Like most girls, from a young age I was keenly aware that beauty was the ultimate goal, all my favorite princesses were fair skinned with no visible hair and I watched my grandma and mother wax arms, legs, eyebrows and upper lips religiously. In elementary school the boys in my classes always made sure to let all the girls know what type of bodies they thought were “pretty,” they would point at my hairy legs and make faces. When I was nine I took my mothers razor and did my best to shave my legs – it was a bloody mess and I got in trouble. But I never felt so beautiful and confident in my shorts and from then on I learned to press firmly but gentle enough that I didn’t break the skin.
The next to go were my eyebrows. When I was 11, I was terrified of having a unibrow because everyone seemed to universally agree that it was “ugly” so I began plucking away, eyes watering, skin pink, bleeding, and swollen. At 12 I started waxing my lip because a boy in my class teased my “mustache” saying it was “gross.” I still remember the pain and the edges where the wax burned my skin and left me red for days. I marveled at the strip covered in my peach fuzz and when I complained that my face hurt my Grandma told me “pain is beauty.” Of course, I believed her. At 15 I started shaving my arms, which I told myself was for swim team but it was really because someone had pointed out how furry they were. I continued shaving them into my 20’s.
Then, when I was 25 – eating Thai food after a night out – a silly conversation made me realize I’d been hairless for more than a decade for reasons which I couldn’t explain or justify. I was mad at how much money I’d spent on razors and for how long I’d been uncomfortably living with ripping my hair follicles out, razor burn and painful ingrown hairs, without ever questioning why. It struck me that I’d never really known my own body in its natural state for fear of being considered “gross” or “ugly,” which is absolutely insane. In 2012 I grew out my pubic hair for the first time in my life and it sounds so stupid to say, but it felt empowering to just let myself exist without freaking out over stubble or “looking bad.”
Surprisingly enough embracing my body hair isn’t actually about the hair – I still pluck what’s left of my eyebrows, wax my lip and shave from time to time much in the same way I straighten my curly hair when I want to mix it up. For me it’s been really about saying “no” to the forces that have determined that my body is designed for and must always be presented for male pleasure. It’s an issue that, for women of color can be both gendered and racial. I don’t have to tell you Latinas are hypersexualized and have the tendency to be “peludas” thanks to centuries of conquistador rape – but that’s a whole different thing to deal with.
My body hair journey has also been about embracing my heritage and my autonomy. I could not even handle how much discomfort I put my prepubescent body through in the name of European beauty standards and men’s sexual preferences. I actually had an ex-boyfriend who demanded that I wax my butthole because it was “gross.” I said “okay, you first.” As you can imagine he did not take me up on my offer. Today I think the reception has shifted, just a few years ago I’d say the overall disgust was real, today it seems like women’s body hair gets mixed reviews. But there are still hundreds of women who are body/hair positive and the comments left on their Instagram accounts are filled with obscenities. Because ridiculously enough, we live in a world where women can get death threats for having armpit hair.
When I told my boyfriend I was writing about the topic of body hair he said “pues, what is there to say? That’s your body.” When I asked him what he thought about my body hair he seemed confused, “why would I have anything to say about it?” to which I responded, “you’d be surprised.” Honestly, it was annoying that I even felt the need to ask him because I’m so used to catering what I look like to what men find attractive. In the end, I’ve accepted that I’m the only person who decided what is right for me –not commercials of women shaving their already hairless legs, not photoshopped images of perfect bumpless bikini lines and definitely not the old adage that beauty is pain. Because if we’re honest, pain is only involved when we’re forcing ourselves to be what we’re not.