Have you ever watched videos on Amy Poehler’s vlog channel “Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls”?
If you haven’t, block out some time after school or work, and hunker down with your laptop because you’re in for a treat.
There are a bunch of sub-series on the channel, like “Smart Girls at the Party” where she and other co-hosting women interview really cool girls who do amazing things like being a firefighter or blowing glass or volunteering at an animal shelter. There’s also “Operation Nice” where watchers come up with good deeds to do in their neighborhoods, and “Boys Minute” and “Girls of the World” and even “Meow Meow Music”.
But my favorite sub-series is — by far — “Ask Amy”.
Not only because I think Amy Poehler is great and I love basically getting virtual 1-on-1 time with her.
Yes, it’s wonderful that someone with her level of popularity and popular culture leverage is doing something to bring discussions like that into the mainstream, and that she’s so personable.
But you know what I find most revelatory and intimate about those videos?
It’s that she doesn’t always wear makeup.
I don’t mean that absolutely — sometimes it does seem like she’s wearing makeup; whatever. And sometimes she’s got her hair in a ponytail and sometimes it looks very purposefully styled, other times not.
The exact level of “done up” she is exhibiting from one video to the next is not the point here.
It’s just the overall impression.
Sometimes Amy Poehler looks tired in the videos. Sometimes she’s wearing sweatpants, and other times adorable dresses. They’re filmed quickly, closely, comfortably with her computer’s camera or maybe her cell phone. She makes sure her face is visible, and sometimes she’s by a window that’s very flattering, but there’s no fancy lighting setups. She doesn’t always sit or stand with perfect, tummy-sucking-in posture.
This makes you feel like you’re just skyping with a friend who knows that you care more about what she has to say than about how she looks.
A friend who has let their guard down because they’re not worried about you evaluating how they look, even if they spent the whole day in delicately arranged makeup and high heels.
And Amy Poehler definitely spends a lot of her days looking carefully (and attractively) put-together with hair, makeup, and wardrobe. Just take a look at any Parks & Rec episode.
I’m sure it’d be easy for her to record all of these videos while she’s still in full hair and makeup for the day. With little to no effort, she could take the safe, traditional route of making sure she looks “pretty” before exposing her face and her body to the public eye.
For women, the default asked by society when you’re in public is an effortfully-created “pretty” — truly natural appearance is not average, but rather sub-par.
For female celebrities, it’s an even more strongly enforced standard — just google “female celebrities without makeup” and see how much pops up.
(No equivalent for male celebrities that I know of).
We’ve all noticed this, right?
I’m not even a big make-up person myself, but if I’m going out for more than a grocery run — or heaven forbid there are going to be pictures taken — I definitely feel like I ought to “at least” put on some mascara and make sure my hair is smooth just to “clean up” a bit.
(Clean up from a clean face??? What? This sounds ridiculous to me when I think about it).
But even I — not someone in the public eye, not someone who’s super into makeup and hairstyles these days — feel the pressure to sculpt myself up to a “bare minimum of put-togetherness” if I’m going to expose my appearance to other people.
And yet somehow Amy Poehler manages to confidently, without comment or fanfare, not really give a f***.
I never even catch her looking at the miniature version of herself on the screen instead of looking into the camera — something everyone I Skype or FaceTime with does constantly (including myself to a shocking extent, and including men I know, too!)
You could easily say that it’s not a statement, she doesn’t skip makeup on purpose, and it doesn’t mean anything… yadda yadda yadda.
But I don’t really believe that.
I think Amy Poehler knows how important it is to be open with how she looks at all different times of day and after all different types of days and purposefully choose to show that it is not a problem to look less “put-together”.
And another thing.
During this whole post, I’ve shied away from saying that she ever doesn’t look “attractive” or “pretty.” This is ostensibly to avoid suggesting that not wearing makeup or doing your hair or having flattering posture makes you less attractive. Because I shouldn’t ever say that a woman isn’t attractive — that’d be body snarking, right?
But the flip side of that is that I realized I am wholly giving in to the belief that calling a woman “unattractive” would be one of the worst things I could say about her. Say what she said was dumb, say she isn’t funny, whatever, but never say that she isn’t pretty unless I really want to insult her!
Am I serious?
So yeah, Amy Poehler does not look especially attractive all the time in those videos.
And that matters.
Because even if she doesn’t look attractive, that doesn’t matter at all because what she’s saying, how she’s saying it, and why she’s saying it means so much more than what her appearance happens to be for those 2 minutes.
So, the next time I hesitate before I accept someone tagging me in a less-than-flattering photo on Facebook, or I put on jeans because I’m too nervous to wear shorts after not shaving for 2 weeks, I hope I can think of “Ask Amy” and:
Give a damn.
And maybe some other woman or girl will see me and not give a damn the next time she’s worried about how she looks… and on and on until people are only getting dolled up because they want to, not because they’re afraid of being shamed if they aren’t.