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Uma, Claudia and Me

November 15th, 1997

One night last Spring, my now fiance and I were watching the television show Friends. Afterwards we wound up in the most distressing argument. The characters on the show had made lists of the famous people they would like to sleep with if they got the chance. The idea was that you could pick five people to be your “safe” picks; five people with whom you could go off and have a fling – if you were ever to have such an opportunity -even if you were involved with someone else. It was an intriguing idea and I began to think about who I would pick. I could only think of two: Ralph Fiennes and Peter Berg (from Chicago Hope.)

“Who would you like to sleep with if you had the chance?” I ask Frank. Here we are in a terrific relationship, openly, honestly sharing our lives. It didn’t occur to me that his response would freak me out. But I pose the question and he thinks for a minute. “Well, I don’t know,” he says, “probably Claudia Schiffer.”

“Claudia Schiffer?!!!” I exclaim. “Claudia Schiffer?” My head begins to spin, my heart pounds, my stomach aches. My reaction is sudden, unexpected and all encompassing. I am pacing, screaming, getting choked up. He has no idea what is going on. Frankly, I don’t either.

Maybe men do just want great hair and great tits and they fall in love with us mortals to kill time and procreate.

Claudia Schiffer is the bombshell supermodel who could have been the Barbie prototype. She has a long lithe figure with clear skin and round breasts. Her lips are full, her hair blond, her eyes blue. She has a sweet little nose and a great smile. I am purposely avoiding being catty. She is lovely. But hers is the last name I would have wanted to hear come out of Frank’s mouth. Indeed, I would have been happier if he had said Jenny McCarthy. At least Jenny has spunk.

I got myself into trouble in the stereotypic way that women often do, asking a question when we aren’t prepared for any answer. I didn’t know that he wouldn’t say Susan Sarandon! Is it too much to ask that his fantasy figures pass my muster?! I wanted him to say someone that I think is cute or at least someone who is seemingly interesting or smart. There are certain actors that I am compelled to look at, like Uma Thurman or Drew Barrymore or Ashley Judd. I even like Courtney Cox. I also like Mary StuartMasterson (before she got so damned skinny for Bed of Roses) and Mary Louise Parker. In “Fried Green Tomatoes” Mary Stuart is pulling drippy honeycomb out of a beehive, bees swarming around her and Mary Louise, prompting my first official crush on a female actor, flirtatiously calls Mary Stuart Masterson a bee charmer, charming me and probably everyone else in the theater. “You are a bee chahma, Idgy Threadgood,” she says in a throaty southern accent, “a bee chahma.”

So okay, this is all very subjective. Drew Barrymore is arguably a total bubblehead. So why was I so upset about Claudia Schiffer? First of all, because she and other supermodels seem to me to be personality-less. Are models not, by definition, to be looked at and admired? Supermodels as spokespeople (with the exception of Cindy Crawford) still seem to be given speaking roles only so we can look at them some more (to see those full lips move?) For me, personality is a huge piece of why someone would wind up on my list. Clearly Frank’s fantasy did not include dinner conversation and hearty laughter. But mine did.

The problem we had wasn’t so much what he answered but how I read it. I realized after the fight that our interpretation of the question was totally different. Frank answered the question literally, as he should have: basically “Who’s body would you like to play with?” I incorrectly extrapolated the question into a broader: “Who would I like to go out on a date with, make out with and if he’s holding my interest in charm or wit or sex appeal, to sleep with too?”

The odd irony here is that historically I was more likely to have a casual fling than Frank was. Nonetheless, my reaction arrived directly from some paranoid and vulnerable point in me. “Oh no!” I thought, “It’s true! Men do just want perfect looking women.” No degree of explanation from Frank was helping quell this newly bared fear. I was pacing around his apartment sure that his choice of Claudia Schiffer was an admission that all men, even the evolved ones, would really throw you over in a heartbeat for a shot at a really hot babe. Maybe men do just want great hair and great tits and they fall in love with us mortals to kill time and procreate.

I can’t say that any of this was rational. I do know that most of the arguments Frank and I have are related to men/women issues of inequality. A discussion about whether men through history have cared to give their women sexual pleasure (Frank believes they probably have not) left me with the same visceral, choked up reaction as the Claudia incident.


My Quandary

For over two years I have been spending many hours every week on About-Face. The goal of About-Face in large part is to neutralize the tremendous pressure that is put on women about appearance. At once we want more varied versions of beauty in pop culture, and to create a forum emphasizing women’s other creative and intellectual qualities. So much of what drives me is the belief that we women really are important as the individuals we are; that the person we are dictates whether we are beautiful not the other way around. But, being the extreme idealist that I am, sometimes I get to thinking that I am naÔve and idealistic and that my worst fears may be true.

Interestingly, I did not know that my feminism was based so deeply and that it is so protective of other females. I have seen by my reaction to women’s issues that my feminism is entrenched in my intense desire for fairness. For instance, it’s unfair that little girls are encouraged to focus on their physical imperfections and it’s unfair if women through history have not had orgasms. For me things have to be fair or it’s just, you know, not fair. When I hear a suggestion that women’s sexual pleasure may not have been a priority in individual households through history, I mourn for those women. But more, I worry that maybe this time in which we live is an historical blip. Perhaps I am totally naÔve and the world order is for men to do what they will with their women. When I read about the incredible inequalities between the sexes in India and countries in the Middle East and Africa, I think that the modicum of equality that we have here must be a blip in the natural order of things and that we could just as easily lose ground as help our sisters in other lands gain it.


Men, Women and Movie Characters

Frank mentions one admittedly attractive woman in what should be a benign game and I wander into gender inequalities past, present and future! Remember the movie “Sex Lies and Videotape”? It begins with Andie McDowell (now she’s someone to put on a list) being overwhelmed by the amount of garbage on our planet. That’s what my freak out makes me think of. I had a college roommate who would walk around crying about the atrocities of World War II. Sometime we get bogged down in these huge issues. Yikes, life with Kathy can sometimes be a challenge.

In “When Harry Met Sally” Billy Crystal says women are either high maintenance or low maintenance. Meg Ryan (another list candidate) asks what she is. “Oh you’re the worst kind,” he says, “you’re high maintenance but you think you’re low maintenance. It occurs to me that that’s what I am too. I suppose that there are people on screen who seem like they’d be good dates or good mates (or good lays), but thankfully here in real life I got myself a fun, affectionate, communicative guy who’s willing to deal with my tendency to want to take on the weight of the world.

And Claudia’s marrying that dork magician David Copperfield.


Kathy Bruin is the founder of About-Face. She was pleased to read in Naomi Wolf’s book Promiscuities that many cultures through history have believed women’s sexual pleasure was the key to her conceiving a child thus the men were pretty damned attentive.