The first menstrual cycle is a major moment in any girl’s life but for me it was a sign that I was getting hairier. I have bushy eyebrows and grow hair on almost every part of my body but I believe after my first period, it got a little more noticeable. I am a light-skinned Mexican and unfortunately for my self esteem, the hair on my body is not light. It says “Here I am, look at me!”. When I was in elementary school, I started to experiment with shaving my legs. One time, I cut my knee while in the bathroom at a family gathering at my aunt’s house. I began to only shave my ankles and then I went along with all of my legs. It was my way of experimenting with shaving before doing it all the way.
My leg hair grew almost immediately after being freshly shaved. One time, a boy at school asked me whether I poked my leg with a pen multiple times. He was referring to the dots my growing hair appeared to look like. I was mortified and couldn’t understand why he would ask me that but he wasn’t the only one who would.
I got older and it got more noticeable and my mom and I tried to make it disappear, at least for other people’s eyes. I began wondering if being this hairy was genetic (from my dad) or because of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a hormonal disorder that can cause hirsutism.Hirsutism is when you have thick, coarse, body hair in places women don’t traditionally have thick hair including their face and chest. I learned I had PCOS later in life so when I was younger it was a way of being that I wished would disappear permanently. As Latinas we’re told to not have hair in certain areas but to have beautiful long hair or lashes. Even though icons like Frida Kahlo and her infamous unibrow are praised, it’s not a trait that average Latinas are praised for. It can be exhausting to exist as a woman expected to meet society’s beauty standards, especially when they’re not made to include women of color in general.
I remember trying any and every way to make the hair go away with the help of my mom, both of us internalizing beauty standards while I also resented them. My mom had bleached her arm hair before and I think it was around the 7th grade or 8th grade she asked me if I wanted to try it. I would stand with my arms wide open and let her put the gooey mix on me. It would smell weird and it was itchy but I had to wait long enough for it to work. She would also do my sideburns. At first, I liked having my arm hair blonde but it would grow back quickly. Suddenly, my arm hair was two different colors and people would once again ask me about it and I was again left feeling uncomfortable.
But it got a bit worse. I started to notice hair on my chin, my areolas, my stomach, unknowingly happening due to my yet undiagnosed PCOS. A friend of mine once asked me “Omg why do you have a beard?” I don’t blame her because we were young and I think she was just surprised. After so many years of dealing with questions and my own insecurities about my body hair, my self-esteem worsened. I tried laser hair removal but it got too expensive. My mom used to wax my face almost every week and I pluck it daily. If someone ever gets too close to my face, I worry about what they might notice and what they could be thinking. All because hair on certain parts of our bodies is not deemed pleasant even when it is normal.
I almost always get compliments regarding my eyebrows and my eyelashes. Now, people want thick eyebrows and even pay to mimic the look. Bushy and almost messy eyebrows have become trendy and unibrows have been not only welcomed but encouraged — definitely not something I experienced growing up. It is a relief to see beauty standards evolve and become more inclusive. Especially when it comes to personal choices and sometimes choices one does not make, like myself. I would never ask any of my friends who don’t shave their legs or arm pits why they don’t, it is not my place. I would never want to make someone feel the way I have felt many times.
Body hair is something natural and even though I still do not want hair on my face or on certain parts of my body, I know it does not make me less beautiful or worthy if I have it or not. It can be difficult to embrace parts of yourself you’re forced to hate/dislike. Having PCOS is at times stressful and jarring. There is no cure, but there is medication to manage symptoms including hair growth.
I am currently trying to find a new doctor and learn new ways of managing my hair growth. Currently, I continue to shave my arms and legs almost daily and pluck or wax my face regularly. I do not know if I could ever learn to “love” my body hair but I’m learning how I can live with it.