Home > Daily Struggles, Making Disability Visible, Naming Experience > “Give Me A Head With Hair; Long, Beautiful Hair”

“Give Me A Head With Hair; Long, Beautiful Hair”

Mr. Z and I went to see “Quantum of Solace” last Friday night. The cineplex was packed and teeming with Twi-hards. I went into the bathroom and found three of them before the mirror, primping and fixing their carefully coiffed hairdos.
And what hair they had! Long hair, thick hair, shiny hair, healthy hair. It was almost painful for me to watch them, knowing full well how they must take for granted their luxurious heads of hair. Because it never occurred to me in the past that my hair would change in any substantive manner – at least not until I got really old and gray.


When I was younger, my hair was so thick that I could barely enclose it in a regular ponytail tie. I always longed for more body or curl in my straight hair, but basically I was not unsatisfied with it. It was good hair. I miss it.
The problems with my hair began soon after the stroke. I was briefly on Depakote, a medication which did nothing for my migraines, but did depress all affect and cause me to shed hair at what would have been an alarming rate, had my affect not been so depressed. I don’t think my hair ever quite recovered from that, and over time the various medications I’ve been on have affected the quality and texture of the individual strands of hair. They are extremely thin and wispy now, especially in the front around the face. The final insult was developing Hashimoto’s disease, which went undetected for quite some time. I thought my inability to get out of bed in the morning was just depression, and my rapidly thinning hair was just aging combined with the effect of various medications. But, hey, once I started taking that thryoid medication – whoa! I could get up in the morning like normal people. And when I washed my hair, it didn’t come out in large amounts in my hands anymore.
I don’t think my hair will ever recover its former glory; at least the damage has been arrested. I am gradually getting used to the idea of thin-haired me, though I still feel mournful when confronted with a movie theater full of youthfully vigorous hair.
Not long after my encounter with the Twi-hards, I read this post about writing and publishable units over at Dr. Isis’s blog. Perhaps I’m just overly sensitive because of my recent obsession with the hair issue. If that’s the case, let me know, and you all can ignore everything I say after this. As her intro, Dr. Isis wrote:

Tomorrow Dr. Isis heads back to MRU. Today she traveled into Major Metropolitan City to see Brother Isis and is chilling in his bachelor pad waiting for an acceptable hour to head out on the town. As an aside, Brother Isis has validated Dr. Isis’s total hotness. Brother Isis works in a pretty high-profile, high-fashion joint. When Dr. Isis arrived in his part of MMC, she traveled to his place of employment to meet up and wait for him until he finished work. When he saw Dr. Isis he remarked, “Oh, thank God. If you had gotten all MRU-looking since the move I would have made you go sit in the cafe downstairs until I finished work. But, you’re hot enough to come upstairs and meet the ladies in the office.” I chuckled to myself as he told me this, thinking about our recent discussions of fashion and appearance in academia and thought of what many of you would say about his comment (trust me, I know how many of you would have reacted).

Dear Dr. Isis, I’m sure you know how I’d have reacted, but I’ll tell you anyway. I would have told Brother Isis to go fuck himself. I mean, seriously – he gets to decide whether you are worthy, based on your appearance, of meeting his co-workers? I always thought the great thing about your hotness was that you validated yourself. I suppose, also, that I understood the whole concept of “hotness” to be more broadly metaphorical than narrowly physically literal.
Hotness is a great thing, but unfortunately it comes with an expiration date. Bodies change, making hot fashions simply unwearable; joints develop aches, making fashionable footwear unbearable; hair thins and loses luster and just looks plain terrible.
When I looked at those young girls in the theater, I felt sad and a bit jealous, but I also thought how beautiful they looked, how lovely their hair appeared. Physical beauty – hotness – is a pleasure to the eye for all of us. Youth and health and beauty are things to celebrate, admire, and treasure while they last. Can we celebrate them, though, without mocking women who don’t possess them? The photo of the women in “mom jeans” was a bit much for me. I don’t know where Dr. Isis gets her photos, but I wouldn’t be terribly happy about being offered up as the laughable non-hot example on her blog. Wide hips, sensible flat shoes, poor hairdo – yeah, that could be me in those photos. Dr. Isis, I’m not asking you to mask or stifle your total hotness (as if a domestic and laboratory goddess even could!) and I admire your efforts to create mass cognitive dissonance through conflation of “hot”, “mama”, and “scientist”. Just maybe be a little kinder to the old crones in the audience.

  1. Luna_the_cat
    November 25, 2008 at 7:13 pm

    Oh, f*** yes. From another wide-hipped-flat-shod-bad-hair-mom-jeans person….
    And the fact that I run the risk of being accused of being upset at Dr. Isis’s characterisation solely because I am not “hot enough.” That is a “Bleah to you too” thing.

  2. November 25, 2008 at 10:07 pm

    I must respectfully disagree with Zuska that “hotness comes with an expiration date”. Perhaps some definitions of hotness are age-limited, but others are not. One’s perceptions of one’s peers and one’s appreciation of different kinds of beauty often changes over time. The 16 year old who would have been hot to me 25 years ago is “just a kid” to me now, and the women in their 40’s or even 50’s are often much more attractive. I have patients in their 80s with active, er, dating lives and they clearly find each other hot, and it would be hard to disagree with their assessments, given the way they look after themselves and the air of confidence that surrounds them.
    It is unfortunate, perhaps, that we are judged by our outward appearance an mannerisms, but it is inevitable that these cues will be used (along with more “internal” qualities, should we be lucky enough to get close enough to someone).
    That being said, it is certainly useful to, for instance, grade a paper or rate an interviewee as blindly as possible to avoid allowing their appearance influence you unduly.
    I say “unduly” because appearance obviously matters, it it’s difficult to tease out one use of appearance from others, sometimes. For example, when interviewing a candidate for med school or residency, they must–MUST–exhibit adequate grooming a personal hygiene. Period. That doesn’t mean that they have to fulfill a particular interviewer’s definition of “hotness”, but if they can’t pull it together for one of the most important days of their career, they probably won’t be a good doctor.
    You may commence with my evisceration now.

  3. November 25, 2008 at 11:48 pm

    What is “hot” is an excellent question, especially when it come to mom. Terms like MILF, yummy mummy never bothered me until I both became a mom and started reading an excellent blog by Catherine Connors, in particular this post is an excellent commentary on the stupidity of claiming moms to be non-hot.

  4. Mike
    November 26, 2008 at 7:56 am

    I find it a bit depressing that so many women feel they need to spend ages “primping and fixing their carefully coiffed hairdos” to be viewed as “hot”.
    Different people will have different views, of course, but the less natural a woman looks, the less attractive I find her. Plenty of men find women Olympic medallists straight after their event look far better than Paris Hilton does…

  5. D. C. Sessions
    November 26, 2008 at 8:52 am

    Why do we continue to obsess about the superficial?

    Since this is ScienceBlogs, I take it that the question is rhetorical.

  6. November 26, 2008 at 12:27 pm

    “Hotness is a great thing, but unfortunately it comes with an expiration date. Bodies change, making hot fashions simply unwearable; joints develop aches, making fashionable footwear unbearable; hair thins and loses luster and just looks plain terrible.”
    Thanks for writing that. And whereas I’m aware of the kind of “hotness” that doesn’t leave with age but is internal rather than external, that is not what that word really invokes in most people. And whereas I’m also aware that not all those things necessarily happen to all people when they age – actually, I sure can’t think of very many people I know for whom those things haven’t happened to at least some degree! Only people who can afford or who care for plastic-type surgery… which is not what I’ll be doing with my time or money.
    Great post. Thanks again.

  7. November 26, 2008 at 4:36 pm

    Mmmm male gaze.

  8. iltc
    November 26, 2008 at 8:40 pm

    If you really want to feel old, I saw this documentary the other day where an expert endocrinologist (?) was talking about menopause. Apparently it’s a relatively new thing, because, well, we generally died before it happened. Yeah…

  9. November 27, 2008 at 10:07 am

    “Think how startling a woman with a shaved head is.”
    Exactly–which is why, in my mid-40s, I’m growing my hair long–because on my 50th birthday, when I shave my head and start fresh to mark the occasion, I want the contrast to be as stark as possible.

  10. November 27, 2008 at 4:02 pm

    Ah Zuska, you know true hotness is a state of mind.

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