I’ve noticed a bit of a pattern throughout my life with how people react to me. People often assume that body image just relates to size and shape, but my experience has to do with my hair.
Being the child of a hairdresser it seemed natural I would at some point do some experimenting. My first radical change came at university and my brother did a similar experiment. I got dreadlocks and my bro shaved all his hair off. Both of us noticed the immediate effect on how people reacted to us. I had the better deal I think. I had complete random strangers – with dreadlocks, smile, say hi, want to talk about music and life and just generally I seemed to gain entry into groups without needing to do much. My brother however found female shop owners avoiding eye contact, refusing to serve him and generally perceived as a threat. Needless to say, going out for coffee together was interesting.
I then grew my hair long for many years and just blended into the generic background. That was until the start of this year when I got over it and went for the full chop. People were surprised but positive. So then I decided why not go really short and messy, to the edge of respectable margins of femininity.
That was my cucumber moment. People just freaked out like in Cats vrs Cucumbers on youtube. People who weeks before would say hi, talk to me stepped aside and looked at me suspiciously, they stopped short of hissing but I might have detected the odd growl. I could tell I had crossed the line and fallen out of the respectable image others held of my gender – people, like those cats saw me differently and I was a little perplexed for a while. But now I’m ok with my new cucumber status. Because I actually tried the cucumber thing with my own cat, I was all primed with a camera to catch out but he didn’t freak. In fact he was rather disinterested and looked at me like what is this thing doing here that looks like it could be food but isn’t. I suspect my cat has never encountered a snake unlike some of the other cats in the USA. So being a cucumber itself isn’t the problem, it’s the association with threat and fear.
So I’m embracing my cucumberness, I might even become as cool as one.
I’m confident most people will realise that puberty brings on changes, and one of those is growing body hair. It should be a choice to shave or not shave body hair. When I say ‘choice’ I also understand there is pressure to present your body in a socially acceptable way, I wish it wasn’t that way. There are also cultural aspects to body hair and some if has very significant meaning. Given our multi-cultural society here in NZ and being in the 21st Century, I do find it strange that schools can have rules about where hair is permitted to grow. Students in New Zealand still face strict uniform requirements around hair length and facial hair (if male…I’ll come back to this).
So I was heartened to hear of a petition started by Kapiti College student Antony McEwan to allow year 13 students to have beards (if they can grow them). The students there can wear mufti and make up but not allow their bodies to do their thing. It got me pondering the meaning of facial hair that is perhaps different to leg hair, or arm hair, even arm pit hair! I’m not sure but I have a feeling it is to do with actually becoming a ‘Man’. It’s a form of body uniforming – keeping all males looking ‘the same’ – even if they are in mufti. I think it achieves this by keeping young men/males appearing like prepubescent boys. They can’t stop voices deepening and besides no-one ‘sees’ a voice, this is about the body and how it is viewed in school.
That also got me wondering about transgender guys. Let’s say someone starts testosterone at 15-16, they’re ready to ‘bro up’ and they are on it for a while and they finally get to facial hair growing (let’s say they are genetically gifted). The last thing he’s probably not going to want to do is shave off that hard earned beard, no matter how patchy it is.
Which is why this is more than just a fight for cisgendered teen guys getting to sport the latest fashion accessory. This is about an expression of biological, social, cultural, and gender diversity. It is time for schools to face facts about facial hair, it happens and it is completely harmless. Razor cuts and burns however – not so much fun, possibly harmful I’m guessing.
Good luck Anthony, and I hope you get your 500 signatures – it could be a close shave.