November 29, 2011

Hair in History: North-Western Europe

This post came entirely as an extension of my research on the Bronze and Iron Age in Europe.

It appears to be that the best sources on north-western Europe and Scandinavia were observations recorded by the Romans as they tried to push the boundaries of their frontiers.  We haven’t covered body hair in the Roman Empire yet, but suffice to say, the face of the average Roman in his prime was clean-shaven.  So the full, striking beards of the Celts (various groups from the British Isles) and Vikings (from Scandinavia) made an impact.

One source shows that Julius Caesar wrote about the “Britons” (apparently all Celts, though this may not be accurate) that they kept long hair and had "every part of their body shaved except their head and upper lip.”  According to some sources, beards and/or mustaches could be braided, and others claim the Celts in particular used lime to bleach their beards and head hair.  It is speculated that this was for intimidation on the battlefield, but whether it was or not, it sounds like it was a fearsome sight to the Romans. 

There is also suggestion that Vikings and Celts attached abundant body hair to higher status.  A Roman historian, Diodorus Siculus, observed that some shaved their faces completely, but higher ranks left "a mustache that covers the whole mouth.”  The masculine instinct that head and body hair connotes virility, perhaps?

I wanted to dig a little further into north-western European aesthetics and found a bit more information spanning 8th to the 13th century, primarily for Viking culture.  For example, according to some who have looked at Viking literature, physical attractiveness was directly related to a fictional or historical person’s rank and/or moral character.  They would often be named for their physical characteristics, as well, particularly if they were unattractive or antagonistic in some way.  Even being dirty was a negative characterization. 

This might be surprising, based on what we've seen in movies, but Vikings were apparently very neat and tidy.  A law book from Iceland contains severe punishment for someone who pushed a man into dirty water, urine, food, or otherwise made him dirty on purpose.  Tools for grooming (pictured) have been found in both male and female graves.  I read that said other groups knew to attack Nordic invaders during their hot-spring bath time.  A Viking treaty was found demanding that they be provided not only food and supplies, but baths as well.  According to a couple of sources, the women of an invaded country supposedly found Vikings attractive because they were better groomed than their own men.  It was a woman’s job to wash and cut her man’s hair, particularly as part of a ritual before he left on a campaign. 

Men who couldn’t grow a beard were mocked.  It was apparently a huge insult to accuse a man of having feminine characteristics.  There was one ancient narrative examined online about a man who was wealthy with a family, but he could not grow a beard.  Someone suggested he spread fertilizer on his chin, and his children came to be known as “Little Dung-beards.”  Another character in the story made a poem to that effect, and one of the beardless man's children murdered him for it.  The Vikings were certainly into "manliness" as well as cleanliness.

By contrast, a law book was found forbidding women from having masculine traits such as wearing their hair short.  Some tribes may have cut the hair of their slave women.  There is a Norse myth that Loki once cut off Sif’s hair as a prank, and Thor told Loki to either replace her hair or be killed.   The most attractive parts of a woman were her eyes, hair, and arms; much else was covered.  And considering how infants born with a deformity were thought of as not human and therefore abandoned, it makes you wonder how a hirsute woman might have survived in that culture?  At least they did have razors so they could have shaved...

November 17, 2011

Pondering My Goals

Ugh, guys, the aliens are back.  The cystic ingrown hairs are making a cozy home out of my chin, the malicious little lifeforms.  Every two weeks it cycles.  I'm starting to wonder, is this a new aspect to shaving my face (which I've been doing for years) that I'm just going to have to live with?

But that's not the topic of this post.  I've been thinking a lot about hiding the hirsutism we're born with versus wearing it proudly.  There are women who do this, even for a brief time, and I am so in awe of them.  I would feel so intimidated to meet one of them, even though we're living with exactly the same thing.  I view this courage in defiance of social norms as something so far above what I'm capable of.

And then I start feeling ashamed that I hide my body hair.  And even though it's not right for us to feel ugly or worthless because we don't look the way we're "supposed to look", it's not right to feel there is a "proper way" to deal with it either.

The thing is, what are people thinking about women who openly wear their beards?  Even as they challenge the world's boring notions of beauty, they're still subject to certain connotations.  These connotations are sometimes positive to people, not just negative. But even the positive connotations are not me.  I don't like to bring that much attention to myself, either by being bearded or anything else. 

The beard is not who I am, in a negative way.  It is also not who I am in a positive way, if that makes sense.

To put it another way, the perceived offensiveness is not who I am.  But perceived bravery and defiance is not who I am, either. 

I sometimes ask myself, "What am I trying to do here?"  Do I hope to be part of a movement to make women with beards acceptable to all people?  Is it so we can wear our beards unashamed?

The answer is no.

I want people to stop judging based on appearance.  I want them to stop thinking women with beards are ill, or crazy, or in any way less deserving than other people. 

And that's a tall order, so I also want all the girls with beards to stop hating themselves and obsess over what the media tells them is wrong with them.  I want them to start investing in themselves and feel comfortable being who they are.

So there we are.

Today there's a picture of my chin as it existed before my first endocrinology appointment on my tumblr.  Remember, some of the other images on there may not be appropriate for minors.  Not that I reblog nudity to be provocative.  I reblog it to be honest.  ;)

November 8, 2011

Beautiful Girl with a Beard

Ugh, what a week for me, so it's video week for you guys!  This one's an interview with a woman with a beard by columnist and comedian Shazia Mirza.  If I find her BBC documentary F*** Off, I'm a Hairy Woman in full, I'll share that one of these days, as well.

Thank you for finding this, Soph!

November 1, 2011

Guest Post: Carly of The Pink Razor Project

This week's post comes from Carly of The Pink Razor Project, which is rapidly gaining momentum and if you haven't checked it out already, what are you waiting for?

Carly responded to the optional prompt: "Do you think hirsutism is something women should be hiding?"

First, I want to thank Allerleirah for the opportunity to post on what I think is such an important topic!  Hers is a great blog, and I'm excited that it's around :-)

Talking openly about my, or your, facial hair or body hair is such a personal choice... It's difficult for me to definitively say whether or not it's right for someone else to talk about it or reveal it or whatever.  Who can tell someone else what's right for them?


If I'm really honest...

I do NOT think hirsutism is something women *should* be hiding.

However, keep in mind that I shave my own facial hair.  I have a lot of mixed feelings about it.  On one hand, I think that for me, if I grew out my hair, it would be tough for people to swallow.  I think I would end up having to explain myself a lot, and I just... don't want to have to do that. 

It doesn't feel fair.

But then, on the other hand, there's a part of me that wants to be a pioneer.  To educate.  To break barriers and make it safer for other women like me to be open about it.  And that part of me feels ashamed about the first part.

I was diagnosed with PCOS when I was 13, and since then, I have been trying to come to terms with my hair.  For the first 10-ish years, I was only mortified.  I just wanted it to go away.  There were so many mornings in the shower (where I shave, because the steam makes it easier for me and less likely that razor burn will develop) when I found myself in complete despair, thinking, "What did I do to deserve this?  Why am I being punished?"  I swung between thinking those sorts of thoughts, and trying not to think about it at all.  My long-term high school boyfriend had NO idea about it.  And people I've told about it since, who have known me for a long time, also had no idea.  I lived in constant fear that someone would see - would find me out - and so I became extremely good at hiding it.  Trust me, I have done probably everything you can think of, including expensive procedures, to get rid of my hair.

Toward the end of college, and I'm not sure exactly why, I got tired.  Tired of hiding.  Tired of not feeling authentic.  I felt like I had learned so much about myself, about the world, about others from the hair, and I had no outlet for those lessons.

So, slowly, I started telling people I trusted.  Luckily, I have wonderful friends who are supportive and have been very positive about it all.

It was a coming-out process of sorts for me.  I told more and more people.  Not everyone, but people I thought would take it well.  It was around that time that I had the idea for a documentary about the daily lives of women with facial hair.  We're really quite normal (whatever that means), with the added special quality of more hair.  The idea came out of wishing that there was something like that that *I* could watch, and my fascination with peoples' reactions to it.

A friend suggested doing a photo project together as a beginning.  That was a fantastic, intense experience for me, mostly because she photographed me shaving (in the sink, not the shower!).  That remains the only time another person has watched me do it.  It's such a personal thing, and it was cathartic for another person to witness it.  And not just witness it, but get it on film.  And not only that, but react positively.

Shortly after that, I went to graduate school in another state, and I told more and more people about it.  I went to school at kind of a crunchy east-coast place, and it wasn't hard to find supportive people who were appropriately interested.

I find that I feel so much better when people know.  I feel like I can relax a little more.  Be more myself.  The more I tell others, the easier it gets.  And the thing I keep repeating over and over in my head to feel ok about it?  "It's just hair.  It's just hair."

I don't think women should have to hide it, because I don't believe anyone should have to hide ANYTHING about themselves.  What's the point?  Don't we owe it to ourselves to be authentic?  What favors are we doing by hiding?  Ideally, we should feel like we have the choice of whether to remove it or not.  And if some days, we feel like not removing, we should be able to feel just as confident as on the days we do.

Wouldn't that be awesome?

Carly recently posted some of her personal story on her own blog, which are an enjoyable read as well:  Some History, or My Journey to Beardiness, Part I and Reflecting, or My Journey to Beardiness, Part 2.