Gulf spill sickness wrecking lives – Features – Al Jazeera English.


Just like the “crud” experienced by Exxon Valdez spill workers in 1989, people are getting sick in the Gulf.


We are hairy beasts, y’all.  As much as we hate to admit it, as much as it makes us squirm, there’s no way to get around that fact. We belong to a class of animals called Mammalia.* We are mammals, which, just for a little biological review, means that we give birth to live young, we’re warm-blooded, we produce milk, and our bodies are covered with hair. But most of the messages we receive from society teach us to give little acknowledgement to our animal-ness, and many of us are more than a little freaked out at the thought of embracing our natural bodies because to do so requires admitting to the similarities between us and other animals.  We tend to think of ourselves as an utterly unique species, but our mammalian characteristics fly in the face of our separatist tendencies.

Natalie Angier, in Woman: An Intimate Geography, gives a tongue-in-cheek explanation as to why we as a species got the scientific names we did, and she explores why our species was linked to the animal kingdom via the breast, instead of by the other characteristics we share with monkeys, pigs, zebras, polar bears — oh, and beavers:

Zoologists accepted that humans were a type of animal, as uncomfortable as the notion was and remains. A taxon was needed that would link humans and other species. Whatever feature Linnaeus [the father of modern science] chose to highlight as the bond between us and them inevitably would become the synecdoche of our beastliness. All mammals are hairy, but men are hairier than women, so Pilosa wouldn’t do. The structure of the ear is too dull to merit immortalization through nomenclature. The breast, however, has romance and resonance, and best of all, it is most highly articulated in women.  In the same volume in which Linnaeus introduced the term Mammalia, he also gave us our species name, Homo sapiens, man of wisdom, the category distinguishing humans (men) from all other species. “Thus within Linnaean terminology, a female characteristic (the lactating mamma) ties humans to brutes, while a traditionally male characteristic (reason) marks our separateness,” Schiebinger writes. Through zoology and taxonomic reinforcement of woman’s earthiness, rational men found convenient justification for postponing matters of women’s rights until woman’s reason, her sapientia, was fully established (134).

So Linnaeus, as generous and thoughtful as ever, “hog-tied us to other mammals by our possession of teats” (Angier 135). But why not our hair? Having hair is part of our physiology and serves quite a few very useful and needed biological functions. It’s a pretty important part of being a mammal. Hair does great things for us. Hair on our bodies serves as protection, barrier, thermal insulation, as a sensory security system against potentially dangerous crawly things, and last but certainly not least, sensual pleasure.  Hair protects us by absorbing radiation, eyebrows redirect water and sweat away from our eyes, and armpit and pubic hair reduce friction in the closest of quarters.

This makes me wonder: What’s wrong with having hair on our bodies? Why do we spend so much time and energy finding ways to rid ourselves of our hair? How do we compromise our biological systems when we do so?

For starters, caustic chemical treatments cause skin rashes, redness, itchiness, and burning.  Shaving and waxing can cause ingrown hairs, and can irritate the other structures of the skin, causing pH imbalance and skin inflammation, both of which can increase the development of acne and other skin problems.

Hair covers our whole body, every inch of it, except the soles of our feet, the palms of our hands, and our lips. We have hair on the outside of our body, as well at the borderlands between the internal and external body, like the insides of our ears, the lids around our eyes, the inside our nose, and the area surrounding our genitals. It’s all there for a reason. Hair also reminds us, along with the fact that our species bears live children and produces milk, and that our bodies are warmed by our blood, that we are mammals –- that is — we are animals.

If the Fathers of Science classified and positioned breast-barers in a conveniently lower status than non-breast-barers, could claiming and celebrating our hairiness and our place of belonging within the animal kingdom be a way to subvert what science has decreed us to be? Oh yes, I think it could.  Because women are the ones who bare breasts, but both men and women have hair.  We are equal in the biological class Pilosa.

But thanks to Linnaeus’ titillating categorizations, do we as women feel internal pressure to prove our full humanness, our right to claim homo sapien by doing our best to de-emphasize our mammalian characteristics? Waxing our upper lips and shaving our legs are certainly less drastic ways to deny our animalness than voluntary mastectomy.  But less drastic options are nevertheless painful, dangerous, and just plain time-consuming. By our very language, we are forced into a dichotomy—if we are animals we cannot be human and if we are humans, then there’s no way we’re admitting we are animals. Since science historically placed women in this more-animal-than-human category, getting rid of as many visible mammalian characteristics as possible is one way that we can try to “pass” as homo sapien – Men of Reason.  But have we paused to ask ourselves, is that really how we want to self-identify?

Busty ladies are no less human and no less animal than hairy dudes are.  So what is the big freakin’ deal?  We are hairy! We are beasts! Let’s celebrate the power that this fact gives us! I’m not saying that we have to end our hair removal methods and rituals in order to claim this power.  But let’s just pause and ask what’s so scary about being an animal with hair on her body? We don’t have to deny our animal nature in order to have equality with men. But let’s not stop at gender equality. Let us strive for a world that supports respect and appreciation of all living things. Let’s stop seeing humans as superior to the rest of the living world.  Let’s stop thinking we’re better than the hairy ones, the feathered ones, and the scaly ones, because–hello!—we are covered with hair too.

We can celebrate our hair as our membership pass to the rest of the natural world – to give ourselves a sense of belonging in the wondrous and beautiful biotic community we are a part of, whether or not we personally choose to pay attention to it. By accepting and celebrating our animal nature, we suddenly are able to connect to everything around us (the trees, the birds, the river, and the ground that’s underneath the sidewalks we walk) in a way that’s mutually supportive and not from a place that sees nature in opposition to human civilization.  To me, this sounds like a pretty sweet deal.  We have hair because we are animals, and that’s not such a bad thing.

*Just in case you’re wondering, biological taxonomic classification of humans is as follows: Homo sapiens, of the family Homonidae (us and the apes), of the order Primates, of the class Mammalia, of the Phylum Chordata (vertebrates), of the Kingdom Animalia (as opposed to Plantae, Fungi, Protista, or Monera).


How do you feel about your hair? Do you love your locks, or hate them? The top of my head is full of big, loud fiery curls; crazy hair that roars for freedom. However, almost my entire life I have felt the need to tame my mane. Hold it back; smooth it down; confine it with gel, lotion, mouse, pomade, spray; the list goes on. I once even tried to use chap-stick to try to put down the flyaways that just wouldn’t stay–all in the name of beauty. Looking good is a good thing, right? Well, not if it’s killing you.

All the time I was busy sculpting my hair into the perfect do that never stayed anyways, I should have been spent busying myself over what I was putting in my hair and on my body. The average woman applies about 200 manmade chemicals to her hair and body every single day. Sixty percent of those chemicals are sucked directly into our bloodstream, spreading to all of our organs 26 seconds after application[1]. At the age of 24, I potentially have soaked up 1,752,000 synthetic chemicals! Where in Hades did all these manufactured chemicals come from, and how come no one warned me about them?

Remember when you were a kid and you were rummaging around the kitchen cabinets and you found Mr. Yuk all over the colorful bottles of toxic cleaners and roach sprays? Why isn’t our trusty green friend on the back of the all the toxic hair products we find at the store?  Then at least we would remember – “Mr. Yuk means no! Stay away!” All that danger looming in those colorfully deceptive bottles would be rendered powerless. Nevertheless, not only is Mr. Yuk missing from these harmful products, but it seems that even the Food and Drug Administration is knowingly allowing hazardous chemicals to stay in these products – they don’t review or regulate them at all[2]! Seriously people, some of the chemicals that have been allowed into our hair products can damage the brain and nervous systems, induce DNA mutations, and cause breast, ovarian, uterine, and testicular cancer[3]. Folks, listen up: some of these synthetic toxins accumulate in breast tissue and can even move into breast milk, passing this toxicity on to the next generation at birth[4]. And I ask again, where is our friend Mr. Yuk?

Call me radical, but I think it’s bull that we even have these harmful chemicals in our hair products to begin with. I mean, is there no other option? Oh wait, there is a TON of non toxic, non disease-causing hair products out there. The Corvallis First Alternative Co-Op carries several options. Y’all should check out these products: shampoo (Aubrey Organics, Giovanni, Nurture My Body); conditioner (Aubrey Organics, Earthscience, Desert Essence, Goodness Essentials); soap/body wash (Aubrey Organics, Esert Essence); gel (Aubrey Organics, Giovanni); styling wax (Giovanni); mousse (Giovanni); hairspray (Noni Care, Cedar Spring); hair color (Aubrey Organics); shaving lotion (Aubrey Organics); lotion (Aubrey Organics, Goodness Essentials); deodorant (Aubrey Organics).

Since the law prohibits me from sticking Mr. Yuk all over our local stores toxic merchandise, I’ll just share with you some of the worst health offenders: shampoo (John Frieda, Redken, Nexxus); conditioner (Nexxus, Back to Basics, Ojon); hairspray (Sebastian, Jonathan Product); hair color (Colorsilk by Revlon, Clairol Herbal Essences, Creme Of Nature, Superior Preference, LOreal); hair gel/lotion (Biolage, Jonathan Product, Luster’s SCurl, Curl.Life, Got 2b Styltini); styling mousse/foam (Frederic Fekkai, Sexy Hair Concepts)[5]. Check out the toxicity of your hair care at; this is a phenomenal resource that assesses the safety of 55,534 personal care products[6].

Folks, we can create change with every purchase we make, so let’s stop supporting companies that refuse to support us. I won’t hold my voice back; I will not compromise my health for some corporate ass who doesn’t give a fig about me or my sisters and brothers, and you shouldn’t either. We must create the change we want, and if we want to live in a safe, toxic-free world, we must speak out and demand it. Come on, let your mane down and roar with me!!!

[1] “Toxic Essences.” Dudley News, Dudley Sport, Dudley Leisure – From The Dudley News. Newsquest Media Group, 13 Sept. 2008. Web. 21 Apr. 2010. <;.

[2] Guynup, Sharon. “Beautifying Ourselves to Death |” | The Courier | Houma, LA. 13 Feb. 2009. Web. 22 Jan. 2010. <;.

Pierce, Eleanor. “Beauty, Naturally; Get Face-to-face with Your Organic Cosmetic Choices | | The Bulletin.” The Bulletin. BendBulletin, 20 Jan. 2010. Web. 05 Feb. 2010. <;.

[3] “Toxic Essences.” Dudley News, Dudley Sport, Dudley Leisure – From The Dudley News. Newsquest Media Group, 13 Sept. 2008. Web. 21 Apr. 2010. <;.

Guynup, Sharon. “Beautifying Ourselves to Death |” |The Courier |Houma, LA. 13 Feb. 2009. Web. 22 Jan. 2010.<;.

Fitness. “Why You Should Apply Paraben Free Hair Care Products And Skin Care Products.” My Health N’ Fitness. Health Fitness, 7 Sept. 2009. Web. 21 Jan. 2010. <;.

[4] Fimrite, Peter. “Study: Chemicals, Pollutants Found in Newborns.” San Francisco Bay Area — News, Sports, Business, Entertainment, Classifieds: SFGate. San Francisco Chronicle, 03 Dec. 2009. Web. 21 Jan. 2010. <;.

[5] Skin Deep: Cosmetic Safety Database. Environmental Working Group, 2008. Web. 21 Jan. 2010. <;.

[6]“About.” Skin Deep: Cosmetic Safety Database. Environmental Working Group, 2008. Web. 21 Jan. 2010. <;.

Check out this website for excerpts from a wonderful new book by Kathleen Dean Moore: Words of Comfort.

(from Dr. Moore’s website,

Description of Wild Comfort

In an effort to make sense of the deaths in quick succession of several loved ones, Kathleen Dean Moore turned to the comfort of the wild, making a series of solitary excursions into ancient forests, wild rivers, remote deserts, and windswept islands to learn what the environment could teach her in her time of pain. This book is the record of her experience. It’s a stunning collection of carefully observed accounts of her life—tracking otters on the beach, cooking breakfast in the desert, canoeing in a snow squall, wading among migrating salmon in the dark—but it is also a profound meditation on the healing power of nature. In the wonder of the rush of water over rocks, in the joy over the sight of a cougar in a cow field, Moore finds the solace that comes from connection to the natural world, and from that astonishingly intimate connection arise hope and courage, healing and gratitude.

Moore is a respected and important figure among contemporary literary naturalists. Her precise and satisfying prose is a vehicle for evoking the deeper meaning of nature in our lives. “The Earth holds every possibility inside it,” she writes, “and the mystery of transformation, one thing to another. This is the wildest comfort.”

Wild Comfort comes out on March 10, 2010.  Moore is also giving a reading in Portland on March 11, 2010.

Wild Comfort talk at Powell’s on Hawthorne, 7:30 p.m

3723 SE Hawthorne Blvd.

Portland, Oregon

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but I waited to put this post up until the end of the month as a way to remind folks that these issues are always with us.  It’s great that there is a month of concentrated action and attention paid to breast cancer. That being said, let’s not let this problem, and all other issues of environmental pollution’s effects sink back into the murky water of complicated issues that we don’t “have time” to think about.

Who Holds the Mirror?

"A single breast reveals the stories of women with breast cancer to expose the threat of environmental toxins on women's lives."

This traveling mural, called “Who Holds the Mirror” is something that I really wanted to bring to the Earth Democracy conference, but it didn’t work out in time.  It’s one of the most beautiful and comprehensive pieces of art activism I have seen.

Who Holds the Mirror?

"An army of one-breasted women march to raise awareness about breast cancer."

Here is a great article, called “Picturing Breast Cancer,” about the mural from the International Museum of Women.

For more information, visit the website for the mural, at

Um, I don’t know about this. While I agree that climate change is everyone’s issue, so it is necessary to get this issue in the mainstream, I would have thought that folks would see that bribing men with a peep show is not the way to call people to meaningful action.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Supermodels Take It Off For Climate C…“, posted with vodpod


People living near some coal power plant landfills are at a risk for cancer that is two-thousand times higher than federal standards.  Arsenic seeps into the ground water and is seen at levels eighteen times higher than EPA limits. Other folks turn on the tap and the water coming out of the tap smells like cow manure. Twenty million people in the U.S. become ill from water borne bacteria and viruses. Oh, and the New York Times database on water issues is bigger than the EPA’s. Think water is clean and safe in the U.S.? Think again.
Toxic Waters: Regulatory Absence Allows Chemical, Coal and Farm Industries to Pollute US Water Supplies.