Catherine Parish: Plastic not so fantastic

04 Feb 2009

By The Record

in these days of  plastic perfection and photoshop magic, a normal looking female actor or model is worth remarking upon.                            

By Catherine Parish

It is funny how apparently unrelated things can all speak to you of the same reality.  A page in The Australian recently (January 8) illustrated eloquently the tragic consequences of denying who and what we are, with a big article about Shere Hite’s latest book The Hite Report on Women Loving Women, a piece by satirist AA Gill about embracing our ancient heritage as fur wearers; and an unretouched photo of Australian actress Naomi Watts, looking not like an airbrushed doll but like a real woman with minimal make-up and showing a few lines and shine, like the rest of us.
These three disparate stories all refer ultimately to our loss of connection with our cultural and social heritage, and our very sense of human identity. 
Shere Hite writes this time for women growing older and living alone. She is desperately seeking a satisfactory solution for the deep loneliness of these single women. First she comes up with some hokey pop psychology about mothers being to blame for their children’s inability to consistently be a loving, giving and committed partner in a relationship, (why not blame us for that as well as everything else?). 
But the fact remains that whatever the cause of this unprecedented number of unattached women, whether marital breakdown, inability or disinterest in committing to permanent relationships, or never having met anyone desirable enough to marry, it has obviously turned out to be less than ideal for many women.
Poor Shere rattles about seeking new ways of ameliorating that loneliness that she seems to vaguely feel some responsibility for having a hand in causing.  She appears, sadly, to have given up on men (it still seems to be a battle for dominance to old Shere) as the possible answer to women’s loneliness by this time, telling women that they ought to be looking to their female friends for love and support. 
It is so sad that she, and the thousands of women of her ilk, have had to discover the hard way that if you smash down traditional institutions and social mores, like monogamous marriage, fidelity, chastity before marriage, you actually hurt women more than men. 
If you destroy the complex network of social relationships based around the strong family unit, people will be lonely, unhappy and disconnected. 
She is searching rather ineffectually for new ways of finding intimacy with others that still enable the individual to remain autonomous.  Perhaps she should be looking back instead, to try to understand what has gone so wrong and to try to reconnect to our quite recent past to see why it appeared to work so well for so long. She could, in fact do worse than take to heart AA Gill’s exhortation to ignore the PETA terrorists and embrace fur as part of our natural, ancient heritage. 
Though he speaks with the satirist’s voice, yet he makes a salient point – technology cannot take the place of our human heritage, and we should embrace anew a love and reverence for the real and natural rather than the laboratory produced. This applies as much to human social organisation and reproduction as it does to fur. 
Just as Gill has found synthetic no substitute for seal, so too are we finding that it is not so easy to replace with a test tube or tablet that requires no love or commitment, the authentic human experiences of committed and selfless love to be found in strong families that were so organic to society that they were wrongly thought to be easily dispensed with. Which brings us to Naomi Watts, who was not afraid to be photographed as she is, an attractive woman with the normal little bits of human wear and tear one would expect to have at her age. 
What was so striking about it is that you actually notice she has a few little lines; ten or fifteen years ago it wouldn’t have been a talking point that a mature woman looked like precisely that; but in these days of  plastic perfection and photoshop magic, a normal looking female actor or model is worth remarking upon. 
We are beginning to hear the questions – now what about the answers?  Happy New Year.
Catherine Parish –