May 26, 2009

Great Expectations

One of the things that has stuck with me, horribly, from the videos I linked last week was the men in the interviews. As much as one tries to accept that everyone has their own opinion, those men seem to reflect the prevailing attitude about women and body hair today. It's hard not to observe this and feel discouraged, especially for women who have more than the average, and a harder time removing it.

I spent the last two weeks thinking about this. It worried me that I was offended by people who wanted and expected their partners to be smooth and hairless. Why should that anger me? Is it just that I know it is more difficult to live up to that expectation? Does it anger me because I feel that society has no right to make me feel this way? Yeah. Yeah, it probably does, to a point.

I could read an element of selfishness into the expectation, especially thanks to the man who said, "If they're going to spend more time removing hair and looking nicer and feeling nicer for me, then you can't really complain." So very different from Fiona's fiance, who was never once quoted referring to how Fiona looked, only how she felt about herself. It's encouraging to know there are people like that out there.

But why not go to hair removal extremes for that special someone, if one wants to? It saddens me to think that a woman would feel inadequate for her own husband if she did not keep up a strict, expensive, and painful regimen. The thing is, it is their prerogative. If they can find a person who has the ideal amount of body hair for them, more power to them. And I agree that a lot of women do it for themselves. I'd be a hypocrite if I stomped around the internet in a righteous rage that people hold us to this bar of flawless skin naked of hair. I, myself, like the feeling of hairlessness. It affects my mood, my confidence.

So I talked myself down from that and decided that, no, it wasn't so much the revival of feelings of deficiency.

What really stung me was that some of the men in that documentary appeared to think women's excess body hair was all a big joke. Yes, they've obviously gone out with women for whom hair removal is a relatively simple matter, and probably haven't been let in on the time/money/inconvenience/pain it takes, so they may not have a terribly large frame of reference. Yes, it's not deemed as normal so it can be uncomfortable to talk about and easier if one laughs about it, but the existence of it is not some prank on society. We don't appreciate being sniggered and cringed at. We didn't choose this. It's not always as simple as "Why don't you spend thousands of dollars and get it lasered?" We're making the best of it that we can.

At times like this it hits me how extraordinary hair removal is. It's an industry and an obsession. There are entire websites (heh heh) devoted to it. And yet, body hair doesn't alter a person's body shape, facial structure, their mind, their abilities (unless a symptom of a condition that affects these things). When you get right down to it, it's a harmless protein that grows out of the skin. It's incredible the harm it can do to one's confidence, mood, relationships, and wallet.

On a more personal note, there's a snag with the blood work and my appointment has been rescheduled again for mid June. I tell myself I've been waiting for years to find out what's causing the hirsutism, so a few more weeks won't matter. So far, myself doesn't want to listen. I was so looking forward to getting the results this week...

May 19, 2009

"Hairy Women"

I was doing some surfing and reading on shaving, but I got waylaid by this British documentary on women and their body hair. Despite the smattering of nudity, I would still rather embed it here than send you all links to it on YouTube where you'd be faced by the ignorant comments from others who've watched it, and associated videos that are not terribly documentary-like at all.

There's no illicit content but there is a little bit of frank talk of sex, so use your discretion before watching these. I know I understood all those words long before I was "of age." ;-)

None of it is really shocking, at least to me. But it's interesting to see hair removal explored in a documentary, from those who think "excess body hair" means any type of body hair that does not grow out of one's scalp, to the genuinely hirsute. They even had a model in there admitting to a little dark hair on her upper lip, and a ton of women sitting around a table all sharing the little extra bits of body hair they have to deal with. It really isn't all that rare, at all.

"Fiona's" story brought tears to my eyes. I can identify with hiding myself away to get better results from my hair removal method for a special occasion. And I'd thought of burning the skin on my face until the hair follicles are permanently damaged as well, if I'm honest. But she endures. And I thought it was fantastic that her fiance was more interested in how she felt about herself than how she looked for him. Big contrast to the other men in the video. I think that's something I want to talk about next week.

Whether the women had hair in places they could hide or not, none of them liked to look at it. It affected the way they felt about themselves. It may be sad to describe hairlessness as an intrinsic part of femininity, it's also true across the board. Could that even be changed?

May 14, 2009

Books: Castle Waiting

My apologies for being late this week. Things are getting a little hectic again and when I am home, I just want to put my feet up and fall asleep in front of the TV like a proper fuddy-duddy. Afghan throw and everything.

On the bloodwork front, I got a call from my new doctor's office asking to change my appointment from mid-June to the end of this month. I hope it's just because they realized it was a follow-up for the lab tests. So the first blog entry in June should have an update on why I am what I am.

Now, today I am compelled to do something new. You see, behind the scenes of this weekly online journal is a book lover with an art degree. I have grown up with visual, audio, and literary storytelling and I still spend a lot of time watching and reading and writing about things that have nothing to do with my "condition." What does that have to do with the price of hairy tea in china, though? I have to share with you the delightful and unnerving experience of finding a book that marries all my artistic and narrative sensibilities with the cosmetic struggle I face every day.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Castle Waiting by Linda Medley.

"Where have you been all these years?" you might ask. "Castle Waiting's been around since 1997." Well actually, I was in junior high. I thought comics were about muscular men in spandex saving the world. Even in college, I wasn't sure I was really that "into" the media. But through education and many long, meandering visits to book stores revealed to me that there have been a lot of artists and writers (and combinations of the two) out there taking comic books wherever they want them to go. Castle Waiting is exactly what I want out of the graphic novel scene; it does not relentlessly shove you towards some world-saving quest. It lets you stop to smell the roses and get to know the characters and play with well-known fairy tales while exploring aspects of life that we all experience--whether we're enchanted anthropomorphic creatures or modern day working-for-the-weekend human beings like you and I.

I discovered this book by accident. I just liked how it looked in the store. Beautiful hardcover with an olive green spine. It was sealed shut by plastic, but I could see the ribbon bookmark peeking out between uneven cream-colored pages like it was all sewn together by hand. I even liked the sound of the title, "Castle Waiting." Like "Cellar Door" for you Donnie Darko fans--two of the most beautiful words in the English language. I hadn't even seen the Wikipedia entry at this point that mentioned a bearded nun. It's even mentioned in the hirsutism article and still it had never rung a bell with me.

Thing is, just because you're a bearded lady doesn't make this a selling point. I wasn't comfortable with the thought of seeing it etched so permanently on pages in front of me, but I was curious. If you are, as well, you needn't be nervous. I love the way Linda Medley treats the topic of bearded ladies. She doesn't beat readers over the head with the idea that looks don't matter; she just tells the stories with honesty and a great sense of humor. (Just when things get heavy, a lion farts; what more can you ask for?) Now, I say "stories" here because the Solicitine story arc features a few different nuns of the order, and is a very large part of this book. I have read some reviews that were disappointed at how much the book focuses on them, but I think one just has to remember that the main story continues after this volume.

I thought it was a fascinating idea to create an order for St. Wilgeforte, a bearded woman who was canonized after she prayed to be prevented from marrying a man who would have interfered with her faith and grew a beard overnight. Yes, she's a real saint--I didn't think so either, when I first heard of her after reading Fifth Business by Robertson Davies in college. (She plays a small part in that book as the protagonist's topic of research.) Linda Medley's version of the tale is quite touching, and adds a heartwarming layer to the fantasy world as her order becomes a refuge for women whose only other expected niche is the circus. I wish I could find out more about the author/artist and how she came to want to add such a thing into her tale.

Some of my favorite quotes:
"Hey Peaceful--you growin' a beard?"
"Looks like it, Alf!"
"Hunh! That's unusual, ain't it?"
"Sure is! What'll you have?"
"The regular."

"Good or evil, somebody gave us these beards for a reason... We, more than anyone else, are better able to look past a person's dumbness, or third arm, hunchback, whatever ...and see what's in their hearts. To hear what they can't say."

"Niko, what does it mean when someone in the crowd won't look at me?"
"Ah. Those people are afraid... Afraid of anything that is not like themselves. Afraid that there can be wonders in the world that they cannot explain away. They do not want the world to be vast, Clarrrice."
I'd love to discuss the arc in more detail but I'd hate to spoil the experience of reading it for the first time for those who are planning to do so. You don't have to like comics to enjoy this book, or have an interest in bearded ladies. The entire world Linda Medley presents is so charming and immersing. But I had not expected to come across such a blunt, brave depiction of the lives of bearded women, in a fantasy setting though it is. It's a wonderful book, and you can get it from Amazon, Fantagraphics Books (the publisher), and many other sites, and you may even be able to find it in your local comic book shop or the graphic novel section of a bookstore.

Until next week, everyone!

May 5, 2009

Blood and Dreams

Ladies and gents, I have survived the blood work. \o/

I always do, of course, but having to think about it, and this time fast for it, makes it something I dread. I suppose that being afraid of needles as a child made it difficult to handle them as an adult, even though I'm very good at thinking, "This is for my own good," and I've always had a skilled lab technician taking blood so that I don't feel it. The idea of the whole thing is what makes me light-headed. And considering how I had to wait for two hours at the clinic for my turn, and hadn't eaten a thing since seven o'clock the night before, I did rather well in there. No fainting at all.

My new doctor wanted to test me for a lot of routine things unrelated to the hirsutism as well, though I believe if a doctor wants to test for things like Cushing's syndrome and other thyroid issues (which can cause hirsutism, among other things) they can use glucose as an indicator and it would require fasting tests anyway. They had to take five darn vials from me! Still, I was so happy to finally have my number called that they could have taken as much as they wanted. I just wanted to get it over with. Mid-June was the soonest I could get an appointment to come in and discuss the results. So we shall see then.

What I thought was really strange was that the night before my blood tests, I actually had a dream about having hirsutism. I have never had such a dream that I can remember. Often I do have my excess body hair in my dreams which will prevent me from accomplishing something. For instance, when I'm anxious about an upcoming event, I'll often have one of my "bathroom dreams" which feature running through a labyrinth of public lavatories trying to find a stall I can use. But every available one will be clogged to overflowing, or have no door or walls, or not even be a toilet at all. The no-door-or-walls detail inparticular is a big difficulty for someone who would not only hate using a toilet in public, but is embarrassed by their body. Sometimes I find that men are using that washroom as well, which makes it worse. I always wake up before that dream can come to an end, thankfully.

And in other dreams, I've been obliged to seduce someone for the good of a cause, or have simply found myself overwhelmed by the charms of a stranger, and come to the point where he has every intention of removing my clothes. And that's when I remember: Oh yeah, I'm a fuzzball. And I'll put a hold on events with some weak excuse, and barricade myself in an ensuite loo to search frantically for something to remove my hair with. I'll scrape myself with someone else's hair trimmer, praying it works just enough, while the mood outside the washroom deflates into nothing.

How kind of my subconscious to be so anatomically correct.

But the night before I planned to go to the clinic for my tests I dreamed I was at a clinic for tests, but no clinic that I had ever seen. One of the bookshelves in the waiting area had at least two shelves full of books written by or about hirsute women, from purely technical and clinical to self help to autobiographies. After I had my blood test (which they had to take from my foot because apparently that's what you did in this dreamland when you had to take a lot of blood) I tried to hover casually around those shelves to commit as many of the books as I could to memory, without making it seem like that was what I was doing. I remember feeling very excited that there was so much out there for and about women with unique amounts of body hair, and optimistic that this clinic was a place that might specialize in hirsutism.

And as I was leaving, Bob Balaban (or rather, his character as it is in Gosford Park) looked up from his newspaper and began to follow me down the corridor, trying to make small talk. I wasn't sure if he had noticed me examining the hirsutism books closely so I was very evasive with him, until he invited me to a wedding and I had to stop and stare. I didn't know this man, and I couldn't figure out why he would do such a thing. He said his nephew was one of the groomsmen and didn't have a date (hey, this was a dream). This made slightly more sense to me for some reason, but then Bob Balaban said, "You'd get along well. He's a big hairy guy." I was ashamed and furious at being found out, and even more enraged that a complete stranger would approach me outside a clinic and try to set me up with someone on the assumption that we would hit it off because we might be considered unattractive by most people. And I remember winding up an arm to punch him or push him over, and then I woke up.

I wouldn't say the subconscious always makes an accurate reflection of the real world--I mean, adult blood tests from the foot? And shelves full of books on hirsuitism? So I'm not trying to share these dreams to make a point about society. But they must reveal something about living life as a woman with abnormal amounts of body hair. And I sure as heck found them entertaining after the fact. The things our brains come up with!