Taking It Too Far?

My first thought when I woke up (late) this morning was “I’m revoking my late-night blogging privileges. I’ve got to get that post off my blog!”

But then I read all of your wonderful comments, and decided it was a good topic to discuss, even if I was uncomfortable.

Subtitle: I am NOT trying to stir up the old beauty shitstorm!
This post is about what I’ve been going through lately, and I’m interested in feedback.

This is how I’m looking these days:

I’ve worked hard to be aware of patriarchal standards of beauty when they pop up in me, and fighting to reject them. This process has been occurring over several years. But I seem to have made remarkable progress in the last few months. If you’re not sitting down, please do so before continuing.

Oh, I guess you would be sitting at your computer, wouldn’t you? Still, brace yourself.

I’ve been going out in public without shaving my legs.

The horror! Now, before you get too excited, I’m still a shaver. I will still shave, but I no longer shave daily, and last time I was at the allergist’s, I realized I was out in public, wearing shorts, with leg hair that was long enough to be soft. I had a tiny attack of panic, then was so proud of myself that I wanted to tell someone. A scan of the room revealed that no one would be sympathetic. (Aside: I used to refuse to wear shorts when I was this fat. Who cares that heat makes me ill? Suffer fatty! So I’ve made progress there too. Go me!)

But wait, there’s more! I haven’t experienced that burning pain on my upper lip that comes from hair removal in I don’t know how long. My mustache is nice and dark. Again, don’t think I’ve conquered anything-I’m sure to burn the hair off again at some point. But to have gone this long without my Nair (burning-hair-off attack chemical) is amazing for me.

So in two areas, I have made positive progress. But I’m “letting myself go” in other ways, and I can’t figure out if I’m rejecting beauty standards or being lazy because I don’t feel well. Isn’t there something to be said for having a little pride in one’s appearance (as in not smelling terrible, and not looking like I’ve given up on doing laundry)? Is there? I’m not being sarcastic, I’d like to know.

I shower and wash my hair every day, and I use deodorant as well. But I do not comb my hair or dry it, and it forms an interesting and very messy frizz around my head. I’m wearing sloppy clothes, and I haven’t bothered to remove the Bumble fur from myself before leaving the apartment (white hair everywhere). I often have hay somewhere on my person, but hay removal is a losing battle. Whenever I eat, I end up wearing part of my meal. I’ve been this way since childhood, so I don’t think it will change. When I’m at the bank and see a juice stain on my shirt, I can’t even work up embarassment.

I realize that all of this could be happening because going anywhere takes so much effort that I can’t be bothered by my appearance. I also know that my friends will come rushing to my defense and tell me not to worry about a silly thing like appearance when I have bigger issues. Those friends would be right. But in a rambling way, I’m trying to ask a philosophical feminist question: where do we draw the line? Where does a woman find the line between rejecting patriarchal standards and how she is happy in her appearance? If I had energy to be outside working, I wouldn’t give a rat’s ass how I looked then. But I’m talking about how I look when I run errands, or just in my daily life.

Really, feedback would be great-you will not offend me. Really, please let’s not start up attacking each other over appearance issues. We’re just talking about messy me.


22 responses to “Taking It Too Far?

  1. In a rural community, in a wheelchair, the general public have a tendency to assume one doesn’t have a brain, and that one is ‘cared’ for in an institution, where the staff don’t care because they are low paid, so the wheelchair users are a bit of a mess. There are disabled people like that in my small town.

    What can I do ? Complain to my Care Manager and say does nobody care enough to do something about it. Smile directly at those dis-abled wheelchair users being pushed around by the un-caring carers, when I see them. I can do that.

    And, I can take a pride in my appearance (when I have the energy to go out; when I am too ill, all personal grooming stops, except for keeping clean, so that I am not assumed to be uncared for, to show that wheelchair does not equal don’t-care.

    That’s just me, not a comment on what others should be doing.

    But I only go out when I have the energy to get myself together enough to go out. There was a period in my life, before I knew I had a condition, when I had to go out on errands even though my clothes were a disgrace, as was my hair, skin, nails; the rest was covered up.

    Now I am nearly old, my facial hair is like I remember my grandmother’s; a thick covering, yes all over, of fine white fur, which I gently shave off when it stands 1/4 of an inch off my profile. Can’t do anything about the eyelids. Or my arms, shoulders, back, but I do my legs where it is darker, only when they would be on show, which is rare, given my preference for long skirts. Deodorants only work, for me anyway, on shaved or short haired armpints, but springy bushes help the air circulate by holding the clothing away from the skin (well you did invite comments!).

    So, for my own sake, I do like to appear, what in the 60s was called ‘well groomed’. That does not mean I think everyone should be, so long as hygiene is respected for all our sakes. And, for me, it has nothing to do with what the patriarchal sections of society expect.

  2. Good post SE,

    Personally my take is this: If you shower, wash your hair and brush your teeth then you’re fine. If you’re wearing clothes that are clean but perhaps have a stain on them then so what?

    To be perfectly honest with you I have very long hair and I never use blow dryers, hair gels and so forth on it. I’ve found that without all the extra crap my hair is healthier than it has ever been.

    As far as the clothes go quite frankly if they’re not dirty I see no problems with any of what you describe.

    As for the shaving *grin*. You sound as though you’re just about where I am. My shaving rituals have markedly decreased and I’m freaking LOVING it! I had never realized just how LONG it took to shave everything and now, I can get in the shower and be out in just a few minutes instead of tossing around the idea of bringing my coffee into the shower because it takes so much time out of my morning 😉

    To me, personally, it sounds as though you’re doing just fine. If your clothes fit and are clean and you are clean and taken care of then to hell with the rest. But of course that’s just me *grin*

  3. I think it comes down to the person.

    There was one thing I didn’t bring up in the big beauty debate, for the simple reason I didn’t feel secure in putting on the table for discussion by all. Your blog is kinda different, though… you may have had to deal with the same thing.

    I actually make a point of adhering to certain “beauty rituals” for no reason other than the fact that neglecting to do them is one of my Big Depression Signs. I know that that buys into that whole myth of “woman is neglecting her appearance, must be depressed” but god dammit, for me it’s true. When I’m in a down spiral, I stop washing or brushing my hair, I stop paying attention to my clothing, I stop shaving. I stop all sorts of things that are normally part of my daily routine. The appearance ones, frankly, are the ones I’m most likely to notice.

    So I guess my roundabout point, dealing ONLY with myself, is that if I got rid of those beauty rituals I’d have to replace them with other ones. I don’t have the luxury of an unstructured life… I need those routines to keep functioning and to monitor how I’m functioning. I guess in a sense our whole patriarchal society has schizophrenia. *grin*

    Because of that, I don’t think I’m really qualified to chime in on “how far is too far”… but I figured you’d get what I was saying.

    Bah. Too little sleep makes hexys rambly. Sorry. 🙂

  4. Hi Spotted Elephant,
    This is such a tricky thing, isn’t it? When are we really taking care of ourselves and when are we succumbing to patriarchal pressures? It sounds like you’re doing an excellent job figuring that out. For me, I HATE the way I feel without a shower – it does something weird to my body temperature, and I feel hot and flushed all day. And, as hexy said, sometimes skipping our rituals can indicate depression. It’s tough. I think it’s a matter of staying aware of the choices you make as you make them. Not in a judgmental “oh, bad me for doing that” way, but in a “hmm. I did X for this reason.” way, so that next time, if you WANT to, you’ll be able to do something different.

    As for me, I like to shower, and have clean clothes, and I even iron now and then (mostly for work). I look at it kind of like housekeeping. There IS a certain amount that I am willing to do to maintain hygiene, habitability, and freedom from embarrassment, but I try not to go overboard on any of it.

    I LOVE it when I see other hairy-legged women out and about. It takes some courage to withstand the sideways glances and other responses you might receive. And it’s okay to go back and forth for as long as you want/need to.

    Good luck, and be gentle with yourself.


  5. Justjuliefornow

    Since I have met you, IN PERSON, I can say that you look perfectly normal. I like your hair. We did talk about shaving and facial hair and it sounds as if you have made some steps since we spoke.

    I pluck my eyebrows, bleach or wax my lip and shave, but age, location and work situation have allowed for a lot of slack in these areas. I plan to laser or have electroysis on my new chin hairs because they bother me to no end.

    I go out in clothes I NEVER would have the left the house in a few years ago. Partly because I am 45 and partly because I live in a small, funky town where anything goes in the Pac NW. This is a very accepting area, unlike areas in the Midwest and South where I have lived. I do not worry about what the folks at QFC will think about the size and whitness of my thighs as I would have in the past. I try not to go out in spotted (hey, you’re SE, you’re supposed to have spots!) clothing, but since these stains magically appear on most everything I own, I think my other choice might be to go out naked. The only thing I really don’t like to do is have a stain on my chest since I am large breasted it makes me uncomfortable.

    As for *beauty* rituals, do you consider scraping calluses off your feet a beauty thing? I love how it feels to have smooth feet and I feel the same about my legs, although I don’t shave everyday. I have thought a lot about these things since we met and I have been reading yours and many of your commenters’ blogs. I definitely do some of them for myself, but I am condtitioned to many of them and not at a point where I want to change.

    It sounds to me like you have made some positive changes that you want to make, but also are not feeling well enough to care about some things that you might care about if you had more energy.

  6. spotted elephant

    Sally-Thanks for the feedback. There are so many issues tied in to appearance, and the assumptions others make about us.

    BB-My clothes are clean right up to the moment I spill my food on them. 🙂 I didn’t even mention teeth, since I categorize brushing as a health issue, not an appearance issue (worked for a dentist for 5 years).

    Hexy-That’s a crucial issue. Any early warning signs are worth their weight in gold. For me, it’s a lack of movement: I stop shifting in my chair, bouncing my knee, fussing with things. By the time beauty rituals stop, I’m pretty far gone. So yeah, you would have to replace any beauty rituals you gave up. Thanks for another reminder that this is a really complicated issue with many different parts to consider.

    YL-Be gentle with myself? Would you please record that message and send it to me as I need to hear it frequently!

    Julie-You may have just given me a positive outlook on the stains, as the spotted remark was very funny!

    I don’t consider callus removal to be a beauty issue, though I’m sure many would disagree with me. My calluses are sharp, and if I don’t remove them, I actually scrape myself (ewwww). Since I’m all for avoiding pain, I get rid of them.

  7. Since so many have offered wonderful thoughts on various aspects of the post so well, I’m going to take on this basic question:

    “Isn’t there something to be said for having a little pride in one’s appearance?”

    The way I look at it, the question isn’t quite right. Comfort in one’s skin is what provides the glow of pride. Sounds hokey, but that’s what really draws my eye. An energy, true confidence, realness, and it doesn’t matter if the walked out of a catalog or pig sty.

    Haven’t shaved my legs in ages but haven’t worn shorts either. Except my reason is literally the skin and scars theron. So I am still working on feeling good in that skin and not sensitive to looks, as opposed to trying to replace it with some procedure or chemical. For the most part, the best way for me to be comfortable it to have it all covered up.

    I suppose I have a milestone, too, when we were on vacation at a state park last week. Now, I told myself all the justifications; it’s not some sprink break beach, it’s a state park lake in the mountains, not a ton of people, not a “display and look” sort of environment, all kinds of different people; so I could join my daughter in a *gasp* bathing suit and enjoy the water with her, legs and arms exposed to all. And I didn’t cease to exist or get *overly* stressed about it like I normally would (hiding, turning down invites, sweating my damn ass off and being miserable). Yikes! Still a way to go, but dang, I haven’t done that in years.

    Point? Yeah, I kinda suck at getting to that. Point is that as long as you feel better about you this way, it’s healthy and not a sign of anything. That you are dealing with mood stuff right now clouds that, because as we know, anything that changs along with mood can be suspect.

  8. If I knew that line, I would have a million dollar book deal. I’m just sayin.

    I think what you’re doing is fabulous, and keep it up, yo! It’s hard work exploring your relationship to the patriarchy via beauty. It’s harder than most people will admit it is, hence a lot of the defensive reactions.

    Something I like to remember is that the day you walk out on the street with unshaven legs that everyone can see, they don’t know that you “shave sometimes” or that your leg hair isn’t as long or as wild as it could be. They don’t pay attention to the makeup or lack thereof. Truly, body hair on women is such a jolt into someone’s brain that your clothing choices and makeup choices are hardly even acknowledged. To that person, you are woman with hairy legs. Your impression, right then, was that of a woman that doesn’t shave.

    So even if you only stop shaving once in a long while, and only wear shorts or skirts while not shaving even less than that, you are still putting that out there, and pardon the perhaps overstatement, but I find that nothing short of revolutionary.

  9. There are some things, like showering and hair washing and teeth brushing that I consider vital. My hair looks nasty and I hate touching it if it isn’t washed daily, and I run my hands through it a LOT, so I have to do it. Shaving? I prefer jeans, so summer is the only time I think about it too much. Then, I do it maybe twice a week if I’m wearing capris (I’m not a shorts fan-don’t actually own any). I don’t like the feeling of my stubble scraping, so that’s my main reason for doing that. In the winter? Maybe two, three times a month? Nobody sees my legs, who cares?
    Oo, rough feet, my nemesis. I used to always wear socks, because I HATED feeling my feet scrape against each other. I finally discovered pumice stones, so use them every few days, not only on my feet, but on any part of my body that needs some exfoliating. I don’t think about it as a beauty thing, but as an “I feel icky” thing.

    I think the difference in the beauty/grooming debate is, do you do it for yourself or others? I shave because I dislike the stubble, keep my feet smooth because I hate the feeling of them rough. On the other hand, I own makeup, but think the last time I wore any was in March, when I met a fellow blogger for dinner. It has to be a really special occasion to make me contemplate mascara.

    Do what feels comfortable for yourself, not what you think will make other people comfortable around you. I’ll admit, I’m sort of jealous/horrified with the whole lip hair thing. On the one hand, I don’t want it on me, personal preference, but do feel a bit envious of those who don’t care about having a little bit of darker upper lip hair. That feel confident enough in themselves to not worry about it.

  10. Hexy brought up an interesting point: About lack of cocnern with hygiene/appearance as sometimes being indicative of deppression.

    While I second hex on this, I don’t think it’s necessarily sex-specific: Depressed people (women and men) often lose interest in everyday rituals that most non-depressed people perform on autopilot: Showering, washing their faces, brushing their teeth, changing their clothes, etc. So if shaving is something a woman’s done since she was a teen (and it’s as much a part of her routine as showering or whatever), it would stand to reason that her failure to undertake this ritual may be a sign of her not being too happy. Same goes for men (not that male shaving and female shaving are in any way comparable, but that’s a discussion for another time.)

    And, natch, everyone is expected to do things like wear deodaurant, bathe and brush their teeth: That’s simply a matter of personal hygiene. Pouring hot wax on yourself or piling the make-up on with a shovel, however, is another story.

  11. “Go ahead, be wild and free /
    You don’t have to shave your legs… for me.”

    – great song by Keb’ Mo’.

    Hey, I don’t shave my face, so…

  12. Justjuliefornow

    I want you to know that the Spotted comment was not premeditated. I really have clothes with spots (which appear magically in the wash), as opposed to stains (a result of boisterous nourishment leaping out of containment).

  13. spotted elephant

    Manxome-Good for you! That’s real progress.

    Very true about feeling good in on’es skin, too. I’m not sure I do, I’m mainly just exhausted.

    Edith-Focusing on what I did accomplish instead of what I wasn’t doing is so mean of you! I never considered that that’s how I’d appear to others. That makes me feel really good about things.

    Madame-The problem is that what each of us does is important. If there were more hairy-legged women walking around, I’d have an easier time of it.

    Alyx-The depression component is so difficult to deal with, because it’s so important to catch those warning signs. But as you said, maybe the shower/deodorant/brushing teeth is an important barometer. I don’t floss when depressed.

    QuakerDave-Excellent point. I’m just puzzled over my shaving problem when I easily gave up makeup over a decade ago. I guess it’s just a soft spot.

    Julie-LOL! I think I have both spots and stains. And now, I love your decription for what causes each of them. It isn’t me, it’s the boisterous food!

  14. Oh SE You are lovely! Don’t change. Be as kind to yourself as you would be to anyone else asking these questions. As to stains on clothing, here in Salford we call them “dinner medals”. Nice! xx

  15. I’ve been thinking constantly about these things at the moment!

    I identify the line according to whether or not the action I am potentially going to take is viewed as necessary for me to be accepted in society as a woman – not as a ‘clean and tidy’ person – but as a ‘real’ (for which read conforming to the patriarchal creation ‘femininity’) woman. So make-up, shaving, false nails, pedicures = no; washing, deodorant, moisturiser, doing stuff with my hair (that doesn’t require stupid amounts of time, effort and money) = ok.

    Going out in public with hairy legs and no make-up feels ace! I wear shorts to work and I can see that the fact I have hairy legs like the guys means it is harder for them to other me. For the first time in my life I also think I look nice in the mirror, on the rare occasions when I do look in it, but ironically I place so much less importance on this than I used to.

    You sound fine to me 🙂

  16. Hello there S.E.!

    I see lots of people have left wonderful responses to you.

    I just wanted to say (If it hasn’t been said already I might have missed it!) that sometimes when a person is mentally unwell, they cannot shower or wear clean clothes or brush their teeth.

    That does not make a person ‘bad’ or ‘filthy’ – I think it means they really need more help and assistance than they are getting.

    I am not saying *anybody* implied someone was bad or dirty! I am just saying that if you ever felt like you couldn’t even shower/brush your teeth etc S.E. I in no way think you should feel bad about that. Same goes for everyone who is going through a really really ‘rough patch’.

    Anyway… from what I read, you are doing remarkably well at the moment, especially because you are not feeling your best? I say try be proud of how well you are doing, S.E.!!

    I hope this post made some sense.

    Take good care okay!!!

    from Z

  17. spotted elephant

    Pippa-Dinner medals?! Between you and Julie, I may come to like stains!

    Laura-That’s a really helpful perspective. I can end up spending so much time trying to explore implications of doing x, that it’s great to turn it around and say, “No, what are the bare essentials for a human in society?” That makes my whole mood shift for the better, you know? 🙂

    Z-Spot-on about mental disorders and not being able to do basic self-care tasks. Right now I’m dealing with pain, fatigue, and mental confusion. The fatigue is by far the scariest, because it feels very much like depression, though I’m not depressed right now.

    So yeah, sometimes it’s just about making it through the day. And come to think of it, that really is where I should be focusing on right now instead of casting judgements. Thanks.

  18. I offer you nice safe **hugs** Spotted Elephant!! 🙂

    I really hope things get better for you soon.

    Take good care,


  19. Spotted Elephant-

    I may be a tad late to the conversation but I gotta say you are right on. If you feel good, you’re good. As someone who knows depression, I am aware that one big indicator of general health is cleanliness. You’re clean! You do not need to shave or remove any body hair with which you are comfortable. You oughtta visit CUSS (Campaign for the Unshaved Snatch).

    It sounds to me like you have more important things to do than blow-dry your hair. You gotta be you.

  20. Hexy and Spotted, let me chime in here with my bipolar badass self and say that “lack of good grooming” is a MAJOR red flag for me. I have always been a bitsy-frou frou girl, with the makeup and the nails and the toenails and the blow dryer, and if those things suddenly repulse me, well, it’s time to give old Dr. EverythingWillBeAllRight a call.

    Then again, I now work out of my home office, it is 4:50pm, and I have yet to shower or put on “real” clothes. I’m not in my jammies, but I have on some craptacular Purdue t-shirt with bleach stains on the belly and some shorts that might have fit me properly back in April 1983.

    Am I depressed? Hell no! I am in a good place. I am just busy, and quite honestly, there are days when I simply forget to shower until the evening. I don’t see anyone during the day except for the cats, anyway, and given that Manni is the feline equivalent of Jabba the Hut for sheer slovenliness, I don’t think that he really judges me. Lola, perhaps. Manni, no.

  21. I know you replied to my comment a while ago, but I haven’t been around. On warning signs and movement…

    Ah, yes. Ambient movement (that non-specific stuff we do almost as background noise) is always a big indicator for me as well. If I’m facing a depressive episode, I’ll lose my ambient movement. I’ll sit without moving, I won’t look around, I’ll barely even focus my eyes. If I’m facing a schizoid episode, my ambient movement becomes bizarre, and unusual gestures intrude. My hands will dart around like birds, randomly flying into the air. My body twitches, my eyes jump around and my head isn’t still. It’s a BIG warning sign.

    The lack of attention to daily rituals, for me, is not so indicative of an episode as it is a slow descent into depression. It suggests that I’m slowly sinking, that I may need to adjust something. This isn’t just beauty-related rituals… my whole day has small rituals woven into it that both serve as checkpoints for “how am I coping?” and stop me getting lost in my head.

  22. Yeah, I hear you wrt the “is this me being comfortable or is this me slipping into depression?” business.

    showering/bathing, or lack thereof, brushing teeth, washing hair, and so forth, is definitely a good line to draw, for me at least. also how many days in a row you wear the same outfit; particularly if it’s starting to feel, well, not-so-fresh.

    I haven’t shaved my legs in years and years–well, every once in a blue moon, on impulse, I might. mostly if I’m planning to dress up in fishnets or something. and even then: usually don’t bother. then again, I’m body-blonde and mostly tend to wear pants or ankle-length hippie skirts when it’s any sort of situation I need to care about (i.e. work), so I dunno how “brave” it is. yeah, I wear shorts, thin shirts and no bra to go shlepping about in my neighborhood, in this weather at least. If people have been looking at me askance lately, I haven’t clocked it.

    I love makeup, but for me it’s mainly a dress-up item–just about never wear it on a daily basis (again, maybe for work drag or especially an interview, i might get out the mascara and foundation). When it -is- dress-up I like to go all out–deep red (or green!) lipstick, punk eyeshadow, false lashes (well, sometimes; they tend to stick annoyingly), glitter, art deco designs with eyeliner.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s