Stephen W. Browne Rants and Raves

June 5, 2010

Meditations on beauty

Filed under: Uncategorized — Stephen W. Browne @ 12:59 pm

Derbrahlee Lorenzana claims she was fired by Citibank for being too hot.

The Village Voice, and a whole bunch of other news sources, are carrying the the story of Debrahlee Lorenzana, a 33-year-old single mom in New York who claims she was fired for her looks.

Do go to the Voice, if you’re a heterosexual male you won’t regret it. There are 26 pictures of this extraordinarily beautiful woman in clothes appropriate for the office and evening wear. Aside from her looks, she knows how to dress.

Not that it matters, Lorenzana would look stunning in a potato sack – but evidently that’s not always been so great for her. She mentions her way of walking down New York streets, eyes forward, never making eye contact with anyone.

I can’t come to any conclusions about her case against Citibank, I’ve only heard one side so far. The bank claims her firing was performance-related. She claims supervisors said she was too “distracting,” and dictated in detail how she was to dress, which was not according to the official dress code. She said they held her to a far more rigid standard than other women in the office.

She also said she’s received some pretty crude harassment on occasion. Sadly, I find that credible. Men can be pigs, especially when influenced by acute testosterone poisoning…

Ultimately she said after being transferred around, and assigned to jobs she was not trained for, she was fired. Now it’s in arbitration.

Perhaps she needed a sassy gay friend to help her deal with this kind of $#!+.

A couple of things occur to me. One is that beyond Lorenzana’s stunning looks, there’s something else about here the pictures only hint at. I’ve known other women just as beautiful. There is something I can only describe as, for lack of a better word, “provocative,” about her looks.

I don’t mean that in a pejorative way, and I most certainly do not mean she looks like a tease or a vamp. It’s the same quality I noticed in another dark-haired beauty I knew in Poland. She was a happily-married mother, certainly beautiful – but that doesn’t stand out in Poland as much as it does here. But there was something about her I describe as “innocently provocative.”

It defies explanation – as you can tell by my fumbling attempts to explain it.

Another thing is that there is something about American culture and our attitudes to beautiful women that… (again, searching for appropriate word) tends to warp the psyches of women whose beauty blooms early. The most together beautiful women I’ve known in this country tended to be “ugly ducklings” whose beauty bloomed after their personalities were fully formed.

I once knew a beautiful 12-year-old who literally tyrannized her overweight 16-year-old sister for example.

In Poland I didn’t notice this kind of thing, or at least not quite as much. My wife for example, is a stunner in her own right, and charmingly unaware of it.

(Some would say this explains why she settled for me ;-))

Some thoughts about beauty, in no particular order. I couldn’t impose any order on it anyway – it’s an elusive subject.

* I remember some English students I had in Poland. in particular three very attractive women, two of them single professionals, one married.

One day the subject of beauty came up in class. I got an earful from two professional women who bitterly complained about the beautiful women in their offices, and the influence they had over the male managers.

I was thinking, “In America, women in the office would be complaining about them.”

On another occasion, a lovely Polish woman mentioned her husband had a new secretary, “But I want him to get rid of her, because she is too beautiful.”

And I was thinking, “If she’s saying this, I want to meet the secretary!”

* After Phil Spector was arrested for the murder of Lana Clarkson, I remember two women on a news program talking about the case. One remarked that no beautiful woman committing suicide (Spector’s feeble defense) would shoot herself in the face.

My wife remarked, “Unless her beauty was a curse to her.”

* Which reminds me of Deirdre of the Sorrows, the Irish tale from the Red Branch cycle (and play by John Millington Synge) about a woman whose beauty was a curse to her, and those who loved her.

A pretty good retelling of the myth can be found in Morgan Llywelyn’s ‘Red Branch.’

If they ever made it into a movie, Lorenzana would be my nominee for the part of Deirdre. (Though she’s Italian and Puerto Rican, she could pass for Black Irish.)

* A martial arts bud of mine is perhaps the most beautiful man I’ve ever known personally. He married early so he never played the field, but I can tell you women openly stare at him in public.

He’s also one of the most accomplished martial artists I’ve ever worked out with, and has had several amateur and semi-pro fights in boxing, kickboxing and grappling.

I am accounted a handsome man even yet at my age, but I wonder, what’s it like to be that devastatingly handsome? I wonder how much my friend’s looks have to do with his motivation to train to that level of deadliness. Is there a desire to escape a “sissy” image? His looks are not the least effeminate though, he’s just a beautiful human being.

* At an American Studies Conference in Minsk, Belarus, I met an American woman, a clueless lefty academic. To give you an idea how clueless, at one point in a presentation she referred to the “bearded, Christlike figures of Che and Castro.” She didn’t even notice the cold wave that swept across the room from the Belarusians desperately praying for the fall of communism in their country.

At one point she touched on the theme of how “cultural imperialism” is spreading the “Caucasian ideal” of beauty across the world. (She was, by the way, not beautiful.)

I’ve heard this many times before, and I’m not buying it. Light skin has been considered desirable in many cultures, even before European contact. As English sailors landing in Tahiti for the first time found out much to their delight.

I think light skin plays the same part in the beauty ideal as long fingernails, elaborate hairdos, certain kinds of confining clothings, etc.

I don’t think it’s a Caucasian thing at all, I think it’s an aristocrat thing. All of these culturally acquired beauty markers carry the same message: this person does not work with his/her hands.

And interestingly, now that most people work inside we see that a tanned/olive complexion is replacing pale as the epitome of beauty. But the message is the same, it indicates a person who has the leisure to get that tan.

Yet underneath the culturally-defined beauty markers there seems to be a standard of beauty that is remarkably consistent across cultures. Markers that indicate health and fertility.

* I was talking with an English colleague in Poland about beautiful women, and their attitudes. What we had both noticed, about both our countries vis-a-vis Poland was – say you’re waiting at a tram stop and you see one of these Polish girls who is so beautiful you can’t tear your eyes off her.

We agreed that in Poland our experience was, if you caught her eye she’d probably smile at you.

In America and England, as my friend put it, “She’d give you that ‘What the f*** are you looking at?” attitude.”

* A friend and student of mine, one of those beautiful Polish girls, was running the Public Relations department of a major foreign corporation. At a lesson once I exaplained the American weirdness of sexual harassment lawsuits and how men in American offices say they don’t dare compliment a woman on her looks.

She looked thoughtful and said, “That explains it then.”

She was referring to an American colleague who evidently liked to play the gallant and shower the ladies in the office with extravagant compliments. Poor sod didn’t get to do it in the states.

* Femina lupa femines , in Bulgaria, which is by the way the best-kept secret in Europe as far as beautiful women go (according to the Peace Corps more of their male volunteers marry local girls in Bulgaria than any other country,) I met a stunning young opera singer at a conference.

She had won awards at competitions all over Europe, and a full scholarship to study in the States. When she applied for a visa at the embassy in Sofia, the female clerk stamped it DENIED, and said to her, “Oh you beautiful Bulgarian girls, you just want to marry an American guy, then what will our poor girls do?”

* In one of the many fascinating conversations my wife and I had with our son’s late godmother and daughter’s namesake, Judith Baklanova-Hatton, I remarked about a mutual acquaintance that he suffered from what is possibly a man’s greatest misfortune at birth – that he was fortunate at birth.

I mean that he was “a gentleman of leisure” and had never had to work for a living. For a man, that can be crippling.

(I also believe upper classes are well aware of this, and in many cultures have evolved ways of countering the effect – a good subject for another post.)

When Judith agreed, my wife asked, “What do you think is the worst thing for a woman?”

Judith thought for a moment and said, “To be disfigured.”


  1. Probably the best thing that could happen to her, if she decides to go for a career in modeling for which there’s little doubt she would be bountifully awarded. It may be my fondness for brunettes, but those photos are absolutely stunning!
    They say “beauty is only skin deep”. Since 1920, this figure of speech has developed a whole new meaning as America produced lovely ladies with post-graduate unloving personalities. One thing that will make even Miss America unwelcomed anywhere is the typical, coaster, femiNazi attitude complete with razor-sharp “social(ist in)justice” blame-storming tongue. Having never met the lady I cannot say whether this was part of her makeup, but from observation I have deduced one does not work or get on well with others with the entitlement chip on their shoulder.
    If those unsavory characteristics were present in her CitiBank employ they would be a certain job-killer, as the last place on Earth any form of “you owe me everything for nothing/alleged injustices done my predecessors/ancestors” mentality is welcomed is in the workplace.

    Comment by Ted Amadeus — June 6, 2010 @ 5:28 am

  2. Bulgaria, huh? I’ve always wanted to visit there…

    Comment by naman — June 8, 2010 @ 12:53 am

  3. It would be well worth the trip. English teachers are probably still in high demand.

    It’s surprising how many people you meet on the street who can speak perfect English, including little kids.

    Sofia was kind of socialist-run-down when I lived there, but the surrounding countryside is spectacular – as are the girls.

    Comment by Stephen W. Browne — June 8, 2010 @ 9:43 am

  4. P.S. They’re by the way, more often of the type of this woman than the fair northern Slavs.

    Comment by Stephen W. Browne — June 8, 2010 @ 9:45 am

  5. […] then I happened on this musing by Stephen W. Browne, which started out as a contemplation of former Citibanker Debrahle… (previously described here), and which suggests to me that maybe it’s something else […]

    Pingback by » Busted flush — June 10, 2010 @ 2:03 pm

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