An Interview with Fran Lebowitz
Author and public speaker Fran Lebowitz gives her take.
INTERVIEWED BY MARC BALET
Marc Balet: We’ve been told that the right lingerie can give you better posture and give you a better outlook on your day. Do you find that to be true?
Fran Lebowitz: You mean do I find that to be true from personal experience?
MB: When you choose your lingerie, underwear, whatever you — do you think that, “Oh, if I put this on, it’s going to make me feel a certain way”?
FL: I’m certain there are people who do. I’m guessing that there are many, many girls who feel that way. I am, however, not to be counted among them.
MB: People feel that way. People feel that when they put on the right lingerie, like you’re putting on the right Armani suit, you feel —
FL: I mean they are clothes. Your clothes make you feel different. Of course they do.
MB: Yeah, I mean, so have you ever in your life put on lingerie?
FL: No. I have, yes, put on underwear in my life.
MB: No, I know.
FL: Okay. No, I may not be your target market for this.
MB: For this particular thing.
FL: Yes. But I’m more an appreciator of lingerie than I am a consumer of it.
MB: Okay. What do you look for in lingerie?
FL: Well, you know, this is — mine or other people’s?
MB: That’s the question.
FL: Right, I understand the question, on other girls, not myself, I would have to say that I like really, really expensive lingerie. I don’t like lingerie that is extreme to the point that it makes me laugh, okay, and extreme things do make me laugh. Even thinking about them makes me laugh right now. If someone thinks that they look like a Helmut Newton photograph, they’re wrong. That’s what I mean. That kind of thing, you know, unless you were Helmut Newton and unless it was that era which is…
FL: Yeah, it’s gone. So, now to me, to someone of my vintage, it looks silly. So, there’s a lot of really nice lingerie and I think that the more expensive the better.
MB: Do you think that it — you could tell someone’s personality by their lingerie?
FL: What you can tell by people’s clothes of any sort is what they want you to think about them more than what they’re really like. That’s what clothes are. Clothes are, “I want you to think this about me,” for most people. There are some people who actually have real style, but it’s not we’re talking about these few people, okay. But in general, people dress — doesn’t matter whether it’s lingerie or their shoes or anything that they’re wearing, it’s, “I want people to think this about me.” And especially now, this is a much more extreme than it used to be.
MB: Why is that?
FL: Because people are much more self-conscious than they used to be and also we live in a much more visual environment where people see more things. People only used to see the things in their own environment, now they see the things from everything.
MB: Well, lingerie is everywhere on everyone’s posting pictures of themselves in lingerie.
FL: But it’s everything, not just lingerie. So, people see things they would never have seen. They see these things and they think, “Rihanna, I’m like her. I’m going to wear what she wore, wears.” And this is really a bad idea, usually for anyone but Rihanna. What someone like Rihanna can get away with, by which I mean she looks great in it, you’re probably not going to. Why? You’re not Rihanna. So, I think that people should avoid that kind of thing, because it usually makes them look pathetic. That’s what I think.
Most people don’t know themselves, so they don’t know what they should really wear. They know “I want that.” You can’t buy style. You can only buy fashion. You can’t by style. So, if you don’t have it — so I think that’s more what you can tell about a person, not their real personality, what they wish you to think about them, which is why I think you can only, generally speaking, accurately judge your contemporaries, because you know what they mean by what they wear, what they want you to think about them. What this guy wants me to think about him because he has this watch. Someone who’s 20, I don’t know what they’re trying to make me think about them and basically what I actually think about them is I don’t care. Clothes are code. So, you can’t decipher the code, if you don’t have the code.
I don’t have the code for 20 year olds and I don’t want it. I don’t care about it. But because of all this nostalgia and because of the flattening of time by the Internet, someone 20 will see something from 50 years ago and then someone will make it because a lot of them want it. But that’s all that means. What did it mean then? And what does it mean now are two different things. You can’t take something out of its time. It means something different now. What Helmut Newton’s photographs meant then is a very different thing than what they mean now. And so since Helmut had a lot of underwear in his photographs, that’s why I thought of him.
MB: Yeah, no, an obvious one. But people are photographing themselves in underwear and lingerie for everyone to see now. I mean nobody cares anymore. Before there was a little bit of decorum or you wouldn’t –
FL: People don’t have an interest in privacy anymore. They don’t care. All these glass buildings, you look at them. You would think I don’t want to live in one because I don’t want people looking at me. They don’t care. Either don’t care or they want you to look at them. But I don’t want to look at them and I don’t want them to look at me. I think that I really wonder if it’s possible to black mail anyone anymore. What would you blackmail them about? Things people take pictures of and show to the entire world used to be a steady gig for a blackmailer.
MB: It’s true.
FL: So people put pictures of themselves on the Internet in underwear. Look, let’s be realistic. Most people do not look that great in underwear. Most people do not have great bodies. They just don’t. Even most 20 year olds, okay? And so most people look better the more clothes, not the fewer clothes. It’s when you see people in the streets in shorts and stuff like that, you think, here’s what I basically think, there is in the entire world a tremendous mirror famine.
MB: A mirror famine?
FL: Yes. Like look at yourself before you go in the street dressed like this!
MB: They can’t tell.
FL: They don’t know or they don’t care. They don’t understand what clothes are or what underwear is. Aside from its practical use underwear, lingerie, it’s supposed to be alluring, allure. It’s supposed to lure people and most people are not that alluring and so that very sexy underwear, which sexy means something different to everybody, most people they can’t carry it off.
MB: Somebody’s buying it.
FL: They buy it. People buy things and they must think they look good in them.
MB: I mean, now there’s this huge fad for — and I’ve been dealing with these people talking to them — boudoir photographers, where all these women want their pictures taken semi-nude or with lingerie on in an environment before they get married or while they’re married as gifts to their husbands or their boyfriends. There’s thousands of these photographers now.
FL: But they put those on the internet or they give them to the boyfriend?
MB: They do both. Some of them are on their websites. They show them off or some of them they give to their boyfriends or husbands or their lovers.
FL: But that’s different. People — since they invented cameras — people took pictures. To me it’s one thing if you give it to the person that you’re sleeping with. It’s another thing if you put it on the internet. Okay, because if you’re giving it to the person you’re sleeping with, then that can be sexy. If you put it on the internet, that’s advertising.
MB: I also think when you go over to the high line and you walk by these buildings where every one of those windows, you’re [right] for millions of dollars, they’re buying these apartments right on the High Line. Literally you can just walk by and see what they’re eating and see how they’re living. It’s unbelievable.
FL: As you know, I’m in constant real estate search. A broker told me about a building and I said, “Where exactly is that?” He said right on the high line. I said I’m not looking. I don’t want to see it. I don’t want it. Not only do I not want to pay $80 zillion for it, if you gave it to me, I don’t want to live there.
MB: Well, you’re right — you’re literally in a fish bowl.
FL: Yes, that’s right.
MB: I’m just going to say is there a brand that you like, but I’m not even going to ask if you like it. Have your tastes in intimates evolved over the years?
FL: No. I don’t evolve.
MB: This is it.
FL: I never change my mind.
MB: You change your underwear, but you don’t change your mind.
FL: Right. I mean, all these things are limited, by which I mean there are only a certain number of ways you can make a bra look. I’ve seen all of them I’m pretty sure. They’re not going to come up with something like brand new. Things are new if you’re 20. Then everything’s new. But if you’re not, then it isn’t.
MB: But your tastes haven’t changed over the years? I mean I went from jockey to something else, for instance.
FL: Oh, I see. You mean in my own clothes?
MB: That’s it. Since New Jersey, pretty much.
FL: Yeah, pretty much I would say.
MB: You’re an avid reader. Have you read any of these books yet, “The Boudoir Bible”, “Missionary No More”, “Bare Essentials”, “Demystifying Bra Fitting and Construction”? Have you?
FL: I have to say I have not. But I wouldn’t use the word yet.
MB: During the sexual revolution, did you burn your bra?
FL: I did not. I think bras are a good idea. I mean for most people. Some people look great without one. Most people don’t. It’s like everything else. And it’s never the people who do it, by the way, it’s like some girls look fantastic in shorts and so do some boys, but not the people who are wearing them on the subway.
FL: Okay, so, there are — but also people have such different bodies now than they used to. Bodies have actually changed. I mean boys, all boys it seems go to the gym, not all, but I mean it used to be a really rare thing for people to go to a gym. And so, what people think is a great body now is different than what people used to think and these levels of perfection in a body, seeing every muscle in an abdomen, yes it looks nice –
MB: And for women too.
FL: Yeah, well, women really can’t get that. You don’t really have those same muscles. Plus they are — I don’t know what the word is — but they are nourished by testosterone. All muscles are, so you’re chances are less. But the truth is, when I see someone who has a body like that, all I can think of is how much time it takes, you know, how much time it takes and when you see tons of people have bodies like that now, really, lots.
FL: Okay, how much time are you in a gym to get that and keep that. I would say, I’m guessing, because that is not me, a minimum of an hour and a half every single day.
FL: Okay? So, if that’s how you choose to spend your time, that’s fine. But to me, it seems idiotic. It really does, because what are you getting from that? If you’re young, if you’re a model or an actor, that’s part of your job, I suppose. But if you’re not, it’s just a kind of competition. It’s a kind of looks competition, which you’re never going to win. Maybe you should think there might be some other aspect of me that would interest people. If that’s all that interests people, if that’s all that interests you in someone else or them in you, then go ahead.
MB: No, but it’s a plus.
FL: It is a plus, but it is — it depends on what else you can do, like I mean I don’t know. Like, think of someone who is doing something great or important, whatever that is — they’re not at the gym an hour and a half every day. No one has that time.
FL: Okay, so, for the society at large, it’s probably not the most productive use of human time is all I’m saying. There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s okay. It’s a lot of time, though is what I think about it. I mean one thing it makes me kind of laugh is that men never spent a lot of time on how they looked and now they’re slaves the same way women are.
FL: And so I think it’s funny. Once you’re past 28, 30, the amount of time it takes to just not look bad is — it’s called maintenance for a reason. It’s a lot of time. And to look great in underwear, most people don’t and so if you do look great in underwear, you’re either really, really lucky. But even if you’re really, really lucky, you’re still in the gym. No one’s that lucky.
FL: And even if you’re that lucky, in a couple of years you won’t be. So, it gets harder and harder and less and less remunerative, because no matter how much time you’re spending in the gym, if you’re 50 years old, you’re still not looking like someone who’s spending much less time in the gym, but they’re 20.
MB: That’s for sure.
FL: So, I mean, to me it seems like diminishing returns.
MB: I came out of the gym the other and this — one of the guys who works behind the desk followed me out of the gym and he said “I’ve got to tell you something.” And I said, “What’s the matter?” And he said, “You’re an inspiration.” I said, “What?” He said, “You’re an inspiration to us. Like, you old man, you’re an inspiration to us young kids that we can keep going and still go to the gym.” I was like, I didn’t know whether to cry or laugh or I was like –
FL: On the other hand, Mark, you know I mean you’re not going to look the way that you looked even five years ago.
MB: No, I know.
FL: In fact, at a certain point, even five months ago. I see a photograph of myself now that was taken six months ago and think, “You looked fabulous.”
MB: It’s true.
FL: But it’s hard for me to imagine that the big market for lingerie is people my age. It can’t be and if it is, those people belong in a mental hospital. Okay, because that type of overt sexuality is really unattractive in older people. It’s just simply unattractive in older people. If you have it in your own life, you’re lucky. But in a public way, it’s just unseemly. It’s part of youth. The same way you can’t pretend that a 20 year old knows what a 40 year old knows. They don’t. So, that’s the upside of getting older, you know that you know more. The downside is you look worse while you know it. And if you live in a culture that doesn’t value what you know, which we do, then of course I suppose a lot of people feel bad about it. But it’s silly for a culture to do that since everybody gets old. It’s not something that happens to an unlucky couple of people. Everybody, it’s like everyone agrees let’s make everyone feel horrible. It’s stupid. I know that when you’re young, you don’t think you’ll be old. I know that. When I was young, here’s what I thought. There are all kinds of people in the world. There are short people. There are tall people. There are black people. There are white people. There are young people. There are old people. And I’m a short white young one, that’s what I thought.
MB: Well, that’s true.
FL: That was true. I’m still white. I’m still short. But I’m not still young. Almost if I thought, you were stupid to choose to be 65. I chose to be 25. That is how people who are young think and I don’t think that that changes. It’s just a part of nature to think that. It’s impossible for people to imagine themselves a different age. I hear people say, “When I get old, I’m going to be this way.” You don’t know what you’re going to be, because getting old is a process and you don’t know what’s going to happen to you.
MB: And it happens so fast.
FL: At a certain point, yes, it’s like a roller coaster. It’s like, tick, tick, tick, tick, then you get to the top and then you plummet down. At a certain point that is true. And even though now, people do live longer, it certainly seems longer. People live longer. People pay more attention to their health and to their physical condition. So they do look better than people used to. But you have to spend a lot of money. Money is an aspect of it. You can look fantastic spending zero money, if you’re a nice looking 20 year old. If you want to be an adequate looking 60 year old, it’s going to cost you.
MB: Yeah. Oh, for sure.
FL: No matter what you do. Even if you deny yourself this and deny — basically, it’s about two things. It’s about not having anything good to eat or drink and spending a lot of time to keep in some sort of condition. People think it’s about health, but only a little bit is about health. It’s really about vanity. A little bit is about health, but most of it is not. Most of it really is vanity. People want to look better.
FL: Of course, people want to feel better, but people in fantastic looking condition can get sick. I mean you can get sick in a million of ways, so that I suppose that yes, if you exercise; you’re going to probably be better — in better health. But you’re not going to be in perfect health just because you exercise.
MB: No, we know that.
FL: So, I find it quite funny that people who are young go to a gym. Because truthfully, unless you want those specific muscles, you don’t have to even exercise when you’re young.
MB: Most of the people at my gym are young.
FL: But you go to a gym where people are weightlifting to have those giant muscles. But girls, mostly they don’t want those giant muscles. They just don’t want to be fat. Basically, they just don’t want to be fat. So, you can do that. And you can be in better tighter shape or whatever, but you see these women wear these strapless dresses. They’re at Pilates 50 times a week. My opinion, you are 45. Do not wear sleeveless clothes. Do not. You have much better arms than most people who are 45, but they’re 45.
FL: Sleeves are good.
MB: And the right lingerie can help.
FL: It can help, but mostly, if you’re telling me that 45 year old women or women even older than that are putting these pictures up.
FL: Well, they’re delusional.
MB: No, no, I’m telling you they are.
FL: I believe that. I believe that they do that, but I find that to be pathetic.