He looks at my arms and laughs.
He nudges his friend. They laugh together.
I’m nine years old. I’ve got unfashionable glasses, braces, and hairy arms. Hairy arms, hairy legs, hairy upper lip, hairy knuckles. Fine, fuzzy, girlish hair—not coarse, but jarring to little boys all the same. And I’m old enough to know that hairy girls are not beautiful.
I stand in front of him and pretend I didn’t hear. He knows I heard, of course—that was the point. I’m humiliated, and he knows.
We start to fox trot. That’s what you do at these Upper East Side dancing schools for children. You fox trot.
Finally, the music cuts. Pierre, the lead dancing instructor, cues us to switch partners. Pierre is a parody of himself (his name’s Pierre). I’ve never been happier to hear Pierre.
* * *
I don’t remember his face or his tie or his name, but I remember “they’re hairy.” Those words will follow a girl till she’s a woman, and then still.
“They’re hairy” will follow her, really, till her flesh is no longer torn or bruised or scraped or stretched. Literally. Hair removal is painful. And expensive. But it must be, because hairy girls are not beautiful. So her flesh will always be torn and bruised and scraped and stretched. And she will always feel ugly, at least sometimes, because “they’re hairy” is forever.
* * *
I’m 21 now and wish I didn’t feel prettier with my legs shaved. With my brow threaded. With my upper lip waxed. With my arms hairless, and not long ago, my vagina, too. I wish I could live what I know: that hairy girls are beautiful, if you ask the right person.
Wouldn’t that be nice.
But I live here. Now. And neither my boyfriend nor my best friends nor my mother, with all their wisdom, think hairy girls are beautiful. And, if we’re not talking “theory,” in practice, neither do I. And that hypocritical self-hate is more painful than any lean, hairless American Girl Doll will ever know. Hating your skin for the coat that your god dressed it in. It’s painful.
And then come the tears and the bruises and the scrapes and the stretches. Then come the evidences of that hypocritical self-hate. The proofs of her need to satisfy him. And she has to look at them and cry over them all day. And he has no idea. Or he pretends to have none.
“She’s hairless, naturally, because she’s a Real Woman.”
And then she has to spend her money—the money he spends on pizza and beer—to reopen the tears. The bruises. The scrapes. The stretches.
How many products have we tried. How many “strip-less” creams that promise not to be complicated, but burn us all the same. How many hours have we spent avoiding the bones that will cut our skin if we don’t guide the razor with perfect attention. How many dollars have we drowned to fix what we’d’ve never thought was wrong if no one ever told hairy girls they’re not beautiful. How many?
But oh, how they love the long hair down our backs.