Meow: The Etiquette of Cattiness?


This weekend, I had the pleasure of getting a haircut. Let me be the first to say that j'adore my hair stylist. She is talented and a wonderful friend. Good hair, happy Proper Paige.

Now, it was Saturday morning, and I had gone to the farmer's market and then on to the hair salon. That said, I was not decked out in my Seven jeans with my Gucci bag. I was, suffice it to say, dressed down.

It just so happened that the woman sitting in the chair next to me was impossibly perfect. She was tall, but not too tall. Thin, but still curvy. She had flowing hair, impeccably coiffed. She was, of course, impeccably dressed in her designer jeans and "weekend chic" accessories. She made me feel like I belong on the beauty short bus.

She paid, kiss-kissed her hair stylist, and departed in a breeze of some impossibly light/flowery/sexy fragrance. She was off to share her fabulousness with others.

As she left, I paused. I wanted to say something, but what was there to say? I looked around and realized that I was not the only one transfixed by her, but that my stylist and her own stylist were all watching her leave with similarly bemused expressions on their faces.

Her stylist said, "Yeah, she really is beautiful, isn't she?"

Which promptly broke the ice for more discussion. I learned that she was on a reality TV show (Austin is small; I'll spare the details for a long shot at anonimity.) and that she was happily engaged to a very charismatic man. She didn't seem in a particular rush to get married, or to do anything. She just, it seems, sort of goes through life being impossibly fabulous. Her stylist was sure to point out that she's also terribly nice, to rebut our unspoken assertions that if she is that fabulous, the laws of nature require us to hate her. Alas, we cannot. She's nice.

At this point, after voraciously processing all of the information I had learned about this everyday goddess, I realized something. We were being horribly catty. We had just spent almost ten minutes discussing a perfect stranger, her life, likes, dislikes, habits, etc. Which leads me to my question du jour:

Is it ever okay to talk about people behind their backs? Were we being catty, or was it okay?

It's topics like this that present the modern-day etiquette challenge. Do we live in the black and white world of etiquette books, or are we going to be real about this? I choose the latter.

I am sure that Emily Post would say something spry and succinct, like:

It is never polite to discuss someone in their absence. While we are all certain to be curious about the interests and lives of others, it is best not to give in to our curiousity. Idle gossip about others can be hurtful and is not productive.

Okay, fine. But...don't you think that, from time to time, Emily indulged in a little whisper or two about her neighbor's choice of shoes, or the texture of her pound cake, or something? I do.

And so, we are squarely in a gray area. I think that my karma is safe because, technically, none of us said anything bad about said goddess in the hair salon. We shared information and discussed her various attributes. But, to say that is to ignore the fact that the entire reason we were discussing her was because she's drop dead gorgeous and we were all jealous. Yup, I said it.

Which, regrettably, leads me to the conclusion that it really wasn't so great to be talking about her. Sure, she's genetically, financially, socially, and romantically blessed. But hey, does that open her up to our scrutiny and censure? No, not really. I mean, maybe she would have been flattered that a group of grown women felt the need to discuss her; maybe it would make her feel great. But isn't that sly of me to presume that her ego is huge because she's beautiful? See, there I go again, down that slippery slope of presumption.

In the big picture, I do think it's good that we didn't really bring the claws out and get catty, but it's not great that we did what we did. Mea culpa, I say. (That's a fancy way of saying 'my bad.')

So, I hereby resolve to try like hell not to talk about the everyday Giseles roaming our streets and cities.



Jenny said...

Emily Post was not dropping her pearls of wisdom inthe era of reality tv. Is this woman - although nice - was or is about to be on a realtiy tv show...them she waives her rights. She made a choice and now needs to embrace all the talking, because their will be talking!

Cristy said...

Gossip and catty talk is a reality and will always be with us. It has some social function and has been analyzed by anthropologists, who, by the way, have a deep desire to be the object of anyone's conversation.