The other day after dinner, I leaned back in my chair as far as my eight-month-pregnant body would allow and stretched my arms over my head.
“Ewwww!” my two daughters exclaimed across the table. “What is that dark stuff under your arms??”
Confused, I glanced down and realized that they were referring to some day-old stubble on my underarms, a result of a late-afternoon swim the day before. (Hey, it’s summer right? The old pool-as-a-shower-routine is hard to resist…)
Moms are hairy too
I chuckled a bit and reassured my girls that there was nothing wrong with me. “See how Daddy has hair on his armpits?” I said, gesturing towards my husband. “Moms have that too!”
Two skeptical faces looked back at me. The 6-year-old wasn’t buying it. “No, Mom,” she said. “That’s gross! Girls don’t have hair under their arms!”
Again, I tried to reassure them, pointing out that when they got older they would grow hair under their arms too. They were horrified.
And suddenly, I realized that I was too.
How, at 4 and 6 years old, had they already gotten the impression that hair has no place on a woman’s body?
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Almost my whole adolescent and adult life has been spent in the quest to remove hair from my body. Every day, every trip to the beach spent wondering, “Did I miss a spot?” or pushing my husband away with the excuse that I didn’t shave my legs (again). I once even got extraordinarily excited about winning a laser hair removal system in a blog giveaway. Kardashian hairless body, here I come.
And yes, I realize that men shave too. Shaving your face every day or so can’t be fun, but let’s also be honest — it’s really not the same. I think this professor who offers extra credit to women who forgo shaving their pits might agree with me. Stubble on a guy is sexy, growing hair a sign of manliness, but for a woman?
In the words of my daughters, ewwww.
When puberty beckons
Here’s the thing — I started puberty super early, as did all the women in my family. We’re talking 9 years old early, people. Which I know is awful. And even worse, when I think about the fact that my oldest daughter may only have a few precious years of childhood left, I seriously want to curl up in a ball, suck my thumb and cry. Because the thought that in three short years, she will start the journey to self-loathing of her beautiful little body and question every part of herself?
Is almost too painful to bear.
Right now, I love the complete lack of self-consciousness that my girls have in their bodies. They are so free. The little peach fuzz on their legs, their tangled, matted summer hair, the ability to run around outside in the sprinkler sans-shirt — they have no shame in their bodies whatsoever.
I want to preserve that forever.
But how? How can I show them that their bodies are precious and perfect, just the way they are?
Finding a middle ground
As much as it pains me to say it, I have to admit that the journey to my daughters learning to love their bodies really does begin with me. Maybe learning to laugh at my unshaven armpits at the dinner table is a good start to showing them that women + hair = normal? Or maybe it will take more than that.
Because whether it’s social conditioning or a true personal preference, I confess that I don’t particularly love being super hairy. I feel more beautiful with freshly-shaven legs and I don’t enjoy walking around with armpits that rival my husband’s.
So I’m on a journey to find that middle ground. To show them, before it’s too late, that women’s bodies can do amazing things and that sometimes, those amazing things just might happen to include a little bit of extra hair. That yes, most women shave and I hope that’s a choice they can make for themselves, not because they think there is something wrong with them that needs to be rid of immediately.
And that nothing about their beautiful bodies could ever, ever be shameful.