Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Look good, feel better?

I've gone a few weeks now without wearing a scarf. While I'm excited to note that my scalp area has gone from "looks like five o'clock shadow" to "very, very short hair", I'm sure I still present a startling sight to most people.

I appreciate comments along the lines of "you have a nicely-shaped head." Other comments, though also well intended, don't make me feel so good. One person told me, "It's a good thing you look good bald!" As if my right to leave my house without a scarf is dependent on my appearing attractive while scarfless.

In a recent email discussion, I expressed sympathies for a friend with prostate cancer. He was rather retiring about his diagnosis but commented that "observing a roomful of attractive young ladies wearing head scarves and baseball caps" was a "misfortune".

I have been interested recently in the idea that a social system can exist that results in certain outcomes that none of its participants intend. I believe these comments are an example of such a system: the people I quoted above were intending to convey admiration and sympathy. But the language available to them for doing that was limited, and the word choice they made resulted in them reinforcing the social concept that, for women, "value=physical attractiveness".

It's not really what I expected when I went out without a scarf.

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