I have hairs growing on my chin that my girlfriend threatens to pluck when I am not paying attention. Apparently, these stray hairs bother her. They also bother my mother, because “women aren’t supposed to have beards.” And yet, I am a woman, and I have facial hair.
My chin hairs offend the standard of Beauty imposed upon all women in this country. This mythical standard has been used for centuries to control women, telling us how we must appear in order to be valued as women – and humans. All women suffer from the Beauty Myth, and any woman – straight or gay – who doesn’t perform femininity has somehow failed as a woman.
Women of trans* experience also suffer from the Beauty Myth. A recent New York Times article widely circulated on Facebook introduced us to Zaira Quispe, a transwoman who spend thousands of dollars for silicone injections to give her a “womanly” figure. Although the treatment temporarily gave her the desired effect, Ms. Quispe now spends her days indoors, avoiding the strange looks she otherwise would receive because of the disfiguring effects of loose silicone in her body. The Times did a similar piece in 2009 featuring Fiordaliza Pichardo, a nontrans Latina who died from silicone injections obtained in the quest for a more voluptuous figure.
Women are literally willing to die to attain what society says is Beautiful. Women starve themselves, take appetite suppressants or worse, and exercise to the point of exhaustion to achieve the highly valued status of thin. Women seek plastic surgery for breast enhancements to give them a figure to attract a man. Women spend countless thousands of dollars on cosmetics, clothes and high heels, all to achieve some standard of Beauty. As some transwomen seek validation from others as a “woman,” it is no wonder that they too fall prey to the tricks of a misogynistic society and what it says is “good enough,” “sexy enough” and “woman enough.”
The idea of “woman” is rooted in many things; on the appearance front, it is mostly rooted in gender stereotypes. These gender stereotypes are killing women, including transwomen. Like their nontrans sisters, society sells transwomen a bill of goods they must buy to achieve some standard of femininity in order to “be a woman” and “be Beautiful.” We’ve also been told that this standard of femininity is “natural” – and of course, this is false. Would you need to spend thousands of dollars to achieve Beauty if it occurred “naturally”?
The Women’s Liberation Movement taught us that women aren’t actually meant to be hairless, skinny, pretty ponies. Indeed, one of the victories of the Women’s Liberation Movement was to change the conversation from things that do not matter – one’s appearance – to things that do matter, such as a woman’s ability to think, reason and contribute to meaningful dialogue about the world around us. Sadly, we now see young women – including transwomen – reject this lesson of the Women’s Liberation Movement and take massive risks with their health and their lives to appear more feminine, all in the name of Beauty. Baltimore is not immune to these pressures, with transwomen actively seeking out pumpers so that they too can enjoy the illegal silicone injections that have permanently disfigured Ms. Quispe. In May, Aeon Farr, a lovely local woman of trans* experience with a significant Internet presence, posed a question to the TransYouthChannel on YouTube about silicone enhancements.
“I haven’t gotten any work done, I have been playing with the idea… of silicone injections …. to enhance the shape that I already have, give me more breasts, and give me what I feel is a more passable look,” she said. “I’m at peace with my body but there are just some things that I feel could be improved.”
As women, we are never “at peace with our bodies” because we are taught from an early age that our bodies are imperfect, and that we must “do something” – eat a certain way, wear certain clothes, apply certain makeup – to make ourselves Beautiful.
“Beautiful” is a trick – a mean, nasty, hateful trick that has caused countless numbers of women endless hours of self-loathing and anxiety. As a woman and as a mother of a son and a daughter, it pains me to see young transwomen join their nontrans sisters in contemplating courses of action that are not only unnecessary, but could actually kill them.
The GLBT Movement places a heavy emphasis on appearance and image. As a GLBT community, we have to do better if we want to change this harmful conversation. Your mother was right – what makes you beautiful is who you are on the inside. And I remind my mother of that when she tells me to pluck my beard.
Friday, 09 September 2011