Growing Softer

I run a hand along my calf to feel the difference. Raising my arms above my head, I notice the dark patch between my arm and torso. A new portrait of myself: bare face, stretched belly, hairy legs and underarms. More roundness, less symmetry.

My son crawls up to me as I dress for the day, catches my eye in the mirror, and smiles his two-toothed grin. Arriving at my feet, he reaches out and gently rests a hand on my leg for support as he wobbly stands. The months have flown, my hair has grown, but my fuzzy shins cause my baby boy no offense. As I scoop him up and he wraps my neck with his arms, I realize again the many levels of my life he has reformed.

Because of my son, I have made the intentional choice to let my body hair grow. I could half-joke and say the reason is that I no longer have time to shave in the shower. The real reason is that, when I thought about why I did, I could not convincingly say it was because I wanted to. When the day comes that, instead of babbling sweetly, he offers a question about my choices, I want to answer him with honesty.

I remember the embarrassment and shame I once felt as a young woman when signs of maturation first sprouted. The hair on my legs was a glowering advertisement that I was not yet allowed to shave, physically and emotionally caught between stages of adolescence. The hair on my underarms was a bitter annoyance as, drawing a blade across delicate skin, I felt the sting of shearing unsightly evidence of womanhood. Like menstruation’s secret rhythm of moods and months, hair removal was a private ritual that punctuated my weeks and demanded investments of time, money, and energy. Whether or not I had shaved dictated my clothing choices, my confidence, and my sense of acceptability. Rather than an initiation into womanhood, I felt hair removal to be a necessary burden in the business of becoming a woman.

According to one British survey, women spend 72 days and $10,000 shaving over a lifetime. I could craft feminist arguments on the origins of this beauty regimen, capitalism’s perpetuation of the practice for profit, or the political statement made by shaving, or not shaving, or being a conscious person and still choosing to shave. I am not interested in making an argument, but in making my life a reflection of truth for a small human whose inquisitive eyes will see beyond smooth skin and shallow defenses. It may seem silly, but this concrete preoccupation is one of my many. What other ways do I conduct my life according to thoughtless conformity?

This whole-self alteration is harder than lathering up lotion and grabbing a razor. It means that, when I slipped on my first skirt of the season, I had to relive the awkwardness of adolescence all over again. Will anyone notice my leg hair? It sounds shallow and self-absorbed, but it was real. Then, of course, I saw it was unreal. No one noticed or, if they did, it did not matter. The practice of bearing my body just as it is requires that I find ways to look at myself as beautiful without mediation. I must take control of my opinion of my appearance, the way I spend my money, the matters to which I give my hours. What will I do with 72 days and $10,000? with a newfound authenticity?

By letting go of this cumbersome ritual, I am discovering the value of being less polished and more vulnerable. In my son’s smiling eyes, I am painted in motherhood’s media: more pastel than pen-and-ink, less like a sculpture chiseled from blades but more like a molded clay figure – earthy and honest, a figure growing softer for the sake of living truthfully.