The Importance of Being Hairless - My Enduring War Against Body Hair
Did you ever take an oath with your bestie as a kid? You know, the kind that usually involves blood or spit or - at the very least - a solemn incantation spoken in hushed, ardent tones? Ok, well I have an adult version of that with my good friend, Af. The terms of our oath: that if either of us is (god forbid, knock on wood) hospitalized/put on bedrest/otherwise immobilized, the other will take it upon herself to visit regularly and maintain a strict regimen of bodily landscaping, and by that I mean the fastidious removal of body hair.
This inviolable pledge came into being when we discovered early in our friendship nearly a decade ago that we both live in mortal fear of being discovered for the tragically hirsute individuals we are, and the painstaking measures we take to conceal that reality. It all started when we attended a wedding back in 2009; while queuing up at the bar, Af turned to me with a look of somber gravity and murmured, “Can you see my chest hairs?” I didn’t even think twice, because I understood. I gave her décolletage a thorough inspection, looked her soberly in her giant, probing eyes, and assured her she was clear for uninhibited mingling. It was at this point that we exchanged that “you, too??” expression which usually accompanies the discovery of a kindred spirit. Now with cocktails in hand, we launched into a gleeful sharing of our litany of hair woes and spent the next half hour exchanging our sordid history of failures and mishaps (as one does at a wedding).
If you’re sitting there thinking, “Seriously? Dramatic much?” you’re clearly not someone who’s ever had to deal with an overabundance of unwanted body hair. I remember as far back as elementary school being acutely aware that the adorable peach fuzz that encased my entire body was swiftly evolving into something darker, coarser, and much more sinister. By the time I hit middle school I was a full-blown wolverine, and the metamorphoses was made 10 times worse by the fact that my mom FORBADE ME TO SHAVE. She believed that if I did, the hair would grow back even thicker and denser, so I was forced to spend my formative years hiding beneath pants and shirts with sleeves long enough to conceal my armpits in a country where the heat & humidity of summer were positively oppressive. To add insult to injury, puberty hit like a ton of bricks, so I was basically a furry cesspool of emotions.
I’d had enough of this by high school, and as teenage defiance kicked in I began covertly shaving so I could finally prove to my friends that I had actual human limbs. It was liberating at first, but I quickly came to realize that I needed to shave very frequently in order to maintain any semblance of normalcy. My shame and secrecy was exacerbated by having a mother, sister, and four best friends who are all full-Korean and therefore have never had to shave a day in their lives. They walk through the world ready to spring into a swimsuit at a moment’s notice while my swarthy Italian genes demand a rigorous, thorough, and systematic plan of follicular eradication.
And that’s one of the things that’s plagued me the most about being hairy: the impossibility of spontaneity. I’ve always had to plan days in advance of any activity that required the baring of skin: dates, jaunts to the beach with friends, vacations, heat waves, doctor’s appointments, you name it. Legs & underarms had to be shaved, bikini area waxed, brows threaded, face bleached, miscellaneous errant hairs plucked, etc. It’s a whole freaking thing. To try to assuage the cost of these services I’ve tried every DIY method under the sun: depilatory creams, sugaring, pumice stones, turmeric & milk solutions, drugstore wax strips, at-home electrolysis, oatmeal & honey pastes, epilators (devices that mechanically grasp multiple hairs simultaneously and pull them out…it feels as good as it sounds). These were all met with varying levels of success but ultimately never solved the issue for any satisfying length of time.
It’s been a lifelong battle waged against an enemy that only seems to multiply and get bolder with age. After I had my daughters and my hormones went haywire, I was dismayed to discover that the problem only worsened. I began finding alarmingly hardy hairs in locations they had no place being, like along my jawline and in the no-man’s-land between my neck & chin. What. The. Hell. The discovery of the first of these wayward bastards was doubly humiliating because it was made by my husband on an otherwise perfect day. There we were, enjoying a picnic in the grass with our brand new baby, when all of a sudden Mike chuckled, “Heh heh, you have a Daisy hair on your forehead,” and he reached over to affectionately pluck what he thought was our dog’s fur from my skin, only to find that it was anchored in there like a narwhal horn. Eyes stinging, I scrabbled for a mirror and was horrified to see, glinting in the afternoon sun, a half-inch-long, baby-fine hair wafting gently in the breeze, right in the center of my forehead. I tried to yank it out with brute force, but my fingernails just scraped the length of the silky strand and curled it like Christmas ribbon. Mike bit back laughter and patted my hand soothingly while I tried to gather the tattered remains of my dignity.
Though he found it a highly amusing bit of frivolity, that moment actually hit a nerve, because I’ve had actual nightmares about being stranded on a deserted island with my husband. Not because of the hopelessness of the situation, not because of the isolation or even being faced with the need to call upon my very questionable survival skills, but because I would have to witness his horror as I rapidly morphed into a wildebeest before his very eyes. To be honest, the reading of this blog entry will be his first inkling of what actually lurks beneath the surface of his well-groomed wife. And he’ll know that that forehead hair was just the tip of a very hairy iceberg.
Since then, sightings of that nature have become a regular occurrence. A few months ago I found a particularly robust chin hair while sampling lipsticks at Sephora, and I called my sister in the middle of her workday to hiss into my cupped phone-hand that I was turning into some sort of shaggy wizard at the tender age of 41. She laughed, thinking it was hyperbole for comedic effect, until I texted her a photo of the hair and she wrote back a simple but effective “omg.” And really it can’t be anything but a downward spiral from here. Some day soon I’ll find hair sprouting from my ears or crossing the borders of my nostrils like a creeping vine, and I’ll know it’s only a short matter of time before I look like this:
Faced with this horrific inevitability, I finally bit the bullet and recently shelled out the considerable expense for laser hair removal on my legs, bikini line, and underarms. It’s been life-changing. The process didn’t eliminate the hair in those areas completely, but it’s grown back sparser and fine enough that dealing with it isn’t nearly the Herculean task it used to be. I can get away with shaving every week or two, as opposed to once or even twice a day (a necessity pre-laser if I wanted to remain silky smooth). The sense of liberation I feel at being able to approach my wardrobe without having to calculate exposure is indescribable.
But alas…from the neck up is a different story. Unfortunately I’m “not a candidate” for laser hair removal on my face, owing to the fact that my complexion is darker and the hairs lighter. So the war rages on as I continue to tame my increasingly bushy eyebrows, to manage the ever-present layer of down on my face, and to seek and destroy the darker upper lip & chin/jaw hairs that, if left to their own devices, would assemble themselves into a very convincing facsimile of Tony Stark’s iconic goatee.
Lamenting one’s own hairiness to this extent may sound inane, but it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that it’s been a source of embarrassment and insecurity for the better part of my life. I wish I were brave or unselfconscious enough to be one of those women who bucks convention and flies in the face of societal expectation by letting it all hang out (or grow out, as the case may be) but I am not. I’m either too eager to please or too vain to present my true woolly self to the masses. I’d like to think that by the time I hit a respectably ripe old age I’ll be sufficiently out of f***s to give and proudly wear the mantle of “Eccentric Elderly Lady.” I’ll wear outlandish outfits, say things like “scram” while waving my walking stick at the ankles of idle youngsters, and finally take on my true form, like a lovable old alpaca. Until then, the battle persists…