Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Enough already!

As summer rapidly approaches, and the tank tops and shorts and bathing suits march to the front of the closet, I can’t help but think about skin. About showing skin. About showing unsightly skin.

Suddenly I wish I had been more serious about that diet I started back in January. I wish I had joined a gym, hired a trainer, built an exercise habit. Something. Then maybe I wouldn’t be anticipating the summer season with such dread.

True, I’d like to be trimmer, and fitter, and healthier. I would. But this isn’t another article on how to get into bikini shape in 10 days. Or how to cleanse yourself into a size extra small. Please. (Though you know I’ve considered it.)

No, that’s not it at all. For those of us who didn’t shrink or tighten or tone as much as we wanted, the question becomes: Cover it up or bare it?

Certainly you’ve heard the commentaries. A deejay asserts that women over 35 and over 120 pounds should NOT wear a bikini, under no uncertain terms. A family member tells you it’s time to retire the tank tops until you can reduce the flap factor on your arms. A friend asks if she’s too fat for shorts.

With all this talk about what people should and shouldn’t wear as the temperatures rise, I can’t help but wonder, do we owe it to other people to cover up our unsightly skin?

And who gets to determine what is—and is not—unsightly?

I’m not just talking about fatty cells and cellulite, but also hairless heads.

One time an airline employee told me I couldn’t wear a scarf in first class. I was flying standby, on a buddy pass, and was required to follow a dress code. No jeans. No open-toed shoes. No t-shirt material. No spandex. Check, check, check, and check. Apparently Mr. Snooty Pants thought a headscarf didn’t fit the rules, didn’t look upscale enough for his taste. Nowhere on the list of rules did it say No headscarf. I wish I had whipped the scarf off my bald head and quipped, “Better?” Unfortunately, I wasn’t as strong then as I am now. My eyes watered. I could barely speak. I told him I had a medical condition and he still downgraded me to coach.

From my alopecia support group, I heard about a stewardess who was required to wear a wig on the plane when her hair fell out. Another girl was required to wear a wig at the reception counter at a gym. Seeing a bald headed woman, they were told, would make customers uncomfortable. The airline stewardess bought a wig. The bald gym receptionist quit.

How are we supposed to increase awareness about alopecia and hair loss in women if we are always covering it up?

Sure, there will always be a need for dress codes. No shirt, no shoes, no service at a restaurant. No midriff showing in the office. No Borat mankinis at the neighborhood swimming pool.

But it’s time to ask ourselves: Why is it that thigh dimples and dangling arm fat and hairless heads make us so uncomfortable?

So enough already! I’m heading to the shore today and I am packing tank tops, shorts, and a bathing suit. I might even bare my naked head. If you find any of it unsightly, then by all means, don’t look. But please, keep your mouth shut.

© 2009 Christy Bailey


mojee said...

i used to worry about what other think and now comfort rules. it its hot then out comes the tank top and you have to look the other way. however, i draw the line with bikinis.

Joanne said...

I say we head for the Italian beaches where we can bear all and everyone can feel okay about it!

Why do Americans have such crazy hang ups? I, myself, was just looking at my flabby arms today thinking that I really need to work on those tricepts. Now I'm asking, "for whom?" Me or "them"?

Anonymous said...

Good blog today Christy. It has me reflecting quite a bit (I'm also a bit reflective based on some news I got today as well).

I find me self viewing this issue from two different perspectives. On the one hand I have to confess. I really don't want to see men or women who have 100lbs on me (which means they're well over 300lbs) in thongs and bikinis at the beach. Hell, I don't want to see my body in a thong and I rated myself "attractive" on your poll (true)! This obviously comes from my acceptance of our societies conventions with respect to dress. I really do believe that some people look better in some cuts of clothing, and some cuts do not flatter some people (though "flatter" clearly is subjective)

That said, I'm also angered by the stories that you shared. The flight attendant who was so rude to you may have been in violation of the law. Past this, his actions, and the actions in the other situations you shared shows the concerning part about all of this. Part of what's at issue here is control. Control over who is more valuable in society.

In the cases that you've shared, the issue is not that women who lacked the hair could were causing a real problem. You didn't have BO, the stewardess was still able to evacuate the plane and hand out drinks, and the woman at the gym was still able to swipe an ID card--all with or without hair. The only real basis for the actions was that in all three cases people were trying to control the image of the situation. They wanted thing to "look" a certain way.

I should qualify things and say that I'm not a big one for "image". Mainly this is because I tend to view it as being separate from what is real. That said, I would concede that managing image does have it's place. As an example, a principal I supported once said "...when I high school girl is unclear about your relationship, you're in trouble...". If your a teacher having a clear image of your relationship with students (that matches reality) is important.

However, when it comes to what we're going to value in other people, that becomes concerning. I may be able to best explain this with an example. I one saw a topless picture of a woman who had a mastectomy. From what I recall of the story (this was about 18 years ago), she had the picture taken to show the reality of what it meant to have breast cancer, and to challenge some of the norms associated with the surgery.

I'm sure people questioned this woman's decision. When we think of a woman doing topless photos we don't think of someone whose lost one breast to the disease. That's not the image we want. However, the picture (which was tastefully done) was very real. It also wasn't shocking (no doubt part of the point for why the woman had it taken). Different, yes. But not something that the rest of us shouldn't be exposed to (given the increased rate, we may not have a choice down the road).

I think the same applies to woman who lose their hair. Is it different? Yes. Might it take a little getting used to for people not used to seeing someone without hair or a head covering. Yes. It is some monumental shift in perspective that we dare not expose ourselves to (as a society) lest society as we know it collapse? No. It's hair (or the absence of hair).

That said, as you've pointed out, we do tend to attach a lot of value to hair. To what extent we do this depend on us.

That said, I do have one piece of advice. If you do opt to go "bare", wear sun screen. I burned my head once. It was was not a pleasant experience. And I will say that sloughing off patches of dead skin from ones scalp is not a good look. Again, just me conforming to the norms of society (and dermatology)...


Update: I never did show the bald head. But, I am adding it to a list of things I will do in time. And a topic for a future blog post!