Aesthetics

artspace
Peterborough, Ontario
November 2003


Neon


The artist is on bed, body covered by towel, face covered by steaming cloth; aesthetician enters and starts preparing tools. SHE is the artist ­ I am the canvas; I am, in her eyes, so deeply ‘flawed’ as to be a pointless, passionless job.

She begins removing my hair.

To have all my hair removed is the first step by putting myself not only under the microscope of society’s aesthetics, but into the very hands of the makers of beauty; the aestheticians.

To be seen to aspire to greatness in a field where I would never be considered consumable.

To be able to do something really well, knowing that none of it matters; to keep upping the bar of excellence and doing ‘better’. The better you do, the more pathetic, or the more tragic?

How far am I willing to go for “beauty?” For the sake of this experiment, all the way. Who gets to decide how much is “absolutely necessary” and when the same act becomes horrifying?

It doesn’t take much extra hair for women to be considered unsightly or even unhealthy by our society’s standards. On the other end of the scale, however, a woman can be NEARLY bald with no pubic hair, no arm hair, no leg hair, and just a single-file line of eyebrow hair, and be seen as the height of beauty. One needs to go ALL THE WAY hairless to cross that fine line, but once you do, you’ve crossed over into freakishly grotesque and unhealthy.

What is my own interest in my hair? I am as hairy as I am fat; I’ve got a treasure trail to rival any strapping man’s. Oh, and a pretty robust beard as well. I have been subject to as much internalized hair-phobia as fat-phobia. But there is much discourse on fat acceptance, fat beauty. In order to keep our young girls alive, we need to teach them to “love themselves”.

Hair is, for a small part, included in that self-love education, but not significantly; only superficially in that phony “love everything about your body” kind of way. Women are still encouraged to rid themselves of all non-coif-based hair. Symbolically, the head-top hair of a woman is decorated, designed, styled and otherwise altered to act as a label as to the kind of woman she is ­ and to what treatment of the rest of her hair might be found below.

Being not just fat, but a “grossly obese” woman, the kind of woman who finds it difficult finding clothing that fits even in fat girl stores, I am on the fat fringes of self-acceptance culture. The words of encouragement directed at me usually couch a message about how happy, healthy and sexy I would feel if I worked on myself “just a bit.”

As a matter-of-fact, sexy, confident woman, I pose a threat even to the size-accepting community, for displaying to them the limitations of their own acceptance, while simultaneously making their own size-14 triumph over size-phobia seem rather trivial.

I eat my hair. I pluck it out of my face nervously, boredly, absentmindedly, fastidiously. My fingers have been honed into tweezers for those all-too-frequent occasions when you leave your tweezers in the other car. I used to line up, count and glue down the eyebrow hairs and nosehairs I’d ripped from their roots with my fingers. I’ve bleached, clipped, waxed, plucked, tweezed, sugared, threaded, electrolysis-ed, lasered, sanded, chemically depilated ­ oh, and SHAVED ­ various bits for over 15 years.

Often it’s not for cosmetic or aesthetic reasons as much as curiousity or boredom.

How ironic, then, that I should be ‘suffering’ from alopecia, an auto-immune disorder that results in patchy, sporadic hair loss. Researching alopecia, I read that one of the most devastating side-effects is the damaging psychological one. Says who? The greatest attachment I have to my hair is the follicle. I have no romantic lust-relationship to my hair. I have no problems removing my hair in the name of beauty, or in the name of anything else, for that matter. In fact, I take great comfort in pulling, plucking and tweezing ­ it isn’t painful, it IS comforting. Lying in bed, I twist up clumps of public hair and yank them out. Hairpulling itself can be an erotic act.

Artists are in the same business as aestheticians in a way; the creation of ideals of beauty as well as beautiful objects, or at least, objects that are meant primarily for the gaze.

If I don’t have the money, the time,the guts or the willpower to undergo a total body transformation, then I will undergo a total transformation of ONE aspect of my grossly flawed body.

Beauty ­ no matter how much I were to do, I would fall so short of the mark as to be considered laughable by those setting the standards. So what if I took a running start towards that mark ­ that tiny speck that is the beauty ideal ­ and completely overshot it?