Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Old News

I don't take my job too seriously. I'm a writer before I'm a journalist. I'm here to learn, not so much about the world, but how to tell a story well. So, I look for stories I think I can tell and stories I'd like to try to tell.

I'm often surprised at what takes off and what doesn't. I expected to get all kinds of hits and action over my Kanawha Players piece. Got virtually nothing. I didn't expect much of anything over the calendar girl story, but then the comments section went through the roof and Melissa Ann got kicked hard. I feel bad about that, not bad that I wrote the story or bad that people read it, but bad that people set upon her like a pack of wolves over a bag of pork rinds.

Eventually, the comments were shut down.

I was attracted to the story because I thought it was kind of neat someone in their 40s would do a swimsuit calendar. No, I don't think she's precisely your average housewife. She lives in an upscale neighborhood, though she could probably use some work on her house. I noticed water damage on the ceiling. It probably needs a new roof.

She's a former beauty pageant contestant and winner. She's also modeled and, from what I understand, is married to a plastic surgeon.

Some of the commenters thought she'd had surgery, had botox, had something. Maybe she did, maybe she didn't. Maybe it doesn't even matter --not these days. It wasn't really important. Sure, anybody can have plastic surgery and theoretically get the perfect body (though actual miles may vary), but not everybody would want to put the results up on somebody's wall.

It really didn't matter. The aesthetics of the calendar don't matter --except maybe as a discussion related to feminism, body issues, societal expectations and female objectification --things I sound like a moron talking about.

What mattered to me was 20 years ago, she was a model and a pageant contestant. For one reason or another, she got out of it. It's a little brave to give it another try when you're middle-aged, have kids and live in an out of the way place like Charleston.

Some would say and probably did say she should have just focused on being a mom --as if having children negates every other hope or wish in someone's life. She had the three kids and maybe doing this wasn't so good for them. I tend to doubt it has any lasting impact or has no more impact than the usual ways parents routinely traumatize their children when they choose to pursue something that has nothing to do with being a parent, like playing tuba in a community brass band (particularly mortifying if you're a Goth kid), joining a belly dancing troupe (oh, recital night would be like hell) or deciding to devote 40 hours a week writing a novel (kids, I'm sorry, but this may pay for junior college and won't that be sweet?).

I don't really know what kind of a person she really is. You don't always get that after sitting with them in their living room. Sometimes you do. Other than the calendar, she seemed pretty normal.

Did she want attention? Yep. Is that a bad thing? Nope. Is she a good person? Hard to say. I didn't do a lengthy character study where I went through her diaries and checked her tax returns. This wasn't about stripping her history for the masses to gawk at. She committed no crime and had not put herself up as a paragon of morality or an example of absolute coolness. It was a people piece, not an investigation.

My whole story was really about why she wanted to put a picture of herself on someone's wall for sixteen months. And you know why she wanted to do that?

Because she could. Because it was possible. Because she had the resources, one way or another, to pull it off --and she did. The calendar got made. She's selling it. Somebody is probably buying it. And from my standpoint, she did no harm. Do I think it's all about self-esteem? Not really, but here's the thing... If she can hold her head up after the kind of ass kicking she got in the comments section of the paper (and the little bit of ridicule she's probably taking on the street), you know, she might really have something to say about the subject.

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