Southern Women

Joey + Jessica; Ben Williams (left)
by Allison Glock - August/September 2011

A new generation of women who are redefining the Southern Belle

>Click here to meet the writers, artists, musicians, and designers who are redefining the Southern belle

Southern women are different. That is a fact. It is not posturing, or hyperbole, or marketing. (See: all those song lyrics about California girls and their undeniable cuteness.) Southern women, unlike women from Boston or Des Moines or Albuquerque, are leashed to history. For better or worse, we are forever entangled in and infused by a miasma of mercy and cruelty, order and chaos, cornpone and cornball, a potent mix that leaves us wise, morbid, good-humored, God-fearing, outspoken and immutable. Like the Irish, with better teeth.

To be born a Southern woman is to be made aware of your distinctiveness. And with it, the rules. The expectations. These vary some, but all follow the same basic template, which is, fundamentally, no matter what the circumstance, Southern women make the effort. Which is why even the girls in the trailer parks paint their nails. And why overstressed working moms still bake three dozen homemade cookies for the school fund-raiser. And why you will never see Reese Witherspoon wearing sweatpants. Or Oprah take a nap.

For my mother, being Southern means handwritten thank-you notes, using a rhino horn’s worth of salt in every recipe, and spending a minimum of twenty minutes a day in front of her makeup mirror so she can examine her beauty in “office,” “outdoor,” and “evening” illumination. It also means never leaving the house with wet hair. Not even in the case of fire. Because wet hair is low-rent. It shows you don’t care, and not caring is not something Southern women do, at least when it comes to our hair.

This is less about vanity than self-respect, a crucial distinction often lost on non-Southerners. When a Southern woman fusses over her appearance, it does not reflect insecurity, narcissism, or some arrested form of antifeminism that holds back the sisterhood. Southern women are postfeminism. The whole issue is a nonstarter, seeing as Southern women are smart enough to recognize what works—Spanx, Aqua Net—and wise to the allocation of effort. Why pretend the world is something it isn’t? Better to focus on what you can control (drying your hair) and make the best of what you have. Side note: Southern women do not capitalize on their looks to snag men, though that often results. The reason we Southern women take care of ourselves is because, simply, Southern women are caretakers.

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