Thursday, September 25, 2014

bad feminist, good mother, maybe?

I used to be really hairy. I say "used to" because I've more or less bleached, waxed and lasered every errant hair into submission. I've told DM this many times, as well as friends from my post-wooky era. But I don't think anyone really understands. I mean, I started shaving my legs when I was 9 years old. And not because it seemed like a fun thing to do. But because I had grown-man hair on my legs when I was in 4th grade. Until I discovered laser hair removal, I could shave my legs at 7am, and have 5 o'clock shadow by lunch. Still, whenever I tell anyone this, they just say "Yeah, yeah, okay," and think I'm being dramatic.

these are not actually my legs, now or in fourth grade.
incidentally, in poking around on the interwebz, i saw some discussion that this image is not in fact hairy legs,
but a pair of hairy leg tights to be worn by women to ward off unwanted male attention? all this time i was carrying around an untapped asset. who knew?!
Anyway. Last month I was going through some old photos at my grandma's. I grabbed one in particular, not because it was a sweet shot of my sister and my newborn baby brother and me, but because, for whatever reason (probably because I've burned most of the rest of the evidence), it is one of the few photos I've seen that really demonstrates the full extent of my naturally hirsute state (at eleven years of age).

Now, I'm going to do something today that makes me more than a little nervous. I'm going to upset the precarious balance of my secret ninja blogger status by sharing some photos with you. This is mostly because if anyone actually recognizes the present-day me from any of these photos I'll probably just murder myself. But also because this story just can't be told without photos. So here goes:


I'm the hairy one.

DM is relatively unhairy for a man of Iranian descent. This was his reaction when I showed him the photo:

"What in the...? Were you a man? Were you a Rhesus monkey? Were you pretending to be a tiger for Halloween? Did your mom let you play with the Sharpies? Oh my god. You're hairier than me! What is really going on here? Okay. You can no longer blame me for our hairy children. It is now clear that you bear the majority of the responsibility in that department. Wow. You are lucky we got married and made babies before I saw this otherwise I might have changed my mind. Bad breeding stock!"

"Don't worry, he only means half of what he says." "Which half?" - Almost Famous

But he's right. Our kids are really furry. Jack is inexplicably blonde-haired and blue-eyed, so for now he is just covered with an abundance of blonde fuzz. It's so thick and coarse on his legs, though, it's like an un-shucked corn cob.

i swear he doesn't have rickets. DM has the exact same calves. or lack thereof. and i lurve dems.

The thing is... I hate to say this, and I know I'm playing into the problem... but... he's a boy. So I'm really not too worried about the ramifications of his hairiness on his self-image or social life. I do remember the first time I encountered DM's "manly" chest up-close and personal... I'm not gonna lie. It freaked me out a little bit. I was used to slick hairless so-cal surfer boys. But once you go... uh... yeah... nevermind.

Colby on the other hand... Poor Colby Jean.

All of this got me thinking about beauty and body image and self consciousness and my responsibilities as a mother to a beautiful girl. We've all seen the Dove commercials. We've heard the sound bytes. And look, I am well versed in fem theory. I understand gender performativity and "visible identities" and the objectification of women.

But here's the thing. I love pink. I love dresses. I love heels. I love jewelry and sparkle. I spend too much money on frou frou undergarments. I have my own mini MAC store of eye shadows in a glorious rainbow of hues even though I wear the same boring color every single day. I have spent more money than I care to admit on hair removal and products meant to do this, that, and the other thing (and they never, ever, deliver). I refuse to leave the house until I'm "ready." I'm about as high maintenance as someone who shops solely at Target can be. Yes, I am a by-product of gender stereotypes and society's unrealistic portrayal of beauty and blatant consumerism, but they have done a bang-up job because I actually really enjoy it. I like to play dress up. I think it's fun. So fucking sue me.

Incidentally, I'm not doing it for my man. He groans when I straighten my hair (he prefers it au'naturel). He asks "What happened to your face?" when I get daring with my makeup. He thinks the sexiest thing I could wear is his ratty old t-shirt. He doesn't give two shits about prickly legs or prickly any-other-things.

But. This does pose an interesting quandary. How do I "do me" without passing my body image baggage on to my daughter?

[INTERMISSION. Seriously. Here's the deal. I wrote this post last week but the word count was "a fuck-ton," so I decided to split it into two parts. But in so doing, I deleted over half the post and it was unrecoverable. I have a slight case of PTSD. After spending the better part of a week re-writing the thing, there's no way I'm going to make that mistake again. So here's the whole, unabridged version. But you might want to take a break. Pee. Get some popcorn. Etc. I'll be here when you get back.]

Okay. So. For example. Being a hirsute female. I'm sure my excess hair predated fourth grade, but it wasn't until some kids called me Sasquatch (and, inexplicably, a hammerhead shark? Are my eyes really that far apart?) that I began to internalize that shame. Up until that point, my mom had never even hinted at the subject, but when the time came, she was armed and ready with a depilatory buffet. She fully supported my body hair offensive, but was also quick to point out when external influences were getting the best of me, e.g., when a high school boyfriend told me I should shave my chest because I "had more hair there than he did" (which, incidentally, wasn't difficult to do.) Mom: "That's ridiculous. Don't listen to A-holes. Especially short ones."

Unfortunately, due to her genetic (mis)fortune, Colby will certainly have to deal with similar issues at some point. I think my mom handled it the right way. I certainly don't want to make Colby self-conscious about it before she needs to be by launching some sort of preemptive hair strike. But UGH, the thought of her coming home in tears after some brat calls her Chewbacca makes me wanna DIE :(

The good news is, I've gotten to the point where my husband can tell me, in so many words, that I have a blonde mustache, and it doesn't get me down. Hey, better than a black mustache, right?? I'm sure Miss Sassy Pants will develop her own thick skin in time. One of the benefits of all that extra hair ;)

Then there's the hair on my head. I hate my hair. I long for smooth, straight tresses. I long to wake up without my hair looking like a cuckoo's nest, or to swim without looking like a bedraggled poodle afterwards. As far as I'm concerned, the flat iron is one of the best mechanical inventions of all time, and me and mine are tight. My hair could technically be characterized as curly, but, depending on the humidity/barometric pressure/cloud formations on any given day, it can more aptly be described as frizz-fro-chic. Even when I wear it curly, I certainly don't just step out of the shower looking like Julia Roberts or Nicole Kidman circa 1985. It involves an arduous algorithm of conditioners and product and diffusers just to make me not look like an escaped mental patient.

And I understand I've internalized a lot of weird negative shit and I'm super neurotic about it. For example. Once a gay fashionisto friend from work said to me, "Gurrrrl, you look ten times hotter with your hair down." Since that day (15 years ago), nary a messy bun has graced the public sphere. Then there was the time in law school when I showed up to an interview with my hair "naturally curly," a.k.a. shellacked to within an inch of its life. Another girl who was waiting for an interview said to me, "Wow. Brave. I'd never show up to an important interview without a blowout." Granted, this girl was a blowhard, but for better or for worse, I haven't shown up to an interview, court appearance, wedding, shower, or really even a date night with my hair in its natural state ever since.

The thing is, my daughter has GORGEOUS curls, and I would never forgive myself if any of my curl contempt rubbed off on her. So recently I've been making more of an effort to embrace what God/Mother Nature gave me, even if that means showing up to work every day looking like a sad lion. And even though I know she will probably end up hating her curls anyway.

The other day one of my girlfriends was giving me a hard time as I was discussing this issue with her. She said, "You do realize you and she have the exact same hair, right?" But that is simply not the case. If it was, people wouldn't constantly ask me "Where does your daughter get those amazing curls???" Ummm... apparently not from me?

Exhibit A
Exhibit B

[Full disclosure - I can't post a current picture of my hair because, in between writing, inadvertently deleting, and re-writing this post, I got a Keratin treatment. In my defense, the lady told me I would still have my curls, minus the frizz. Well, she lied. I do not still have my curls. AND I LOVE IT. Seriously. Game changer. Why I did not do this seven years ago is completely beyond me. It is GLORIOUS. So, yeah. I'm a complete phony. What can I say? It's an evolution. And as my sister-in-law said in attempts to assuage my bad feminist/mommy guilt, "Maybe start worrying about it when she's old enough to have memories." Deal. ;)]

Then there are the ever-present weight and body-image issues. I'm basically a skinny-ish person. "Skinny-fat," I think, is the medical term. No, I'm not as thin as I'd like or as thin as I used to be, and my skinny jeans are like some sort of terrible April Fool's prank. But relatively speaking, I can't complain, especially since I'm not really willing to do anything about it. And yet. I religiously spend at least the first two hours of every Monday morning on a diet, I have an unhealthy relationship with my scale, and I spend way too much energy bemoaning the muffin top.

Have you read this article "Fuck Diets" on Ladybud? It is still one of my favorite pieces of all time. So good. If you haven't yet, read it. Anyway, that is how I want to feel about my weight. But I'm rather bi-polar on the issue. One day I'm like, whatever, I'm healthy(ish) and thin (enough) and there are about a million other more important things that I should be worried about. I mean, I could be in Iraq. Or Syria. Or Liberia. I could have EBOLA! And then I think, "I wonder if Ebola makes you skinny? I mean, like, before it kills you...." (Too far?)

I just had this conversation with a friend:

Friend: So skinny in that Instagram pic! No fair!
Me: Strategically placed baby.
F: That doesn't explain twiggy arms and cachectic neck.
M: What does cachectic mean?
F: Wasting away to nothing. Like end-stage AIDS or cancer patients.
M: Awww. That's the nicest thing you've ever said!

Insane, I know. So what do I do to combat the crazy? Repeat this mantra to myself again and again, and pass it on to my daughter if and when she needs to hear it:

Babies and puppies are small.  So are dimes and Skittles.  You’re a fucking woman.  A woman! You are entitled to occupy as much fucking space as you like with your awesomeness, and you better be suspicious as fuck of anybody who tells you differently.

Why, ladies? Why must we continue to whittle ourselves down? Who is it for? What is it for? ... “Shrink your waist.” “Lose inches off your thighs.” “Slim down.” “Get skinny.”

How about “Grow your mind.” “Increase your confidence and productivity.” “Beef up your knowledge.” “Enlarge your scope of asskicking.” ?

- From "Fuck Diets" on ladybud.com

What else is there to say?

I see a lot of stuff online about "No makeup Mondays" or a week or a month without makeup challenges. Ostensibly to prove to ourselves and to our daughters... what, exactly? That we can make the monumental sacrifice of living without makeup for a month? And then we go right back to our cosmetic crack like the addicts we are? I like the idea behind it, but in reality, what do we learn?

I also think there's something a little... hollow... about celebrities with their personal trainers and their hair, makeup and wardrobe teams giving their PSAs about self-love and being beautiful "on the inside." And then there are the supermodels who decry being PhotoShopped to puny proportions: "I boldly present to you, ME, a size TWO, not a size ZERO as mainstream media would have you believe! Do you see that singular dimple on my ass? THAT is the REAL me!" I mean, I appreciate what they're trying to do, really. And raising awareness of the issue is important. But these mixed messages don't really do much to alleviate the problem with the real-real people here on the ground.

And more power to people who feel their most beautiful in a t-shirt and jeans without a speck of makeup on. But I am not one of them. When I look good, I feel good. And for me, looking good involves mascara and fancy underpants. I'll leave it to Butler and Bordo, et al. to deconstruct those fucked-up feelings, but, there they are.

I don't have the answers, of course. And I can't teach my children what I don't know. As with most things in life, I will probably just make it up as I go along. But as I'm sitting here today, I think I'd like to say something like this: Most everybody loves a great lip gloss and the perfect LBD. But that's just icing on the cake. Don't be the kind of cupcake where people lick off the sprinkles and the frosting and throw the rest in the trash. Actually, just don't be a cupcake. Period. Look. Frosting is just that: sugar. Empty calories. (Don't get me wrong, those are my favorite kind, but they make you fat and you're still hungry afterwards.) Concern yourself with substance. Be happy. Be healthy. Be good. Be strong. Be you. And be glad it's not 1992.


glamour shots, obv.

5 comments :

  1. You just a) put all my feelings on this topic into words and b) described my hairy awkward childhood to perfection. Coincidentally, I am currently 28 weeks pregnant with a girl and praying to the gods of the genetic lottery that she inherits her father's newborn hamster level of hairlessness. Seriously, those naturally smooth assholes out there just don't understand how much effort, time, and money it takes to keep things at non-gorilla status and the eyebrow separated into eyebrows. Thanks for this post. Love your blog. The end.

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    1. Gorilla girls and awkward giraffes, unite! ;)

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  2. OMG, I so feel you! I have been battling my overzealous follicles for an eternity. Every once and I while I think, screw it, I'll just give up the fight and join the circus as a bearded lady...and then I remember I'm too shy for such a bold career choice.

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    1. Ha! But just think of all the money you'd save! With that and your circus winnings, you could go into early retirement ;)

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    2. I like the way you think! Circus, here I come!

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