Wednesday, November 5, 2008

You're So Pretty the Way You Are

I've been listening to my old Cranberries CD in the car, it's from--gasp, wait for it--the mid '90s. My daughter says, "Mom, this music is soooo weird." But it brings back memories of our first tiny, two-story house, listening to that music while typing upstairs at my desk, overlooking a giant cedar tree that harbored redbirds and doves, and the squirrel that would bounce along the fence to torment both birds and dogs. Hammering away at papers while listening to the Cranberries, Dead Can Dance, the Police. The internet was a brand new concept.

And the year before, Robert Altman also had a new concept. In his movie Prêt-à-Porter, fashion designers prepare madly for a new show in Paris, and newspaper and magazine editors perch eager for the season's trends. After the preparations, a hushed audience sits ready to receive the modeled clothing. Instead, a model walks across the stage nude. Another follows, and then another, to the music "Pretty," by the Cranberries. The final model to emerge wears a bridal veil and carries a bouquet. She is heavily and beautifully pregnant and also nude, probably in her third trimester: "You're so pretty, the way you are..."

The fashion "designer's" message: that beauty is inherent in the female body. Our beauty is not to be found in fashion. Of course Altman should have gone further and included women of a variety of body types, with racial diversity rather than tokenism, with disabilities as well. But the message to me as I listened to the Cranberries' song and thought about the film hit me hard. As I heard the opening chord, it hurt--because my body, it feels inadequate in so many ways. I want to change it, hide it, cover it. I'm in the therapy pool with the seniors. And the people my age and much older, swimming fast laps in the other pool, with beautiful bodies that move gracefully and with ease. But then I hear, "you're so pretty, the way that you are."

I see so many types of people when I go swim; they no longer move easily, their bodies bear signs of mastectomies, arthritis, osteoporosis. It is this that I want to share with each of you, and what I would like to share with them: "you're so pretty, the way that you are."

For now, I am disabled. Will I always be so? Maybe not. People ask me how long I will use the scooter, what my "plans" are. I know what I would like to do with my body. I'd like to be swimming fast laps, doing ballet, hiking difficult trails for miles at a time. And perhaps I will. But for now I am disabled, and I don't want to hide myself, change myself, to satisfy others' conceptions, to make them feel more comfortable. Because a scooter, sometimes slow or awkward movement, it makes people uncomfortable. And people think I'm just not trying enough. So I listen to that, I finally internalize that message, and think, yes, I can do this, I can open this kind of door. I'm lazy, fearful, and what was it the one woman said?--people can't get well until we're right in the head, that's why we don't get better. So I "right" myself in the head, being careful but pulling on my inner reserves. And instead I injure myself, predictably, despite my carefulness and my joy in movement, passing the limits I'm told I have and listening to the ones who tell me I don't have them. What I want to say is this:
"You got to say it if you want to,
But you won't change me."

The only clip I can find of this scene is dubbed in another language; skip to minute 6:00:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mOczltYDR2U
Kim Bassinger is the reporter.

A clearer version of the song:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f0Pp7v6HwXw

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