** Re-blogged from Juniper & Crow, my SageWoman channel.
For me, a landscape does not exist in its own right, since its appearance changes at every moment; but the surrounding atmosphere brings it to life – the light and the air which vary continually. For me, it is only the surrounding atmosphere which gives subjects their true value. ~ Claude Monet
I recently made the decision to reduce or eliminate most of the items in my make-up bag and medicine cabinet, and return to my nature girl status – using make-up and other such products minimally. The list of synthetic and chemically derived ingredients in many of the products I was using was astounding and contributing to consumer/identity guilt as well as dry skin. In this process, I explored more natural product lines – especially lipstick, not wanting to give up the occasional sensuality of a raspberry stained pout. In choosing to purge these products, I have considered the myriad reasons women elect to go “au naturel” – to discard products and opt for the glow of a face that is exposed to fresh air, sunlight and heart-pounding rock scrambles. Going through my wardrobe, I noticed how many clothes I never wear – shirts, skirts, dresses, suits… items that were acceptable for the office, but not at all my style or expression.
In the past I have vehemently defended any woman’s choice to call herself a feminist or independent spirit AND wear make-up, shave her legs and change her appearance as often as she pleased to complement certain situations – or, dare I say, to attract a mate. While I was going through the process of discarding those precious and coveted brands: MAC, Mary Kay, Sephora, etc.. I considered the rigid perspective I have held on natural beauty as being, well, natural. Just as natural as appearing bare-faced as I was born, is this urge to be incognito, to use the body and face as an artistic palette – a landscape of one’s deepest beliefs, dreams, culture, age and life changes. Being natural is being in a state of flux, adapting to change. Beauty and self-expression – beyond the scheme of vanity – are indeed statements of being “seen” by one’s community, one’s peers.
To simplify beauty into two fixed categories where one side exalts heavy-blossomed fashionable ladies, dripping cosmetic dew, while the other side is stripped like a winter branch, a very austere interpretation of liberated womanhood, neglects the metaphor, pleasure and ritual alive in adornment. I believe many of the women I admire – the chosen iconoclasts – do not toe the line of beauty standards and definitions. Rather, their beauty rituals are rooted in themes of metamorphosis, camouflage and art. Beauty is found in change. Beauty is transformative, unruly, hidden or explicit… In other words, true self-expression lies in whatever the creator desires.
While there are many examples of cultural beauty rites and practices and articles on such a topic, my focus is on the types of expression not typically found in Revlon ads or feminist journals or anthropological studies. This essay does not seek to illustrate the cultural, societal, religious or commercial standards and challenge these from a political or social platform. What I am interested in, through my own stumbles of interpretation and myth, is the sublime force of physical adornment as ritual, the surreal elements of style and beauty, the wyrd and wonderful archetypes and manifestations. I hope all goddess- and empowered women explore their own ecstatic personas: lovely, horrible and unknown.
The Horned Woman is a persona that resonates deeply with me. I have a secret bond with deer, reindeer and antelope folk. I believe my heart is partially composed of the blood of a doe. Consider, for example, a woman’s response to danger, that alarming moment of stillness and bloodpulse. Imagine your life among a blaze of new prairie grass where you walk into the morning, quietly grazing and nudging the soft tip of your fawn’s nose. Inching into the cobalt horizon, the sun rises with the arc of this dream. Suddenly there is movement. The forest woman becomes the yellow lines, the still brook – her young blends with the creeping wind of grass and snow. The horned woman’s style is that of hidden danger, of morning – the grey dress made of wool spun in Wales, the shawl of soft ewe wool spun in Lukachukai. The horned woman’s eyes are pools of almond light. She moves unheard in the soft soil – moccasins along sandy washes. Deer women have an aversion to chatter and prefer the silence of the woods. She is used to being uprooted. She will walk away when things get used up, spent.
Horned women are not so unlike reptiles: they are stone observers warmed by the sun. They are misunderstood arrows soaring across dunes, plains and prairies. The song of the horned woman is the song of the whippoorwill, the song of the rifle. Her hair is often tangled, long and filled with dried leaves. Her dress hems are threadbare. She leaves trails that disappear with the new snow, or with the shifting of sand. She is comfortable with her scars and does not suppose what others make of them. Her breath always shows in the air and her cheeks are ruddy with the autumn wind.
I am heartened
in this vast lonely land
by the room for affection.
~ Harney County Lessons, Angela Allen
Deer women adorn their bodies not with the palette of cosmetics, but the moss and hanging gardens of the forest and the gauze and cotton of sunbaked sand. She dreams her surroundings. If you personify the beauty of the deer, you are drawn to muted tones that allow you to dream and dance unencumbered. The musky smells of sex and earth are your perfumes. You stay close to the fire and polish your rifle. You don’t mess with the naïve love of starlets and do not comprehend being unprepared. Your expression is the bucolic longing of a country home in the moors, or a teepee in snow, or simply moving. You have the sharp gaze of a thorn in skin.
The horned lady loves changing in subtle and calculated ways. She is the mysterious portrait of trees and a beating heart no one can see or pierce.
Water women choose their colors as the tides move under La Luna. There is an erratic and sometimes tsunami rhythm to what they wear and how they work the energy around them. The mermaid is the embodiment of a love that moves close and the enticing danger of a rocky island when she is adrift. She is Collette, the independent yet romantic women who raises the bar on sensuality. She is turquoise and azure, yes, but also fuchsia, hot pink, lime green lightning bolts across cheekbones. She holds prized dyed silk in one hand and ambrosia in the other. In recent years, Disney has capitalized on the young girl’s fascination with color and water, of romance and the seashell-covered underwater princess. This is a diminishment of the oceanic force of the water woman’s abilities and intuition. The expression of this woman is psychic – sound is felt not heard. She is the first to dance in sequins and boa on the bar. She is the teal-draped siren of a Waterhouse painting.
“I must be a mermaid, Rango. I have no fear of depths and a great fear of shallow living.”
~ Anaïs Nin
Rather than moor inland for her rescuer, fairytales and folklore paint this bejeweled woman as the enticer – the temptress to crash ships and lure men away from safe harbor – hardly the innocent sea nymph. Still, the water woman is no shallow girl to be labeled meek or cruel. To embody the ocean, a woman must be able to walk along the shore with the haunting shipwrecks and cliff-thrown bodies, with the whalesongs of dying sea life.
For the love of all sea creatures, the water woman is an advocate, a protector – and often her love of environmental activism defines her. She is frequently seen in t-shirts with statements that exemplify her beliefs, or in waders collecting samples of water. She is the soft-eyed seal and the mother orca.
Her expression of style is never mired in trends and never limited by ready-made fashions. She is often creative and makes her own garments. Gold is her metal and she forges the tides with orange and teal locks curled around her waist. She is at home in her skin. Nude is her favorite state with the occasional coat of moonlight as she strolls among the lilies and beaver ponds, along the basalt cliffs of the Atlantic.
“The Mountain teaches the dreaming…” Unknown
The Sorceress, The Steppe Witch – I have met very few women who embody the nebulous and sometimes frightening qualities of these mistresses of mountains, caves and mazes. What is most lovely about this woman is perhaps her rare character, her ability to be a map of storylines and ancestry. She is unafraid to be fierce. She is the Voodoo Priestess, Kali Ma, Oya – keeper of the cemetery. In her, the sands shift as she wanders the dreamtime in search of lizards, spirals, dance. Hers is the darkness. Her color is yellow – the bee mistress concealed in the bud. Her stone is obsidian with which she cuts the patterns of her skin, strips the hides for her dress.
Because of her fearless and healing abilities, her focus on dress and appearance is limited to the truest expression of magic and ritual. She is the La Loba on the bajadas. She is the thousand stars shining for spells and mirrors.
yes sir friends
sour is sweet things break
the yearning returns home
and abroad hungry is hungry.
~ Gary Gildner
The steppe witch is a spell caster, a bone reader. Her home is filled with mirrors and roots, black lace and red light. She is the one you see after taking a long journey, and in her courtyard she invites you in to be among her chickens and goats, to wait beneath a gnarled old tree for her clients to leave. She always seems older than her age, although she retains a youthful vibrancy in her smile. She is the song of a New Orleans jazz band and the funeral mass. More than her appearance, you will never forget the perfume of her – something like lingering smoke and rum.
“Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”
~ Thomas Hardy, Tess of the d’Urbervilles
The mistress of mountains is gauze – white knuckle, brilliant in the glow of a candle. She is always hungry and makes no shame in this. She wears aprons and collects a chicken for the pot. The stones that line her path and her pocket tell stories. She is perhaps less interested in attracting a mate with her physical attire because she has come to rely on the pulse of sensuality in her power.
The most tender place in my heart is for strangers.
I know it’s unkind but my own love is much too dangerous…
~ Hold On, Hold On, Hold On, Neko Case
The Ethereal Woman – She is the temporary fix. She is the weekend in Miami, front row seats, pink bubblegum gloss. The ethereal woman makes you believe in her fairytales. She is the embroidered pillowcases of her farmland. She stands on porches and gazes out at the places she might one day see. The ethereal woman is the ticking grandfather clock. Her colors are baby blues and dewy mauves, peppermints, lemony yellows. She is the woman in a 1950’s Comet cruising Route 66. While she seeks independence, she always stops for love (at least, temporarily). She believes the stories told by the women in her family and looks like her mother.
She is Ferris wheels and lights blazing up, the stuffed animals on a young girl’s bed. She has dreams that include you – the man who would love her, but she is as light as a feather for your promise.
The ethereal is the dove, the bird girl. She is the cheerleader uniform and the prom dress, but only on the surface. Under her soft façade, there is the metallic composure of lessons learned.
The ethereal woman wears chiffon and walks with her head tilted back in a permanent laugh. She is not the tomboy and doesn’t pretend to be, but her strength resides in the heritage of the needle dropping on old records and the tractor’s morning hum. She learns her grandmother’s recipes. She is the first crush, the last to leave.
Like this I love you,
as you dress
and how your hair lifts up
and how your mouth smiles,
light as the water
of the spring upon the pure stones,
Like this I love you, beloved.
~ And because love battles, Neruda
The Heroine is essential to the story of womanhood. Who better to defeat the myth of girlishness? I have included the heroine because – just as her male counterpart – the female overachiever appears more frequently in social roles and styles now than ever before. She is the anime girl with a sword and wolf companion. She wears the stiletto heels of a financial district entrepreneur. She kills it. Everything is in her control. The heroine is not Mother Theresa or Florence Nightingale; she is the hit woman for justice. She won’t change or soften – don’t try. She is the calculation of prison girls who use the perfume of shadows to seduce cell mates – her cohorts. She can enlist troupes, lead nations. Her world is spinning between her fingers. She is neither good nor bad but finds the dirty work of protection and rebellion necessary and within her domain of skill and talent.
The heroine will choose her work over everything. She has the searing insight and dedication to achieve more than most, and she is likely adept in metal crafts and other forms of visual arts. She is the eco warrior, the desert dweller. She gives up children in order to have her wild roaming and access to the road. She is leather and tobacco. She smokes, cusses, drinks and gambles. She is unafraid to run with the boys and takes the miles under her belt like a trucker. Under her prowess and tough exterior, she cares for her people, her community and her traditions. She will fight for her land. She is not afraid of death or displacement, but possession is her nemesis.
I have ridden in your cart, driver,
waved my nude arms at villages going by,
learning the last bright routes, survivor
where your flames still bite my thigh
and my ribs crack where your wheels wind.
A woman like that is not ashamed to die.
~ Her Kind, Anne Sexton
The modern heroine is incense and badger. Her sign is made of crossbones. She can be a trickster when she needs to be, but abhors false fronts and pretenses. She takes what she needs, but does not fall to trivialities and indulgences. She is latex and Outback. Tattoos are her make-up and she usually has several by the time she’s 21. Sharp-witted and skilled, be wary of challenging her. She will win.
These are but five examples of women and their mythologies. There are important rituals and practices that live through beauty and self-adornment. Modern cosmetics are but a trivial matter in the larger meaning of body worship and shapeshifting, of embodiment and metaphor. A woman will use the magic of her surroundings to express deep connection to the land, tradition, womanhood, heritage, motherhood and all other roles she chooses for herself. The masks we exhibit are not necessarily means of camouflaging our true natures but rather illustrate the complex and multifaceted personalities and idiosyncrasies alive in each of us. We are several composites of the roles we walk into and with during a lifetime. These are to be celebrated as the manifestations of our very nature, our stories as shown to the world within and without.