Monday, September 28, 2015

The Insidious Myth of the Hairless Woman

Women should work hard to distinguish themselves as not-men. It needs to be immediately obvious at first glance whether someone is male or female, because men and women inherently deserve to be treated differently. Women are beautiful, and they should devote considerable time, money and energy to enhancing their beauty — in order to maximize their natural assets. A man is expected to work to enhance his natural physical strength and power, while a woman should work to enhance her natural beauty and charm.

Women should wear makeup to cover any blemish of the skin, to bring attention to the curve of the lip and to enhance the seemly shape of the eye. Without makeup women's faces are less entrancing, less exotic, less captivating. Without makeup women look more like men: rougher, more plain. And looks are everything for a woman, as her value in society hinges on this quality. Beautiful women are more likely to be hired in any position, and to receive more attention in any context. Therefore it's obvious that women are best off devoting a portion of their income ($216/yr) to buying makeup, and devoting at least 5 minutes a day (1,825 minutes/year) to putting it on.

Women should wear tight clothes to show off the beauty of their feminine bodies, which should be slim — much slimmer than a man's body. Women shouldn't take up too much space. Women should sit with their legs together: their ankles tightly crossed and their elbows tucked in compactly. When a man sits with his legs spread apart, he's confident and comfortable. When a woman sits with her legs spread apart, it's crude and distasteful. (Women should also take care to moderate their voices; a loud woman is shrill, offensive, and probably bossy.)

Women don't have body hair. At least, they shouldn't. It's simply hygiene. Women's body hair is gross. Women should be soft and smooth; it's more appealing to look and touch. Men are hairy, but women are not. It's the natural order of things. Women should do whatever it takes (time + money + energy) to make sure they are never seen with body hair — and praise be to the gods of the patriarchy, they do. More than 99 percent of American women remove their body hair — any woman with body hair is absolutely appalling to the ubiquitous American sentiment that women have an inherent responsibility to invest in altering their bodies to suit male preference.

"American women who shave ... spend, on average, more than $10,000 and nearly two entire months of their lives simply managing unwanted hair. The woman who waxes once or twice a month will spend more than $23,000 over the course of her lifetime."

"Social psychologists, in particular, have found that women who resist shaving their legs are evaluated by others as 'dirty' or 'gross,' and that hairy women are rated as less 'sexually attractive, intelligent, sociable, happy, and positive' than visibly hairless women."

"The overall effect of the norm, social scientists suggest, is to produce feelings of inadequacy and vulnerability, the sense that women’s bodies are problematic 'the way they naturally are.' Practices of hair removal, in turn, are said to produce 'pre-pubescent-like,' 'highly sexualized' bodies, which ultimately 'may contribute to the increasing objectification of young girls.'” (Source)


About a year ago, I stopped shaving my legs. I was exhausted by the near-daily obligation, frustrated by my constant self-consciousness over my leg stubble. I started waxing instead: painful and expensive, but at least my naturally dark, coarse leg hair grew back softer and thinner: more feminine. But after a few months of waxing, I started resenting the cost. I started resenting the obligation in general. I felt like I didn't have a choice — yet I was driving myself to the waxing salon. I felt deeply conflicted on the matter: I hated the time and money and (pain) I put into removing my body hair, but I felt such an overpowering obligation. Plus body hair is gross, right? My body hair is gross. Women's body hair is gross. Right?? That's what I've internalized, but it makes ZERO sense when you stop and analyze it. Men's body hair isn't gross, it's natural. Women's body however, should be removed at any cost. Cultural sexism or nah?

So I stopped removing my leg hair. I grew out my armpit hair for awhile, too, but finally caved and waxed it, justifying to myself that waxing my armpits is quick and easy. Plus I think armpit hair actually is inherently gross (no matter whose body it's found on). Annoying that men don't feel shame for their armpit hair the way I and all other American women do, but at least it's low cost for me to remove my armpit hair.

Leg hair, however, is an entirely different question. When I get my legs waxed professionally, it costs an average of $65 + 1 hour each time (and it has to be done every three weeks or so). I save about $20 if I do it myself, but I do a crappy job and it hurts more. And all for the sake of conformity under the sexually charged gaze imposed on me by hetero men?? I find it frustrating that all my female friends justify their constant hair removal routines by explaining that they like their bodies better without hair. "Of course you do," I want to shout at them. "For the same artificial, damaging reasons that make you feel happier wearing makeup and tight clothes." We get affirmation from altering our bodies to fit Western beauty standards. We get immediate and shallow affirmation, but it's damaging in the long term as it reinforces the idea that women are "opposite" of men — therefore ultimately justifying sexual discrimination (no matter how subtle). 

So I stopped shaving and waxing my leg hair. It's not easy, and it doesn't feel good. I hate having hairy legs. I feel ugly and gross whenever I look at them. I feel animalistic, dirty, unattractive. But f*ck the patriarchy! I won't be duped into spending $23,000 and 1,444 hours on my own culturally-imposed sexual objectification.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

The First Day of the Rest of My Life

To me, graduation was a funeral. While my fellow graduates smiled and cheered, I hung my head and cried. I knew it was a dramatic, privileged, self-indulgent reaction, but at the same time I struggled to keep perspective on what felt like a tragedy. When I thought about graduation, I mourned the loss of a life I'd never see again. Graduation Day felt like The Reaping in The Hunger Games: Everyone pretends that having your name read is an honor deserving of celebration, when in reality all it means is that you're being sent into a harsh, unknown wilderness where survival is a daily challenge.

Pathetic attempt at a smile

Graduation meant the loss of all that was familiar; that is, the end to the satisfying structure of the American educational system in which I had excelled for my entire life. Before graduation, my life was neatly divided into regular, predictable seasons — and more broadly: easily definable four-year chunks. Now there is no definition, no visible divides beyond the Gregorian calendar grid. From graduation day on, my life stretches out terrifyingly undefined until whatever day I happen to die. 

Does that not terrify everyone else who graduates college? Why did everyone tell me "congratulations" so enthusiastically when I felt like I was being pushed off a pirate's plank? Every time I heard that sentiment, I had to bite back sardonic responses. "Life is all downhill after college," I often said, characteristically unable to keep myself within the realm of polite society and its stifling conventions. "No, it's not!" my well-wishers would exclaim, with an uncomfortable laugh. ("What an odd joke," I'm sure they were all thinking.) "You have so much to look forward to," they'd reassure me vaguely.

(I usually bowed out of the conversation at that point, preferring to avoid having to defend my utter lack of desire to bear children. Maybe one day it'll appeal to me, but my horror at the entire operation has not abated in the 4.5 months since graduation.)

How long do I need to wait before I can say "I told you so"? 

I kind of hate emotions. I try to live rationally, making deliberately logical decisions that are at most informed by emotion. When I think my emotions are unreasonable, I try to ignore them. I have friends who think this approach is silly. I have friends for whom emotion is central in their daily decision-making. "Follow your heart," popular culture advises. But that's just not how I do it.

However — sometimes I can't deny my emotions. Sometimes they persist, despite my attempts to rationalize them away. Graduation wasn't a funeral. It was a celebration, the culmination of four years of hard work, an acknowledgment that I was on the cusp of adulthood (as defined by financial independence?). I acknowledge all that objectively, rationally... but my emotions don't match my knowledge. I've felt low since my emotional breakdown on the day of my last exam of my last semester of college. At the end of May I basked in five incredible weeks of a cross-country road trip with two of my favorite people — then I flew to Austin and started life as a working professional, i.e. a lifetime of the daily grind, the weekly routine, the endless monotony of adulthood.

I'm incredibly lucky to have a comparatively flexible, remote-based job that combats that horror — I just need to take more advantage of it. Variety is the only salve to the tedium I have found in adulthood.