Hair Blanket, Manatee Wrinkles: Ablelism in Body Positivity & Identity

Content advisory: ableism, internalized fatphobia, pregnancy, body changes, hair
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This is something I wrote for a series of images on my Instagram. It’s been edited and added to for a blog format.
Removing my mass of long hair has revealed new fat features to get acquainted with and learn to love.

Cutting off my hair was, in a lot of ways, cutting off a security blanket. I love the way long hair looks, but because it’s considered standard and traditional for my gender it also was a mitigation of my fatness. Big body, big hair. Too fat to wear dresses that make me feel good for prom, weddings, etc.? Well at least I still can get a wicked updo done for formal events. Long hair is something I always admired on other people, especially (thin) women, and saw those people be admired by someone else. I know that my love of long hair in appearances is related to that initial seed of internalized fatphobia and wishing to be someone else, even though it’s since grown (har har) to include long body hair and beards, probably as a reactionary instinct to that shitty beginning.

Literally a week and a half before I shaved my head I posted about my 2am reflection on how long hair feels “right” as a part of my body image identity. I’ve been thinking about it and part of the reason I shaved my head, subconsciously, is that I’ve been dealing with postpartum depression in myself and my husband, adjusting to new baby, my new body after two kids (yes fat bodies change after pregnancy – shape, ability, and size are all affected) and new place to live. Many things haven’t felt “right” or matching what my previous identity was.

My husband has been grappling with the concept of how our successes and failures in reality are a reflection of our identities. I’ve been thinking about how a lot of body positivity identity relies on latent ableism and non-inclusive reproductive issues – taking pride in your body because of the things it can do. A lot of women with uteruses first visit body positive concepts by being proud of making a baby, or breastfeeding. It’s a heavy and legit thing to be proud of that, but really hard to separate it from the latent or blatant ableism that is the root of many varieties of discrimination; sizeism, racism, sexism and other shitty discriminations all rely on the ableist idea that some bodies are lesser. We’re not body positive in a vacuum and can’t ignore the cultural institutions and internalized ableism that’s inherent in some of the ways we try to get to loving ourselves and making our identity match our physical forms.

It’s all a way to get around or away from the actual difficult work of body positivity – loving the parts of us that have ability issues or no ability attached at all. These are the parts of our bodies that feel prohibitive physically – like fat on our body changing the clothes we wear, organs or joints having chronic pain, breasts or mind being unable to breastfeed, or having gender-based body dysphoria. Or, socially: parts of our body that don’t do anything except exist and get seen. Which means judged by others.

Like manatee wrinkles on the back of your head, double chins, buffalo humps, skin marks, etc. It’s all worthy of being loved.

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