by Patrice Calise
When I was a little girl, I wanted to be one of the boys. No shock there: I grew up in a house with four older brothers, our parents, and several male dogs. My brothers got to run bare-chested in the heat of South Florida summers while I was encumbered with a full t-shirt and eventually (horribly) a bra. (I’d tried walking through the house without a t-shirt when I was 11. It didn’t end well).
My brothers just never seemed bothered by their bodies because nobody ever seemed to be observing them. Perhaps this was because they weren’t developing breasts and curves, an immediate invitation to be teased and humiliated (i.e. training bras tossed into ceiling fans so that they could slingshot across the room).
God, I wanted to be like them.
Instead, I got a body that morphed in weird ways, a lesson in female anatomy that everybody could see and everybody seemed to have a stake in. After puberty, there was no going back to comfortable androgyny. A girl’s life it would be.
It was a life inaugurated by comments from the opposite sex about how I should “do” femininity. Case in point: junior high school gym class. I was still sporting a glorious coat of thick, black leg hair to complement my gym shorts. My square-dancing partner couldn’t take his eyes off my fur or squelch his disgust.
That night, I caved. I decided I had to “girl up.” I told my dad about my troubles and he grinned.
“You’ll always be the ‘Gorilla my dreams’,” he said.
I had to admit, it was pretty funny—and he made up for his insensitivity by teaching me how to shave my legs as I perched on the edge of the bathtub. Then just like that—as Lou Reed says—I went from unacceptably he to properly she.
But that wasn’t the end of it. When I spotted my first chin hair, I knew the cycle was starting all over again. That debut shook even my own capacious sense of femininity.
Chin hair on a woman is not like leg or pit hair. Choosing not to eradicate it doesn’t just make you “crunchy”: it makes you less feminine. Beards are the domain of masculinity–hence the power of face fuzz to decimate womanliness in a single patch of stubble.
It’s not only the male gaze sending me into a shame spiral this time. I’ve witnessed female friends laughing at women who tweeze their chin hairs at stoplights. (Guilty. Where else can you get such good natural light?). They laugh because chin hairs on women are gross, because they are shameful, and getting rid of them should happen behind closed doors at all costs.
If unshaven legs were a bridge too far for me, then undisturbed chin hairs are well beyond the last outpost of femininity. Yet the better part of me understands that sporting chin hair is not my body going wrong.
Girls get hairy. It’s part of our mammalian nature.
It’s part of femininity.
But it’s not exactly what I meant when I said I wanted to be just one of the boys.
After a period of guerilla teaching stints at institutions of higher education, Patrice Calise spends her time contemplating new material for her blog on poetry and literature, writing content for Shmoop.com, and laboring over her novel-in-progress, Sparrow at the Window. She is a dropout of the prestigious doctoral program in English at the University of Virginia and an actual graduate of the Creative Writing program at Florida State University.Share this post with your friends.