'LOOK AT MY UGLY FACE!' by Sara Halprin


Myths and Musings About Beauty and Other Perilous Obsessions with Women's Appearance
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 The usual pitfalls of goddess revisionism afflict these murky musings about beauty, ugliness, myth, spirituality, and women. Therapist Halprin draws on an eclectic soup of Taoism, goddess myths, process therapy, Jungian psychology, and feminism to make sense of her personal struggles with white Western standards of beauty. She argues that both beauty and ugliness have power and that, rather than representing immutable, fixed categories, each should be thought of as a fluid role that women can inhabit at will, to suit their own purposes. She takes her title from the story of Sun Pu-erh, a woman of Taoist legend, who, told that her beauty would keep her from enlightenment, deliberately scarred her face with hot oil. Halprin returns to this story often but somehow her foggy analyses never quite convince one that Sun Pu-erh's story is empowering. Halprin also uses riveting tales from Tibetan Buddhism and the Brothers Grimm, as well as ancient Sumer and other goddess-worshipping traditions. Unfortunately, rather than respect the ambiguity of these stories, she has a tendency to follow them with corny pop-psychologizing. For example, after Halprin retells the South African story ``Mulha,'' about a young girl who discovers her own strength through inhabiting the hairy body of a child- eating ogre, she encumbers it with an earnest hope that women will learn from this story to ``use their inner monsters creatively.'' More irritating still, Halprin relies heavily on vague references to a goddess-worshipping, woman-venerating, ``pre-patriarchal'' era, a concept much in dispute among historians and archaeologists. She rarely specifies region or culture, and her language misleadingly suggests that both ``pre-patriarchy'' and ``patriarchy'' are coherent, distinct points in history. Halprin's stories are colorful, exciting additions to feminist discourse on appearance; too bad she burdens them with therapy clichÇs and pseudohistoricism.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-670-85393-3
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1995