[Note: The content of this post may disturb some readers. Also, I haven’t included all methods of hair removal. Omitted are waxing, sugaring, threading, epilators, electrolysis, lasers, depilatories, drugs, and even sanding. There’s nothing wrong with any of these methods if they work for you. They just happen to be absent from my beauty regimen.]
I am born. According to my mother, I’m a hairy monkey. Sometimes, she assures me and confirmed thirty-four years later by my doctor boyfriend, babies are born covered with hair. Like a monkey. Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny, in my case.
Over the course of the first few months of my life, I complete the human gestation cycle and lose the hair.
Eight years later, when my father is filling out my papers in Canada, he phoneticizes my given Korean name on the official documents as Hairee. Hairee. He is such a kidder.
I’m in Grade 6 and my three best friends and I are convening on the corner of Cherry Post Drive and Corsair Road. I wish I had the minutes to our daily debriefing sessions at Cherry and Corsair. Lori Parker, the preppy blond with an older sister, tells us that you should only shave your legs up to but not including your knees. Otherwise, the hairs on your legs grow back so thick that you can scrub pots with it. She shows us her hairless lower legs and the fine down of blond hair from her knees up.
Lori is convincing. Her mother, I might add, is a teacher at our school.
I don’t shave my legs all the way until high school.
In high school, I go further still. I’ve always hated the hair on my arms. It makes me look like a monkey. I hate summers because I have to wear short sleeves and the whole world can see my vestigial follicle overgrowth. I’ve been told I was born a monkey and so the hair on my arms makes me feel self conscious. If you think I’m exaggerating, I sometimes have to apply conditioner to my arms in the shower to untangle the hair.
Just before I take the blade to the bush on my arms, I hesitate from the memory of what Lori Parker said about the hair growing back as thick and hard as pot scrubbers. What if I trade in my fine, furry arms for toilet scrubbers? The hell with it.
She was wrong. Thank God.
My first foray into tweezing begins with my eyebrows. For the past several months, I’ve been poring over issues of Seventeen, Glamour, Elle, and Cosmopolitan where every month they address hair removal issue. A lot of other girls apparently have hair they want to be rid of and I find this enormously comforting.
When I come out for dinner after a particularly intense session of plucking, my mother is horrified by my Clara Bow impression. I’m not sure if it’s the thinness of them or that it’s just not a very good impression. She forbids me to touch them for the next two weeks to give them a chance to grow in so I don’t look like a chemotherapy patient, a trichotillomaniac, or a silent film star and sex symbol of the Roaring Twenties.
I’m furious. I think I look so much better than before. Forget Clara Bow. I’m Gloria Swanson. “All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.”
Now a word from our sponsor.
It has occured to me that my preoccupation with hair removal as a girl and now a woman is a phenomenon of a partriarchal, sexist culture that means to infantilize and objectify woman, that is, expect me to look as if I have skin as hairless as babes, smooth as children, poreless as marble sculptures. Perhaps. This would be more persuasive had I not been born a monkey.
Also, I see little point in waging a one woman war against cultural expectation of femininity, which includes removing the hairs above the upper lip, arm pits, legs, bikini line, and, even for a while there, the whole vulvar landscape.
Like virtues, no vice, cultural or personal, is absolute. A sexist culture that distinguishes between a man and a woman can sometimes be a good thing. Like not paying for dinner on the first date, talking about my feelings openly to friends, and Victoria’s Secret gift cards for Christmas.
Back to our original programming.
I don’t want to go here, but this report on my history of hair removal would be incomplete at best, chicken at worst, without addressing my continued association with this hair “removal” tool.
I’m supposed to be studying. I am studying: the hair on my forehead. The school picture samples were distributed earlier that day by my Grade 8 teacher and I am alarmed by the hair on my forehead that continues to persist.
Who has hair on their forehead? (Well everyone actually. But at twelve years old, I’m the only girl in the history of the universe with this, this disfigurement.) So much so that their hair line is lowered half an inch? You know what has a shallow forehead? Have you seen a monkey at the zoo?
I’ve held on to the hope that the coat on my forehead, which practically brings my hair line to the supraorbital ridge, might disappear like the long lost hairs from my body since my birth. Or simply recede from my brows to reveal an open epidermal territory symbolic of innocence and intelligence, and allow my third eye a clear view.
I trim it with a nose hair clipper. It makes me look like I’ve glued astro turf on my face. I can’t stand it so I buy some bleach to lighten it. Wanna know what? It works.
It has recently come to my attention that later in life hair stops growing in all the key areas and upkeep gets easier, sometimes even obsolete. This might make aging attractive to some people. I’d rather continue to shave with the support of bathtub railings and no-slip daisy stickers on the tub than age. But more on that in a future post.