The Secrets Behind My Smile
Viking, $39.95 hb, 280 pp
Kerryn and Jackie: The shared life of Kerryn Phelps and Jackie Stricker
Allen & Unwin, $39.95 hb, 233 pp
According to Andrew O’Hagan, writing in a recent London Review of Books: ‘If you want to be somebody nowadays, you’d better start by getting in touch with your inner nobody, because nobody likes a somebody who can’t prove they’ve been nobody all along.’ The journey from Nobody-hood to Somebody-hood is central to June Dally-Watkins’s recent autobiography. Indeed, O’Hagan’s pithy insight could almost have been the Sydney socialite and queen of etiquette’s mantra.
Because it is predominantly associated with her modelling career and deportment school, Dally-Watkins’s name conjures images of a bygone era. Her autobiography is frequently dated by claims such as ‘breath freshener [is] vital to a pleasing presence’ and ‘feminists wanted to be like men’. In other ways, however, Dally-Watkins has produced a quintessentially contemporary text. Emanating from the same cultural melting pot as reality television and ‘tell all’ tales in New Idea, the book celebrates the capacity of pain to produce Somebody-hood. Its confessional tone – amply captured in the wonderful, though unwittingly camp, title The Secrets Behind My Smile – confirms its contemporariness.
Evidence that this doyenne of femininity has joined the populist ranks is provided early on when the author virtually promises that this will be a tale of woeful self-revelation. She writes:
I had to be honest about my whole life, which meant dredging up the unhappiness I had been hiding behind my smile. I didn’t know how much it would hurt: at times it was more than I could bear.
In such moments, Dally-Watkins demonstrates a clear, if unconscious, grasp of our epoch’s requirement that allure entails having something to ‘dredge up’. It is not enough now to be a Somebody and to write about that. Disclosure of one’s secret suffering is integral to having a story and a subjectivity worth telling, and, crucially, integral to book sales. In this light, Dally-Watkins’s claim that she ‘had to be honest about [her] whole life’ is less a signifier of personal courage than an indication of what is now necessary for marketability.