Yesterday, after writer/director Nora Ephron died for the second and final time — in a Mark Twain moment, Ephron’s friend Liz Smith reported her death from leukemia a bit prematurely — I immediately searched for Ephron’s classic 1972 Esquire essay, “A Few Words About Breasts.” At first, I couldn’t find her musings on the pain of having too-small breasts in the sweater-girl 1950s, but, last night, Esquire posted the essay on its website.
Ephron is being rightly eulogized as a smart, funny lady so it’s interesting to note that she wrote a lot about appearance. At least, that should be interesting to the people who think women who care about their looks are vapid. The excellent New York Times obituary notes that Ephron had her hair professionally blow-dried twice a week: “It’s cheaper by far than psychoanalysis and much more uplifting,” she said. Reading that reminded me that this April, I saved an essay that Joyce Maynard wrote for the New York Times’s T Magazine about cutting her hair short at age 58. In “The Kindest Cut,” Maynard said that after she announced her short, sassy and expensive new ‘do on Facebook, “One man — unknown to me previously — observed that I must be the most self-obsessed person he’d ever encountered, to give so much thought to a subject as shallow and meaningless as my head of hair.” Her response:
“It is possible, I suggested to my Facebook critic, to care simultaneously about global warming, genetically engineered crops, world hunger, fracking and one’s hair. You can mourn your mother at the cemetery or in the beauty salon. You can mark the last gasps of your 50s by donating your miniskirts to Goodwill and giving yourself a sensible bowl cut, or . . . you can do something a little different.”
If you’ve ever read my 2007 blog post “Why Does Buyer’s Guilt Focus on Fashion?“, you’ll know why that appealed to me. (The short answer: sexism, my friends!)
Ephron, who died at age 71, wrote about aging and appearance in two essay collections: “I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman” and “I Remember Nothing: And Other Reflections” I totally agree with this statement: “If your elbows faced forward, you would kill yourself.” But, while reading tributes yesterday, I was shocked to realize that I’m already a year-and-a-half past the age (43) at which she advised women to begin total neck coverage: “Our faces are lies and our necks are the truth. You have to cut open a redwood tree to see how old it is, but you wouldn’t if it had a neck.” Not only am I not hiding my neck, I’m highlighting it by wearing my 16″ IDGAF necklace! (Sixteen inches is the shortest standard non-choker necklace length; the next standard size is 18″. The older you get, the longer your necklace should be to draw attention away from the neck. Theoretically.) There I go, breaking the rules again. Sorry, Nora! I guess I’m more of a Yoko Ono/cleavage-till-I’m-80 type of gal.
Anyway, in addition to writing about breasts, necks and elbows, Ephron wrote wildly successful screenplays, including those for Silkwood and When Harry Met Sally…. Among the movies she directed was the massive hit Sleepless in Seattle; this Rolling Stone interview pegged to the Sleepless release is worth reading. Her novel Heartburn was inspired by her divorce from Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein. For a more complete list of her credits, I recommend the New York Times obituary. If you don’t choke up at the end, which quotes Ephron’s list of things she will miss, I’m not sure I want to know you!
And for true feminist inspiration — yes! from a woman who was particular about her hair! — read Ephron’s “be the heroine of your life, not the victim” 1996 Wellesley commencement address here.