Gender

Fit Friday: Tank Tops and Taking Up Space

It’s May, and Idaho has made that quick and awkward transition from cool-and-almost-springy to my-kids-come-in-from-recess-hot-and-smelly. I have third-graders who needed to start wearing deodorant this spring, which is a new one for me. My second year of teaching, I had that fun conversation with my fifth-grade boys about DEODOROANT>AXE**. Their big takeaway was, Ms. Danielle taught us how to get chicks in middle school! But, it got them to start showering daily and give up the Axe in favor of pit stick, so I marked it a success. I’ve had fourth grade girls start their periods before. But third grade… I was just not expecting it this year.

That first group of students I taught? They’re sophomores now, for three more weeks. Most of them are taller than I am. You can insert any number of cliches here about how they’ve grown, and how old I feel. It’s been fun, though, to watch them. That’s one of the perks of working in a small school–I can see them every day, if I make a point to be in the hallways between classes or after lunch. We have high school students who have transferred to our school, too, over the past seven years who have added to the mix of personalities. And to the dating pool. I bring up this last point  because that’s a Big Deal in the middle school and high school. When I taught these students, boys and girls played together and were friends. Now, it seems everything is viewed through the lens of dating and pairing up and sex. This is not just the perspective of the students, but also the staff. When you are teaching students who are preoccupied with who is dating whom and the tangled webs thereof, it’s important to pay attention and to be proactive and involved.

Here is my disclaimer: I am not in these classrooms. I don’t interact with these students much. And there is a lot I’m missing.

What I see is this (in the hallways, staff meetings, and handbook revisions every spring): Girls have been chastised for wearing tank tops; boys are not. Girls’ clothing is sexualized; boys’ is not. Girls try to take up less space; boys try to take up more.

Toxic body image affects girls and boys. Girls see one version of the ideal body, and learn to lose pounds and inches and to take up less space. Boys see one image of the ideal body, and learn to build certain muscle in certain places. Self-perception and self-worth often hinges on these limited definitions of acceptable physical femininity and masculinity. (I’ll expand these more in the future, and provide more nuance).

In my anti-diet support and resource group, we talk a lot about giving ourselves permission to Take Up Space. To wear tank tops, even if our arms are not toned. To wear the clothes we want before we reach our goal weight. To wear the clothes we want without allowing our body parts to be scrutinized or sexualized. Do you know why we have to consciously give ourselves permission to do this, at the age of 20, 30, or even 60?

Because this kind of body shaming and sexualization starts in high school. When we talk about the dress code, we talk about girls wearing tank tops, and the boys getting distracted. We talk about the girls not having enough “self-respect,” about the girls using their clothes to get attention, about it detracting from the learning environment. When we talk about the boys wearing tank tops… we don’t. We have not, in my recollection, talked about boys wearing tank tops. A former student wears tank tops and sleeveless muscle shirts almost daily. I have never seen nor heard him told to cover up or change shirts during the day. I have seen multiple girls forced to wear t-shirts or hoodies or zip-ups over tank tops that were deemed inappropriate.

It starts before high school, when I am expected to tell a second grade girl that she cannot wear a tank top on a 90ºF day because of the dress code. Second grade girls (generally) do not have bra straps or breasts, and they definitely do not have sexy shoulders. Second grade children do not think about their own bodies in that manner, unless the adults in their lives create environments where those aspects are amplified.

Are there adult men and women who find shoulders, breasts, cleavage, or clavicles attractive? Yes. Are there adult men and women who find well-defined biceps, triceps, and pectorals attractive? Yes. Do we objectify every adult human that walks past us in a tank top? I sure hope not. Why can’t we teach our high school students to do the same?

Why can’t we teach our high school students to do the same? I might raise a stink if the dress code comes up again. I might bring it up myself. Our girls should be allowed to take up space; they should not have to “hide” their bodies. The boys should not have free reign to take up as much space as they want by wearing shirts that reveal their entire torsos from a profile view, especially if we’re using the idea of “professionalism” as the rationale behind other pieces of the dress code. Melissa Atkins Wardy at Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies had a pointed piece about reframing dresscodes as “Don’t Wear Saturday on a Wednesday.” It strikes a sensible balance between allowing girls to retain agency of their bodies and clothing, respecting boys’ ability to control themselves and treat girls as humans, and teaching students to dress for the situation and venue.

Happy Spring! I’ma go garden in a T-Shirt while it’s still cool enough to do so. Once it’s mid-June…sports bra. Lots of sunblock. Not because it’s sexy, but because it’s just too hot. Also I have six-foot fences, soooo..

**I have to credit my sister Katrina with the approach to this one. This was said in a very kind manner. I am not the Takes No Prisoners teacher with my kids.

When you rub an onion and an orange together, it doesn’t make the onion smell better, it just makes everything smell kinda gross. Trust me, you don’t smell good. I used to be a middle school girl, and the people around you would much prefer you to shower daily and wash your hair than to smell like a can from a commercial. This is your homework for the next two weeks: Shower every day, wash your hair, wear deodorant. There will be a test, and it will be the asthma of the para across the hall who cannot breathe after you spray that stuff in the boys’ bathroom.

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Cute, Part 3: Poetry

Content note: poetry in the elementary classroom

I’ve written before about my dislike of the adjective “cute” in regards to my students. Sometimes, it’s used as a disability consolation prize. Most of the time, “cute” is more about how the adults feel than about how my students feel. They’re getting older now, some of them are 10 and 11; “cute” is becoming more condescending. Context matters, of course. Several friends pointed out on my previous blogs posts on this topic that context matters, and that “cute” can be a compliment. It can be, but I maintain that for people who see my students every day, who know them, who have seen them from many angles, “cute” is a non-compliment that ignores the many dimensions of their personalities. It’s the “Hihowareya” fly-by of the school environment.

Right now, my class is diving into the thick of our spring open house preparations. The open house is a month from yesterday. It may seem like we have a lot of time, but with only four days of school a week, and field trips, parties, therapies, and other interruptions thrown into the mix, we really do not have a lot of time to get ready. I decided to focus our energies into literature and poetry study. We just finished our first-ever novel, so we are doing open-ended wrap-up projects: the students each chose their favorite character and completed a character web, descriptive paragraph(s), and illustration. The kids finished their writing today, and the mini-essays are so different. Ponyo focused on one specific event that only took up two pages of the entire novel, an interaction between the main character and her little brother, whose relationship during the rest of the novel reminded me of Ponyo and her younger brother. TLK chose the father, and talked about actions; every action he picked (killing a one-horned buck, surviving smallpox) was centered around the love for his family. Sir New Dude also chose the father, but focused on character traits like bravery and strength.

We are reading and writing poetry. They picked a favorite poem from a wide selection of books I offered, and they will be presenting it in a few different ways. The students will each work with me to translate it to ASL and record it. The students who wish to read it in spoken English may do so (three students asked if they could, so I added this). They will illustrate the poems they picked. We are also translating a song and recording a music video. Working with them, hearing and seeing them give voice to each poem, looking at their illustrations, digging through the meaning they attach to the ideas has been simultaneously surprising and totally expected. It fits with how I understand their minds and hearts to work, but the nuance and depth they bring reminds me how often we (and I include myself here) do not give enough credit to young people for their ability to make connections to the world and each other through text.

Sir New Dude and TLK selected “Grasshoppers” from Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices. TLK follows SND’s lead for reading aloud; the roles are reversed for signing. They each wear one hearing aid, so they sit side-by-side, their aided ears together when they read it. SND is a fast reader, so he is practicing listening and waiting for a partner; he has a tendency to steamroll people in regular conversation, too. As a hard-of-hearing kid, it might be a compensatory tool for controlling his environment so he doesn’t miss anything–if he’s the one talking, he knows what’s going on. When they were drawing, they searched YouTube for nature videos of grasshoppers jumping, some in slow motion. Using science to understand art–beautiful. 

Freckles chose a poem from Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson titled “failing.” Right away he told me, This kid needs to learn math but it’s really about life too. I asked him why he liked the poem. He said it felt good. The kid in the poem laments the adult answer of, Just ’cause; Frecks was nervous, but when I told him he wouldn’t get in trouble for saying adults make him feel frustrated, too…well, you can probably guess what he told me. I added a few pencil marks on the poem and asked him to read it again. After he did, adding the pauses and a breath, he looked at me and said, Yeah. That was good. That last line was even sadder when I breathe. Frecks gets poetry. Of course he does; there’s a reason he was drawn to that book–his whole life is poetry. I am not trying to be profound or emotive. I mean that the first two stanzas of the first poem in that book could have been written about Freckles and his noisy brain that no one ever calls cute but everyone is always telling to be quiet and sit down and stop singing.

Elsa picked a poem from the book Food Hates You, Too, called “Toast.” It’s about bread getting eaten and being dead. She drew a really morbidly hilarious picture of dismembered bread being eaten by worms, and two angel breads going to heaven. All those people who tell me how cute she is are missing out on a wicked sense of humor. That toast was gross, man. And so, so funny.

Ponyo’s poem is from Heartsongs, by Mattie J. T. Stepanek. She stares at the picture of Mattie during poetry time. While other kids were drawn to a book, or a specific poem, she was drawn to the poet. She spent 20 minutes today watching subtitled clips from Oprah on YouTube. Mattie was a boy with muscular dystrophy who started writing poetry when he was 3; he died when he was 13 before my students were even born. He was a peace activist and poet who became quite famous in the late 90s when he wrote his Heartsongs books. Ponyo drew a picture of Mattie instead of a picture of her poem. She originally picked the book because she was going through a goofy sweetheart phase, and the book is called Heartsongs. But when she learned about Mattie, and read the poems, the sweetheart stuff stopped. Completely. But if I ask her why she loves it, she doesn’t know. That’s a bit more complex than “cute” can give her credit for.


Note: The above titles are linked through Amazon Smile. If you purchase the books through those links, I don’t get any money, but the CADASIL: Together We Have Hope Foundation does get a small contribution. CADASIL is a hereditary stroke disorder that leads to dementia, but as a relatively new-ish discovery, is often undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. As such, it does not get the attention or research dollars of better-known conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease. All Amazon links I provide will support this foundation. Or, if you have a favorite charity, take five minutes to change your Amazon account settings to Amazon Smile!

Lend Me an Ear

For the last several years, I’ve experienced intermittent stabbing pains in my right ear. I don’t remember when they started, but I know they’ve occurred at least as long as I’ve lived in Idaho, which is pushing seven years now. Sometimes the pain wakes me. I grip my ear, on the verge of tears. I tug on it, trying to pop my eustachian tube. I massage my jaw, trying to loosen that a bit. I wait for the pain to subside before I can sleep. It’s awful.

My right ear bothers me during the day sometimes, too. I get a marble-sized, subcutaneous bump between my jaw and my outer ear, but somewhat behind the jaw bone, so it’s not noticeable unless I open my mouth and put your finger on it.  The pain seems to center there, but the discomfort is in my middle ear, too. Whenever I have a problem, I go see our school audiologist. She looks in my ear canal, runs a tympanogram to check my middle ear pressure. If I have an ear infection, I can at least bring some preliminary documentation to the doc-in-a-box, and they are duly impressed that I have access to an audiologist at my job.

A few years ago, the pain was worse than it had been and was lasting longer than usual. The school audiologist, amazing as she is at her job, didn’t know what to tell me. I was talking about it at my church one evening, and my pastor asked me a few questions about it. Prior to his life in the church, he had been an ENT surgical first assist in the military. We had talked about ears and audiological jibberjabber many a time, but this was the first time my own ear had been the topic of conversation. He asked if I had a recurring pimple in that area. I did. On or near my tragus, every couple months, usually around the time my ear pain would flare up. He said it sounded like a branchial cleft cyst, something he had excised on many patients, and suggested I see an ENT.

I made an appointment.

I did a little cursory internet research on them leading up to my appointment. If that was, in fact, the problem with my ear, mine was minor compared to some of the gnarly pictures I found online. The majority of cases seemed to occur in the neck. The majority of cases seemed to be pretty sizable. Of course, gnarly pictures are the cornerstone of Google images. Anyway, it seemed feasible that this could be my problem: aggravation of the facial nerve, a pimple that wasn’t a pimple but a cyst, flare-ups when I have upper-respiratory infections.

I never had a chance to tell the doctor any of that.

When I got into his office, I started explaining my ear trouble. He interrupted me and asked me to open my mouth. He felt along my jawline and outer ear area. He asked me a few questions and looked inside my ears, pronouncing them normal. By this time, of course, my flareup had subsided. I tried to explain that. He asked me to open my mouth again and said he was going to put his fingers in my mouth. He did, and pushed up behind my last molars. I nearly shot out of my chair. TMJ, he said.

I tried to explain that I thought it might be more than that. I’ve always believed in advocating for my health and working with my doctors. He interrupted me again with a lesson on ear anatomy, but not really. It was watered down. I work at the deaf school. I’ve taken basic audiology and know the anatomy. You could use more technical language for this conversation. He could, but he didn’t. Then he started talking about the jaw, again with the paternalistic tone. I know what the temporomandibular joint is. My mother worked in the dental field for 30 years and used all the technical jargon around the dinner table. I had braces for eight years to fix my bite, with the idea that we would prevent TMJ dysfunction. Obviously that trick inside my mouth is something. Is it possible I have two things going on here? He laughed at me. Told me to get a night guard. Then I left

I didn’t want to say it’s because he is a man in a field dominated by men. I didn’t want to assume it’s connected to the hints of his southern drawl still lingering after three decades in Idaho. Basically, I didn’t want to believe that he was dismissive and condescending because I am a woman. But in the grand scheme of things, when doctors interrupt their patients, male doctors interrupt more often than female doctors, and female patients are interrupted with greater frequency.

I wish I could say my chiropractor was more respectful. But I can’t. Not really. He wasn’t overtly condescending, at least. He let me finish what I wanted to say and he gave me credit for “listening to my body.” But when I told him the diagnosis, he was equally dismissive. Everyone has a TMJ. Everyone has two of them. That’s really the most ridiculous diagnosis. Next time it flares up come here and I’ll get you all fixed up. Then he adjusted my derby injuries and sent me on my way.

So the ENT was dismissive because he had the credentials and knew better. And my chiropractor was dismissive because my ENT had mainstream credentials, and I should have just known better. And here I sit, literally years later with a chest cold that turned into a head cold and another nasty flare-up of the ear from hell.

Yesterday I rounded up my students and we all went to the audiologist’s office. They’ve all been there countless times for broken earmolds or new batteries or their annual hearing evaluation. This was the first time they were not the subject (hooray for scrambling power dynamics!). I explained my problem. The audiologist has her scope hooked up to a television screen, so everyone got a good look at my very angry tympanic membrane (eardrum) and external auditory meatus (ear canal). We compared it to my very healthy-looking left ear. Then we checked my middle ear pressure: normal. The kids joked about my hairy ears and asked if a spider laid eggs in there. But most importantly (to me, anyway) she took me seriously and modeled an equitable doctor-patient interaction.

So, my ear still hurts, seven years later. And you know what? It could be TMJ. It could be a branchial cleft cyst. And the icing on that whole cake happened when I got the bill from the clinic. I owed far more than my $20 co-pay. I had done my homework, though, not only on my symptoms, but also on my in-network providers. I called my insurance company. Yes, they told me, my provider was in-network. But that diagnosis code was not covered. What? That’s a thing? I’ve heard of treatments not falling under an insurance plan, but a diagnosis?? I didn’t even go to the doctor for my jaw–how was I supposed to plan for an out-of-network diagnosis?! My appointment was covered up until the point he uttered and documented the letters TMJ. After that, my appointment went from $20 to $tupid. With a side of suspected sexism to boot.

And now you’ve just had an earful. Welcome to the club.

Hair (More or Less)

I have a great many follicles. Those follicles produce a prodigious amount of hair. I was born mostly bald, but by the age of three I had thick hair down to my butt.

I have a student whose hair rivals mine in thickness but far surpasses mine in personality and texture. She reminds me of Miyazaki’s Ponyo: she is loud and expressive and loving and mischievous and her hair matches her mood. Also she loves swimming. And ham. Her hair has been long and curly-wavy as long as she’s been in my class, which has now been three years. When she was in first grade, we spent a lot of time using the quiet room and learning how to deescalate; most of our one-on-one rapport-rebuilding time involved me extracting her cochlear implant from her hair, combing her hair, and either braiding it or putting into a ponytail. Like me, she associates tress-TLC with affection, and I applied it liberally. Bus trips returning home from field trips are challenging for her (really, any transition is hard for her), and I still play with her hair to help her stay relaxed and fall asleep. When a child communicates in unique ways, you learn their language as you help them learn the language of the world.

Third-grade Ponyo hasn’t needed the quiet room in two years. Third-grade Ponyo got her hair cut this winter; it was the shortest haircut she’s had since she enrolled here in preschool. It bounced and swooshed and sproinged with every move she made. She looked lighter and brighter with each step. She practically levitated with each step and couldn’t wait to tell me all about her exciting weekend when Auntie cut her hair. Her fingers were flying with the details. KISS-FIST!! she exclaimed. My hair beautiful! My hair fun! I LOVE IT!

This morning, I arrived at the cafeteria to retrieve my class from breakfast and found Ponyo with red eyes and tears streaming down her face. Her jaw was clenched as firmly as the fist holding her hot pink hairbrush. My alarm bells went into overdrive: this was one frustrated and hurting child.

Ponyo is one of our residential students. She lives at school in the cottage during the week and goes home during the weekends. Except last weekend the ISDB Adaptive Ski and Snowboard Club went on the final weekend trip, so she hasn’t seen her family since March 8. And she’s been with her school friends since March 9. School friends become like siblings, and they bicker. And starting tomorrow is Spring Break. And transitions are hard. So bottled up inside Ponyo are a lot of feelings: she misses her mom, but she knows she’ll spend ten days home with only rudimentary communication; she’s tired of her friends, but she knows these are the most communicative people in her life right now; she’s learning not to be a bully, but her friends don’t always trust her yet; she’s exhausted and excited.

And this morning, after who knows what precipitating events, Ponyo refused to brush her hair.

When I got to the cafeteria, I got the abbreviated version of events and a to-go container of her breakfast. Ponyo refused to brush her hair and left the cottage–that is in violation of the morning rules. She was not permitted to eat until she brushed her hair. As she had not brushed her hair, she had stood in the cafeteria gripping her brush for 30 minutes while her friends ate. She refused to say the Pledge of Allegiance, refused to look at any teachers or paraprofessionals in the eye, and now it was time for her 8 a.m. speech therapy session.**

Today the only power Ponyo had was the power to not brush her hair. None of this was about the hair. None of this is about the cottage aide that issued the false choice of do-hair-or-no-breakfast, either.

It’s about the system that told me that fixing her hair after a “blowout” in first grade was denying her the “natural consequences” of her behaviors. The system that labels a child “defiant” instead of “hurting.” The system that invades her personal boundaries to tell her to be respectful to adults. The system that uses or withholds food as part of the behavior management system.

That system is wrong.

It is ableist and dehumanizing to assert that my students can only respond to a reward-and-punishment style of discipline.  They can handle real conversations about expectations and behavior. To insist otherwise is insulting to their intelligence and their humanity.

It compounds the dehumanization to extend consequences beyond the immediate time frame of the behavior; my student will not walk around with unkempt hair all afternoon because she misbehaved in the morning. Teachers are not bullies.

It is harmful to ignore the whole child and focus only on behaviors. All behavior is communication; we need to listen to what our kids are trying to tell us.

It is invasive and hypocritical to disrespect a child in order to teach respect. It’s like striking a child to teach him that hitting is wrong. Or shouting, Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room!

It is unhealthy to use food as a bribe or reward; it is unhealthy to withhold or delay food as part of a punishment.

Ponyo felt awful all day. She cried at least half a dozen times. Was brushing her hair worth disrupting her learning today? Was it worth a recess where she refused to go outside because, Heart sad cry?

It’s a complicated issue, all wrapped up in her bouncy, swooshy KISS-FIST hair. Food as punishment. Cult of Compliance. The gendered implications of If you don’t brush your hair, it will look messy all day, as though messy hair supersedes her need to transition home smoothly, feel success in math, and read her favorite graphic novel.

gif animation: Ponyo (as a fish) gnaws on a piece of ham.

gif animation: Ponyo (as a fish) gnaws on a piece of ham.

**The speech therapist was amazing this morning. She always uses a calm voice and clear signing with my kids, provides clear choices and follows through. When Ponyo came back at 8:30, she was doing much better. Another aide saw us in the hallway later having some special teacher-and-Ponyo time and stopped to ask about her My Little Pony shirt, which brightened her spirits right away. There are a lot of positive supports built into our school. There’s a lot that needs work, though, too.

(More) Hair

My hair looks awesome today. So do my pants. So do the revisions on my paper I sent to my advisor this morning. The patriarchal hegemony is not holding me back from wearing kelly green capris and quasi-pixie-bob buzz-swoop ‘do!

In more easy-to-understand-terms, I have more pictures to show more drastically the before and after of this hair journey (for the longer word-based journey, check out Monday’s blog post)…

Before:

Danielle, 2003. Senior year of high school. I never wore my hair like this but still felt the need to spend three hours getting my massive amounts of hair curled and styled for my senior pictures. I also never wore makeup, except for my senior photos. So basically this is a photo of someone I never met. I think my internalized patriarchy might be showing a bit.

Danielle, 2003. Senior year of high school. I never wore my hair like this but still felt the need to spend three hours getting my massive amounts of hair curled and styled for my senior pictures. I also never wore makeup, except for my senior photos. So basically this is a photo of someone I never met. I think my internalized patriarchy might be showing a bit. 

Danielle, 2009. The long hair, past the shoulders, not quite to the elbows. About 10 minutes later, I chopped off a 10-inch braid and never looked back.

Danielle, 2009. The long hair, past the shoulders, not quite to the elbows. About 10 minutes later, I chopped off a 10-inch braid and never looked back.

Later (not really “After,” since my hair is an ongoing project):

Danielle, 2014. The Swoop, as it is sometimes known, is exactly what my hair wants to do, and I let it.
Danielle, 2014. The Swoop, as it is sometimes known, is exactly what my hair wants to do, and I let it.
Danielle, 2015. The hair is short, sassy, and in your face. I get shit done.

Danielle, 2015. The hair is short, sassy, and in your face. I get shit done.

Danielle, 2015. It took me longer to put on my three shirts than it did to do my hair. Short hair = ME! While sporting this ensemble while in line for the restroom, I got into a conversation about genderless restrooms and Idaho politics. I don't think that was a coincidence.

Danielle, 2015. It took me longer to put on my three shirts than it did to do my hair. Short hair = ME! That night, sporting this ensemble while in line for the restroom, I got into a conversation about non-gender-labeled restrooms and Idaho politics. I don’t think that was a coincidence.

Danielle, St. Patrick's Day 2015. You know you're an elementary teacher when the highlight of the week is getting to wear the kelly green capri pants you bought in 2004, with a pair of knee-high St. Patrick's Day socks, and you look totally awesome. A fellow teacher tried to "fix" my hair as we were walking in the building. I said, "No need. It's exactly how it needs to be!"

Danielle, St. Patrick’s Day 2015. You know you’re an elementary teacher when the highlight of the week is getting to wear the kelly green capri pants you bought in 2004, with a pair of knee-high St. Patrick’s Day socks, and you look totally awesome. A fellow teacher tried to “fix” my hair as we were walking in the building. I said, “No need. It’s exactly how it needs to be!”

Hair

The first time I had a panicked birthday was my 22nd. I was a senior in college, about six weeks away from graduating. I looked around at my friends and classmates, remembering how at 18 I had looked up at the seniors and seen them as a world beyond me. They were so adult, so learned, so together. I felt none of those things, and it terrified me. Also, 22 looked like a fat number. That second two looked a lot wider than 21.

I did not freak out at 25. I had just purchased a house and life was awesome. I did, however, freak out when my baby sister turned 25 two years later. But, for the most part, my family are not birthday freaker-outers. My mom did not flip at 40, 50, or 60. My grandmother is 93 and as far as I know she handles each milestone birthday with a positive attitude and a sizable helping of angel food cake.

I turn 30 in less than three weeks.

I am totally losing my shit.

I don’t think 30 is old. I am not grieving the end of my 20s, as far as I can tell. I just feel like I haven’t really made much progress on this whole “adult” thing since I turned 22. And I’m certainly not where I thought I’d be. I’m divorced, I have no children, and I’m broke. I haven’t had a raise, really, in seven years.

In the midst of my weekend freakout, a friend shared some encouragement with me: May you have at least as many lives and adventures as I have had….and am still having. May you be able to reinvent yourself as often as your cells regenerate. When I saw her later that evening, we had a conversation along that topic, regarding hair. If hair represents my regenerations, I am currently in my Tenth Doctor tousled phase. All I’m lacking is a personal hair tousler.

Dream Job: David Tennant's personal hair tousler

Dream Job: David Tennant’s personal hair tousler

That said, my hair has been fairly representative of my life since moving to Idaho, and I am grateful for the conversation this weekend. During most of my life, I kept my hair long  enough for a ponytail, even if it was a short “sumo” ponytail. I am perpetually low-maintenance. I haven’t even used shampoo in seven years, let alone any hair product. To say I have thick hair would be a gross understatement. My hair is grotesquely thick, monstrously thick, thick-beyond-words thick. Whenever I have started with a new stylist, their shock the first time they have hefted my vast coif is worth capturing on film. I have a lot of hair. My current stylist books an extra-long block for me now, simply because we spend so much time thinning, and that’s even after he buzzes out the bottom third of my hair.

Anyway, I put as little effort into managing this mane as possible, which for the vast majority of the first 24 years of my life meant ponytails. Then, I chopped off a ten-inch braid, and my hair has been getting progressively shorter ever since.

During the same time frame that my hair has become strikingly short, I’ve taken control of a lot of areas of my life. I started going to counseling again, I started a 12-step program, played roller derby, took control of my health (sorta), embraced my feminism, appeared in two challenging productions with provocative, award-winning scripts (How I Learned to Drive and The Vagina Monologues), and started graduate school.

Correlation is not causation, but the correlation between my ever-shortening hair and my bolder approach to life is no coincidence.

I am loud and awkward and passionate, and I spent a lot of time apologizing for my elbows and my voice and my opinions. My parents were always shushing me. I no longer apologize for taking up space. I used to try to blend in and shrink back and hide the parts of my body and my personality that were deemed unfit or flawed. I spent too many years hiding in ponytails, oversized jeans, and hoodies. Now I wear what I want and I embrace my hips and my breasts and my tears and my fists when I’m fighting for the underdog.

Every time I’ve cut my hair, I’ve shed a layer of myself. Like a sassy snake. My hair was ridiculously fluffy last Wednesday, and the sensory integration therapist met me in the hallway and said, Your hair is so… awesome today. I replied, genuinely, Thanks! I used to fight with my hair, but I always lost. Now I just let my hair do what it does. Who wants to start every morning losing? One of my students thought that was really funny, in part because she has a mane of curly hair that has at least an 80% correlation to her mood. She’s like Japanese animation. She retold that story three times on Wednesday. The next day, after a good-morning hug, she told me we both won with our hair that morning.

Last semester in Feminist Theory, we regularly returned to the theme the personal is political. Hair is one of those personal-political feminist issues. Any time a Hollywood actress shaves her head for a role, she gets major headlines. When Jennifer Lawrence cut her hair in a pixie style (was that in 2013?) just because she damn well wanted to cut it that way, I’m pretty sure the internet broke. The fact that cutting one’s hair is considered so newsworthy makes it pretty clear how much a woman’s hair means in our culture. And when we add race to the equation–because I love me some intersectional feminism–the implications and consequences of short hair are magnified. In 2012, Rhonda Lee, a small-market meteorologist in Louisiana, was fired after defending (in a Facebook comment) her choice to keep her black, ethnic hair short and natural. It seems to me, at least in certain contexts, short hair is where the personal becomes political.

Women with short hair get noticed. I am okay with that now; I don’t have to hide. I may not be where I thought I’d be, but I am certainly not where I was.

Danielle, 2009. The long hair, past the shoulders, not quite to the elbows. About 10 minutes later, I chopped off a 10-inch braid and never looked back.

Danielle, 2009. The long hair, past the shoulders, not quite to the elbows. About 10 minutes later, I chopped off a 10-inch braid and never looked back.

Danielle, 2015. The hair is short, sassy, and in your face. I get shit done.

Danielle, 2015. The hair is short, sassy, and in your face. The underside is totally buzzed. I get shit done.

¡La tarea de español me enojó anoche!

In addition to my graduate coursework, I am taking Spanish 102 at the local community college. This is my completed homework from last night, practicing comparatives and superlatives:

[redacted]

I can tell my Spanish is improving because I nearly shit myself with frustration at the content of this assignment. I’ll type my best attempt at a translation in just a bit. Please bear in mind that I do better just reading for meaning; even in ASL (with which I have over a decade of experience) I prefer to simply converse and not translate/interpret.

Eugenia Hello, Carolina, you are as thin as your sister. How did you do it?

Carolina Thanks, Eugenia. See, I started eating more vegetables than fat, and I eat smaller portions than you have there. I also go to the gym as often as my sister.

Eugenia I think you look better than her.

Carolina Maybe, because my sister sleeps less than me, and she likes to go dancing until late. And you, why do you not start your diet (or Why don’t you start eating better)?

Eugenia Thanks for your advice. See you.

Carolina See you soon.

Then I got a bit rage-y and vented all over my Facebook timeline. I was Facebook friends with my prof for a couple years before I took the course, so he witnessed my rage and suggested contacting the textbook company.

One such Facebook post: OH MY FREAKING COW THIS ENTIRE SPANISH ASSIGNMENT IS ABOUT HOW SHE LOST WEIGHT AND GOT TO BE AS THIN AS HER SISTER!!!!

Another post: Holy Snackwells, is this ever ludicrous! keyboardfacesmash

Now, slightly more contained, here is my breakdown, in English, even though my prof also suggested channeling my anger into a well-constructed Spanish business letter. I prefer to spout my frustrations in my first language, not my third.

  • The dialogue is based on the stereotype of women chronically dieting or trying to lose weight. The first complete sentence after the greeting Hola, is a comment on the Carolina’s weight loss and asking how she did it.
  • The dialogue is based on the stereotype of women comparing themselves to other women. Eugenia compares Carolina to Carolina’s sister, and Carolina does it to herself (refer to FOUR examples in the green text above).
  • The dialogue is based on the stereotype of women judging other women. Caroline says that she eats smaller portions than Eugenia is eating right now, and later asks Eugenia why she doesn’t start eating better.
  • Weight loss is all they talk about. Eugenia asks about her friend’s diet immediately after saying hello. The entire conversation is based on how Carolina looks; not one mention of her health or well-being is mentioned.

Surely we can come up with better ways to practice comparatives and superlatives than to resort to tired stereotypes of women, appearance, and weight loss.