Monday, November 10, 2014

Eyebrow Tweezing and Other Political Acts

I accept sympathy in the form of chocolate.
And yes, my poor hand is seeking comfort amid kitty fur. 
So I just broke a nail. Seriously. Like below the quick and everything. It throbs like a whiny emo album. Of course, being the responsible nail enthusiast I am, I immediately clipped and filed it, and now it just throws off the look of my entire left hand.

I can practically feel the sea salt wetness of your sympathetic tears bathing the pain of my abused pinky nail.

This little splash of beauty horror reminds me of my activities upon awakening this morning. Here’s a snapshot:

Yaaaaawn. Stretch just enough to encourage blood flow but not enough to disturb strategically tucked, feline body warmers. Through gummy eyes, glimpse the make-up bag, placed last night next to the Kleenex box for this very moment. Fumble for the bag, finally snag it. Fish out the pocket mirror and tweezers. Commence the excruciating ripping of hairs from the tender brow ridge.

This, after I shaved my legs the night before. I mean, it’s not waxing or anything, but shaving is definitely one of the less dignified activities one can perform while wet, naked, and shivering.

Why do I do such things? I mean, newsflash, Elle: you’re a feminist. You’re beyond these petty cosmetic pursuits, right? You read Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth, you just published a journal article on the resistant, boundary-defying possibilities of fat bodies. The only make-up you wear is lipstick, and that’s only because everyone should see how hot you look in fire-engine red. Heck, you refuse to wear pantyhose and heels because they’re pointless torture devices. 

Why can’t you stop mouthing these last few prayers to a beauty god in which you have no more belief?

I guess it’s not that simple. Look at the lipstick example. Just the act of donning bright red lipstick every day is, to me, some kind of funky blend of accommodating traditional beauty ideals and messing with them by smearing in some fat politics. Not with me, peeps? Okay, so red lipstick is a huge, cultural symbol of femmey sexiness, right? Well, femininity and sexiness are two categories that have been traditionally denied us fat women. Imagine the confusion -- and perhaps the reevaluation of these cultural constructions -- I engender in others when I, a fat woman, don this marker of sexiness and enact a confident, proud persona. Am I performing old-fashioned, unexciting, requisite feminine sexiness, or does my fat version of it cast into confusion its very definition?

Pretty rockin’, right? Yeah, but while I dig my lipstick politics, I can’t honestly claim that I yank tender little hairs from their snug beds in order to mess with people’s constructions of femininity. Does it still make others think twice to see un-pantyhosed, hairless fat legs displayed by a cute, frilly skirt? It may. Does my fat version of it encourage others to rethink their automatic assumptions about what “feminine” (usually paired with smallness and frailty) looks like? Maybe.

Brows like rotated commas don't happen on their own, people.
Most importantly, do my intentions matter? I may tweeze my eyebrows because my mother tells me it’s the best gift I can give her for Mother’s Day, and I may shave my legs because I teach in front of 150 students per semester and don’t want to embarrass myself by having butch-tastic, hairy shins and calves, but does that really matter? Am I a political statement whether or not I intend it?

I just don’t know. 

I voiced this to my partner yesterday when musing about my shaving ritual. My legs, I pointed out, are crisscrossed with cat and dog scratches, both fresh ones and the scars from my animal rescue past. Why shave legs that, by being fat and scarred, have already transcended the boundaries of feminine sexiness? Am I minimizing my legs’ horror, begging others for some scrap of recognition and acceptance? Or, by being someone who is relatively confident about her physicality and sexiness, might I be challenging others – perhaps even calling into question well-established gender categories -- with my strange combination of eschewing and embracing gendered performances of sexiness? Is the very ambivalence, my straddling of two different worlds, where we can begin the deconstruction of these artificial constructs?

“Uh-huh. And plucking your eyebrows hurts you,” my partner helpfully reminded me.

Yeah, there’s that. Like my torn nail burns now, tweezing my brows stung like a mofo this morning. Political activism, whether economically or emotionally, is never free, and it’s a cliché that the price of beauty runs high. But dang, do these pursuits have to involve so much blood, tears, and wasted nail polish?

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