Women and their Ears, 1929
I’ve been hearing a lot of late about body shaming, fat shaming, and all the ways that women (well, mostly women) can be derided physically. I remember quite clearly the first time I became aware that imperfections in my appearance were apparently fair game for mockery. I was fourteen and a devotee of Mizz magazine, which I’d read ever since my mum found a copy on a bus and gave it to me, correctly thinking I would enjoy it. This was the late 80s and I loved all the 1950s revival fashions, beauty advice and mildly scandalous problem pages. Even now I still think about some of those features – a fairground fashion shoot where the models all seemed to be wearing clothes inspired by Ace from Doctor Who, a vox pop by Candida Doyle from Pulp, a tweed waistcoat I coveted and a beautiful coppery-coloured lipstick modelled (I think) by Terri Seymour (now better known as Simon Cowell’s ex).
But it was one uncharacteristically bitchy little article giving advice on how to get back on a hussy who had stolen your boyfriend that stuck with me. One of the ways in which you could do this, apparently, was to “laugh at her open pores.” Never mind that this mythical boyfriend-stealer might well have flawless skin, or that the boyfriend-less girl may not. What was certainly the case was that I had (and still have) oily skin and the accompanying open pores, and until that point it didn’t occur to me that it was something that you could (or even should?) be ashamed of. I remember it in a kind of eating-the-forbidden-fruit kind of way, in that I suddenly became negatively aware of myself physically, having been unaware and unbothered by what I looked like up until that point.
But that’s small fry compared to the gruelling grooming regime that is currently seen as the new normal among young women of today. Waxing, tanning, all manner of eyebrow atrocities. These are frankly a step too far for me to be arsed with, but girls much younger than fourteen are now exposed to such things. Ever since Heat magazine’s “Circle of Shame” a woman’s body has been fair game for general ridicule. And I am still annoyed about the episode in Friends where the perfect Rachel was disparaged for her “chubby ankles”. If Jennifer Aniston can’t escape this, then who can?
Having said that – I’ve never come across an example of “ear-shaming”. Until now, in this rather odd little piece quoted in The Lancashire Daily Post in 1929. I’m glad I didn’t read this as a fourteen-year-old as well. It would have depressed me, as I very soon became incredibly self conscious about my one weird ear. I know now that it’s called Stahl’s ear deformity – I have a extra rib on the top bit of the ear that makes it a bit pointed. Hence the other much cooler (and actual official and medical) names for it being Vulcan Ear, Spock’s Ear, or Elfin Ear. Age fourteen it was a nightmare that meant I never wanted to wear my hair up. Now I love it, although admittedly a turning point to getting to this point was when Lord of the Rings came out and I realised I was basically half-Hobbit. Short, a bit scruffy, and a weird ear that sometimes sticks out of my hair. It’s also very rare in Caucasians, apparently, so that’s interesting.
So, hang on to your ears for a wild and crazy ride into why women should ideally just manage to not have any ears at all, thank you very much. Not even weird ears like mine, just any ears. Incidentally, despite the title of the piece, men don’t escape scot-free. Men’s ears are also hideous but “in men this matters little: the majority of men have no pretensions to beauty, and one unlovely feature more or less can hardly make much difference.”
Women and Their Ears
Is there anyone who would dare to maintain that men and women would not be improved in appearance if it were possible to do away with ears, or at any rate to fix them in some less prominent part of the anatomy than the side of the head (writes W.H.U. in the “Birmingham Post”)? The modern generation of womankind, recognising that ears are rarely beautiful, sensibly hides the offensive feature from sight, and one could wish that all her elder sisters would copy her example. For at present a state of topsy-turveydom exists.
Young girls, whose ears, if not actually pretty, are at least tolerable, invariably hide them under their hair, whilst grandmothers and great-aunts display theirs with the utmost abandonment. And it is unfortunately true that the human ear, like the human nose, tends to get larger and more fleshy as it gets older. In men this matters little: the majority of men have no pretensions to beauty, and one unlovely feature more or less can hardly make much difference. But women are the ornamental sex and it is a shame to see old ladies of handsome and dignified mien spoiling their appearance by exposing their ears when they might just as easily train their hair to cover them up.
And how useless, too, is the ear as a feature. Admittedly it provides a useful support for spectacles and equestrian bowler hats, but otherwise what useful purpose does it serve? It is capable of showing no emotions, save shyness and embarrassment, and this only in the young (whoever heard of an elderly man’s ears turning pink?)
It is not event expert at the job for which it is intended by Nature, for when a man desires to listen with unusual intentness he generally finds it necessary to enlist the help of his open mouth. And everyone knows how much keener hearing a dog has than a man.
The ears do not even denote character to any great extent. If they stick out prominently they make a man look foolish; if they are flat and inclined to bulge in at a certain point they encourage the suspicion that their owner was once a prize-fighter in a boxing booth. Moreover, does not the ear contain the projection called “Darwin’s Point,” an ever-present, and perhaps a little humiliating, reminder that in some remote age it tapered in the manner of those of most animals?