On Friday night, circumstances evolved that I invited a friend of a friend to join me for Happy Hour at my favorite local restaurant/bar/grill. For the sake of the story we will call the friend of the friend – QBB, call the bartender – Devi, and call the place/bar/grill – Freddy’s. All names & relationships have been slightly altered to protect the innocent or guilty as the case may be.
Upon arriving at Freddy’s we both ordered the Friday Happy Hour Spice Shrimp special and a glass of wine. Conversation proceeded. As the evening proceeded, things got weird. Most of the other patrons around us at the bar/grill part were well-to-do beach-bleach-blond-Americans of indeterminate ethnicity in their 40s and 50s. As the Happy Hour progressed it became highly evident that every man within a 15 foot radius was going to come and talk to us, with his date / female companion’s permission or not. As time wended on the females went from friendly to claws openly bared.
Why? Well, the friend of a friend, aka QBB, is a woman in her early forties who has made several set of choices to conform to the highest standard of Southern California’s Culto de Corpo through a rigorous and disciplined regime of lack of eating, extreme exercise, and visits to the plastic surgeon. QBB is the Cali-Puerto-Rican Barbie Doll – tall, thin, tiny hips, big boobs, big eyes, hair extensions, etc, etc, etc. Fill in all the stereotypes of LA bimbos.
Except QBB is more complex than a bimbo. By choosing to go out with her it meant that for 3.5 hours all of the explicit and implicit gender theatrics played themselves out. QBB is very intensely involved in her current relationship but due to sub-conscious need or a lifetime of sending out sexual signals or both (ding ding ding), she attracts men and women in droves. QBB is inordinately proud of this, which is why I came out of the evening thinking most of those folks got pnwed by QBB.
Let me give you some background here, if you have yet come to SoCal, it is not like the movies or TV. Sorry, but this is true. Southern California, next to New York City, and London, is one of the most ethically diverse places on the planet. It is not all 6ft tall (2 metres) tall Nordic or Teutonic blonds. No, we are more than 60% brown, be it Latino, Asian, or a variety of other folk. Most of us have brown or black hair (naturally), brown eyes, are short-ish, and round-ish around the edges. Yet, there is INTENSE, INTENSE, INTENSE pressure to be tall, lithe, willowy, and blonde with blue eyes.
Mind you, we do have natural blondes with blue eyes in SoCal, most of them have immigrated in from far flung locals or the Inland Empire for careers in the movie or music industries only to end up as servers at your fave restaurant or end up in the Valley making wank-(un)worthy xxx DVDs.
Now as a short statured, brown haired, brown eyed, curvy, bright, book obsessed Californian of Scotch-Irish descent who has never had a moment of tall nor skinny in her entire life, I have spent years feeling outright or vaguely inadequate. By age 7, I realized that wearing polka dotted socks, a plaid skirt, and a pink shirt while being intensely interested in the plight of the Whales (reading Green Peace tracks against whaling), whilst being chubby, was winning me no friends. By age 8 or 9, I was hiding from my overly athletic family. By age 15, I was a nice punky-gothy-kid who was cultivating white skin, dyed black hair, and black clothes all the while attempting to pass off as half-Japanese (don’t ask) in a beach town full of blondes (real or bleached), all who were deeply tanned. By this time, I had firmly decided that rather than join them or follow them, I would give ’em what they really didn’t like.
All of this personal background is to say that I decided early to rebel against the prevailing beach / surf / SoCal Cult of the (beauty) Body culture. I decided consciously that I was having none of it. When a pretty but very dim friend from high school was given a lot of plastic surgery by her parents when she graduated, I was shocked and angry at the parents for objectifying the said young lady. The young lady within the year had a viable career in triple-X hardcore porn. No one knows where she is now. This was the late 80s. Since then the Pornification of SoCal “culture” has intensified, where many many many women feel pressured by their peers / culture or feel it is normal to not only get full waxes down there but have a wide range of plastic surgery options for the complete barbie doll look, and along with a disciplined diet and exercise regime, one does not have to worry about a lack of dates and or potential sugar daddies / mamas.
Even more insidious is the tendency for some folk to use plastic surgery to “pass”. Many folks think the QBB is a tanned East Asian rather than an Afro-Carribbean woman, so are the wonders of plastic “facial” surgery… And many Asians in SoCal get beach ball boobies and eye reconstruction surgery. Now one may argue that we have passed beyond a time of feminist outrage or purism of accept us as we are – love your body as it is. Folks may argue that Madonna, Pamela Anderson, and Orlan, as well as many other celebrities, have made self-reinvention and self-definition to be an open and desired path for women to take. Why be your dumpy ole self? Why not get all the extra bits sucked out and new bits added in the spots where our culture says it should be? But at what cost?
Cost. I am here to tell you the cost is a financial sheet in the black, which is free drinks at a bar anywhere in SoCal. After watching the theatre at Freddy’s on Friday night, I am more than sure that the QBB has made back ALL of her plastic surgery costs plus some in saved drink prices over the years. Yes, between Devi the bartender and a few patrons the QBB was able to drink and drink and drink $10 glasses of wine for free. Free, I tell you.
I am not naive. I know that bartenders will give out free drinks to pretty people to get them to stay at the bar to attract other paying customers and get the second set of folks to stay and pay. I have seen this many times at a variety of bars and QBB has confirmed that it happens to her and her friends all the time. The QBB has told me in the past that bar owners will court her & her equally “added to / subtracted from” girlfriends to sit at the front window of the establishment and give them free meals and drinks to help lure men in. Even though I have spent my life trying to hop up and down waving my arm to have bartenders notice that there is human on the other side of the bar who would like order a drink, I do not begrudge the QBB and her friends. Really, how different is is from all the stuff / products that Dooce & Mighty Girl get from “sponsors” to review or promote on their blogs? Or me going on a Nokia sponsored trip? It is marketing in the distributed age.
The upswing is that three problems came out of my being in the middle of the beauty theatre that was Freddy’s bar on a Friday night with the QBB:
1) The QBB got very very very drunk. Instead of getting home early in the evening after a drink or two plus a bit of food to finish some client web dev work, my night dragged on and on and on attempting to get the QBB out of the bar, then to get her back to the car, then to extract her keys from her, drive her home, and then drop her off. Then drive back the next morning to return her car to her and get a ride back to my place amid a lot of excuses and other b.s.
2) I walked out of Freddy’s bemused but very alienated. Alienated from the whole male – female game. Alienated from my place. Alienated from my own obviously inadequate femaleness. Alienated from my favorite bartender, who has never given me free drinks in all the years I have gone to Freddy’s. Alienated from my convictions to stay away from playing the SoCal beauty body modification game. I felt like I was disembodied and de-sexualized all weekend. I did not count, because I don’t play the game.
3) I spoke to my Mom on Saturday and laughingly retold what happened. Big mistake. My mom was terribly angry by the whole thing, both from the 2nd wave feminist perspective (What did we fight for in the 1960s and 1970s? For this!?!?!) and very angry at Devi the bartender and Freddy’s for giving bimbos free drinks, when regular customers like us who tip well never get anything for free. Oh dear. Knowing my Mom, Devi will *definitely* hear about it soon. Shit.
I am not quite sure how to wrap this post up. I do want to say I am still bemused. I don’t regret going with the QBB to Freddy’s on Friday. It was a dose of realism that maybe I needed on the eve of a big birthday while still single or maybe not. More importantly, it helped me to reaffirm that I don’t regret taking my path. The path of a woman who would rather spend my time taking photos, reading, cultivating friends & art projects, and a myriad of other activities rather than obsessing about my weight, my figure, spending hours every day exercising and saving thousands for the surgeon. I would rather go back to India next year than get my fat sucked out. Given this, I may still be single when I go traveling next year, but I am content.
Maybe I need to also feel my mother’s outrage. Maybe I will save my outrage not for the mundane, albeit disheartening, preferences of a culture obsessed with image, but release it for what Sharanya has been blogging about…
Part Two: “What Ever Happened to Cool Grrl Power?” coming to a browser near you soon.