Sunday, December 28, 2008

Almost a week ago, my last post touched on the issue of hair and its racial connotations.....I was writing in the airport, after about 2 hours of sleep, while waiting to get on a flight that didn't materialize until more than 6 hours later.

If the post is totally incomprehensible, do forgive me.

I have been thinking a lot about hair issues lately. A couple of weeks ago, Feministing had a post up about body hair. The next day, or two days later, something like that, Womanist Musings talked about hair on women of color. Both really got me thinking.

The Feministing post was one of their "community" postings, which means that it was written and uploaded by one of their readers, not by any of the blog's main authors. She sounded totally obsessed and paranoid about the existence of any and all body hair. The comments, of which there were many, all seemed to look at the issue through the lens of femininity. Do our choices of what to remove make us more womanly? Does the choice not to remove anything make us more feminist? Stuff like that....

It's a constant issue, right? Dominant western culture has told us that body hair is unattractive. Everyone has it, though, so what amount is acceptable? My problem with this discussion, though, is that it ignores the big, giant elephant in the room. The ethnicity/racial issue.

Of the women and girls who commented, the ones who said "Well, yeah, I just decided that I would stop shaving, and you know what, it's been fine" all seemed to end it with "But I'm blond/redheaded/fair."

The ones who expressed insecurity or who felt a need to do a lot of hair removal (or many of them, I should say, not all) would mention their coloring as well, as in "I'm Indian/Middle-Eastern/bi-racial, and so I have to."

It seems to me that the femininity/feminist/womanly reading of the effects of hair totally ignore this feeling that many (myself included) seem to have that light hair is okay, but dark isn't. Or that white girls can get away with it, but the rest of us had better force ourselves into white culture's mould, since we're different enough already.

I don't know if that makes sense, or if that's really how I want to express the weird unsettled-ness that's floating around in my head, but it'll have to do....

My friend Emily responded to the Feministing post with this:

My mother was called many names in seventh grade, like Gorilla Girl. And
Ape. Sometimes the children just made monkey noises. I grew up knowing the
stories of my mother's pain intimately, and the shame of body hair was a
language I spoke fluently for many, many years. The hair on my body is not quite
as voluptuous as the hair I imagine would grow on my mother's body if she ever
stopped shaving. My hair is more brown instead of black, but one can see the
pronounced hairiness of my legs from across a room. Clearly. When I first stopped
shaving my legs I was terribly conflicted. I wanted to be able to choose my body
with hair, but I felt so incredibly ugly. I felt like a freak- some aberration
to the feminine gender. I felt alone when I rode the bus, and embarrassed to
wear skirts. But it got better. Much Better.It has taken a lot of time and a ton
of self-growth and love, but I am proud of my body- my hairy, obese, beautiful
body. I get a lot of reactions to my leg hair, which still shocks me, as I often
forget for a moment why a person would be staring at my legs, and though I
thought in San Francisco I would get less attention than in Michigan, I was very
very wrong. More often than not it amuses me now, which is something that I
hoped would be true 4 years ago, but had never thought possible. I do think there
is a difference between shaving one's body as a preference and being embarrassed
or ashamed of one's body hair. I agree that an individual's choice to
shave/not-shave his/her pubic area is not inherently a feminist issue, but as a
generic issue, I think it most definitely is. Body hair is a part of the body,
and while I embrace body modification wholeheartedly, I cannot in good
conscience embrace the consistent acceptance and systematic continuation of
intense body shame. The fact that millions of adolescents and adults feel they
MUST alter their pubic/facial/body hair in order to be acceptable, attractive,
healthy, un-freakish, and simply without shame, is a pity. My solution? Break out
your skirts, oh hairy-legged people! How do we bring about acceptance? By being
seen. By letting the little girl on the bus see that adults have hair, too!And
this is not just about hairy legs and pits. Bearded Women UNITE!! I wish I had
the guts that the bearded women I've encountered have. Their self-confidence is
inspiring and has helped me to re-shape my perception of the world. On a
practical and personal level, what has helped me? (1) Seek examples of beautiful
hairy people. Watch more Foreign Films (like Lust Caution!) where women are more
likely to have pit hair or body hair in general. Find images of women who have
body hair to help normalize the 'anomaly' for your brain. (2) Find (or
convince!) a friend who doesn't shave. Having a palpable peer who doesn't shave
can help bring some oomph to your efforts- you can go dancing together and risk
raising fists high in solidarity. (3) Start slowly, and become comfortable with
yourself before you unveil your beautiful, hairy body to the world. There's no
rule saying you must shave everything if you shave anything. . . I was really
uncomfortable with pit hair for the longest time- so I let my comfort with my
legs grow first. Take it at your own pace! And the hint about winter is very
true! It's a convenient time to start experimenting. (4) Be patient- exploring
and learning to love a socially unacceptable part of yourself is a lengthy
process! I still encounter days when I feel very iffy about my hairy body, but
those days get farther between as I grow stronger.Over time I have come to see
my act of not-shaving as a reclamation. What ignorant 7th graders at SJV used to
wound my mother in 1968, I have taken and made my own, I have made it a point of

I really admire her courage and bluntness, and really wish that I had the same. I still have to wonder, though, if I'm somehow less committed to overthrowing the dominant image obsessed patriarchal bullshit if I continue with the hair removal routine. Because honestly, I don't have the guts. And I still carry around the feeling that the amount of hair that I naturally have is not remotely accepted, even in crunchy-granola, hippy or dyke circles. And let's not even get started on whether it would be acceptable in opera circles. I don't like Stravinsky enough to spend the rest of my life singing Baba the Turk!

So, yes, there are a lot of hang-ups that I, and many, many others have that are hard to break. They're hard even to discuss, because inevitably someone breaks in with "Well, hair is just unattractive" which is not a belief that you can usually argue someone out of.

Let's be brave and try, though. Let's try to have a discussion that takes into account brown girls and the issue of race as it applies to the issue of feminism.

Let's also suggest things to Kat that will stop her from obsessively yanking out her eyebrows. It's not an "ew, hair!" thing, it's a physical compulsion. When the skin underneath gets dry or irritated, I start to's bad. I've gotten much better, but I've had to resort to rubbing toothache stuff into the skin to numb it and (hopefully) stop the yanking.

travel woes

Monday, December 22, 2008

I'm currently stuck at SFO, where I've been since 6am. We were booked on a flight to Vancouver that was supposed to go through Seattle, which is apparently snowed in, or something. Our flight was cancelled, and we're now waiting for standby on a later flight. We were 38th on the standby list, but we're now about 20th, which still sucks, but is much better than before. I think that things have sucked for long enough that the airlines are doing what they can to get as many people out onto flights as possible.

Hopefully I'll get to the Okanagan before Christmas. If not, I'll be really pissed that I spent money on snow boots for nothing.

Oh well, at least I now know that I can darn socks using a pen and waxed dental floss.
(you think I'm kidding, don't you?!?)


I've read some really interesting articles lately, all of which deserve commentary and analysis, but I simply haven't had the energy to delve into them. I finally had to close the gazillions of tabs that I had open, simply because there's no chance of me actually writing about anything really substantive.

I'll point you in some fun directions, though:

If you like Neil Patrick Harris, or are just a nerd who enjoys musical comedy, check out his turn on Sesame Street in the guise of the Fairy Shoe Person. It's very nearly as good as Dr. Horrible.

Next up is a girl who surely has a remarkable future ahead of her. Her name is Zora Howard, and here she recites (performs, declares) the poem "I have Biracial Hair."

This girl kicks some serious ass, and this poem, which I heard right after reading a couple of really intense pieces on the role and impact of hair, both from a racial perspective and a femininity/gender role perspective, made ma laugh and cry, and then both again, and look, what do you know, I'm choked up again......

Sometime shortly, I will reprint a piece that my friend Emily wrote, on hair and all its implications.

Here ya go:

One thing that occurs to me is that there is no one kind of "biracial hair." I think about "my" pre-k class, the 3 year old class at work that I positively adore (I'm hoping to spend the rest of the year with them, but we'll see). There are no fewer than 5 mixed race kids in a class of about 15. Each one of them has a totally unique "look." Zehlia has loose dark-brown/black curls like mine, Hazel has little teensy corkscrews, Sara's is more like Zora's (down to the two braids), Nikola and Niepa have denser, short, boy looks....And even though Zora's poem describes one kind of what she calls "biracial hair," she's also speaking to everyone who's got that experience of "What the hell is happening up there on my head?!?!"

So anyway, this girl (who's all of about 13, aparently) is rocking pretty righteously....

I hope everyone's holidays are good and fun and warm and dry and safe. I'll try to write again soon, providing I don't lose any fingers in Canada, what with its -25 degree weather (ugh....)

Calling In Gay

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

As a continued protest against Proposition 8 and the other anti-gay initiatives across the country, today was chosen to be the "Day Without a Gay." All people (not just LGBT folks) have been encouraged to "call in gay" (instead of sick) to work, and focus instead on service and activism.

Normally I'm all for a protest, especially one that would keep Californians from getting complacent about having had their rights stripped away.

So what am I doing today? Am I skipping work in favor of letter writing, civil disobedience, neighborhood activism?

Nope, I'm teaching 5th grade and trying really, really hard to stay awake all day.

Yeah, I dropped the ball on this one. I guess my service for the day will be to encourage all Americans to do something today to participate in the march towards full and equal rights for all people.

I won't try to tell you what to do. Y'all are smart and can figure it out, but just find something, even if it's a short conversation...

If you want to read more about December 10th ("Day Without a Gay"), go here.

Henceforth, It Is Decreed That Neil Patrick Harris Should ALWAYS Sing

Friday, December 5, 2008

This is no surprise. He was in Rent. But since this summer's "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog" I've been totally digging Neil Patrick Harris as a musical theater genius. This doesn't disappoint.

See more Jack Black videos at Funny or Die


Thursday, December 4, 2008

Have I really not posted in over two weeks? Man, I lose at this blogging business....

I've had a lack of anything substantive to say, I think, and no energy to come up with something silly or clever.

I had a wonderfully quiet Thanksgiving. Boyfriend and I cooked for ourselves (roast chicken with potatoes in the pan, stuffing, veggies (Brussels sprouts cooked with bacon!), rolls) and did a lot of "social reading." That's when you're together or cuddling or something, but everyone's got a book.

Apparently what I missed by skipping out on my grandmother's gathering was the opportunity to see my cousin's 2 year-old daughter stand up on a chair and belt out songs at the top of her lungs! I'm awfully sad that I missed that.

As soon as I have more than 3 spare minutes, I'll post properly. I still haven't written about Obama's win.....

Meanwhile, it's my b-day! Shameless self promotion!!

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