I hate mayonnaise.
I even hate writing out the entire word. I do not own any and I will probably never purchase any. When I was younger and looking into part time jobs, I had to overlook waitressing because of my fear of having to interact with mayo. When the potato salad scandal happened on Kickstarter, and everyone was sharing it, I gagged through weeks of having to repeatedly see pictures of a food item that glistens with mayo. It is totally gross to me, and I hate it.
Having said that, I know that some people like it. Some people really like it. People eat it unabashedly in public…where I can SEE them. It lives next to other beloved condiments at hamburger joints and I am forced to deal with that fact as I internalize my disgust long enough to procure ketchup and mustard. Other people don’t share my extreme dislike of it, and so they go about their lives, their mayo-infused lives, without regard to my preferences, and I have to tolerate that. Because, really, this is my problem. Other people are allowed to like mayo and to eat it. If they aren’t forcibly shoving it into or onto my person, I can’t limit what other people might want to do with their mayo.
My dislike for mayo is a personal inclination that isn’t rooted in logic or humanism. I don’t wish to rid the world of mayo because it is oppressive to other people or because it poses some significant harm to society or the environment. And although I think it is totally revolting, I don’t go around telling other people that I don’t like it when I see them eating it. I don’t talk to my friends about how repugnant someone else is because I saw them eating it. Why? Because this isn’t anyone’s problem by my own.
November recently ended and with it, Movember or “No Shave November”. The American Cancer Society has some awesome information on how to get involved and what it’s all about. Mostly, it is about raising cancer awareness, but for many people, it has become a time to simply abandon shaving for a month. I decided to give it a try!
Setting aside a usual preference for smooth skin, I grew out my armpit hair and my leg hair for one month. Having furry legs as temperatures began to plummet didn’t bother me much at all. Additionally, not having to twist around my growing abdomen to shave my legs was a big plus. We did have a few warm days, however, and I wore shorts to go out and run my normal errands, baring my leg hair for all to see. I would like to say that I felt no trepidation in doing this, but I did fight back some fear over what total strangers would think of my appendage tresses.
The armpit hair was a different story altogether. In wanting to complete my No Shave experience, I fought back the urge to shave it off for an entire month, but I never really liked it. December came, and I made short work of it. However, on the same day that I shaved it, I noticed that one of my friends posted pictures of women with dyed armpit hair on social media, and I considered my razor. I ran through all the reasons I didn’t want to have armpit hair and wondered if having hot pink armpit hair would hold any appeal. I have to admit that it did, if only a little.
In reading the comments associated with the post, I saw several saying, “gross,” or “that’s disgusting,” or “ugh.” These people felt the same way about someone else’s body hair as I felt about mayo, but most of them seemed to think it was the hair owner’s problem and not theirs.
These are the same kinds of reactions I feared when wearing shorts to the grocery store with unshaven legs. My leg hair isn’t hurting anyone, and although people seem to like to cite “cleanliness” when having preferences over how someone else’s body is kept, my leg hair didn’t make me dirtier than anyone else. Whether anyone actually noticed my leg hair, I have no idea, but the fact that I even worried over it is telling.
Of course, I could mention the double standards of grooming, but female body hair isn’t the only thing that is policed by our culture. Standards shift with fashion trends, but men sporting long hair on their heads are also judged as slovenly, lazy, or dirty. It isn’t enough to be reasonably clean and free of anything that might be a hazard to people, such as parasites or communicable diseases. We also have to fit into these arbitrarily designated boxes of what respectable, responsible people look like, and although we can look at these descriptions and realize that they are indeed nonsensical, many of us are still guilty of harboring biases against people that don’t quite “fit in.”
Constructs like racism and classism are enforced in this way. Dressing in any manner that emulates cultures societally deemed as “lesser” are discouraged. “Good” and “proper” men have closely cut hair, shaved or closely-kept facial hair, no piercings or tattoos, and wear their clothes buttoned up, tailored, and minimally accessorized. “Good” and “decent” women wear just the right amount of make-up, dress stylishly and modestly, do not have tattoos, and have up to one piercing in each earlobe. It sounds like the 1950’s, but those ideals still have a hold on what even many liberal people find “acceptable”. You can find the proof in many employee and student dress code manuals for thousands of different companies, schools, and establishments.
And why do they have these dress codes? It isn’t because people with piercings, tattoos, and body hair are morally deficient. Whether someone wants to dye or straighten their hair or leave it natural is really no basis for presuppositions of their character. The fit and cut of someone’s pants is no indicator of their nature, either. We look at each other and we can’t help making these snap judgments against our own personal biases indicating what is “good” or “bad,” or we decide that our personal preferences for ourselves are a standard against which to judge other people. And yet, if you ask someone if they think everyone else being the same would be good, most of them would quickly respond that it isn’t good and that it would be boring or a less colorful world. What they don’t realize is that they are still demanding a certain amount of “sameness” in regards to their personal compass for “normal.”
Many of us have been raised in environments that encouraged scrutiny against deviants daring to venture outside “acceptable normal,” but most of the people reading this are probably deviants themselves. We move our own benchmark for “acceptable normal” and think that is sufficient. While I think there is definitely room for personal preferences, it is time to start challenging ourselves in how we judge others in holding their own. I will never ever like mayo and I probably won’t go too long without shaving my own armpit hair, but I understand that these standards are my own and have no practical application in my perceptions of others. There are friends to be had in the hairy-pitted and mayo-chomping masses, and I won’t miss out on them because of these differences. So the next time you look at someone’s piercings and go down the mental road of almost subconscious condemnation, know that I saw what you put on your sandwich, and we can still be friends.