I apologize for the overly personal nature of this post – it just came out this way. I was also going to apologize for the overly superficial nature of this piece, until I really thought about it. The way I look, and the way I feel about that appearance is vital to my self concept and my self esteem… and I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels that way. It is absolutely not superficial to want to feel beautiful and to want everyone to be able to experience those feelings thus, no apologies here!
I simply hope my reflections are relevant to someone other than myself, even though they are more personal than political in nature. (The personal is political after all – I have always liked that concept!)
As far as feminist stereotypes go I (naturally, I’d like to believe*) tend to fall outside of their narrow confines. For instance, I wear dresses and skirts quite often – a fact that has confused many a misinformed frat boy, trying to wrap their minds around the idea that a ‘chick in a skirt’ can still have something important and well informed to say about a myriad of topics – beauty norms being, of course, just one of them.
See? Here I am – arguing with one of the aforementioned Frat boys at a positive body image event.
A few weeks ago I dressed in drag to attend my school’s PRIDE Prom – the night was amazingly fun, of course (how could I not have fun dancing with my friends, eating awesome fried food, and watching music videos featuring Ru Paul all night?) but it was also very enlightening in an unexpected way. To begin, although I had a fabulous time, there was also a nagging discomfort that I felt for most of the night – my boyfriend may have been enjoying his cross-dressing adventure but I was not. It was not ruining my night by any means, but in the midst of all the excitement I was pining for long hair so much that halfway through the night I ruined the illusion and let my hair free – much better. Its not that I was uncomfortable being seen as manly (not that my disguise was good enough to fool anyone – unlike Trav’s fantastically gender-bending ensemble) its just that I simply did not feel comfortable, happy, sexy, me in this outfit. It was fine to fit the theme for the night but I much preferred my day-to-day personal presentation.
I didn’t have a big revelation concerning the choices other people make in gender presentation – I have always and will always be a proponent of the idea that people need to present themselves in whatever way makes them comfortable – even if that presentation is incongruous with society’s (outdated) gender norms – people should be free to look the way they want to without judgment or ridicule. Period. End of story.** I did, however, have a revelation about my own, personal, choices concerning presentation, particularly the question of body hair.
I feel sort of empowered, cool even about my ability to choose the physical presentation of myself that makes me happiest and stick to it, even if it does cause people to make baseless assumptions about me (honestly, who does not face this issue? Sometimes it seems there is just no way to win.) I wear skirts and dresses interchangeably with pants and feel no societal obligation to favor one over the other. I wear makeup when I feel like it and feel that I have reached a point where my “beauty routine” is my own, not one dictated by an societal standards. I’ve worked and worked to reach the point where I feel empowered enough, comfortable enough to wear clothing that may show I have a bit of a belly, that my thighs sometimes jiggle… you get the point. Sometimes I wear floaty concealing tops and skirts, and sometimes I’ll let my shirt hug my stomach – I don’t care anymore.
But my hair – my dark, coarse body hair… I shave it off every day without thought simply because it is what I, as a woman, must do – but why?
It amazes me that I can own every other choice about my daily hygiene routine – from clothing to makeup – but when it comes to body hair there is only one option.
There are mornings where I want nothing more than to let it grow but I hesitate, and eventually shave anyway, because I worry about what my family will say, what strangers will think – how I’ll be embodying a feminist stereotype and by doing so will encourage the further perpetuation of these stereotypes.
On the other hand, by shaving I am buying into an unnecessary practice perpetuated by a beauty industry that creates arbitrary rules to create the need for more products – razors, shaving creams, lotions… my conformity is just another drop in the bucket for the big beauty industry.
It seemed, for awhile at least, I was damned if I shaved, dammed if I didn’t. Until PRIDE Prom, and it hit me.
The key was not coming to a decision about shaving, but rather coming to a place of acceptance in regards to my body hair.
It is not the decision to shave that bothers me, what bothers me is my own revulsion to the smooth straight brown hair that sprouts from my legs, arms, and all the usual places. How is it that I have come to such a place of acceptance concerning my wobbly, curvy, not-so-small body… but the hair that grows out of it disgusts me? It makes no sense.
I’m working at it, day by day, letting my hair grow a little before shaving it; venturing out of the house with stubbly legs from time to time; not apologizing to my boyfriend for presenting him with something less-than smooth, or apologizing to myself for “being lazy.” Maybe I’m working up to the day where I stop shaving all together, who knows? All I know is I’m going to continue to interact with it, think about it, and experiment with my body hair until I am comfortable with my body and myself – hairy or not – so that I can finally decide for me and me alone, without any guilt: to shave or not to shave?***
I’m amused, honestly, at how dramatic this seems – my body’s very own declaration of independence. But, you know what? It is dramatic – at least to me – because this is about more than just hair. Its about reclaiming our bodies from the litany of culturally imposed ideals that weigh down upon them. I hope, one day, we’ll have reached a point where these superficialities are no longer necessary, and we can focus all of our energies on fighting much more significant battles but that day can only come after we all work through out own insecurities and issues. My battle at the moment, just happens to be taking place one leg hair at a time.
* Not because I find these stereotypes bad in any way – there’s obviously nothing wrong with being a lesbian, having hairy legs, etc. I say naturally, because I hope I have come to prefer these outward expressions (like wearing dresses) due to my own inner desires and choices, rather than as a result of society’s often oppressive influence.
** One may wonder quite understandably how I can reconcile this belief with my well documented love of makeover shows like What Not to Wear. To this, my only defense is that the people on these shows agree to participate long before filming ever begins and their choice indicates a desire to present themselves differently from the way the currently are. While the gender-specific advice given on these shows is often outdated and wrong in my opinion people often do leave the show feeling much more comfortable with their bodies and happier about how they are presenting themselves to society which is an awesome outcome and, maybe, even a little bit subversive of the skinny = the only way to be attractive myth.
*** Reading through feministe’s Shameless Self Promotions Sunday post lead me to realize I’m not the only one who choose to write about hair this week – awesome! It was fun to read this post after finishing my own and see such a similar thought process.