The Hairy Side of Body Acceptance

Body hair - the hairy side of body acceptance

{Image modified from Peter Gabriel goat by Dan McKay/ CC BY 2.0}

I recently browsed a comment thread devoted to complaining about me.

I noticed something a few comments had in common:

So she doesn’t want to diet or exercise, fine, whatever, but…do something about those eyebrows!

Hey now! I kind of love my eyebrows!

Another comment mocked the thinning hair on my head.

Here’s another:

Apparently she’s also ingrown belly hair positive…EWWWWW

That’s a lot of focus on my body hair.

The belly hair comment comes from a picture I shared on my post Big Bare Beautiful Baby Belly which I made to help add to the available images of fat pregnant people. My belly hairs are just like that. There’s nothing I can do about it.

When someone mocks me and says I’m “ingrown belly hair positive” presumably they aren’t bothered that my belly hairs are like that. What they are bothered by is that I dare to show them in public. Of course, I choose to display myself online, but many people have bodies like mine. Those critical words are also out there in public, and they affect everyone who reads them.

My eyebrows I cannot hide as easily as my belly hairs. Am I expected to pluck and shape them to suit the needs of the body hating world? Well, yes, I am in fact expected to do so.

The hair on my head also cannot be so easily hidden. It grows out of my head that way. It grows the same way my mother’s hair does. I will not cower to criticism and be bothered that I look the way I look.

I stopped plucking my eyebrows 17 years ago.

I stopped shaving my underarms 13 years ago.

I stopped shaving my legs 13 years ago, but I still did it for special occasions. I only stopped for good about 3 years ago.

3 years is about how long ago I got over my mustache. I used to plucked it. I even bleached it once, but that just meant I was walking around with a blonde mustache.

I have still been plucking my chin hairs. I thought I only had two or three of them. A few months ago I stopped plucking them, and I discovered that it might be 2-3 at a time, but there are more in total. It’s quite scraggly down there. I had one more panicked plucking session, and now I think I’m done.

So I understand what’s expected of me by the people who write mean things about my body hair, because I’ve done most of these things before.

  • I’m supposed to be medicated to help with my thinning head hair.
  • I’m supposed to be medicated to help with my “excess” of other hair.
  • I’m supposed to shave my legs.
  • I’m supposed to shave my arm pits.
  • I’m supposed to “trim” my pubic hairs.
  • I’m supposed to pluck or shave or whatever my upper lip hairs.
  • I’m supposed to call them “upper lip hairs” instead of calling them my mustache.
  • I’m supposed to pluck my eyebrows.
  • I’m supposed to pluck or shave my chin hairs.
  • With my remaining head hair, I’m supposed to wash and condition it just so, then heat it this way or that, and style it with a bunch of products.
  • With my remaining eyebrow hairs, I’m supposed to shape them.
  • With my eyelashes I’m supposed to thicken them and curl them with various products.
  • With my remaining pubic hairs, I’m supposed to shape them in one way or another.

That’s an awful lot of control. That’s an awful lot of time, money, and struggle on my part to fit into someone else’s mold.

Where will I be if I comply?

Who will I be?

Who will I be if I DON’T comply? If I continue to try as hard as I can to NOT comply as far as I can?

One of the things I will be is a woman. The deep control of hair is something our culture particularly forces onto women. But I will be a woman no matter what I do with my hair.

One of the things I will be is an animal. Guess what? We’re mammals! We have hair!

I recently heard a friend refer to her chin hairs as goat hairs. I’m going to take that up. It’s kind of cute, and it reminds me that I’m an animal. I will continue getting comfortable being the person – the animal – that I am. Chin hairs and all.

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Women Are Powerful (Natural Resources)

By Joshua Bardwell, originally posted in March 2010 at Jack-Booted Liberal.

This ad, seen in an airport, illustrates the complexity of attempting to support women in a culture that is steeped in female objectification.

On the one hand, the ad is explicitly pro-woman. On the other hand, it represents women as a “natural resource” to be “tapped.” If we are to support women, it should be for the same reasons that we support any person, and those reasons start with basic respect for human dignity. Saying that we should help them so as to “tap” them reduces them to the value that we can extract from them, which is, granted, totally consistent with our culture’s treatment of many people the world over, but is probably not reflective of the progressive values that this charity attempts to represent.

Surrounding Myself With Fat Images

From here:

From here:

From here (porn):

From here:

From here:

This last image is from a Pinterest board full of pictures of fat women.

I have a Pinterest board of my own called Fat Body Love where I collect pictures of fat women, articles, books, quotes, and anything else that gives me inspiration to love myself and the beautifully subversive fat bodies of others.

You will never hear me claim that it is easy to love your own fat body when surrounded by this toxic culture that’s at war with us. You won’t hear me claim that it’s easy to love the fat bodies of others when we are taught day in and day out to hate them.

But inasmuch as I’m in control of what I see, I choose to refuse to hide fatness from my view. I look and look and look and look again, because what I like to see necessarily must arise from what I see.

How Do You Know These Legs Are Male?

Check out this post card from Post Secret:

Aside from the postcard’s message, I find the drawing interesting. This person is wearing a short skirt and high heels. So what is supposed to tell us that it’s a man? The hairy legs, of course, even though women naturally have similar hair on their legs.

Why can’t this drawing be of a woman? I am a woman, and my legs look like this. Well, my legs are a lot bigger. And I would never wear heels with an ankle strap. And red doesn’t match my hair. But anyway. I have hairy legs. And I wear skirts and high heels with my hairy legs.

Mother Culture whispers to us from everywhere, including Post Secret postcards. Mother Culture whispers many things in this image, messages about gender, beauty, and our bodies.

My voice cannot counter all of that, but I will try anyway: High heels and short skirts go perfectly with hairy legs. Your body is just fine the way it is. You do not have to shave bits of it off.

Breastfeeding Resource Page

There are lots of great sites online about breastfeeding which is good news since there is so much information a breastfeeding mama might want to know! This page gives you a starting place for information about breastfeeding and points you towards a lot of other great resources so you can dive in and learn as much as you want. Let me know if there’s more information you’re looking for that I can include here!

La Leche League International is the #1 source for breastfeeding information. If you are looking for in-person assistance, you may also be able to find La Leche League meetings near you. In person meetings with other breastfeeding mothers can be enormously more valuable than online information, especially if you are new to breastfeeding, having any issues, needing some friendly support, or just want to be in company that understands you. Even if there are no meetings near you, the La Leche League Leaders listed on the meeting pages will all be happy to talk to you on the phone or through email if you need breastfeeding support.

Benefits of Breastfeeding

  • See this La Leche League page for many articles on the benefits of breastfeeding.
  • Breastmilk has just the right balance of ingredients, providing all the nutrients your growing baby needs.
  • It is easier to digest than formula.
  • Breastmilk contains hormones and antibodies that protect your baby from illness, which cannot be replicated by formula. Formula-fed babies have more ear infections and respiratory infections, among other illnesses, as well as more cases of SIDS.
  • It’s easier on you. There’s nothing to sterilize and nothing to prepare.
  • It’s cheaper. Formula supplies cost hundreds of dollars a year plus increased medical care costs.
  • The physical contact of breastfeeding provides emotional benefits to both mama and baby.
  • If you need more reasons to breastfeed this page lists 101 reasons to do it, everything from the nicer containers to reducing greenhouse gases!

Preparing for Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding is “natural”, it’s true, but that doesn’t mean it will necessarily come naturally to you. In times past mothers would have had a lot more exposure to breastfeeding examples and information prior to doing it themselves. These days our relative social isolation means that we’re kind of starting from scratch with this essential skill. The information you need is available, but you have to do a little more work to access it. Here are some options to consider:
  • If there are La Leche League meetings near you, you can go even before you give birth. Just hearing other women talk about breastfeeding will give you confidence.
  • If you have relatives who breastfed, ask them to share their experiences with you. Guide them towards sharing positive stories with you, if you can. What did they like about breastfeeding? What tips can they offer you?
  • Your local hospitals/birthing centers may offer breastfeeding classes. Check with your health department about possible low-cost or free classes, too.
  • Add a good breastfeeding book to your shelf before you need it. There are lots of good options, but The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding is the gold standard.
  • Consider what accessories might help you out, like a Boppy pillow, a nursing cover, or nursing bras.

Breastfeeding How To

If you give birth in a hospital or birthing center, there may be lactation consultants on hand to help you with your first steps into breastfeeding. Take advantage of them! They are there to help, and while it may seem awkward in those first couple of days, the assistance will be so valuable!

You will develop your own breastfeeding patterns as you and your baby learn together. Here are some of the basic steps to start off with:

  • Get comfortable. Support yourself with pillows if you want to, and have anything handy that you might want like your phone or a glass of water.
  • Support your baby’s head with one hand and your breast with the other. Bring your baby to your breast; don’t lean over to bring your breast to your baby.
  • Touch your baby’s lower lip with your nipple until your baby’s mouth opens up wide. You want your baby to get a big mouthful of areola.
  • If you feel pain past the first few seconds or something else seems off and you want to try to re-latch your baby, first break the suction by putting your finger in the corner of your baby’s mouth or by pressing down on your areola right next to your baby’s lips.
  • When you are starting out, feed your baby every two to three hours or whenever your baby seems hungry.
  • Here is a guide to breastfeeding that includes some sketches to help you visualize the process.
  • And here’s a guide to help you determine if you have a correct latch.
  • It can be extremely helpful for new mamas to see examples of breastfeeding. This site has several videos, including examples of different problems.

Common Breastfeeding Issues

There are some common issues that you might encounter while breastfeeding. Don’t let these problems deter you. There are only a handful of potential issues, and there are lots of strategies for avoiding and managing them.
  • Engorgement is when your breasts become overly full and swollen. This can happen in the beginning when your milk supply is first starting, if you go a long period without feeding, or if there’s a sudden change in your baby’s feeding habits.
  • Sore nipples can occur as a result of a bad latch.
  • A plugged duct is when your milk flow gets blocked by a buildup of skin cells and milk.
  • Overactive letdown is when your milk comes out too fast for your baby to manage, leading your baby to gag or refuse to feed.
There are many places online to get information on these issues and others. Try this link for more information on their causes, how to avoid them, and what to do when they occur all on a single page.

Pumping and Work

I haven’t pumped breastmilk or breastfed while working out of the home, so this is an area where I don’t know a lot. I’d like to grow this section over time, but I have more learning to do. Here are a couple of good pages I found:

I’d love to recommend products that help facilitate pumping. Can you recommend any that you found useful?

Nursing in Public (NIP)

In the US, you have the right to nurse your child in public, anywhere you are otherwise allowed to be, and you don’t have to be “discreet” or take any special steps on behalf of other people if you don’t want to. You can read more about the legal side of nursing or look up the specific laws in your state.

The Carnival of Nursing in Public is a wonderful resource for endless reading on this topic from multiple writers. The carnival posts are separated into five days and topics:

KellyMom

Along with La Leche League, the other stand-out online resource is KellyMom. KellyMom is a trustworthy site, well organized to address many different issues. You could spend all day reading about breastfeeding!

  • Getting Started Breastfeeding: What to expect, how to prepare, common concerns, etc.
  • Safety While Breastfeeding: Covers medications, herbs, vitamins, and illnesses.
  • Nursing the Older Baby: Common baby concerns like teething, and mama concerns like supply and fertility.
  • Breastfeeding Past a Year: Myths, facts, common concerns, and answering criticism.
  • Weaning: Extensive information on the end of the breastfeeding process.

And MORE…

This excellent 40+ page PDF is an overview of these and other topics and offers a helpline – 800-994-9662 – where you can talk to a breastfeeding peer counselor. Breastfeeding can seem like a big or complicated topic, but there is lots of help and information out there for you. Don’t hesitate to reach out for support when you need it.

Here is another comprehensive online guide to breastfeeding. Check it out if you want to see a lot of useful breastfeeding information presented in a clear, easily navigable form.

This resource page on breastfeeding will grow over time, as I find more useful information and links to add.

What other information about breastfeeding would you like to know or what other information would you add to this page?

Big Bare Beautiful Baby Belly

Kmom at The Well-Rounded Mama has proposed a blog carnival for documenting photographs of fat women pregnant, birthing, and parenting. She states:

It’s SO important that there be pregnancy and parenting images of women of size out there, showing that we do have babies, we do give birth, we do breastfeed, and we do parent.

As I’ve educated myself about birthing over the last few years, I’ve benefited from The Well-Rounded Mama site as a resource for information on the intersection of being fat and being pregnant. I agree with her that it’s valuable to see photos of people like yourself, and it can be really hard to find good photos of fat pregnant and birthing women. I love photos of myself and I love my pregnant body, so I wanted to participate in this carnival and in adding to the store of available images. All of the photos in this post were taken in the last couple of days, right at 33 weeks.

While I’ve spent a lot of my life really concerned about my size, unhappy with my body, and desperate to change it, over the last two or three years I’ve completely gotten over that. I’m really glad that I made that mental shift prior to getting pregnant. So many women, fat or otherwise, feel insecure about their growing pregnant bodies, and I’m glad that hasn’t been a factor for me. I did have a long period of time in the 2nd trimester where I was afraid I wasn’t getting big enough. I was having trouble eating enough calories with the carb restrictions, and I wasn’t gaining much weight. But, my fundal height is right on target, and I know I’m just the right size. I’m glad to have never worried about my body being too big. In fact, I can’t wait to see how big it gets! Honestly, I think my growing belly is so cool! I touch it and look at it all the time.

This photo’s a bit crooked, but here’s the view I get from above:

Here’s what I had to say about my belly at week 19:

I really like rubbing, playing with, measuring, and cradling my growing belly. While I touch my belly lovingly as if there were a treasured child in there, I don’t have a sense that there is. I’m not really interacting with a baby, because I have no connection to what’s going on in there as an actual baby. Maybe I will when I can feel movement, but so far, it doesn’t really feel like anything inside. And yet I’m paying all this attention to my belly. And I realized that what I was feeling and protecting and enjoying is actually just my belly, which is kind of cool. I’m loving and connecting with a body part of mine, with an aspect of myself, falling in love with myself, and that’s really special all on its own! I can’t wait to get bigger!

I’ve definitely had lots of other physical complaints (like reflux, OMG!), but being fat isn’t one of them. I have sought out the images and experiences of other fat women online, because it’s nice to compare notes from a similar starting place. For example, while the middle and top parts of my growing belly are very firm, all my squishiness has fallen down to the bottom of my belly. Joshua calls it my wattle, like the squishy-hangy bit under the chin of a chicken:

I found it enjoyable to find pictures of other women online (rare!) with the same drooping squishiness, although I haven’t yet run across anyone else who loves theirs.

Everyone says my boobs are bigger, too, but I don’t really notice. Seriously, they’re so big already that percentage-wise, they just don’t seem much bigger. I notice the huge areolae, though!

I’ve always loved my shape when I’m laying on my side. The feel of boob, waist, hips, butt, thighs is just such a nice curvy track, and now there’s a ginormous belly there, too, so I love to trace around the lines even more.

In any case, for all the complaining I’ve had this pregnancy (mostly in the 2nd trimester – the 3rd is going really well), the growing size of my body isn’t one of my complaints. It’s actually probably my favorite thing. I simply love my big beautiful baby belly!

Feminism, Children, and What Women Are Supposed to Talk About

Over at Slate, Katie Roiphe has an article called Get Your Kid Off Your Facebook Page, subtitled “Why do women hide behind their children?” In it, she takes a subject I’m sure we’re all familiar with (sometimes previously interesting friends get obsessed over a new topic and turn into boring drones), applies it to a certain topic guaranteed to rile people up (children), and then slaps an insulting feminist rant down on top of it. I’m not amused.

The article starts out talking about women who use photos of their children as their own Facebook profile picture. I’m vaguely on board at this point, not because I mind pictures of children in general but because I prefer people’s icons to not be cartoon characters, movie stars, and other people-who-are-not-them, which includes their children. Roiphe says these women have other interests – careers, books, causes – but they choose their children as their image, which we’re supposed to derive some greater critique from. She asks, “Where have all these women gone?”

At this point, I took a quick glance at my own Facebook friends’ choices of icons. I found photos of people’s artwork, graphic icons for projects the person was involved in, religious symbols, movie stars, food, plants, animals, and other random objects, including one of a stapler. Has my artist friend who displays his artwork in his icon “gone” somewhere? Or is he simply displaying something that’s relevant to his life, that he’s proud of, that he’s interested in, that he thinks looks cool…? And is that any different from someone who displays a photo of their child? If a woman in question displayed photos related to the examples Roiphe gives of her other presumed interests – her favorite author, for example – will that mean she has “gone” somewhere?

Moving away from Facebook, Roiphe criticizes a hypothetical friend who rambles all through the dinner party about her children:

Think about how throughout the entire dinner party, from olives to chocolate mousse, she talks about nothing but her kids. You waited, and because you love this woman, you want her to talk about…what?…a book? A movie? A news story? True, her talk about her children is very detailed, very impressive in the rigor and analytical depth she brings to the subject; she could, you couldn’t help but think, be writing an entire dissertation on the precise effect of a certain teacher’s pedagogical style on her 4-year-old. But still. You notice at another, livelier corner of the table that the men are not talking about models of strollers.

The examples given here and the switch at the end are very telling. You want to talk about a book or a movie, perhaps, which arguably wouldn’t be that detailed or nuanced a conversation in itself. Your friend wants to talk about pedagogical styles. You notice that the men aren’t talking about strollers. Wait a minute. Your friend wasn’t talking about strollers, either. She was talking about teaching strategies with, by your judgment, dissertation level detail. Yet you reduce the characterization of that to the level of importance of stroller models. This sounds an awful lot like because it’s a woman talking and because it’s about children, it’s apparently trivial and not nearly as important as what the men are talking about.

This sounds like the opposite of feminism, which is odd, since the article makes fun of the hypothetical friend’s dusty feminist cred. The woman has read femininist theory and knows about different waves of feminism. She went to college, dammit! Yet somehow, her current conversational interests don’t stack up with Roiphe’s image of what a middle-aged feminist should look like.

I’ll toss in a disclaimer of sorts: I think it is relevant from a feminist perspective to talk about trends in women’s behavior and what they mean sociologically. Are more women more focused on their children these days than in years past? Are women as a group abandoning other interests in favor of their children when they might prefer to do otherwise? What kinds of social pressures are in place that lead women towards focusing on childcare-related topics and away from other topics? These – and a gazillion others – might be good questions to ask and answer. But those questions are different than attacking and belittling the actions of individual women. Roiphe mocks a real-life, non-hypothetical friend who lets her daughter wear annoyingly squeaky shoes because the daughter likes them. Huh? What does that have to do with whether or not your friend read The Feminine Mystique in college? How does that promote a cause or advance feminist theory? It doesn’t. It’s just petty.

In my experience, the people who talk on and on about their kids have young children. This means that the period of time where they’re “obsessed” is a few years long. Is it strange for a person to fall in love with or begin spending time on something new and then talk about it a lot for months or years? I don’t think so. Friends of mine who are in college talk about college a lot. The people who garden or sew talk about gardening or sewing a lot. Some people talk about their jobs in infinite detail. Some of my friends mix DJ sets, and I’m astounded at how much they manage to talk about this. It’s much, much rarer to hear anyone complain about these one-note-tunes, though. Somehow when the topic is children – which usually means the speaker is a woman – there’s a special hatred attached to the topic. If I have a hypothetical friend on Facebook who has a flame-effect as their user icon, talks about Burning Man and regional BM events a lot, talks about the money they’re saving for the event, the costumes they’re making, the art they’re working on, etc, should I be concerned about where my friend’s identity has “gone” and what it means to society? Should I start pointing and laughing and muster up confusion as to why my friend isn’t talking about the same things ou talked about 10 years ago? Is ou “hiding behind Burning Man on Facebook”? No? Then why would that be anymore true when the topic is children?

Also, there looms the giant possibility that if you think your friend’s chatter about her children is inane babble, you’re not listening. Sure, sometimes she is talking about stroller models, which will probably bore anyone else who hasn’t been in the market for a stroller lately. But she’s probably also talking about say, pedagogical models, or how politics affect her ability to find decent childcare, the effects of advertising in her home, or the research on the benefits of organic foods in the lunch box. Your smart friend is still probably your smart friend.

If her topics do lack overarching social importance, they’re still the details of her actual life – the things she finds funny, the things she finds gross, the stuff that delights her or bothers her or wears her out or makes her day. If you thought she was such a wonderful person before having kids – a wonderful feminist, even – maybe you should listen instead of rolling your eyes. Maybe there’s something important in there. At the very least, it’s important to her, and believing her when she says so is itself a powerful feminist act.