My Beauty Icon: Barbra Streisand

Barbra Streisand

Writer Eve Barlow on the exquisite face that reminds her of home.

I suppose the reason why I’m so besotted with Barbra Streisand’s face is because it reminds me of my mother’s. Take the Babs of the mid sixties, for instance. To gaze at those high cheekbones and heavy brows, that voluminous hive piled atop her imperfect Semitic features is to feel completely at home. Her familiar countenance tells tales of Brooklyn attitude; her mannerisms are descended from the survivors of Eastern European struggle. In Babs’s pout, I see my mum standing over the gas cooker, straining and battering the carcass of a hen to within an inch of its life in order to make her chicken soup that extra bit divine (Note: use a HEN, not a chicken). All the while, she’ll be in heels and two shades of lipstick, smelling of La Perla, prepared for anything. Jewish and attractive; a vision of power and grace.

It’s worth noting that since childhood I’ve had a tendency to mistake many Jewish women for my mother/Barbra. For example, in our local Safeway I’d point at the face of Mrs Elswood – stamped on jars of Mrs Elswood pickled cucumbers – and shout, “MUMMY, it’s you!” (my poor mum). Indeed, jars of pickled cucumbers also make me misty-eyed. But the point is: to me, Barbra is the everywoman. The fact she’s also the most successful entertainer in the world is pure inspiration. She makes the best of what she has, a diva in sleep-in rollers, uncompromising in her ambition. Hers is a face that exudes glamorous domesticity, proud of its roots, emoting sharp wit and charming vulnerability. It can leave you bereft (watch her sing ‘People’) or have you doubled over in tear-stained hysterics (see her infamous Swan Lake dance). How can you not love her? Babs is a class act but she’s no string of pearls, or pair of patent shoes. She has too much chutzpah to be a traditional headturner. Nevertheless, you want to like her (see also: Winehouse).  “Look at me! I’m no Jackie O but I’m gonna be a star. Hey Mr Arnstein, HERE I BLOODY WELL AM,” she says amidst adversity, half smirking, half prepared to stare you into hell if you question her.

The key to Barbra Streisand is not in conventional prettiness. It’s in the unconventional gift that resides within a regular Jewess. For anyone who’s ever been told they’ll never be a star because they’re too “ethnic”, watch 1968’s Funny Girl. A funny Jewish girl with a funny Jewish face and a funny Jewish voice finally arrived onto the big screen. From her opening line, she put to bed any fixed notion of prettiness. “Hello, gorgeous,” she smouldered, a total beauty.

Eve Barlow is a writer, broadcaster and the Deputy Editor at NME.

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