“Iyam what Iyam” was Robin Williams’ signature phrase when he played “Popeye” in the live action film back in the 80’s. Popeye, Olive Oyle, Sweet Pea, Brutus and assorted characters came to life and it helped launch Williams’ career in film. But, think back to the cartoon: would Popeye be ‘Popeye’ without his anchor tattoo, can of spinach and cap? Would Olive be the same timid girl if she had hips and a double-D cup? If she had looked like Barbie, she wouldn’t have needed Brutus’ attention. Shoot, she wouldn’t need any one; Barbie can do anything. And what about him anyway? He wouldn’t have been the least bit intimidating if he had been drawn like Popeye– there’s not much threat to a skinny Anglo sailor boy– but a hulking Mediterranean brute? Now we have some level of fear. Or do we, or rather, should we?
I’ve spent some time in the last few weeks thinking about identity and what it means to so many people and in society. Are we who we are based solely on how we look? The quick answer is NO, because we aren’t that shallow, you say. Think again, and think about Hollywood celebrity types, A-lister’s and potential has-beens. Let’s examine some, shall we?
Paris Hilton and Nicole Ritchie– Paris was the sexy one when they started their “Simple Life” show, and Nicole was “the funny one”. Why? Both had expensive trendy wardrobes; neither had worked a real job a day in their lives, they appeared equal–on paper. In physique, though, Paris was and still is a very tiny size –I don’t know, negative 3? And Nicole looked *chubby* in comparison, but was all of one or two sizes away in reality. Nicole soon ended up as tabloid fodder because she was now *anorexic* and too thin. Why? she was the *chubby* one and felt compelled to lose drastic amounts of weight; now she was skinny and the funny one.
Nick Nolte has had his moments, too. His mugshot with a crazed, drunk/drugged look on his face, with the crazy hair that made Albert Einstein’s coif look chic. Does that image diminish his acting abilities? Doubtful, but it changes whether or not we’d decided to pay to see him in a movie or not, based on the image we now have. It still gets pulled out for late night laughs.
Is Britney Spears any less talented with out her own hair? Is she any less attractive? Does it really matter? Why do we care? I could go on about Brit and Hollywood, but that’s for another day. Today the focus is our own personal IDENTITY and how we average people are accepted, not the ills of celebrity living.
I’ve been thinking about this because on 14 November 2007 I underwent a drastic change in my own personal “look”, and shaved off my 19 inch long hair, a la Britney style, but I didn’t do it myself, and paid someone to do it. I was not under duress, drunk or high, or forced. I’m not expecting to end up on the cover of “Life & Style” or the local paper for that matter. I did it because I love my Mum and she’s going to lose her hair to chemotherapy in the next little bit and I didn’t want her to go through the holidays being the only bald female in the family. It’s that simple. Or so I thought.
Turns out shaving ones head is not so simple. To me it was just hair, and it would grow back. Mine grows at an alarming rate, at least compared to when I was wee tot, and knew in a matter of months I’d be looking somewhat girl-ish again. The stylist, Sue, who is a friend of mine, asked me three times if I was sure I was ready and wanted to go through with it. My Mum said more than once: you don’t have to do this you know. It was far more emotional for my family and friends than it was for me, maybe because my hair was so long, and I’d been growing it for nearly three years. It started as a challenge to be grown for and then donated to Locks of Love from my younger sister. She cut hers sometime last year, and at that time said I could cut mine guilt free whenever I was ready. Well, now I was ready, so why all the fuss?
Am I any less *me* having a head that looks, feels and acts like velcro? Am I any less beautiful? If someone was to think I was less attractive than 10 days ago, then why is my appearance so much a part of my identity to you? Why, no, let me ask When did my hair become such an integral part of my whole being. I am not the sum of my hair; I am the sum of my parts: physique, appearance, intelligence, talents, emotions. I don’t ask that to be sarcastic, but it’s a a real and genuine query. When and why is my hair so important TO YOU in how you receive me as a peer. If my hair is that important to you, then maybe you don’t know me very well, and should try to change that. Are you embarrassed for me, of me, to be seen with me– because I don’t fit in with “normal” healthy people? If my appearance effects how you feel you’d be treated, received and perceived in society, perhaps we need to take a closer look at the issues packed in the baggage called LIFE you carry with you.
I’m content to have a velcro head. I can handle the looks from strangers, and I’m at a point in my life where I have little concern for any condemning attitudes. Some of the looks are curious peeks, other are outright stares and when I glance their way, they divert their eyes. A handful have had concerns for my own health, thinking I was receiving treatment. What started as a gesture of support for my mother is, and quite by accident, going to end up as an interesting social experiment.
Locks of Love got my hair and a pair of clippers and the floor got my Mum’s before cancer could steal it away. For now, I’m quite happy being me– a shaved bald me.
O, one last thing: I could take about anything, just don’t call me Britney.