Growing up a hairy girl

I vividly remember sitting at my desk during a sixth-grade science class, daydreaming about what was for lunch that day, when out of nowhere I felt a pair of eyes burning into the right side of my face. I looked to the right, and into the eyes of the boy who sat next to me — Jake. I wanted to ask why he was staring so intently at the side of my face, but instead I awkwardly smiled. We made eye contact for a few moments until he broke the silence by saying “You have hair on your cheeks!” before breaking into hysterical, prepubescent boy laughter.

That was the exact moment that I became aware of, and uncomfortable with, the hair that naturally grows all over my body. Up until that point, I had never really paid much attention to my sideburns or the hair on my arms, armpits, legs, and pretty much everywhere else. I had not thought to compare myself to the other girls in my class who were seemingly less hairy.

I went home in tears that day, and immediately asked my mother if there was something wrong with me. She lovingly tried to pacify me by explaining that sideburns are perfectly normal, and that every hair on my body — from the top of my head to the top of my toes — was perfectly normal, that all humans grow hair no matter their gender.

My mother’s love, kind words, and wisdom appeased me in that moment. All the same, I soon came to realize that even my own mother was not as hairy as I was. I take after my very hairy Honduran father and could not help but compare myself to my mother and my girlfriends at school. I would often look at my chin hairs in the mirror and think they made me ugly.

It is immensely exhausting to constantly try to reverse something your body does naturally and over which you have no control. Fighting this insecurity felt like I was waging a never-ending uphill battle with weights on my shoulders. As time went on, it became difficult for me to look people in the eye when I was talking to them, out of the fear that they might notice the hair on my face. I became more reserved, quieter. I was the girl who sat in the back corner seat in class, blending into the crowd, making myself invisible for fear of being ridiculed.

Eventually, I begged my mom to let me shave my legs. She told me doing so would require tedious maintenance, but I didn’t care. All I wanted was to feel “normal.” After many moons of begging her to buy me a razor, she finally gave in. I remember the moment I finally passed that razor across my leg — seeing the hair shaved off, watching myself suddenly go from undesirable to what I thought was acceptable. Soon I was shaving everything — my legs, my happy trail, my armpits — everything.

Soon enough, though, I found my mother was right: The magic of finally being able to get rid of what I was conditioned to think was so ugly about me became not only tedious but also painful. I can’t tell you how many nicks, cuts, burns, and, worst of all, ingrown hairs I ended up getting from all the shaving and depilatory creams. I began to look in the mirror and ask myself, Who am I really trying to impress? I’m the one going through all of this pain, but for what? For who? So I can be desirable to men? Accepted by other women?

The turning point came one day not too long ago when I absentmindedly forgot to shave my armpits before going to the beach. I’d shaven everything else, but for some strange reason I’d neglected to shave under my arms. My sister, a handful of strangers, and I were playing a rousing game of volleyball, when, a few minutes into the game, my sister pulled me aside to tell me my bushy pits had been on display for everyone to see.

I remember the heat of embarrassment that rose from the pit of my stomach to my face. I forced myself to look up and see if anyone around us had noticed but, to my surprise, nobody cared. I really thought the sight of my armpit hair would have made everyone stop and go home, but no; everyone just kept playing volleyball. I raised my arm to serve for the rest of the afternoon without one uncivil or impolite comment to ruin my vibe. It was an amazing feeling.

Slowly but surely, I started shaving, waxing, and plucking less. I started wearing tank tops with unshaven armpits and shorts with hairy legs. I live in South Florida, so I have the luxury of doing this practically every day. While I still get stares, furrowed brows, and even the passive-aggressive comments like “looks like someone forgot to shave,” at my core I now know that it shouldn’t matter to them. I finally realized that I was still beautiful — that I am beautiful, naturally — with hair, and that I have the right to love myself the way my body naturally is, no matter what anybody else has to say about it. It was something that my mother had always seen in me and told me, but it took me so long to realize and embrace.

From our body shape and weight to our hair, style, makeup, and beyond, women are constantly bombarded with unattainable beauty standards. It feels like our bodies are endlessly poked and prodded, like we’re supposed to be perfect through and through. I used to follow these standards, but now, thankfully, I can say that I am comfortable in my skin. The journey to self-love has been a long one, but I now believe that no one has the right to tell me I should modify my body.

Women are not dolls. We’re humans, and we should be loved and accepted no matter how much (or how little) hair we have.

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