Tuesday, October 18, 2011


Speaking of breaking news...

Last week I heard of a new study that, in short, found that "make-up makes women seem competent." Did you hear about this? I encountered the story on the radio, tv, and internet. Apparently, this was big news.

My interest in the headline lies in that pesky word "seem." I recently read a book on writing where the author stated that women tend to use "seem" more frequently than men, and that, more often than not, this word weakens their writing. So, ladies, if you're hoping to come across as competent, cake on the mascara and start slashing "seem" from your manuscripts.

It's easy to see how "seem" can weaken a statement. Compare "It's cold out," to "It seems like the breeze is bringing the temperature down a bit." Or "I was mad" to "It seemed like the way that he reacted to my statement made me angry."

I have a tendency to use "seem" in my writing. I also have a tendency to preface questions with an apology, and to qualify statements I make about almost anything.I'm trying to resist these tendencies, but it's not easy. Just the other day, my sister asked me to proofread a paper for her. I was surprised to find that my sister, who is, quite simply, brilliant, had riddled her paper with that unseemly word. I typed out a comment in the margin, and then, after I read it, I couldn't help but laugh. The comment said: "It seems like you are using 'seem' a lot."

What can I say? Old habits, be it blue eyeshadow or self-doubt, die hard.


  1. Kim, I don't have a comment about the word 'seem' for the moment, but I do have a story.

    When I was a very young teen, my mother told me that I was a beautiful girl-- *when* I bothered to fix myself up. Otherwise I was plain and forgettable (or worse.)

    I wore a fair amount of make-up from age 13 to 18, when I graduated from high school and went away to college. It was then that I started to wear less colorful clothing and retreated into black, still my favorite color though I also really love orange, red and brown. Gradually throughout my twenties, I left off part after part of the mask forced on women. (Notice the men who wear it are making their own statements, mostly against the grind.) First it was 'foundation,' then powder, then I realized that my cheeks were actually quite naturally rosy-- so off went the blusher at the same time that I dumped the eyeliner. The mascara and the lipstick hung on the longest. At the end of my twenties, I dumped mascara, because I wanted the freedom to cry without looking like I'd been run over by a Mac truck in the aftermath.

    I still wear lipstick, on occasion, typically when I meet friends at night or go to dinner parties and the like. But I have *loved* for almost ten years to face the world with a 'naked' complexion. I have lots of freckles over the apples of my cheeks from sun exposure and I embrace them. Every time I see them I know that I am not forcing myself to shellac on anything. I am just me. And sometime after I had my daughter, my mom quit bugging me about it as a matter of course. She still does, now and again, but it doesn't occupy our conversation as it did when I was much younger, thank God.

    To be honest, I think it's kept my skin looking a bit younger and fresher in the so-called long run, anyway. Incidentally, I recommend the book 'Color Stories' by Mary Lisa Gavenas. http://www.amazon.com/Color-Stories-Americas-Billion-Dollar-Industry/dp/1416577130/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1319034351&sr=8-1 Compulsively readable and one of the non-fiction pieces that informed my choices.

    Great post, Kim.

  2. I love that we only "seem competent with make-up," not that we actually are :) I slash seem when ever I find it. It is one of those words that pulls your characters out of their POV. Who really thinks, "It seems cold out." No, we think, "It is freakin' freezing out, Why can I never find my coat?"

  3. Good point - I better go strike those "seem"s from my manuscript. :)

  4. Suze - I enjoyed the story :) I am kind of the opposite - I didn't wear any make-up in highschool, then just mascara until my late twenties, and now, yeah, I've kind of embraced the mask :)
    Angie and Stacy - I'm sure neither of you have much slashing to do - from what I can tell, you're both great writers :)

  5. Being married to a lawyer, I find it difficult to get away with blanket or strong statements that don't have some sort of qualifier. And it drives me crazy when people aren't as cautious about it as I am. Does Bubba still quote law professor Jimmy Gurule (from ND)--"Words have meaning!"? Also, I would add, does blue eye shadow.

  6. I sure wish you'd post here more often. It seems like it's always too long between posts. And I seem to always enjoy a good Kim Karras blog post. It seems to make everything better, somehow. And speaking of seams . . . I seem to have misplaced my eye liner. Seems like I put it right here next to my lip gloss. :)

  7. Janel, it's been awhile since I've heard talk of Jimmy Gurule - but the name alone makes me smile :)
    Curtis, ditto! Find that eye liner and post again, already!

  8. Kim, one thing I know about the choices we make regarding our looks is that they're very personal-- and I don't think most women make them lightly.

    I would never describe you as wearing a mask. I took mine off, but perhaps your decision to wear full cosmetics is not a mask but rather a piece of your armor to face whatever the day has in store.

    Just a thought and a wish to show respect.

  9. Armor is a great word for it, Suze :)

  10. Someone once said, "Even a barn looks better painted". I have wrestled with that statement. I love not wearing make-up. However, when I go to work, I wear the basic makeup and it helps me feel "put together" "on top of it". I believe that since I tried to look my best others will know that I can do my best! I admire the women who do not wear make-up, I am jealous of the women who have that natural beauty where make-up is not required at all in fact it takes away from their beauty. The Barn statement is not necessarily accurate! It just "seems" to be accurate in my case.