Let’s talk about body hair.
No? You don’t want to? Show yourself out, because this has to be done.
This weekend is the unofficial start of summer, and along with mosquito bites, sticky popsicle hands, and waving around miniature American flags, the most pressing issue affecting our future is the amount of flesh we’re collectively about to expose to the outside air, and thus the redistribution of hair wealth that will need to occur. This can also be viewed as the 1% who don’t struggle with removing body hair vs. the 99% who want to be the 1%. See also: Occupy Wax Street.
I won’t even get into the societal pressures on women to be hairless: that’s been done. No, we’re skipping right past that in the interest of time. Instead, I wanted to share my long journey with body hair, and how I’ve made relative peace along the bumpy road (pun intended) – in case you struggle with the same hairiness and the onset of summer poses a similar threat.
I am a White person. This is my official designation on the census and the box I fill out when completing surveys to try and win a free iPad. But if I’m being accurate as to the color of my skin, I’m less an actual crayon color than a shade on the phantom spectrum. As a See-Through person with near-black hair, I cannot hide the five-o’clock shadow that appears on my legs and underarms at noon the same day I shave. A noon-o’clock shadow. The hairs rise like the goosebumps on chicken skin, only less tasty.
Hatred toward my hair started early. At 11, I took a good look at my underarm pits and determined that they were socially unacceptable. I was attending a Bible summer camp, where Jesus was portrayed in pictures as a blue-eyed member of the Allman Brothers band. My prepubescent friends let me know that, no matter how much Jesus loved me and this I knowed, he frowned upon whatever was sprouting in the nooks and crannies of my sinful flesh. Hair was the devil incarnate, and I was about to learn how to weed him out.
At 11-1/2, I decided, against my mother’s wishes, to use a razor on the fine brown hairs that started growing on my armpits and legs. This started me on the pathway to futility: trying to rid myself of something that would always grow back despite my best efforts. In fact, I only made the hair seem stronger, darker, richer. What was once a light down of fur became wave after wave of black menace. Once I started shaving, I couldn’t stop. Like T-1000 in Terminator 2 or those sex-switching dinosaurs in Jurassic Park or even Jeff Goldblum’s lips in Jurassic Park, life finds a way. If you think about it, shaving sent me down the destructive path that has led to this very article.
At 15, I used Nair/Neet/Veet/Sally Hansen hair remover for the first time. This is a fancy chemical mixture that poses as a lotion. It promises to smell like roses and wash away like soapsuds, but it’s made from the ground-up dreams of ad executives and smells like your sense of dignity is burning. Also, if you leave it on too long, you turn into Dr. Manhattan. And I used it on my eyebrows. MY EYEBROWS. Why didn’t Jesus stop me? He was too busy working on his album. Instead of taking on the saucy, arched shape I had desired, my eyebrows turned a delightful rosy hue and resembled a staircase. I went to school and a classmate asked me if I had gone a little overboard plucking them, and I sniffed, “No, it’s just the way I slept on them.” Well, my pillow continued to attack my face every night until they grew back in several weeks later. That was my story, anyway.
In college and after, I decided that waxing was the real answer to all of my problems. I’m venturing into stereotype territory here, but if an Eastern European women with strong arms advises you to keep rice hidden in an oil drum in your basement in case the government rations you, you should think twice about letting her apply hot wax to your skin and then subsequently letting her rip it off. This is a woman for whom life has been hard, and she does not suffer trite indignities such as when you almost faint after she rips the hair out from behind your knees. In Mother Russia, hair waxes you. I don’t even know what that means, but it makes sense when you’re delirious from pain. Waxing proved an effective hair removal method, but it was expensive, and – like shaving – was a continuous process. I was ready to get rid of my hair altogether. That led me to…
In my late 20s, after acquiring a steady job, I had heard about this fabulous invention wherein qualified individuals take a pulsed light to your skin and literally burn off/close your hair follicles. It’s called laser hair removal. And it seemed like a miracle of the modern age. It’s one of those inventions where you say to yourself, “I’m so glad I was born now, and not in the 1700s, like I wanted to be after I read Pride and Prejudice!” No way. Lizzy had Mr. Darcy but also hairy legs, I’m sure. The laser itself feels no worse than a rubber band snapping against your skin. But the smell – the smell. Let me tell you, it smelled like the devil farted. And I had to wear goggles to protect my eyes from the laser, because it’s that serious. After the eighth session just for my underarms (yeah, eight), I had spent all of my 401K money (no, just kidding – the government did that during the bank bailout) and couldn’t sit through another sulfurous session. So, I stopped.
And finally, now in my 30s, here I am. Hairy in some places still, patchy in others, and returning to the hair removal method of my pre-teens: the razor. When I shave. Sometimes I do, and sometimes I just let it go. Because after all of these years and all of the hair removal methods I’ve tried, there’s something satisfying about relinquishing control when it comes to making my body conform to something it is not. I am not hairless. And I have tried to be. I don’t know if it’s age, maturity, or that I’m tired of fighting it. Whether by design or by accident of the universe, some of us simply have a heavier coat than others. I count myself among them.
Today, as I was visiting with my brother and his family – my niece and nephew – watching them play in their backyard pool, I had an itch on my leg and felt a patch I had missed shaving. In another time, I might have become very self-conscious and tried all sorts of methods to hide it – crossing my legs a particular way, stretching my skirt over it. But with the sun shining and my nephew wanting to climb onto my lap, it didn’t seem worth it. The amount of hair I did or did not have on my leg meant so little. So I let the hairy patch stand, and went and played instead.