Monday, 30 March 2009

Daring to be different

Here at The Hand Mirror, we've given quite a bit of attention to Paul Henry's obnoxious comments about Stephanie Mills of Greenpeace and her physical appearance. I won't rehash what has been said but have decided to take a slightly different tact and write about what it is like to be different.

Most people don't know I live with a physical deformity. Why would they? I'm tall, reasonably slender and have all my limbs. I run half marathons and go to the gym. I have a beauty regime where I spend far too much time not to mention money on, shaving, waxing, make up and hair cuts. But underneath I know that I would still be seen as a freak of nature by people like Paul Henry. The accepted wisdom in fashion circles is that if you've got it, flaunt it, if you don't well then you best cover it up.

So cover it up I do.

I don't own any v-neck tops, bikinis, halter neck dresses or well anything that might give anyone indication that things aren't quite right with my chest. However you can't fool all the people all the time and thus shopping for bras is my own special form of hell. It's in the changing room that I can't hide that my sternum (breastbone) doesn't look like most people's, its buckled inwards creating a fist-sized hole.

I suppose in many ways I'm lucky from the poor blokes who also are blessed with a disfigured chest insofar as I've at least got a pair of breasts to cover most of the damn thing up. To the untrained eye I look like I was blessed with a far more generous cleavage rather than cursed with a physical disfigurement. But I've had a lifetime of reminders many of which have not been so friendly that I'm not normal. Finding a bra where my left breast doesn't fall into the hole is downright impossible so I'm stuck with finding 'sort of fits' and sometimes I've left a store without purchase because of stupid comments I've received from idiot saleswomen over the years.

But what the does all this have to do with Stephanie Mills's upper lip? Well if a little bit of facial hair is seen as legitimate excuse to express disgust and ridicule what the hell would Henry et al make of people like me who have to live with something far worse?

I'm pretty sure I'd get some rather nasty comments after which they'd probably tell me to get fixed.

Well by golly I wish I had thought of that.

I've spent years on waiting lists but so far our public health system is none too keen on funding a $30,000 operation on something that isn't lethal. And as for the private system no insurance policy in the land covers the condition because the condition is congenital, the very definition of a pre-existing condition. And although I'm now at the point where I could pay for the procedure out of pocket right now, there'd be months of agony involved and a large chance the correction could fail because my bones are simply too old to be bent back into shape.

But before I get accused of throwing myself a pity party, I've long since given up any hope of having normal chest and have accepted that these are the cards I've been dealt in life. Through my teen years and early twenties I thought I had been dealt a pretty shitty hand, but now that I'm honing in on 30 I've realized that my chest is an in-built 'asshole alert' that has served me well throughout my dating life. Those who choose the low route get kicked to the kurb because they were obviously an asshole in 'nice guy' clothing while those who accepted or better yet found something kinky to do with my weird chest get the reward of spending time with me. I'm not going to pretend there haven't been times where I've been rejected because of my weird chest and I have no doubt that I have been the star of many humorous one night stand stories. However I feel strongly that who I am crosses many roles, and my self-confidence is not wrapped up in being someone's girlfriend.

But sometimes I feel like I'm fighting a losing battle.

Girls and women are taught practically from birth to compete viciously with each other regarding appearance, as if physical attributes are the only traits we should value and treasure about ourselves or other females. Which makes Henry's comments even more depressing as they really are a small drop in a rather large ocean. But I like to think that this makes the Stephanie Mills of this world even more important than her detractors ever will be. They dare to be different because they choose to which in turn makes things a little easier for those of us who don't get much choice in the matter.


stargazer said...

thanx so much for sharing this. i bet every one of us has something we feel we have to hide just to avoid the general nastiness of people who seem to think it's brave to be unPC. brave how exactly, i don't know. as if people with any kind of disability or deformity or different skin colour or whatever haven't been mocked since the world began.

the environment we currently live in makes it really difficult to feel comfortable with your physical appearance, and i'm really glad that you've reached that place. i think i'm still working on it!

Julie said...

Bravo the e-e :-)

backin15 said...

EE, like stargazer and Julie, I want to thank you for your very personal story.

I suspect many many people would point to some way in which they don't conform to a stereotypical physical norm - myself included - and react with dismay at Henry's outburst. He's an offensive oaf, moreso for being incapable of recognising his comments were well out of line. His judgments are small-minded. I get that your post is not a pity-party, but rather a way of making the point that none of us should suffer the shallowmindedness of fools like Henry. Again, thanks for your post.

Cactus Kate said...


Comparing this complex and expensive deformity you have been born with and that of a simple houstache that can be removed for the cost of a piece of wax is over the top.

Unlike your condition the ho' is very easy and cheap to fix. Wax and/or shave.

Julie said...

Why should anyone have to wax or shave to make you happy?

Lyndab said...

cactus kate,

seriously? Facial hair is not something that needs fixing. I might be wrong but the fact that women like Stephanie don't believe it is something 'to fix' shows that there are strong independent women who don't feel the need to alter there appearances for the approval of men.

Great to see women are jumping on Paul Henry's bandwagon too.

Really sad

Cactus Kate said...

"strong independent women who don't feel the need to alter there appearances for the approval of men".

But a group of women writing this blog and others who claim they are strong and independent continue this debate all flustered about what one otherwise completely unusual man said about a woman with facial hair.

A woman who in the end actually doesn't actually care what he thinks of her!


It appears only Mills on the 'left wing" side knows the true meaning of modern feminism....not giving a s**t about what others think or say about you.

Cactus Kate said...

"Why should anyone have to wax or shave to make you happy?"

Julie - any man who wants my serious attention has to. I find all facial hair to be utterly disturbing.

Why should a woman be any different?

stargazer said...

Julie - any man who wants my serious attention has to. I find all facial hair to be utterly disturbing.

so you wouldn't take on any male client with facial hair? you'd refuse to take his money and do his legal work for him, and then you would publicly ridicule him in his absence? how long would you expect to keep your job if you behaved like that?

ms mills was not interested in going out with paul henry, she wasn't on the show to get mr henry's "serious attention". she was there as a spokesperson, putting information out to the public on an important topic. mr henry's job, in that context, was to talk to her about the issue. we're talking about a professional workplace interaction here, not your bedroom preferences.

backin15 said...

Cactus and I are almost certainly never going to agree on much and here's another example. She wants to impose her fashion sense on everyone and misses the point that her slavish fadism is her obsession, not everyone's. Irony, yeah, irony for someone who professes a love of individualism.

toad said...

For another take on this topic, bring on Catherine Delahunty and the Scrotum Shrivellers!

James said...

..."A woman who in the end actually doesn't actually care what he thinks of her!


It appears only Mills on the 'left wing" side knows the true meaning of modern feminism....not giving a s**t about what others think or say about you."

Once agin Cactus Kate hands the wannnbes a lesson in real feminism....did anyone learn something?

backin15 said...

James, declaring a victory in a discussion such as this is plain silly. You think Kate's right, that's your view, but showing up as a self-appointed judge only works when others take you seriously... you gettit?

notafeminist said...

Cactus Kate says that modern feminism is about not giving a shit about what other people think or say about you. Apparently, sufficient evidence that those at the Hand Mirror are incompetent at understanding this basic concept is the fact that they dare to call someone out for misogyny, on a feminist blog.

Basically, if you wanted to be a real feminist, you'd shut up about Paul Henry because you wouldn't care. Can't say I agree much with that, because I don't remember the last time feminism achieved much by sitting down and shutting up.

Furthermore, she says that men have the same criteria for appearance (at least concerning facial hair) that women do. As in, Mark Sainsbury would get mocked and ridiculed equally as much as a woman with facial hair. Firstly, this is clearly nonsense. Secondly, 'what about teh menz' is a pretty tired line. "Why should women be any different" - as if women ever have the upper hand in situations concerning appearance.

I probably can't put it better than Queen of Thorns at Ideologically Impure:

"Why the FUCK does Stephanie Mills owe you wankers a hair-free upper lip?"

Cactus Kate said...


None of my clients have facial hair. None. Facial hair is now not a sign of strength and masculinity but of professional scruffiness.


Individualism means I will voice an opinion and if someone berates me for example not having facial hair I will laugh and ignore them because I don't care. Just like I do with 99% of your trolling.


"As in, Mark Sainsbury would get mocked and ridiculed equally as much as a woman with facial hair".

Excuse me but the man is KNOWN for the mo'. If he shaved it off you can guarantee every damn gossip column and commentator would have an opinion.

And there is a huge difference between a) sitting down and shutting up like good little girls and b) ignoring something because you are better than that and genuinely could not give a toss as it is not worth getting upset over.

Learn that difference (like Mills has) and you will live happier lives and perhaps genuine feminist argument would be listened to and taken more seriously by others rather than laughed off as more noise from "those damn feminists".

backin15 said...

Cactus, individualism also means respecting others' rights, it may even mean eschewing judgment. Henry's imposed his standards on others, had it been racist or sexist or homophobic, it'd be no different. It's not complex, I think you're confusing your agreement with his behaviour with a broader point of principle.

Br3nda of said...

good post - I'm a freak too - all the interesting people are - I couldn't stand being a perfect barbie doll - it would be no fun at all.

truth is, I don't give a flying fuck what Paul Henry thinks - he can think it all he likes, and he can tell his friends and family and every private circle of buddies -- but when he says it on national television, over and over, then it's important to state that behaviour is completely inappropriate.

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