Gosh, postcard, you say that as if it’s a bad thing.
Gosh, postcard, you say that as if it’s a bad thing.
A Google search of “history of my hair” just now turned up 68,800,000 results. This does not surprise me. Just as our geopolitical history is filled with battles, innovations, opportunities, colonizations, festivals and cooptations, so is the history of our hair. Think about it. When you are a kid, your parents pretty much decide what your haircut will look like, and it often ends up being a smaller version of theirs. Maybe around the time you are approaching your teenage years, you start to get a say in the matter and for some of us who grew up with our mothers cutting our hair, this will be the first time your parents paid for someone else to do the job.
Puberty is also when the changes to the rest of your body start to affect your hair too, usually making things harder, because who ever heard of puberty making ANYTHING easier? The hormone shifts, the social shifts, all of that make it even harder to figure out the individual shifts that might be happening in your identity: what do I want more, to stand out or to belong?
Eventually, in the business world, you adapt to a balance between identity and belonging, to set yourself apart a little while also maintaining a professional stance. And always assuming that your physical hair itself isn’t causing problems (not always a fair assumption, as my African American women friends will be the first to point out), sticking to that balance can—slowly or quickly—lead to utter boredom.
These things are compounded when your identity undergoes more shifts. People get married and need to do something excessively fancy with their hair for the wedding. They get new jobs where the professional standard is different. They figure out they are queerer than they thought, and want to express that. They go through a midlife crisis. They have a baby—and we all know how babies grab at long hair. A lot of things can trigger a desire to change what we look like. The problem is, when the world is full of options, how do you choose the change you want?
I understand that aesthetics are culturally embedded. In times of famine, fat is beautiful; in times of plenty, thin is beautiful. In an agricultural economy, dark skin means you are an outdoor worker, and thus lower class. In an office work economy, a tan means you have more leisure time outdoors, and thus are higher class.
I think of this now because suddenly I find myself knowing three different (dark-haired) women who don’t shave. Refusing to shave is a classic second-wave feminist act of defiance against our society’s straight male expectations for how women dress (and be) to attract the men’s attention, affection and presumably babies. By not shaving a women is declaring herself completely outside of and uninterested in that whole agenda.
Mentally, I can understand why some would want to make such a statement, but aesthetically I find it distasteful, especially as more fur is more visible. But here’s the thing. I think an awful lot of men should shave too. The problem isn’t that we have a standard of hairlessness so much as that it is a double standard. Frankly, I think that a far larger swath of our male population should not only shave far larger tracts of themselves than they currently do. They should buy mini- rider mowers and hire little gerbils wearing little Carhartt caps to do the landscaping for them.
Some jobs you can do yourself. But for big jobs, go with the professionals.
So a friend asked me to write about last night’s lesbian dodgeball game. There weren’t as many people there as usual, 12 rather than 18 or 24, so we were all playing all the time, up until close to the end when a regular showed up 1) late and 2) with a change of music to allow us to stop playing the game to the rather insipid and repetitive music the radio stations were playing that night. Real disco and old 70s ballads redone with a mean backbeat make for a Much Improved Dodgeball Score. Most Valuable Player of the Week: Sarah.
I have been trying to figure out a good metaphor for this strange game. It’s not like basketball or hockey or even soccer, especially the way we play it. So here is what I came up with.
Jaguars going for the kill.
Monkeys leaping out of three balls’ trajectories at once.
Sweaty women dancing to disco music.
The woman who gathers all of the six red balls and looks
Like a very aggressive tomato salad.
The women backing warily away, hoping not to get hit
When the tomato salad explodes in their direction.
The athlete. The wise-ass. The mom.
The crash as the ball hits the padded wall.
The louder crash as the ball hits the window.
The strength of the window, not breaking.
(Image from Google Images.)
So I have spent much of this afternoon reading people’s blogs about gender fluidity and figuring out that mess, stupid bathroom laws, parents who say that they love their children but refuse to go to their gay wedding because Christ doesn’t like gays, blah blah blah. And another blogger talking about being a very feminine woman and how to be a woman of action and a formidable women, and it all just sounds to me like being a person, although possibly a person in high heels?
Why are we all struggling so much to simply be who we are? (Um, probably patriarchy?)
Why do other people seem to want to force the whole world into these terribly narrow boxes with prescribed ways of being in the world? (Well, patriarchy…)
And why can’t I just give everybody who is suffering on the interwebs today a really big HUG? (Oh, honey, I can’t help you with that one.)
“Style is fundamentally a truthful statement… There are layers and layers of truth; and style, whether in dress or life, art or literature, is involved in their discovery.” –Freya Stark
I have been thinking about makeup lately. I used to think that makeup was something women put a huge amount of time and money into to get the attention of men, who often don’t even bother to shave. O, patriarchy, why you so mean?
I am lucky enough to have clear skin and dark blue eyes so I always figured that if a guy needs me to “put on my face” simply to notice me, then he’s not a person I really feel like being noticed by. I still feel that the Manhattan style of makeup is over the top, but New York has always struck me as being a hard-edged city and maybe it’s just a form of protective coloration, layers of powder rather than a sword and buckler.
Boston, as an academic city (we’ve got thirty colleges just within a few miles of the city center) tends toward the mildly androgynous. We probably have more comfortable women’s shoes in just a five-mile radius than they have in Manhattan and Los Angeles combined. And women who work/teach at these colleges are not an exception, whether they are full-time, part-time or graduate students (and the undergrads in baggy sweatpants). This always worked for me. As long as I looked “professional” and teacher-like, I figured that nobody would care if I didn’t take the time to put on makeup before running out the door guzzling my coffee and trying to remember my lesson plan. I get good student evaluations every semester. The rest is meaningless.
But in January, I started going to the monthly lesbian happy hour, which is a fascinating sociological activity. Where else are you going to find a sample of about eighty women with such a wide variety of clothing styles in the same bad bar lighting? More than half of our sample look like any other women you might see on the train every day. But there are a few types who stand out.
Fashionista/International Femme: Makeup, long hair, dress, heels. An air of being exactly where she needs to be. Even if I wore the exact same thing, if I was standing next to her, no one would notice my existence. I have had friends like this.
Grad Student Femme: Shortish wash-and-wear hair. Casual clothing, such as skinny leg jeans. Comfortable shoes, minimal makeup. The glow of youth.
College Dean-ish: An excellent haircut, whatever the length. Makeup, but never too much. Classic jewelry. Professional clothes, more femme than not. Classic but comfortable shoes, probably expensive. An air of quiet authority.
Grad Student Butch: Short hair with a little product for style. No makeup. Men’s style clothes but not necessarily menswear. Comfortable shoes, maybe spiffy. The glow of youth.
Flannel Butch: Plaid flannel shirt, dark wash jeans, expensive sneakers. Most of the jewelry is in one ear. One or more tattoos. A. The glow of youth AND/OR B. An air of quiet authority AND/OR C. Laidback attitude.
Bowtie Butch: Short hair. No makeup. Menswear, including either necktie or bowtie. Men’s style shoes. Laidback attitude.
Perhaps if I saw the same people in the bright light of day, the differences might not be apparent. But in the dim light of a bar, the women who don’t wear makeup, especially if they are over 40, look kind of grey and washed out.
So I’ve made a couple of visits to Sephora, one to get help in picking a shade of lipstick and one to get a 15-minute primer on how to apply eye shadow the right way and get help picking good colors. The young women (and one or two men) who work there are all made up to within an inch of their lives. But when they ask me what style I am going for, and I say, “Sorta like Ellen,” and they say, “Oh! You mean natural!” they are gung ho in helping me achieve a look that is as little like theirs as possible.
My shift in thinking about all this is primarily a shift in thinking from more outward–what do other people see when they look at me–to more inward–can I see my best self when I look in the mirror, blue eyes, Polish cheekbones and all.
It also helps that two of the faces of makeup companies in recent memory have been Sarah Michelle Gellar (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and Ellen Degeneres (Ellen the Homophobia Slayer), both of whom have fresh light looks that don’t scream, “Look at me! I’m wearing makeup! Ask me how!” Which is funny, actually, considering that is exactly what they’re getting paid to do… Ah, marketing, why you so sneaky?
At their best, men’s clothes have advantages over women’s—admittedly with grave exceptions. To my mind, good men’s clothes are structured rather than droopy. (The unfortunate trend among young men lately of wearing sweatpants with ankle cuffs is probably caused by a huge bribe to fashion designers from the Center for Population Control. Even my eighty-year-old father knows better than to wear pants like that.)
Another thing I like is that the colors are generally less saturated and more muted (think of a standard box of eight Crayola crayons. Add pale grey to each color). Such shades are kinder for my Celtic/Polish complexion and I find them much more restful most of the time.
The last advantage is the patterns, which are often calmer. If there are flowers, they are either on tropical shirts and the particular type of flower is recognizable, or the flowers are tiny, almost like irregular polka dots from a distance. None of this Women’s Section Let’s add flowers! And paisleys! To the same shirt! And matching skirt/jacket/pants! And you are much more likely to see geometric patterns as well.
But up until recently, it would never have occurred to me to attempt to shop in the men’s section (although in high school I bought my sneakers and Oxford bucks in the boy’s section; the sizes were better). But I recently bought some shirts in three different stores in the men’s section, to replace a bunch of shirts that I got rid of a while back because they either were too small or had been worn to rags.
And all these advantages in clothes even pertain to socks, which is good because the vast majority of my socks are fairly boring. And if I am going to be playing dodgeball once a month in my socks from now on, I am totally going to require New & Improved Sockage.
Taken from the book The English Gentleman: The Rise and Fall of an Ideal, by Philip Mason.
1 Reading List
Book of Snobs, The
Book of Courtiers, The
Description of England
Idea of a University, The
Ideal of a Gentleman, The
Knight on Wheels, A
Legend of Good Women, The
Way of the World, The
Women, attitudes to
I have been thinking about masculinity and femininity and this book uses both history and literature to examine the English idea of the “gentleman” and how it evolved from the time of the Norman Conquest through about World War I. He draws examples from Geoffrey Chaucer, George Eliot, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and others, all of whom as an English major I read in college, which means I absorbed this very English-ruling-class idea of masculinity without realizing it.
But I find it fascinating that Mason says in a footnote, “More than one critic who saw an early draft of this book wanted me to include some comments on the Japanese samurai. But I know nothing of Japanese culture, and I think it would take a year’s work to fit myself to write even half a page of useful comment on the samurai” (Mason 235, n. 23). This is interesting to me because I think I have also absorbed a lot of what I think it means to be a good me (masculine and/or feminine or other) from studying (primarily Japanese) martial arts for more than half my life. And although contemporary Japanese culture does make some strong distinctions between masculine and feminine, they are not always in ways Westerners would recognize, so I will have to think more about this.
Since I sprained my ankle last August, I haven’t been doing the group class thing at my gym these last few months. My intent for Saturday was to start the Bodypump® class, guaranteed to make you burn 560 calories in an hour, but when I went to sign up online, it was already full. The following hour was Pilates, so I signed up for that instead. You could ask me if I broke a sweat in that class, but honestly, I am still aching too much in unexpected places to remember.
Pilates relies on small weights (1 or 2 lbs.), resistance bands, the body’s own weight, and small movements, repeated many times to strengthen specifically targeted “core” muscles, i.e., the muscles that support and protect the muscles and joints that actually do, as one might say, the heavy lifting.
I personally know the importance of these muscles from having subluxed one shoulder once and the other about four times. Subluxation is when a joint pops out and then pops right back in again. I’ve been loose-jointed all my life and my doctor says it will serve me well as I get older and arthritis kicks in more, thickening the joints. But I still remember the first time I did it back in karate in college. My teacher performed a simple circle block with minimal force but a very good angle and I was committed to the punch, which meant I was just stiff enough that his wrist on my wrist tugged my arm out of my shoulder for a millisecond. I was instantly on my knees, gasping.
Don’t go there, people.
At first glance, this might appear to be a convenient metaphor for masculinity and femininity: the large muscles getting the big job done, and the small muscles stabilizing the joints. It’s not a terrible metaphor. In martial arts classes, men do tend to try to use their height, weight and muscles against their opponents. As a woman who is anywhere from 3 to 12 inches shorter than most guys, I, like my women peers, tent to go more for speed, angles, and being sneaky, er, I mean strategic. For example, in a fight don’t necessarily try to kick him in the nuts. Go for the knees. Men ALWAYS protect the family jewels automatically, but in comparison forget they have knees. Also, the knees being lower, you can always reach them. And all trees are felled at ground level.
But like most metaphors about binaries, this lacks the subtleties present in real life with its wide spectrum of experience. I, too, have sometimes tried to use brute force (and failed, natch), I think in part because we live in a brute-force culture. In the west and the US in particular, we are surrounded by ideas of physical power, supersized pickup trucks, World Wildlife wrestlers, and hamburgers. When I was writing this yesterday, I was sitting in a restaurant known for its 1 lb. Godzilla burger (with 4 slices of cheese and fries, $12.99), which is actually the smallest of the “Gigantic Burgers.” There are six increasingly larger and more expensive choices, the largest being the “Eagles Challenge”: 6 lbs. of burgers, 20 pieces of bacon, 20 pieces of American cheese, 5 lbs. of fries. And a dill pickle.
Heart attack: $65.99.
Don’t get me wrong. Like every student of Asian history, I know that China and Japan and lots of smaller countries in the region have had their massacres. But the idea of balance is much more respected in the east. In some Asian countries, the officers mark their rank with flowers (rather than stars or pips). Imagine a US Marine general wearing a small gold chrysanthemum on his shoulder boards to convey his rank.
Brigadier General: “I’m a badass! I have a flower!”
General: “Ha! I have four flowers!”
Brig. Gen.: “I bow down to your extreme badassery.”
Anyway, now that the college year is ending soon, I’m going to have more time to spend at the gym. It has taken me the last six years to lose the first 20 of the extra 30 lbs. I put on in seminary. It should have taken less time, but I get into ruts, doing the same exercise routines all semester because it’s easy and at the end of the day after work I am tired. One of the advantages to group classes is that all I have to do is follow the teacher’s routine. And since the gym’s schedule and mine are very different, I probably won’t be able to take the same class twice in a week, which will change up what I am doing even more. And when I can’t make it to class, I’ll do weights or rowing. With any luck, my body won’t know what hit it.
Hopefully, being more strategic this way will give me a better outcome. My New Year’s resolution was to lose 6 lbs. this year, and although I’ve lost about an inch around the middle, because I have been building muscle, my weight hasn’t changed. I want to lose another 2 inches so that the shirts I bought 5 years ago fit again and I don’t feel semi-strangled by them. That is no fun and leads to a negative body consciousness that I had actually never experienced before. I prefer the positive body consciousness I haven’t completely had since college, the feeling that because my body can do cool things like kick your hat off, the person inside the body must be pretty badass.
And by the way, I have three flowers. (Thank you, Ebay.)
No thank you.
No, really. I’m fine.
No, wait, go back a bit.
Sense and Sensibility, 1995. Titanic, 1997. Luomo Vogue, 2015. Divergent, 2014.