NOTE: This post is part of the Beauty of a Woman BlogFest VI! To read more entries, and potentially win a fun prize, visit the fest page on August’s McLaughlin’s site between today and 11pm PST March 11th.
In 4th grade, I liked a boy named Johnny. I brought him fresh tangerines and chased him around the playground at recess. One night, I penned him a handwritten note asking if we could maybe go roller-skating together sometime.
The next morning I stuck the note in his cubby right before we stood to recite The Pledge of Allegiance. That afternoon, Johnny stood among the other boys in our grade and motioned for me to come over. My heart thumping in my chest, I trotted to his side.
At one point, he crouched down to retie the laces on his sneakers, and I was surprised when he touched my ankle. Standing up, he inched closer to me. I was certain he was going to kiss me right then and there, in front of everyone.
It was going to be awesome.
“You’re hairy,“ Johnny announced. “I don’t like hairy girls.”
When I got home from school that afternoon, I found my father’s razor and used it to shave my legs.
And my arms.
And my armpits.
I didn’t even have peach fuzz under my arms, you know, because I was nine years old.
Still, I shaved there all the same.
Just in case.
The threat of spending my life alone and unloved sounded worse than a death sentence.
• • •
Years later, someone I loved told me that he wanted a woman who didn’t burp, fart, sweat or have any hair on her body, except on her head. I laughed and told him that wasn’t a woman; that was a doll.
When he expressed a preference for women who were “smooth down there,” I decided it was time for laser hair removal.
I remember the technician’s rose-colored safety goggles, her gloved hand squeezing my inner thigh.
“I hope you’re not doing this for a man,” she said to my crotch.
At the time, I believed I was doing it for myself.
But it was a lie.
• • •
A few years ago, my friend Eric invited a few people to his parents’ cottage to celebrate his birthday. It was warm, and everyone was lounging around in some state of undress. At some point, Eric’s girlfriend – let’s call her Jenn — announced she was going in the water and stepped out of her long skirt.
Jenn had a lot going on down there.
Dark hair came out of both sides of her bikini bottom.
I’d never seen that much hair on a woman, especially coming from parts I’d been taught were private.
“Gross,” my husband hissed in my ear. “That’s just gross.”
• • •
After my divorce, I took a lover. I was terrified the first time we were intimate. I kept waiting for him to criticize something about my physical appearance. But he didn’t. He made happy sounds when we kissed. He twirled my curls around his fingers, bit my thighs, and told me my body was beautiful.
At first, I didn’t believe him.
But, over time, I realized he was telling the truth, and I wept for all my years of not-knowing.
• • •
As a young girl growing up during the 1970s and 80s, I watched enough episodes of Charlie’s Angels to know that Jill, Kelly and Kate had pretty faces and slim figures. When they wore their tiny bathing suits, they did not have any superfluous body hair.
As a result, I’ve spent a large portion of my life tweezing and plucking and waxing and sugaring, believing that female body hair is unsightly and disgusting.
I see now how all of us, men and women alike, are impacted by this culture’s unrealistic portrayal of women. Women are not hairless; neither are we all long and lean.
I‘ve done many things to attract a lover.
I’ve primped and preened. I’ve told jokes and laughed at their bad ones. I’ve pretended to be interested when, in reality, I was bored. I’ve put myself on a diet, done things that I didn’t really want to do.
When you strip away all the layers, the truth is that I’ve been worrying about everyone else’s opinion of me since I was in elementary school.
• • •
Sometimes, I wish I had a chance to go back to my 4th grade self, to that day Johnny teased me in front of the boys. Instead of internalizing his criticism, I imagine myself moving closer to him, rubbing one of my hairy legs against his.
I would laugh at him and tell him that his ideas about shaving are ludicrous, remind him that human beings are mammals and that mammals have hair on their bodies.
That the messages in the movies, and TV, from friends and family and strangers, are nonsense.
That I don’t exist for his fulfillment.
I would wish him well, hope one day he might meet a woman who loves herself so much that his opinion about body hair might change, that in her arms he might have the chance to know a boundless and intoxicating love.
Afterwards, I would make my way home.
There, in the privacy of my own bedroom, I’d inspect my arms and my legs and deicide I’m good enough ‘as is’.
Instead of seeing myself as defective, I’d be resilient enough to know that one person’s opinion didn’t have to become my truth.
And instead of running for a razor, I’d walk into the kitchen and eat one of the many tangerines I’d been wasting on boys like Johnny.
What do you think about superfluous hair? Gross? Sexy? No big whoop? Feel free to share your funny stories here. I won’t tell anyone. Probably.
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