When I was in second grade, I watched a classmate get shamed for having a visible mustache. I had one too but it wasn’t as noticeable because my skin was darker than hers.
I tried standing up for her but backed off when the bullies started laughing at me too.
This incident sparked me to become hyper-aware of any hair I had on my body: fingers, hands, arms, underarms, etc. I became equally conscious about the hair on other girls’ bodies. I wouldn’t say that I judged them for having it. Instead, I felt sorry for them because I had grown to believe that body hair was something to be ashamed of.
This stigma reinforced itself as I continued through school. When I was in sixth grade, a boy in my class thought that bullying me about my body hair was an acceptable way to flirt. I was already acutely aware of my hair and the bullying, aggravated further by inaccurate media portrayals of hairless women as desirable, only made my self-esteem plummet more.
On TV, cartoons and live-action alike, all women and girls are portrayed as hairless, pushing an unnatural body type to not only be the ideal but also the norm. There were never any women depicted with hair unless they were being portrayed as dirty or unkempt. This negative image of a natural phenomenon manifested itself in middle school and again in high school as my self-esteem took several hits due to increased bullying.
In seventh grade, I invested in Smooth Away, a hair removal pad that files down hair when used in circular motions. I only felt confident enough to show my legs when the hair was gone, thanks to Smooth Away.
My male peers showered me with compliments for having such smooth legs and would touch them all the time. While I didn’t like to be touched, I did, however, like knowing that I had somehow distinguished myself from the dirty, hairy girls.
Growing up, I was surrounded by women who treated body hair like a dirty little secret. I never saw my mother with body hair — it was barely noticeable anyway due to her blonde hair and fair skin. My best friend in high school never showed her legs if they weren’t silky smooth.
When I came to college, I saw women who didn’t let men bully them into hairlessness. They also didn’t let other women shame them into removing their body hair either. I saw them wearing tank tops, shorts and short skirts with more than stubble on their bodies.
I would be lying if I said I didn’t judge them. It was easier to stand behind the majority than to stand with the minority. In the past, every time I had stood up for myself and other girls with body hair, I had ended up making the situation worse. It was easier for me to remain silent than to stand up for those being bullied. Looking back now, I am ashamed of some of the choices I made to save myself from bullying.
In a bid to become more comfortable with my leg hair, I would wear cropped pants that would expose my unshaven shins. Despite trying my best to stay calm, I would always be really embarrassed even though the people around me couldn’t care less about my leg hair.
When working as a summer camp counselor this past summer, I did not shave for the whole six-week-long program. I worked with girls who had a lot of arm and leg hair, and they were confident and unapologetic about it. Being surrounded by so many confident women further motivated me to leave my hair woes behind.
Having body hair doesn’t make me feel ugly, disgusting or less feminine anymore. I have learned to embrace it, thanks to a positive environment where the women around me take pride in the decisions they make and are willing to defend themselves against the pressure to conform.
Hair removal has become a choice that I make based on what I want and what makes me comfortable. I try hard to not let myself feel pressured to be a naked mole-rat, despite the media continuously pushing this unachievable standard down women’s throats.
At the end of the day, self-confidence is the most attractive feature a person can have.