This begs the more basic question, what exactly is "femininity" in the first place? What conditions must someone meet in ordered to be (considered) "feminine?" Are there objective and universal standards by which one can determine the degree to which s/he is maintaining or reclaiming "femininity?" Or, is "femininity" in the eyes of the beholder -- like beauty, that is -- and, thus, simply a matter of personal opinion and preference?
rj, I hear what you are saying. But also I guess it is like the saying "perception is reality". If a person loses the "feeling" of femininity, no matter how many people tell her she is beautiful/acceptable..., until she is ready and able to see it herself she may not believe it. So then, how do we get to that point ourselves. How do we personally break down those "belief systems" to allow ourselves to see and hopefully welcome something different.
I'm not just saying "perception is reality"; implicit in my questions is a much-needed challenge and critique of some of the perceptions that distort reality. Questions and concerns like the one you originally posed only perpetuate the "beauty myth" that breeds self-hate, lookism, beauty prejudice, consumerism, jealousy, judgmentalism, and a lack of acceptance of bald people in general and bald women in particular. To understand that "femininity," "beauty," and the like are social constructions with real and serious implications for one's self-esteem and for power relations among the "haves" and "have-nots," and to purposively resist demeaning and divisive notions of the same, is to partake of an existential process -- and participate in a social movement! -- that truly liberates one to love self as well as others. Or, as leading feminist philosopher and author bell hooks would say, to reject the so-called beauty myth sets one up to "feel" feminine/beautiful/acceptable without succumbing to needless (self-)criticism or competition.
For me, the breakthrough came when I discovered two things: Cosmopolitan magazine and makeup!!! My mother was a model as a teenager herself, so she taught me how to put on my makeup and play up my most fascinating feature, which hands down has to be my eyes -- and to this day, I LOVE eye makeup!!! My mother also forced me to become a cheerleader in high school, which I maintained until injuries forced me to quit in college, but nowadays, I use my love of earrings, scarves, and makeup (I hate my wigs and wear them when it is absolutely necessary) to play up my feminine features. I also have the added problem of being heavy, so when I'm bald and I don't wear my makeup and jewelry, I really do look like a guy!!! Now I'm much more comfortable with the idea of being feminine without being girly -- my best friendgirl has a head full of thick, full dreads that she has been growing for a decade, and if she didn't have two children and menstrual cycles every month you wouldn't know she was a female -- thank goodness I know her, because compared to her I'm the textbook definition of feminine!!!
hmmmm well me being a guy i sapose i have a difrent veiw im sure a woman looks at her femininity difrently or what makes her feel feminin. b ut when im around women for a while and i start to read them for lack of a better word i notice how they carry them selves how they speak, walk, talk not what their wearing or how their hair is cut. i guess is an aura they put out. im sure that comes from how they might be feeling about them selves at that moment.
This topic really came to light in the wake of the Britney aftermath. All the newscasters were commenting on how terrible Britney looked with no hair. It made me really upset, but I just had to realize that I deal with Alopecia every day, and those people have probably never heard of it. I feel the same way when Cosmo or Glamour magazine does some article about how guys hate shaved nether-regions (tee hee) so the hairy women don't feel left out. :) Here's how I think of it: People may be surprised at first to see a woman with no hair, because it's just not the norm. But hopefully once they get to know her and see that she is (for lack of a better term), NORMAL, the absence of hair becomes an afterthought. Society places a lot of a woman's "femininity" in her looks and hair, but there's always an exception to the rule! And I think we prove that quite nicely!
Melissa, you (and others) may enjoy reading the following insightful article about the Britney Spears flap: "Hair Today, Mad Tomorrow."
Also, I wouldn't say that a bald woman's "femininity" (whatever that means) isn't about her "looks and hair." I would contend that no woman's "femininity" is about "looks and hair." In other words, an alopecic or hairless woman is not some "exception to the rule," but living proof that the "rule" itself is arbitrary and ridiculous.
I am having 2 reactions to this discussion - a theoretical one, and an emotional one. Firstly, I agree that femininity is a social construction. I don't believe that I feel less feminine at certain times simply because I don't have hair. I think it's more accurate to say that I feel less feminine because I'm told I am so. I think we need to start moving away from defining ourselves by this dichotomy (femininity-masculinity) and just start relating to one another as people of different backgrounds and experiences.
However (and here's my second reaction), I think what we struggle with when we, as women, lose our hair is understanding who we are, in terms of who we are expected to be. All of a sudden who we are becomes confounded by how we look. As bald women, we feel enormous pressure to conform - ultimately to reduce others' discomfort. So what we end up feeling is a very human and emotional response to being shamed, ridiculed, and ostracized for something outside of our control. And all the theory in the world can't soothe those feelings...
So, I don't know if this addresses both of my reactions, but ultimately, I think the question is not how to feel more feminine, but how to create opportunities for ourselves to feel empowered as people.
Emily, it's interesting that you chimed in because, while Cheryl and I were discussing these matters today, I mentioned your blog titled "What Beautiful People!" Thanks for you contributions to Alopecia World.
Since I explicitly broached the subject of feminist theory, let me state for the record that I'm a pro-feminist parent of three young ladies, and I consider feminist thought to be anything but mere theory. Much to the contrary, feminist thought is an essential ingredient of my bread of egalitarian life. I'm also part of a spiritual tradition that instructs me to be transformed by the renewing of my mind, and thus feminism plays an integral role in this cognitive aspect of personal transformation.
So, it's not mere theory that I hope will "soothe those feelings," but practical application of certain feminist ideas and insights. Besides, haven't we learned from nearly all great spiritual and philosophical traditions that, as a person thinks, so is s/he?
Rj, thanks for your response! I also strongly believe in, and live by, many facets of feminist theory. I have often looked to feminist theory for ideas and practices that can enable me to feel empowered, both as a woman and as a person. So I agree with you that the theories can provide excellent and useful insights into how to live our lives. I think what I meant was that at times, I feel that the theories can fall short. For me, they don't offer the emotional support that I need at times when all I want to do is let go and cry...I guess a better way to put it, is that in the moment that I'm feeling sad or angry, I need something more - like a hug. After I get my hug, then the theory can help me make sense of the situation...
I feel ya, Emily, especially since this is what my baby -- i.e., Cheryl ;-) -- often tells me. I just prefer to coddle and cuddle with her while critiquing a matter! LOL
For some time now, bell hooks and many other feminist thinkers have pointed out that, emotionally, so much of feminism leaves a lot to be desired because the thinking prevailed that "equality" only meant "being like patriarchal males." This created a feminist movement(s) that opened doors to a lot of economic and political progress, as was and still is needed, but which also closed far too many hearts. Of course, hooks and others' re-visioning of feminism is helping to close this gap between feminist principles and practices and the undeniably human passion and proclivity for love and embrace.
The challenge that the present discussion clearly presents is getting alopecians in general, and alopecic women in particular, to a place of self-acceptance while, at the same, showing them the need and ways to reject the social "norms" and "standards of beauty" that only breed self-hate and judgmentalism in the first place. All of of must take "beauty" serious enough not only to be terrorized by demeaning and divisive notions of it, but serious enough to also be compelled to complete the very feminist, "feminine," and formidable work of demythologizing it.
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