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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

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.

Click here to read Ephron’s “A Few Words About Breasts.”

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.

Yoko with her boobs out in the July 2012 issue of British Vogue. I fucking love it.

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!

Nora Ephron, neck covered.

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.

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15 Responses to “Nora Ephron: 1941 – 2012”

  1. Maja H says:

    I have wanted to read “I Feel Bad About My Neck” for a long time. Time to buy it!

  2. madeleine gallay says:

    Really love your writing … thank you.

  3. sulky kitten says:

    An amazing, funny, talented woman. I felt really sad when I read she had died. I had just finished reading her book “I Remember Nothing…” and now that I look back on it she did write about her close friend dying and death in general. Obviously, she knew at that stage that she herself was ill. I loved her style of writing, I think she was the kind of person who could make any topic interesting and funny.

  4. kristinm100 says:

    Gorgeous piece about a fascinating woman.

  5. Nora and I were sisters in the bra stuffing department. Thank you for the various links. The NY Times obituary is excellent but the Wellesley piece is the one that choked me up and made me want to read more of what she wrote about her years there. A true heroine.

  6. Nora Ephron will definitely be missed, a fantastic woman in every sense of the word. And damn, I hope I can look as good as Yoko when I hit her age! So hot! XXX Suzanne

  7. This comes as a shock – she always seemed bigger than life. Awesome writer and director.

    Wendy, thank you as always for the great article. Damn, I want to look as good as Yoko. And oh, screw that whole neck thing. I’m letting my freaky old wrinkly neck fly.

  8. Great piece, Wendy. I miss her already. I always identified with her – the attractive-but-not-beautiful woman who worked so hard to be recognized for her brains and talent (if only I had a tenth of that talent!). I did choke up at the NYT obit, and the “things I’ll miss.”

  9. Personally, I don’t sport cleavage BUT I continue to wear camisole-neckline sundresses in my 40s. Turtlenecks are for the depths of winter, IMO.

  10. brett says:

    i was a big fan of hers and was totally confused as how her death was reported. weird huh
    her writing and personality will be sorely missed!

  11. Marti says:

    RIP Nora Ephron. So glad to know I won’t be alone exposing a wrinkly and stretched out neck in the not too far future.

  12. Great post…and thank you for the links. I was saddened to hear about her death. I loved her movies. My husband and I saw “Sleepless in Seattle” on our very first date. I remember feeling how poignant (and surreal!) the movie was to me because I was now dating a man with a child.

  13. stacy says:

    Brilliantly talented woman.
    But so are you — and you are fearless and gorgeous to boot! The IDGAF necklace looks sexy as hell on your 43 year old neck. Has anybody ever told you that you have the neck of a 26 year old? lol