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Glamour and tomatoes

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"Glamour cannot exist without personal social envy being a common and widespread emotion."--John Berger

Breakfast tomatoes are happiness--in an oven-roasted, parmesan-encrusted squishy kind of way. I have a close friend who makes these for her husband (and for those of us who beg) on summer mornings. She also makes gorgeous apple pies, perfect crisps, shortbread, and pastries stuffed with spinach and goat cheese. She knows how to can vegetables, kayak, ride a dirtbike, use a chainsaw and sew beautifully. She is a veterinary student, and one of the first times I met her she was mucking through a few inches of crap in a pair of stunningly cool wellies--wrangling a steer with her hair perfectly braided. There was something astoundingly glamorous about that moment to me.

Have you ever flipped through the pages of a fashion magazine and seen the "what is in your purse" or "what beauty product can't you live without" features? You know, where some willowy 70-pound socialite profiled by an eager Condé Nast staffer describes her favorite pair of $5,000 cashmere hotpants, a Swarovski crystal-encrusted caftan, and a painfully cool vintage bag she happened to find packed away in her mother's attic? Anything affordable is suspect--product placement, the cynic in me assumes.

And still my pop culture addiction persists, maddeningly. I won't buy the magazines, but I'll scan them hungrily in the checkout line, and I'll check snarky blogs a time or five throughout my workday. I have a principled loathing toward cadaverous starlets and prescribed hipness, and yet I can't (won't?) snuff out my fascination with their missteps and dance-offs.

I feel that the glamour of the moment comes in the form of tangerine-colored, spray-tanned celebutantes with slouchy leather purses slung across their bony clavicles, stuffed with expensive lip gloss and chick lit novels. I'm not advocating that all women revert to fifth-grade outfits of high-waisted Umbros and tennis shoes and bring facial hair back in, I'm merely musing aloud that many of the predominant role models for glamour are promoting a kind of senseless, comic garishness and society can't stop looking--and emulating. Why is it that so many of us are fascinated by utter uselessness?

While in college, glamour seemed to me an exclusively feminine domain--an acquired look of indifference, high cheekbones, a well-practiced picture pose, a Louis Vuitton luggage set.

I find myself wishing more women subscribed to the Jane Goodall or Alice Waters schools of glamour. Something beautiful, simple, real and close to the earth. Unabashed intelligence. Humility. A reverence for the natural world. A passion for change. Comfortable shoes. An unairbrushed, actualized and competent existence.

Certainly we do not all aspire to dangle our naked feet into Lake Tanganyika and publish books on cooperative hunting in chimpanzees, but wouldn't it be beautiful if more young girls would idolize those that do? (And I don't mean by bringing the safari look back, with a low hip-slung belt.) Surely Us Weekly would slap a non-Photoshopped snapshot of Alice Waters with armfuls of eggplant and rocket on the cover? Caption: Alice makes casserole cool at bungalow 8.

I am admittedly glamour-inept in all directions--I don't have high cheekbones or an expensive bag, and I am not yet making the contributions toward conservation that I aim to. I cannot throw stones any more than I can mock my own habits. I am, however, making an effort to redirect my full attention to the charm and mystery of women who write, who conserve or who make kick-ass breakfast tomatoes--and away from Nicole Richie's exposed clavicles.

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