For several years, I worked next to a mosque. Its parking lot often overflowed on Fridays and religious holidays; on such days, my company’s owners permitted its congregants to park in the company parking lot.
Once, I saw women step out of a car and cover themselves for service. I smiled on my way into the office. They smiled back.
Many times, I walked by women already covered. I’d smile at each, if she looked at me; much more often than not, I’d see eyes wrinkling from smiles returned.
(Seeing mouths isn’t the most important thing to seeing smiles.)
After exchanging such smiles one afternoon, I remembered a conversation with a male friend years before and hundreds of miles away.
“You’re not supposed to look at them when they’re dressed like that!” he’d told me. I replied that I’d never heard such a thing, and that I’d keep greeting human beings as human beings.
I posted about the new smile and the old conversation on Facebook. “Please keep smiling,” one Muslim friend soon replied.
I committed to doing so.
A year ago, I saw a Muslim family on a plane and just about broke into a cold sweat.
I came to my senses soon enough. Warm smiles were exchanged that day, too.
When I returned home, I told my husband, “Fearmongering works!”
(I vow now not to let it.)
“Yep.” he replied. “That’s why they use it.”
Protesting at LAX last weekend, I saw many women wearing hijabs. In all the hubbub, I only spoke with two. I was tired and ineloquent as I greeted them with my two-year-old on my hip, but they were lovely.
“Ugh, I’m saying all the wrong things,” I mumbled a couple minutes into conversation. Both women, Sara and Hannah, said no, no, no; Hannah’s face was especially aglow with compassion that filled me with a sense of okay-ness.
Maybe I didn’t say the right words. Maybe there are no right words.
What I do know is that I said I’d keep smiling.
I meant it,
and I will.
I shaved my head almost four years ago.
I loved how it felt. I felt like I’d been in hiding, and was for the first time in years unconcealed.
I’ve often thought since of shaving my hair again. I felt beautiful bald, and I loved what I saw when I looked in the mirror.
So why haven’t I shaved my hair again? Because of the overwhelming inescapability of others’ questions, spoken and unspoken. The unconcealed horror and pity written on their faces as they considered the possibility I might have cancer, and then walked a step beyond that to contemplating the fragility of human life.
I loved how I looked and I loved how I felt, but I did not love the constant inspection.
A few days ago, an old blogging friend shaved her head in solidarity with a friend battling cancer. I saw how gorgeous she looked and I thought how much I missed my super-short hair.
This morning, Angie posted another photo, and I felt the same longing intensified. In addition to loving how it looks and feels, it’s so easy to manage hair so short. So freeing, when the choice is made willingly.
I saw her newest photo and felt the ache of wanting to shave my head again right now. Almost as soon as I thought of just doing it, though, I thought not only of those bygone looks of horror and pity, but how wound up hair is with the idea of feminine beauty, as if a woman’s beauty is in the length and style of her locks instead of a light that shines from within.
The question is: Would I rather do what feels right to me because it feels right, and lovely? Or would I rather keep my hair falling comfortably below my shoulders because it slightly inconveniences me to face others’ discomfort? Because my husband feels like he’s looking at the wife he knows?
I don’t feel a clear right answer, whether or not there actually is one. I know I’m lucky to have a choice, leading me to think, again and again:
It’s just hair. When we’re so lucky, it grows back.
Would you ever shave your hair? Under what circumstances?
How much does hair factor into your perception of another person’s beauty?
Last September, I wrote a short poem after a shocking conversation with a manager–not my manager, but a manager.
I concluded my poetic reflections on my moment of revelation thusly:
better Read more…
In between bites of dinner last night, my fiancee, Ba.D., spoke a rare sentence that blew my mind.
In the recent movie Salt, Angelina Jolie’s role was originally written for a man. Ba.D. explained that this has happened several times in cinematic history. He threw out a few more examples before adding as an afterthought, “Ellen Ripley wasn’t written as a woman.”
After watching me flap my jaw wordlessly a few times while trying to come up with a coherent response, he added, “The character was written to work as a man or a woman. It was just written as ‘Ripley.’”
Ba.D. and I were busy last night, but as our bodies moved around, my mind remained locked on the fact that, in an alternate universe somewhere, Sigourney Weaver is not the badass protagonist of Alien and Aliens.
I feel sad for the girls of that alternative universe, because in this one, Weaver’s Ripley played a powerful role in my believing I could be anything–anything–I dared dream. I didn’t have to want to be a princess or a cheerleader or a housewife. I could grow up and be like Ripley, not only defensively but offensively taking on and taking over some seriously hostile situations. Read more…