Would you rather be covered head-to-toe in fur or be smooth in all the right places but have a tail? Framed as a question posed during a Galentine’s Day Party, this is one of the many humorous ways poet Melissa Lozada-Oliva explores the intersections of body hair, race, and American culture. In other words, she writes about what it’s like to be a hairy, non-white girl in the United States. Funny and personal, this collection offers a bold and empowering voice for any woman who understands the struggle with body image.
I snatched up this book because I was pleasantly surprised to find a poet who goes there. You know, the there that’s typically full of icky embarrassment and nobody talks about it because we pretend it’s not there, kind of there. Melissa Lozada-Oliva dives into the deep end with this topic, leaving you in no doubt of how badass she is and that you can feel the same way too. Hair and all.
Overall, I appreciated her relational approach to talking about her body. This collection shows a deep awareness of how her various contexts of family, ethnic heritage, American culture, and politics shape her body and body image. In many ways our bodies can never be completely our own – it’s the product of those who came before us, the people in our lives, and the society in which we live.
Pride in Family & Cultural Heritage
Part of the empowerment in this collection was the pride I read in her poems about her family and cultural heritage. I loved how much she referenced her family, such as in “Origin Regimen” when she talks about her parents. But even memories of family are intertwined with body hair, because it is from her mother she learns how to heat up wax and pull the strips without ripping out the skin.
Broken relationships and messy dynamics can make embracing family difficult at the best of times. As a non-white person trying to find how you fit into American culture, taking pride in your family and origins gets even more complicated. Especially if your origins give you so much body hair! But our bodies refuse to let us ignore where we come from.
remember your body / the body – a land of feelings we’ve been told to cut down / we rip the things we hate / about ourselves out & hope / they grow back weaker / but hair is the only thing that grows / the way things grow in the homeland / which is why we get goosebumps when we hear spanish at the supermarket (p.32-33)
As she continues to reference her family throughout the collection, we see how body hair removal is a core piece of the female relationship dynamics in her family. The women seem to be each other’s harshest critics, such as when her mother states “we can see jor face now.”
Beauty regimens designed to conform us to the standard of whiteness can be seen purely as a form of oppression, even violence against our bodies. But here she reclaims body hair removal as a routine of empowerment that draws women together. In “The Women In My Family Are Bitches” I read a celebration of Latina female power:
it’s okay not to be liked! bitches
on our own til infinity! bitches
the vengeful violent
pissed prissed and polished
lipstick stained on an envelope
i’ll be damned if I’m compliant! bitches (p.20)
I laughed the most with the poems that essentially talked about the struggles of a hairy girl in a culture that values women with smooth, hairless bodies. When she’s at the Galentine’s Day Party I could feel that moment of hilarious isolation when nobody else understands what it means to wage infinite war against body hair in the same way she does. Another poem talked about how her hair gets all over everything, which transforms her into something that “makes white girls scream.”
imagine being as gross as u fear??
imagine the things that shed
from you turning into something
that survives the apocalypse?? (p.17)
Then in “Wolf Girl Suite” she points to the issues of racial representation in the media. It doesn’t escape her notice that the actress who plays the wolf girl has the last name of Sanchez. It seems to confirm your worst fear: that you are the wolf girl. Before this point, you thought that ripping out enough hair could make it otherwise. She embraces the identity of monster, of being the peluda, and it becomes empowering.
While my rebellious (and lazy) self would LOVE to discover my inner Frida Kahlo and let my mustache and eyebrows grow out, that’s not me. Does this mean I need to work on my “self-love?” Am I being totally manipulated by “the male gaze?” I think these poems are saying, “Nope!” We can pluck/shave/wax/string/sugar/laser off our body hair and still be empowered by our body image.
Loving your body doesn’t necessarily entail letting all your body hair grow out. The converse is also true: being hairless doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll love your body. The path to self-love is rarely so straight-forward, and it looks different for everyone. I loved how this collection took us on a personal and messy journey to arrive at that place.
Top 5 Favorite Poems
Honestly, I enjoyed watching videos of her performances more than reading these poems. Most of them couldn’t come fully alive for me until I could hear her inflections and changes in tone. Some of the notation was actually visually distracting for me, such as multiple question marks or writing poems in all-capital letters. But she is a fantastic spoken word poet and I highly recommend listening to her performances. Here are links to my top 5 favorites:
- The Women in My Family Are Bitches
- We Play Would You Rather at the Galentine’s Day Party
- Yosra Strings Off My Mustache Two Days After the Election in a Harvard Square Bathroom
- Mami Says Have You Been Crying
- I’m So Ready
What do you think?
Does the topic gross you out? Are you interested in reading these poems? Did you enjoy them? Let me know in the comments 🙂