Me and the dead skin cells that leave my body to form long, thick, dark strands have never really gotten along.
In other words, I have a complicated relationship with my hair. All of it: underarm, pubic, legs, and toes. Even the gentle wisps of hair that grow on my upper lip—the ones that my friends and family say don’t look like a moustache. At some point or another, I’ve hated all of it.
Let’s start at the beginning. I have always been a hairy person. Well, maybe not a hairy person, but a hairy girl. When I was little, (like 5), I had long, thick, dark hair that I wore in a pretty severe side part would cover half my face. Looking at photos of myself now, I recognize that I was adorable as hell, but at the time, I hated it so much I decided to get bangs to try to take some of the bulk out of the way. That was the first time I tried to lessen the impact my persistent, strong, unrelenting hair had on my image.
When I was 12 or 13, and had just started competitively figure skating, my coach took myself and my mother aside one day and told me something would need to be done about eyebrows.
At that point, I had never really been aware of my eyebrows. I vaguely remember thinking they were a little thick, but I didn’t ever consider doing anything about it. But my skating coach’s word was law, so off I went to the salon to have the little black hairs above my eyes forcefully removed via hot wax.
I got them done a couple times, and quickly became obsessed with having smaller and smaller eyebrows. I am not unique in this. You will not believe how many stories female friends and acquaintances have told me over the years, (while complimenting my now-lush brows), about whittling their eyebrows down to nothing out of insecurity only to have them never grow back.
Managing my unruly leg hair has been a lifelong battle. In Grade 7 or 8, when girls start to become self-aware of their hairy legs, and want to appear smooth and hairless for 13 year-old boys (AKA the objects of our desire), my mom started me off waxing. She has waxed her legs for years, and loves it so much she thought I would, too. Turns out, she was wrong. But what I hated more than the pain of having my leg hair ripped out of its follicle was having to wait two weeks in between appointments, and letting my hair slowly* grow in during that time, while my friends showed up to school with smooth legs every day, thanks to their razors. So, I switched to shaving, and shaved my legs almost every day, or at least every other day, until university.
*I did not think this was a slow process. The day after getting waxed I would examine my legs, searching for the first few hairs to poke through so I could hate them.
But my friends wouldn’t have to shave that much. They would come to school with smooth, porcelain legs, every day for a week, and only have to shave once during that time. I couldn’t keep up with them. Rather, their hairs couldn’t keep up with mine, which I sometimes thought might have some sort of growth hormone or whatever.
Then there was…down there.
Bikinis were a struggle. I was so self-conscious about my curlies that I would sometimes shave immediately before going swimming. (FYI—freshly shaved skin in a chlorine pool doesn’t feel great.)
If bikinis were bad, encounters with boys were infinitely worse. No one had ever told me what to do with all that hair down there, except for one boy who told me** I should have shaved for him. Since then, I was under the impression that a bald pussy was the way to go. So I did it. It wasn’t at all for myself, but for others, and it was a regrettable life choice. If you are a woman who has shaved the entirety of your pubes, I don’t have to tell you that it was uncomfortable at the best of times.
**For some reason males have this incredible ability to tell women what they should do with their bodies. At this point in time, I hadn’t learned to reject it quite yet.
Fast forward to this year.
My thick-ass brows have come into style and are now one of my biggest assets. I pluck them myself, sparingly, but mostly I let them run wild.
Since the summer, I have cut off all my head hair, and stopped shaving. Everything. It helps that it’s winter, and I don’t have to worry about wearing shorts or skirts. I’m not really sure what’s going to happen come spring, when I do. But for now, I am trying to let myself embrace the hair that has so defiantly persevered over the years. Plus, I get an extra dose of warmth on those -20 days.
It’s not easy. I still often self-shame myself about my body hair, and I’ve learned that going completely the other way and letting things run wild can be uncomfortable, too. (I have trimmed things a bit now and again, but haven’t gone completely hairless). And it helps that I’m surrounded by people who love and embrace my body hair because they love and embrace me, in all my hairy glory.
For many feminists, growing out body hair can be about body politics, and taking a subtle stand against feminine beauty standards. Other say that is all a load of BS, because what does growing out your hair actually accomplish for the movement?
For me, it’s about being comfortable with my natural state. It’s about those around me being comfortable with it, too. And, it’s about overcoming a deep-seated insecurity that has been with me since I was a little girl.
I am a hairy woman. I am one of many. If this makes you uncomfortable, you can just think of me as a cute furry animal. Or not, but the garden that grows on my body isn’t really your business, is it?