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Nov 30 2008

Hot Is Heavy

I don’t usually feel the need to point to one of Zuska’s posts and say, “Yeah, what she said.” She’s got a strong voice and when she’s not reaching her audience, it’s usually either because they’re unreachable or because they already agree with her in principle and are arguing over details.

This week, though, Zuska put up a post about the ephemeral nature of hotness that I think missed its audience. The first half of the post talked about her losing her thick, abundant (hot) hair to illness, but the bits that everyone seemed to focus on were:

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.

And:

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.

The comments could largely be summed up by this one:

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

This is fine. This is all well and good and true as far as it goes. The problem is that Zuska wasn’t merely talking about age. She was also talking about health.

Hotness, even as something that doesn’t relate to the external characteristics that people have little control over, requires resources. It takes time and attention and energy and money–more time and attention and energy to the extent that money isn’t available. (You’ve read John Scalzi on the costs of Being Poor, right?) These are resources that people who are dealing with illness and disability frequently don’t have.

When we value hotness so highly, we place additional burdens on those who already have too many. We ask those who want nothing more than sleep to maintain labor-intensive standards of grooming. We ask people with arthritis to iron clothes. We ask those in pain to be pleasant and “graceful.” We ask people with depression to keep a positive attitude.

We can tell them that we don’t require any of this of them, that all we want is for them to get better or to do the best their disability will allow, but we have to know that they’re sick or disabled in order to deliver this message. Most illnesses and disabilities don’t come with marquee lights. The message that hotness is required for the fullest participation in society doesn’t limit itself to the healthy, able-bodied population, because we don’t know, can’t know, who that is.

If you think the ill and the disabled don’t feel this pressure, ask yourself why organization such as Locks of Love and Heavenly Hats exist. Ask yourself why patients in long-term care are cheered up by a gift of pretty clothing or by something as simple as having their hair styled. Ask why those with disabilities are cheered to see others like them as models and athletes–among the hot.

Does this mean that the hot among us shouldn’t revel in being hot? Nah. For one thing, that’s never going to happen. For another, what they’re actually reveling in is, in large part, health. Having good health and having the resources to enjoy it are things worth reveling in. They are more rare than they should be.

I just think people should know that this is what they’re really enjoying and know, as Zuska and I and many others do, that it may not last.

5 comments

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  1. 1
    JLK

    I haven’t read Zuska’s post yet because I’ve been away from the blogosphere for most of this week. But reading your post reminded me of something very specific. I know you’re a sci-fi person, but I’m gonna take a chance. On Sex and The City, when Samantha got breast cancer, she lost her hair from chemo and shaved her head in this brilliant moment of acceptance. Granted, she soon started shopping for wigs and changing them daily….But when she was asked to speak at a benefit for breast cancer survivors and to be inspiring, she had no idea what to say. She was having intense hot flashes on stage and sweating profusely. Suddenly she looks up from the mike, says something like “Fuck this” and rips off her wig, makes some jokes about how physically awful chemo is to go through, and one by one, women in the crowd start standing up and whipping off their wigs in a defiant protest against feeling the need to pretend they hadn’t been fighting for their lives. Granted, it was a tv show, but I’ve seen similar things happen at breast cancer benefits and it’s always amazing, awe-inspiring, and humbling.

  2. 2
    Becca

    I try to do ‘healthy’ things sometimes. When I get to lab, I usually take the stairs instead of the elevator. I used to consider it a reflection of the condition of my willpower generally. Then one day, one of the older women from our department office noticed me coming in, rosy-cheeked and slightly short of breath. She asked if I’d taken the stairs, I told her I had. She replied with “wow, I can’t do that anymore!”.Taking the stairs because you have to or you’ll get fat is hard. Taking the stairs because you are young and fit and you can and it provides an obligatory moment in each day for you to remember that works a bit better.We need reminders like Zuskas.

  3. 3
    Stephanie Zvan

    JLK, I haven’t seen it, but I have a friend who would have done just that when she was fighting colorectal cancer. She likes designing PSAs, though. I should mention something along those lines for one of them.Becca, all I can say is that you’re awesome, and I agree heartily.

  4. 4
    Silver Fox

    The thing about health is that it can leave any of us at most any time, which means – like you said – that any of us that have any modicum of health should enjoy it right now. Many people are truly not aware how ephemeral health can be.I think you’re also right that the part about health (v. aging) did get lost a bit in the comments on Zuska’s post (including mine mentioning age, because I can relate to that pretty easily). Her’s was an awesome post, as is yours. Thanks for reminding us about the health issues. I think that the pressures around us to look good and feel good all the time can be extreme. These pressures don’t serve any of us well, and perfection is not attainable by anyone.

  5. 5
    muse142

    I adore your analysis of Zuska’s post. I read the comments and something kept niggling at the back of my mind – you hit it on the head completely.Oh and also, TAG YOU’RE IT.:)

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