Tag Archives: glamour

The Performance of Beauty

Last year at Stroud Theatre Festival I saw a woman perform beauty. It was in the context of a one woman play in which that one woman was playing many different roles. The character she started out with was quite dowdy. I watched her create an impression of beauty and glamour with just a few minor costume tweaks. The rest was all body language and attitude. Part of me remains convinced that it was also witchcraft.

That a person could be captivating, charming and irresistible because they have chosen to present themselves that way, is a thought I have wrangled with rather a lot. Having seen the contrast between the dowdy character and the glamorous one, I have to concede that appearance might be a very small part of what we register as beauty. It also suggests that beauty is not an inherent quality some people have. It’s not something you have to starve yourself for, or buy expensive clothes for. It’s a way of being in the world.

Advertisers invest a lot of time and money in persuading us that we aren’t beautiful unless we have their products. Most of us never get to feel good enough as we are. We don’t imagine that a presentation shift – even If aided by a few modest props – could be the key. I’ve seen it done.

To perform beauty is to deliberately draw attention to yourself, to your body, your face, your presence as a sexual entity, the possibilities of you. We can be persuaded to admire the people who present themselves as worthy of admiration – I’ve seen it done on a few occasions by people who were, to my eye at least, not especially beautiful. But then, what I find beautiful in a person has everything to do with kindness, soulfulness, and the bodily quality I most reliably find beauty in, is the voice.

I’ve never set out to do beauty as a performance. I can’t really imagine doing it. Where I’ve seen people doing it effectively, I’ve often felt uncomfortable with it. I acknowledge that envy is part of that, but I also have a deep unease about using that kind of glamour to entrance people. I’m not at all sure I like how that works or where it goes. I’d like to think that if I believed I could perform beauty in that way, I wouldn’t do it. Mostly it seems to be about getting attention, and I’d rather get attention for making something beautiful – be that my clothing, or my song, my stories or my dance.

I’m increasingly persuaded that beauty is created by what we do and has precious little to do with appearance. Sometimes it means performing in-line with other people’s expectations about beauty, and that tends to be the territory that makes me most uneasy, because currently the performance of beauty is so often about women performing for the male gaze, which is narrow, and restrictive.


Glamour

In fairy folklore, glamour is the magic fairies have that make them seem beautiful and alluring. Glamour hides the dirt and squalor, the mean faces, the bones… it struck me that this kind of magic is something some humans also seek.

I’m pro beauty. I think making and seeking beauty is a good use of energy – especially when there are more diverse possibilities around beauty. I like the beauty of twisted trees and older, more lived in human faces. I like the beauty that a warm heart gives a person. I like creative beauty made from innovation and joy in how we present ourselves. I don’t like glamour.

Beauty is always intended to be real. Glamour is intended to persuade. It’s the harnessing of sexual attractiveness to try and hold power over others. It’s a contrivance to sell product – and often in our visual media, it’s been processed beyond anything the human body can achieve. The glamour of glamorous fashion magazines is often about as real and healthy as the fairy glamour of folklore.

In Paganism, it’s the person who is busy selling you their face, and their look rather than their ideas. This of course draws on the norms of mainstream advertising, but it isn’t very ethical. The book and the workshop won’t make you glamorous, but by associating glamour with product you may be tempted to reach after what you can’t have – and here we are back at the goblin market, eyeing up the forbidden fruit.

We’re easily moved by human beauty. We want it, and we want to be it. The less glamorous you feel yourself to be the more vulnerable you may be to the glamour of others. Gods know, I’ve been there. The less experienced you are in your path and craft, the more the persuasive are the people who glamorously look the part. I’ve been there too, hankering after surfaces because I was twenty-something and inexperienced and the glamorous stuff is eyecatching. But like fairy fruit, it won’t nourish you. The glamour you crave remains out of reach, but you keep paying for it, running round after it and feeling inadequate in the face of it… after a while you can tell it was glamour all along because it leaves you threadbare and unhappy, but by then the damage is done.

There is a beauty that comes to people who do the work. I see it in Jane Meredith, in Cat Treadwell, and Rachel Patterson, to name some visible examples. I see it a lot in people in the Pagan community who are living their magic, and who are suffused by it. It’s a softer, subtler thing, permeating through who people are and what they do. I see the other ones as well, and I see the power of their glamour to attract and persuade. If you can, it’s always worth stopping to ask whether they are selling you glamour – the gold coins that will be dead leaves by next morning, or whether there is any substance to what’s being put forward.


Of Glamour and Paganism

I have no doubt that part of the attraction for many people is how gorgeous and glamorous Paganism seems. The cloaks, the dresses, the jewellery, the goblets and knives and carved staffs and all the altar gear, the robes and the velvet. It’s not an aesthetic that depends on being young and skinny, which is a plus, although it has to be said that if you are beautiful and dressed the part, it’s got a power to it. But then, that’s what ‘glamour’ used to mean – a kind of magic that is all about alluring surfaces.

Fairy glamour is gold that at first light turns out to be dead leaves. It’s dirty hovels transformed by illusion into grand palaces, dresses made of spiderwebs and elaborate feasts that turn out to mostly have been mice. Glamour is a mixed bag – wonderful, exciting, enchanting, but also potentially misleading and resulting in bits of mouse stuck between your teeth.

I’m not good about the glamour. I probably have a bit of a chip on my shoulder in this regard. Some of it is to do with money, and I think this is an issue to raise. For the right money you can have the most exquisite kit. Floor length ankle length cloaks are not cheap, and trust me, trying to make one out of a second hand curtain is time consuming, and they do not come out the same. Some of us have the skills and time to make beautiful clothes and items many, do not. For most of my Pagan life I’ve not had the spare cash for kit that has little use most of the time. It’s easy to shift bags of gear when you have a car, but getting to gatherings on public transport, or walking, creates challenges. These can also be economic issues. Further, a poor person living in a small space may be short of storage space. I don’t have room in my small wardrobe for a cloak I seldom wear.

The desire to be beautiful and to be seen as beautiful, to wear beautiful things and be respected for that is all very human. However, beauty is all too often constructed in terms of ability to pay. So much of what the mainstream understands as beauty is to do with products, affluence, and the kinds of lifestyles available to the moneyed. If I walk to a ritual because I don’t have a car, I’m not going to make it in delicate slippers, or the delicate slippers won’t make it. I need good boots or shoes. Much of women’s clothing depends on the idea that you aren’t going to walk very far in it. Smart, delicate, beautiful, ornate… these things do not fare well if you wear them outside in all weathers, and if they aren’t warm, waterproof etc, the wearer does not fare well either.

I’m a big fan of crafts and creativity, of making lovely things and enriching life with beauty. At the same time, I cannot buy the beautiful things that glamorous Paganism suggests. I can’t work with them, often they do not do what I need. I’m not suggesting that we should all show up to rituals in potato sacks (although that could be funny) but it’s worth thinking about what we infer when we see certain kinds of clothes, how we look at, or look through glamour, and how we avoid excluding people for economic reasons.