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Jewish Journal

What’s doing ‘Damage?’

by Danielle Berrin

July 30, 2007 | 3:16 pm


Emma Forrest read her pretty prose to a small crowd surrounded by books; her cadence flushed with a crisp English accent, her voice so soft it alluded to the vulnerability of a woman with a secret.

As her book proves, she isn’t alone in her reservoir of hidden passions, and that is precisely the point. Many women save the contents of their interior selves for semi-strangers they know they can trust—the other women who, by nourishing their exterior, penetrate the core—as Emma says, “the intimate strangers who work with the surface and get to the depths.” These women are the aestheticians of a woman’s world: therapists, hairstylists, manicurists, facialists and most notably, bikini waxers. In her editorial debut “Damage Control,” a collection of essays, women reveal that the relationships cultivated during beauty maintenance are as important as beauty itself.

As a preface to her reading at Book Soup, Emma wrote on her website:
‘Damage Control’ is my first go as editor and also at publishing non-fiction. People magazine just called the book “provocative,” so I promise to wear either red shoes or red lipstick.

She wore red lipstick, and a purple sun-dress loosely hugging her curves. She looked as provocative as the piece she read, a story of heartbreak driving her into the arms of a Manhattan tattoo artist. She needed to talk. She needed to be touched. She never knew a needle could feel so delicate…

The book itself is a kind of confession, a substitute receptacle in which women spill their guts. Francesca Lia Block told the audience the reading would be difficult for her because her story was so personal. In it, she revealed a deep shame over her appearance and the botched plastic surgeries that worsened her self-concept.

It is in those moments of pain, when a woman is messy underneath, that she craves a little ‘lift,’ a touch of color, or a new ‘do. When her appearance improves, her emotions follow suit. Or do they?

And what is wounding all these women? The pressure? The knives and needles? The cruel lovers and neglecting fathers? Whatever it is, the idea of “beauty,” of being attractive and ageless, has become a mechanism through which women confront (and project) their innermost demons.

An anonymous makeup artist who works at a strip club wrote, “Sometimes, the only peace in a woman’s day is the twenty-minutes when she’s getting her toes done or her fingernails done. The only time she has when someone else is completely focusing on her. One of those rare opportunities when someone’s looking her in the eyes and seeing what she needs.”

So, what do we need? A wax or a pluck—or a new approach to healing our hurt.

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