what sold me. Michael (may he rest in peace) refused to appear in the clip because he was tired of seeing his face everywhere. (See, I wasn’t the only one.)

Instead, Michael called on five supermodels to appear in the video, along with a few less-famous male models. Future-superstar film director David Fincher had the models individually lip-synch the song.

The first model shown is Linda Evangelista. I’d never heard of her at the time and had no idea that she was regarded as one of the first “supermodels,” but she was mesmerizing in the clip. Although I didn’t pay attention to her subsequent career and her apparently deep influence on fashion, the fashion world, designers and photographers, I’ve never forgotten the video.

Catching up on some nonpolitical news for a change, I discovered that Evangelista is suing the company that owns the cosmetic procedure called CoolSculpting, which is supposed to reduce fat under the skin. She claims that the procedure backfired on her, disfigured her and destroyed her chances of employment. She has been living as a recluse for several years.

There were no photos with the coverage I perused, but I’ll take her word for it. She’s kind of an expert on beauty.

But aren’t we all? Isn’t beauty in the eye of the beholder? Yes, and no.

Look at any grocery-store checkout-line magazine, and the preponderance of the highlighted humanity is overflowing with glowing, youthful pulchritude. For all that our culture gives lip service to the idea that beauty comes in all shapes, sizes, skin tones and tattoo coverage, the one thing we can’t seem to get past is the chilling effect of age on a woman’s perceived beauty.

Evangelista is 56, which is hardly old among us plebes, but it’s considered geriatric among women who act and dinosaur-like for models. And even though her heyday was in the 1980s and 1990s, she apparently remained part of the scene up until about five years ago, when she started getting CoolSculpting treatments.

We look the way we do naturally thanks to genetics and our skincare routines (morning and night, folks, and don’t forget to moisturize and use SPF!). Makeup, diet and exercise can change certain things. Plastic surgery and other procedures can alter even more.

I’ve read that women try to look their best for the judgment of other women, but for the most part, men are still calling the shots in the entertainment industry. Men control the boardrooms, dominate the directors’ chairs and finance the films and television shows. We’re still playing by the rules of antiquated, male-driven ideals.

The world’s population will never agree on a universal standard of beauty, and there’s no reason to, even though I continue to be perplexed by Kardashian worship.

My perspective is that as long as people are healthy, happy and recognizable when they take their makeup off, they’re fine. They shouldn’t have to worry about laugh lines and love handles. They should embrace each year of life they’re given.

It’s tragic that someone like Linda Evangelista, for years considered by many the epitome of beauty, would feel the pressure to try to maintain an unrealistic standard that does a disservice to the legacy of her accomplishments. In very few instances have we seen something similar happen to a man (though Kenny Rogers comes to mind).

Andie MacDowell at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival

I hope Evangelista finds healing – mentally and physically – but I think I’d rather follow the example of Andie MacDowell, who at 63 has let her long, brunette curls display natural strands of gray.

MacDowell has shocked some with her choice – how dare she go gray? – but she’s comfortable with it, and she should be. She’s been quoted as saying her daughters say she looks “badass.” Which is kind of cool, when you think about it. I mean, men with gray hair usually are described as distinguished. I would much rather be in MacDowell’s category.

Betsy Pickle is a veteran reporter and editor who occasionally likes to share her opinions with KnoxTNToday readers.

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