I shaved my body hair six weeks after that last blog post. The legs came first, because they were patchy and looked like they’d been sprinkled in dirt. The pits were last, and those finally went because I was developing b.o. that smelled like celery, which I hate. It may be the way my body is supposed to smell (I don’t wear, or own, deodorant and haven’t purchased any in about five years, so this is a genuine mystery). But my body doesn’t produce these smells when I shave under the arms, so that’s what happened with that.

I also haven’t been sleeping well. This is unusual, as I usually sleep easily and often. Now I’m in a constant state of half-awakeness, and I feel like I have the flu. Maybe I do have the flu, though it’s been a month. Maybe I’m actually dead. Maybe I’m in an M. Night Shayalaman movie.

Finally, one of my foster kittens got adopted Friday. I fostered three of them in June, which I wrote a lengthy post about in July that WordPress promptly deleted (thanks, WP!). Anyway, I meant to get them out of my house around then, because I didn’t want to get attached. But they stayed, and I did. Finally the longhaired one I named Flurkin went off on Friday to a pair of sweet undergrads who are “thinking about naming her Luna” according to the email response I got from them this afternoon, after I casually asked them how she was doing as though I hadn’t dissolved into shake-sobs the moment they took her.

But life is okay otherwise.

Photo courtesy of some insipid Internet gossip blog. Do I really have to link to it?

I got my first armpit hair when I was 9. For awhile it was just the one and I kept it around for quite some time. I was maybe a little mesmerized by its existence.

 When others joined, maybe a year and a half later, I retaliated with a pink daisy-printed BIC razor my mother kept in the shower. I would proceed to retaliate daily for the next 15 years of my life.

Body hair removal is probably the easiest way we women can avoid looking like women (much easier than starving away curves, I’d guess), which is itself transgressive. It’s also something I’d never given much thought until last week, when I decided to stop shaving everything.

I made the announcement to a group of girlfriends in the park. “Oh get over yourself,” sighed one of them, a self-proclaimed hippie who stays away from razors. But she’s exactly that: a hippie. I’m not, and sporting hippie signifiers like hairy pits (and, on the beach, full fluffy bush) doesn’t mesh with whatever it is I’m presenting as. So, as the hair has tufted out over the past days, I’ve found myself thinking a lot about what it means to be a woman in this world, about the boldness of body hair. How puberty makes us enemies of our physical selves. I’ve also realized that, my goodness, I am hairy.

No, I’m not surprised. I’m slavic and Salvadoran. I probably came out of the womb as a mound of fur (must check with mother). At 13 a classmate caught a peek of my bare belly—this was the late ’90s, when we stupidly wore hip-huggers—and shrieked: “Ew *Kellikorducki, you be HAIRY!” which prompted me to depliate the entirety of my pelvis to my ribcage for the next ten years. In sum, I expected there to be hair. What I didn’t expect was how fast.

The hair on my head is a mousy medium brown, wavy and fine. Everywhere else it’s almost black and triumphant. It is darker and starker than the body hair of most of my hippie friends, freckled blue-eyed gals with freckled blue-eyed gal hair.

While visible in this phase, it doesn’t quite look like anything other than its owner being too lazy to shave. When it gets a little longer, it will be a statement. Because that’s what body hair is on a woman.

I find myself talking about it a lot. It’s summertime, so it’s out there. I feel eyes falling on it and then quickly averting. We’re very guarded about our hair, and seeing it on others can feel like trespassing. So, I tell people about my experiment. “I’m growing out my body hair, just to see what it feels like.” Not what it feels like to have hair of course, but to walk through the world as a person who does. As a woman, that is.

The reality is that nobody really cares. But, they do notice. “I didn’t want to say anything,” said a friend at a beach party over the weekend after I’d explained myself, “but I saw it.” Then, “I couldn’t do it, myself.”

So, another day as a hairy non-hippie, a bundle of mixed signifiers navigating July. I dare you to give it a shot. 

 

 

 

 

 

*Yes, my name in elementary school was often Kellikorducki. Sometimes, Kellikorfucki.

 

Ira Kappylappy


Many adult daughters talk about their relationships with their fathers differently than the ones with their mothers, because the dynamic between a father and daughter isn’t fraught with the baggage of being a woman in this world. In my case, both parents deserve a hearty pat on the back for abstaining from throttling me in my sleep. But as it is Father’s Day, I will aim my thematic tribute where thematic tribute is due.

I was, to put it gently, a Difficult Child—defiant, rebellious, and, as became apparent around the age of 12, prone to some not-insignificant mental health hiccups. Both my parents dealt with me, their eldest and only girlchild, in stride. The steered me toward the things they thought would save me, some that worked (music lessons, endless books), and others (pill-happy psychiatrists, Catholic school) that didn’t. When I announced at 17 that I was applying to university in Canada—an impulse, a whim, a clean slate—they made their objections clear. But they didn’t try to stop me, because they knew they could not.

It was around this time that I started making a concerted effort to pick myself up and put myself back together. Over the past three years, I’d gone from a straight-A student who’d sung in three choirs, played violin in the orchestra, acted in numerous plays, and occasionally defeated opponents on my high school’s tennis and debate teams, to Ally Sheedy in the Breakfast Club. But this university I suddenly really wanted—needed—to attend didn’t care about my past. If I performed really well in my last year of high school, I stood a decent shot of getting in. So, I tried to start over.

The mission was clumsy but earnest, and while my mother totally lovingly suggested I pursue a practical life—in-state college, a line of study that would amount to something—it was Papa who quietly encouraged my wacked-out plans. For whatever reason, Papa had faith.

Then, there was the Yo La Tengo concert.

I don’t need to explain what music means to a 17-year-old. Anyone reading this has either been there or is on its precipice. Anyway, being the kind of kid that I was, artistic temperament* and all, music was a Very Big Deal. And, again, being the kind of kid that I was, it was very unusual that a band I was super into would find its way into Brew City, U.S.A.** When I discovered that Yo La Tengo was hitting Wisconsin on its Summer Sun tour, I announced to my father that I was going to take a bus to Madison “and sleep on someone’s couch” (Whose? Who cared!) to catch their weekend performance. Papa, ever so wisely, rejected that proposal. Instead, he offered an irresistible alternative: he would personally accompany me to their Monday night performance at Shank Hall, an intimate 21+ venue in downtown Milwaukee. Though I was under age, with my father in tow, State of Wisconsin law allowed the predicament of my youth to slide.

Did I mention that this was on a school night?

Most of my adolescence no longer resides in my memory. The vast bulk of it’s been relegated to a pit at the base of my sternum, wilfully forgotten or buried away for self-preservation. Dancing up against the stage to Yo La Tengo in frenzied, sober exhilaration, is not one of those. I remember Ira Kaplan’s glorious New Jerseyan sweat droplets flicking onto my own with better clarity than the events of even this morning, and the way it felt when I turned to Papa—wearing the same black-and-white Chuck Taylors as my own, in a size 13—and noticed he was dancing, too.

“These old guys aren’t bad,” he mused.

We were the only two people in the whole joint who weren’t too cool to dance.

He may not remember this event, and I’m not sure he even reads this blog, but it’s one of those moments I’ll never forget–and definitely my favourite concert experience, ever. Nothing so perfectly encapsulates the kind of Papa I grew up with: the kind, patient, and slightly nerdy wind beneath my freak flag. I love him desperately and am grateful to have his influence and his genes–even the ones responsible for my chin.

*This is the way nice people say “mentally unstable asshole.” I am not a nice person and would therefore just go ahead and say “mentally unstable asshole,” but I want to feign some semblance of self-esteem here.

**e.g. snob

1988:

2010:

(This post was originally written for the Ethnic Aisle blog, but I just realized all my links in that post are broken, so here’s a corrected version. Please do check out the other hair-related posts on that blog,though!)

I have never been one of nature’s blondes, one of my aching desires as a kid. Before I come off like some Aryan Nation weirdo, I should mention that my motives were strictly pragmatic. See, my future career backup plan was to become a Spanish-language television personality.

Outlandish as it may seem, this vision was fairly sketched out. Ideally I’d host my own song-and-dance variety show—something Xuxa-esque, but weirder—but I’d have settled for a telenovela gig too. (This seemed less far-fetched than my other ambition, to one day make a living by writing things.) The overwhelming majority of women on Spanish TV, the ones who weren’t playing maids on the prime-time soaps, looked a lot like me—as in, they too were white as hell. Univision, the Miami-based Spanish television network we picked up at our house, was (and continues to be) a virtually Mestiza-free zone. I figured a Caucasian-looking halfie like me stood at least a semi-decent shot.

It didn’t seem like talent was much of a factor for getting onto Univision. I’m no actress, but neither are many of the ladies on the social mobility-bent love dramas I grew up watching with my mom. A fair complexion, a little surgical enhancement, and flowing locks seemed the requisite criteria for climbing the Latin programming pyramid, as a woman.

Oh yeah. You also had to be blonde.

Okay, so blondeness wasn’t exactly required. It was more like the silver bullet that could make even the most marginally negotiable amount of onscreen charisma sufficient for stardom.

It’s no shocker that I’m not the first person to make this observation. A Google search for “blondes latino television” pulled up this LatinoLA blog post that criticizes Spanish TV for perpetuating a “Euro-cute” ideal of beauty rather than represent characters who reflect the Mestizo majority of its viewership. That search also brought up a Yahoo! Answers forum that asks: “Why is Latin American television so blonde obsessed?”

I feel like, if you’re reading this, you probably don’t need a basic lesson on the history of Colonialism and the remaining correlations between economic stature and whiteness in Latin America, or the uneasy identity baggage of Meztisaje. If you do, the Internet is an excellent resource. At any rate, the answer to Latin American television’s blonde obsession can almost certainly be found within that complicated history. Just like back in the day, when flaxen locks meant you probably came from European stock and were on the side of the conquerers rather than the defeated, or a little later when they meant you were of the land-owning instead of the workers, or now, when it still means that you’re likelier to possess greater wealth and power than someone whose hair is not blonde, the reasons for the appeal are clear. Blondeness is power. It’s post-aspirational.

So, back to me. I am not a telenovela star. I used the funds I’d squirreled away for breast augmentation to pay international tuition fees, for better or worse. (Just kidding; I never possessed that kind of foresight). But I still watch Spanish-language television whenever I visit my folks back in the states, and it’s still more of the same: Euro-cute with a bonus for blondeness. At least no one can accuse Latin American television of ignoring minority populations.

As much as it pains me to admit this, I sort of felt for Mike Daisey last week.

The performer behind “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs,” which was adapted for radio to become This American Life’s most downloaded episode to date, was revealed on Friday to have totally made up some of the most heart-wrenching details of his personal account of the goings-on at China’s Foxconn factory, where many Apple products are made. I first read This American Life’s retraction of the piece, then listened to the solemn retraction-focused episode that followed it and, I’ll admit, it was hard to hear the guy fumble against the pointed interrogation of my beloved Ira Glass. Daisey had lied, and he was embarrassed to have been caught. In a way, I could understand why he would be cautious to admit–to listeners, to Ira, to himself–that that was precisely what he had done: lied. Instead, he skirted around the issue of his crime–which involved deliberately misleading fact-checkers to pass off falsehoods as truths–by saying that the tools of the theatre are not the same as the tools of journalism, and that ultimately the truth he meant to convey, regarding the gravity of what he encountered in China, was still there. Okay, fine. I didn’t agree with the guy, but I could relate to his impulse to dig himself out of a self-created hole. After all, haven’t we all been there? I certainly have, and there’s nothing dignified about it.

A part of me could even understand Daisey’s impulse to fudge some of the details of his story for dramatic flair. Even as someone who IS a journalist and takes the profession quite seriously, I could understand, on some slimy and shameful level, his temptation to include those fudged details in his monologue’s adaptation for This American Life–one of the most beloved and highly-regarded entities of English-language reportage in the world. The exposure! The prestige! These are the things we, in creative industries and otherwise, find alluring.

What I cannot forgive is Daisey’s continued insistence that this impulse, which he acted upon, wasn’t wrong. Further to this, the faux apologies, such as this nugget from today’s post on his personal blog:

To radio listeners: I apologized in this week’s episode to anyone who felt betrayed. I stand by that apology. But understand that if you felt something that connected you with where your devices come from—that is not a lie. That is art. That is human empathy, and it is real, and even if you curse my name I hope you’ll recognize that and continue reading, caring, and thinking.

“I apologized…to anyone who felt betrayed.” How insulting is that? It’s like when Rush Limbaugh, a couple of weeks ago, fauxpologized to people who might–somehow, miraculously– be offended by his choice to call Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke a “slut.” As UC Berkeley linguistics professor Geoff Nunberg would point out on NPR’s Fresh air, “That’s the standard formula for these things — you apologize not for what you said but for the way you said it.”

The same is the case with Daisey, who continues to insult the intelligence of the thousands of listeners he duped by refusing to admit his wrongdoing. He is not sorry for lying to us, but sorry for our hypersensitivity to this deception. It’s a patronizing avoidance of moral responsibility, and that I cannot abide.

Has it already been a month since I last posted? Oopsies.  South America must have messed with my sense of time. Worse, it almost convinced me to grow out my hair.

(Photographic reminder of why that would be a terrible decision:)

.

Besides vanities, the month has involved a cat adoption, a 26th birthday, and many writings. Here’s a very small sample:

-On the marketing genius of the pop-up shop for the Globe and Mail

-On the strange process of heritage designation for the historic Paradise Theatre (spoiler alert: major bluff-calling is involved); a look into the surprisingly moving origin story of the Scarborough Civic Centre; all about the state of craft culture in Toronto, and a chat with a professional falconer (!) for Torontoist

-And on blood donation–specifically, how Torontonians DO NOT DO IT ENOUGH–for OpenFile

Again, a small sample. But a good one, no?

Regular updates to continue shortly.

XO

Photo by Flickr user CristianGs. As you can see by that watermark.

Last night Sol, our tour guide from a couple of weeks back, invited us out to her dad’s swank house just north of the city to eat asado. Asado is Argentine barbecue, a ritualized feast of a variety of God’s grilled creatures that puts our sad North American hamburger and hot-dog endeavors to total shame. Chorizo, pork chop, two kinds of beef and an exquisitely marinated chicken were all consumed in the same belly-expanding meal. Before last night, I would never have believed this was physically possible.

It was a fabulously Argentine affair, gabbing over Fernet with Cola about the Argentine economy (key word: INFLATION!) with J, Sol and two of her friends, Sabrina and (I think?) Natalia, whom she lovingly referred to as “las pendejas” (which in this situation roughly translates to “my bitches.” Argentines swear a lot more than Canadians do, and it’s usually pretty endearing). Anyway, I’ve eaten so much meat in the past three weeks that I feel the chemistry of my body has actually changed. I’m starting to smell like a bouillon cube.

Argentina is well known for its earth-shattering, grass-fed Pampas beef, but the truth is all meat in Argentina is cheap, plentiful, and of exceptional quality. Sol said that it’s actually rare to encounter bad meat, a legitimate challenge. For this reason, Argentines eat an absurd amount of flesh; fresh produce, though also abundant, is very much an afterthought. In fact, the very word used to describe salad items at many Buenos Aires restaurants translates literally to “garnish.” Go figure.

Sol sent us home with leftovers from the asado. “A doggie bag,” she joked, a concept she must have picked up in her dealings with foreigners as a tour guide. While no longer as unthinkably gauche as it once was, the practice of bringing home leftovers from restaurants and the like remains decisively outside the norm. I’m not sure her Argentine galpals caught the reference.

Argentines have had a rough go of it over the past several decades, between military dictatorship and, more recently, total economic collapse. But throughout it all, they’ve maintained a healthy appetite. While leafy greens might not be a national staple, even the most run-of-the-mill street food here is worthy of marvel. Lonely Planet did a roundup not too long ago of 10 non-steak edibles to eat in Buenos Aires, and I’d say they were right on the money with their mention of ice cream (also, the best I’ve ever had in my life), pizza (ditto), and dulce de leche. Apart from some horrible American tourists we encountered while waiting in line to eat at B.A.’s ancient and famous Cafe Tortoni (“Empana-what? Looked like Hot Pockets to me!”), all the foreigners we’ve encountered have been impressed by the offerings here–and rightfully so. But, even more impressive is that the locals know better than to take it for granted.

President Cristina Kirchner. Photo from somewhere on the Internet.

This morning, walking past a kiosko (that is, a street kiosk that sells magazines, newspapers, and smokes), I saw my first front-page headline pertaining to the falsification of the Argentine president’s cancer scare. A bit of background: la Presidenta Cristina Kirchner (whose late husband, Nestor, was the president before her) was diagnosed with thyroid cancer last year. This very legitimate health scare was played up by the prez’s PR machine and subsequently amplified by national media–as would be the case anywhere with that scenario, I suppose–to elicit sympathy and a sense of national solidarity. “Fuerza Cristina” graffiti multiplied on Argentine walls. When it unfolded last week that the thyroid removed from the president’s body turned out to be devoid of cancerous cells, however, there was very little fanfare. It immediately struck me as odd.

What if, say, Barack Obama had been diagnosed with thyroid cancer? Surely, the media wouldn’t let it go. But then, say, after his nationally-breath-held operation came through and it turned out that, Oops! The cells were healthy after all!  wouldn’t there be investigation? Wouldn’t people insist that something smelled fishy? Of course they would; someone would immediately suspect a stunt at play. North American democracy is founded upon a healthy sense of skepticism. Not so in Argentina. The fundamental distrust of democratic governance held by the Argentine people, recently released from the throngs of a dictatorial regime, is apparently immune to bizarre marketing schemes that will play up a head of state’s potentially life-threatening illness only to overlook its subsequently positive prognosis. It’s easier, here, to simply put one’s faith in one’s leader. She’s strong and speaks for the people!  is the prevailing rationale. It’s called Peronism, and it’s a curious beast.

The Peronist political machine relies upon a degree of personality cultishness that I’ve never experienced elsewhere. When I visited the Casa Rosada (presidential palace) last week, I was immediately stricken by the dozens of photo installations of the president, her late husband and their children, displayed along the entrance. These mini-billboards showed “day in the life” type scenes: photos of the president blowing kisses from outside a car window, presumably at a crowd of her loyal countrypeople; la presidenta mid-embrace with her children; “candid” shots of Cristina at speaking engagements, eyes welling with emotion before the masses. Why are images politically relevant? Well, they aren’t. Nothing about Cristina’s ability to smile at a camera suggests shrewd policymaking. Rather, the message is, “I am one of you. Love me.” And, it seems to work.

Back to the cancer thing. Why wasn’t this front-page news last week? Why has it been discussed on television broadcasts only as an afterthought? Why haven’t people been celebrating her–apparently, unexpectedly–good health? I can’t help but come to the conclusion that there’s a fear of throwing off a narrative of support and well-wishes coming from high up, trickling down to mainstream media. A populist head of state’s life-threatening illness is quite the unifier, after all. Why break the circle? It’s an idea that especially makes sense in the context of what I’ve been told, that the press isn’t completely, 100% free in Argentina.

Not to say that North American politics are any more civil, but it’s been fascinating to see a totally different kind of machine at play. Techniques of ruling also have their cultural differences.