The moment I hit puberty, I remember the birth of my dark, thick, long arm hair. I thought it was unsightly, unattractive and made me look like a monkey. All around me, girls were becoming young women and we were changing. Some of us grew taller, thinner and curvier. Some grew breasts and some didn’t. Very few girls I noticed had arm hair as long as mine. Whether it was my Jewish roots or just my luck, I wasn’t sure, but I felt incredibly self-conscious about it.
From a young age, I was an awkward person with low-self esteem. Since the first grade, I was an easy target for bullying. My strong reaction to being teased made it even more rewarding for my tormentors. Once, when our teacher stepped out of the room, a boy pulled a chair out from under me when I went to sit down after I’d just stood up. I burst into tears. When both the girls and boys called me names, I would get upset and shout at them to leave me alone. At the first sign of meanness, I turned to mush. I didn’t know how to show that they didn’t bother me or pretend I was made of stone. I’ve always been someone who relies on others for recognition and praise.
When I got older and entered teenagerdom, I continued to be bullied, but in a different way. High school bullying is a whole other ballgame. Teenagers, especially girls, use words and whispers to get back at you. It’s much more subtle and cuts deeper. I was never sure if they were whispering and laughing about me or at some inside joke. Luckily, my arms were never a topic they chose. I’m not sure why. Maybe it was because there was nothing about my body that stood out too much as an obvious fault. I was skinny and fairly average looking. Maybe it was because they never got physically close enough to see. Instead, they just stood at a distance judging me. Or maybe it’s because I was so self-conscious and therefore was imagining that I had more hair than there actually was. Either way, it was just another thing I worried about.
However, in high school I started to worry less about my arm hair, and, more about other things. No one else in my class had arms like mine. When I hit puberty, it started to show up more and more. I felt like a freak. It was bad enough I wasn’t well-liked, but now I felt unattractive. Not that I had many prospects to begin with. From age 14-17, I continued to be extremely awkward and self-conscious around boys. I imagined that I would always be alone, always be the girl who liked a boy that only liked her best friend.
During my freshman year, the last period was a time where students attended extracurriculars of their choosing. I chose creative writing, which was led by my male English teacher and a female staff member from the development office. I vividly remember a day that she wore a black three quarter sleeve length shirt paired with a cute patterned skirt. Right away, I noticed that her arms were just as hairy as mine, if not more so. It shocked and thrilled me that I wasn’t the only female person I knew to have such hairy arms. None of my friends or other classmates seemed to have the amount I did. I had felt freakish, as if I was intensely unattractive with this new addition. But catching a glance of Miss Dorman’s arms made me feel more confident in myself. If she was an adult and walked around normally with that amount of hair, then so could I.
When I brought up my concerns to my mother, her suggestion was to bleach it or wax it off if I was so worried. I had seen women bleach their mustaches before. There was a particular brand that came in a teal and pink packaging in a small square box and came with a little scooper. You used the scooper to dig out a white cream and spread it wherever you wanted the hair to become sunkissed and invisible. Though it would be easy to do, the idea of putting bleach on my hair continuously seemed hazardous and tedious. I wouldn’t even consider waxing it off because of the pain factor. I used to have a low pain threshold. It seemed that I couldn’t handle pain emotionally, let alone physically. As women, it seems we’re expected to handle physical pain like it’s no big deal, whether it be child birth, waxing and more. But, when it comes to emotional pain, it’s understood that most women should crumble and be the overemotional woman. But, what was I supposed to do when one was connected to the other? My physical appearance was causing me emotional trauma, thanks to gender norms. The funny thing was that all along, I was teased for other aspects of my personhood, but never my arms. I just expected it to be a part of the bullying package. So, I sucked up the fact that I would have hairy arms and dealt with it.
For a while, I just blocked the arm hair out of my consciousness, pretending that my arms were hairless. But, when I got to college, I started noticing more and more female people with arm hair. Forget arm hair – at my small liberal arts school, there were cis women who walked around with hairy legs and armpits! I was astonished. My arms seemed like nothing in comparison. Coincidentally, this is when I became aware of the feminist movement and became a feminist myself. I realized that the idea I was supposed to be completely hairless like a child was utterly ridiculous. We are all human, if hair grew and I didn’t feel like shaving, waxing or bleaching it off, that should be my own personal choice. To this day, I still wax my legs and arm hair, but I do it because I’ve noticed how much more I smell when my hair is long. It makes me self-conscious and doesn’t feel attractive to me. But it’s my choice now. There are times when I feel lazy or just don’t have time to wax, so I let it grow. I’ve evolved from thinking my arm hair was extremely ugly, to enjoying all my hair, whether it be on my arms, legs or anywhere else. It means I’m alive. I’m human and I’m constantly changing. That’s completely fine with me.