For better or for worse, I’ve embraced my Eastern European gift of hairiness. In fact, my relationship and consequent confrontation with hair on varying terrains across my body has definitely earned me gold membership into this special club. It’s a love hate relationship really. I love that my healthy hair grows fast and thick, but obviously the problem is said hair does not remain on head only.
Over the years, I’ve enjoyed a sit-com season’s-worth of hair-related episodes. In retrospect they’re hilarious, but I was definitely crying at some points and blushing at others. I wonder how I’d feel about unwanted hair if had I grown up in Europe, where my hair was actually born. But in America, in the late 80s, when I was in junior high school in Staten Island, it was not glamorous to be hairy and I had enough to contend with as a Soviet immigrant; I could not decide to go hippie chic au natural route.
Junior high school is really when I started my battle against the unwanted hair. Between the unibrow, the mustache (lets stop pussyfooting around by calling it upper lip hair), the leg hair, and the bikini line, this was a full-time grooming job for a new teenager. As the cherry on top, biology deemed this a perfectly acceptable time to commence bleeding from the vagina once a month. Junior high school girls have it rough.
As soon as I could, I starting experimenting with the standard battery of products, commencing with the gateway drug of hair removal: hair bleach. This wasn’t technically even removal at all, but a camouflage. The Jolen Cream Bleach came in its recognizable turquoise box complete with assembly instructions to mix the white powder with included plastic spatula and then spackle it on your face. It smelled like bleach, probably because it was bleach and I felt like I was mixing crack. Not the result I desired. Next up was Nair, another toxic choice. I was amazed at how it dissolved the hair on top of my skin but somehow never melted my under-skin. Also, when the hair grew back, it was coarse, like a man’s. Finally I settled on the classic razor. For legs only.
For the mustache, I would surrender to the wax, but I hated it every time. The first wax lady of my life really scarred me. As she applied the hot wax to my lip, blowing on it careful not to burn me, she kept shaking her head saying, in a heavy Russian accent, “So much hair. You have so much hair.”
By 8th grade, I was exhausted from a full year of shaving; how do women possibly deal with this? My best friend and I decided to take a stab at one of those in-home waxing kits, only what did we know about strips and heating and cooling and holding the skin taut and direction of hair growth? Lets just say it was definitely not fair she had to go first and we learned too little too late how the wax should NOT cool off before trying to rip it off your legs. Instead we ended up breaking it off her calfs and shins, bit by bit, and it fell like peanut brittle all over our fancy step-up bathtub. Every time we took a chunk of wax off, we ripped off a few of her hairs at a time. This was slow-motion hair extraction torture worse than epilady.
But before I could graduate to high school, I was schooled about what was worse even than a unibrow or a mustache: nipple hair. Ironically the Hair Gods spared me for this one. Is there a rule where you can’t get both a unibrow and nipple hair? A rumor quickly circulated around school. One of the most popular girls, a cheerleader, got to second base and the boy discovered her nipple hair and told everyone about it. Horror! Imagine an 8th grade boy got to second base with a cheerleader and what he took away from it was a few nipple hairs.
Even still, I held court at my nipples, making sure if ever one erupted, I would be there armed with this club’s holy grail, the tweezer. I have achieved mastery in the art and science of tweezing; there is technique to contend with involving direction of hair growth, command of steel, and hair grip.
Later in college when I starting getting more of myself waxed (it was the 90s!), I would apologize, as I stood on all fours in front of this strange wax lady, for my hairiness. “Oh honey, you are not so bad,” one said, this time in a heavy Spanish accent. “Sometimes I need to use two times as many strips,” she said and I left feeling better, lighter and more confident the subsequent times I had to assume my place on the table.
Recently my husband and I were discussing my hairiness and he laughed at me. “Oh honey, you’re not so hairy at all. You don’t even have nipple hair! You’re just medium hairy.”
“What’s with the obsession with nipple hair?” I ask him, recounting the story about the junior high school cheerleader whose reputation was RUINED by nipple hair.
“What do you mean?” he asked. “I don’t like it. It’s not supposed to be there and it makes me uncomfortable.”
He completely related to the 8th grader who goes to second base.
“That happened to me,” he confessed.
“The girl had nipple hair when you were in junior high school?” I asked.
“Yes. We were both very young and she probably didn’t know what to do with it but it caught me off guard.”
“So wait a minute. How hairy were these nipples seriously? Like three hairs?”
“They were really long.”
“Three hairs? There were three thin little hairs on her nipples and it impacted you for life?”
He’s nodding his head. “They were three LONG hairs and they were on each nipple. But there was another time.”
I love this man and thank goodness I do not have nipple hair. He continues.
“I hooked up with this one girl in college and she had more. At least SIX hairs around EACH nipple. I just couldn’t get past it. But like ten years later, you wouldn’t believe it, I reconnect with the nipple girl from college and we hook up again, and the hairs WERE ALL STILL THERE. THE SAME ONES! I gave her a pass the first time because obviously she was in college, she was just learning. But to be in your late twenties and still to walk around as a sexually active single person in the city and have nipple hair like that? It’s too manly.”
As the clock struck 40 last year and my hair got its gray summons, I wondered if my unibrow hairs would be close behind. I had envisioned a day when maybe a daily tweezing wouldn’t be required. Maybe gray in the unibrow would like biology’s peace offering, a bleach alternative. But no, those wiry hairs are as black and thick as ever.
I’ve heard of women who naturally don’t have any hair on their legs. They always giggle when they admit this, because women without hair giggle. Hairy women such as myself guffaw or crack up or get hysterical – but we don’t giggle. Also, I’ve collected all the positive rhetoric proudly; such as hairy women have better sex – or are better in bed – than their less hairy counterparts.
For most, as we get older, our hair starts to thin out and fall out, ending closer to where we started. The problem with this analogy is according to my mother, I was born with fuzz on my shoulders, arms, and back, just like a little monkey. What does this mean for my hair destiny, my follicle future? I don’t know, but my tweezer and I will be ready.