Playing Left Field

When I imagined sharing updates on the body hair situation I fully expected those updates would be negative experiences. Any and all updates. It did not occur to me that I would have anything positive to share. Maybe some success of my own making; my own progress or work or breakthroughs. But positive reactions from other people? Nope, didn’t expect that. It happened just yesterday and I still don’t expect it. I mean, to happen again.

And this is telling. Because I imagine people are reacting negatively to my public display of unshaven body hair on a daily basis. Mind you, I have no evidence of this whatsoever. I am fully flaunting my hair now and no one has said a word to me about it. No one has allowed me to overhear a word about it. But I still default to the belief that it’s happening on the daily. In my mind my body hair is suddenly the center of universe anytime I’m in public.

When I saw two men pass a note in a meeting and then immediately shred the note, I assumed it was about my legs.

When I tried to strike up a conversation with a woman I thought I recognized at the park, she blew me off sarcastically. I assumed it was because of my legs. Or my pits; I was showing both that day.

A woman sitting near me at a tennis match with a sour face? Disgusted by my legs. Her companion preoccupied with his phone? Texting someone or tweeting about my legs.

Two people whispering? It’s about my legs. A forced plastic smile on someone’s face? It’s because of my legs. Or pits. You get it.

Among the thousands of perceived slights and snarks and side-eye inspections I encounter as I move through life — all of which might have any number of causes — I imagine they are ALL about my body hair. The number of people I think might be admiring me or even envious? None.

Hence my surprise when it happened. And I don’t mean lascivious jerks with a fetish. I mean folks from my inner circle who volunteered positive comments, and who don’t typically need to lie to me or flatter me. And this is why I was so stunned, because I have grown accustomed to silence (or at least non-verbal feedback) on the subject from people. Especially from people who love and support me; they’re too nice to be anything other than silent but to vocalize positivity on the subject? Unprompted and unprovoked? Left field, y’all.

Sitting in a knee-length skirt with my legs crossed lady-like, at least 75% of my legs were available for viewing. I got up from my seat to get a beverage and a 20-something man says without a trace of sexual overtone:

“I dig the hairy legs.”

Assuming he was joking I joked back:

(Laugh) “You’re the only one.”

Honesty in his face, he replied:

“No, really. Hairy legs are where it’s at. Rock on.”

This fellow has no history of false flattery. No reason to patronize me. My spidey-sense indicated he was telling the truth. And I had no idea how to handle this. Do I dare accept this compliment and allow myself its pleasure?

And then the ridiculousness that I would consider not accepting it, as if I don’t deserve the pleasure. Or that my rebelliousness cancels out my entitlement to the pleasure of being admired. When did I secretly decide that a consequence of refusing to remove my body hair is automatic unworthiness? Women who do this don’t get be or feel complimented. I established this myth as gospel without realizing it. The fuckery of this rang. my. bell. Internalized misogyny, welcome to the conversation.

Later the same day I shared a meal with people. Round table. I was wearing a strappy summer blouse. Halter-style and flowy. I reached for the salt and a 30-something woman to my left exclaimed:

“Oh wow. I finally got to see the armpit hair.”

I froze as her comment settled across the table and all six diners were struck simultaneously mute. Then I protectively slammed my arms tight to my sides and apologized:

“I’m sorry. I forgot.”

I meant that I forgot I was wearing a strappy top and I regretted the exposure because folks might not want to look at my hairy armpits why they are eating. But I also meant I was sorry if I had grossed anyone out.

Again, the auto-surrender to grossness as my default state. Dammit. And even though I rationalized the apology as being about the blouse, wasn’t I also apologizing for being gross? Ick. Ack. I think I was. Not cool.

She countered my apology with:

“I think it’s awesome. Don’t ever apologize for that. It’s amazing.”

Gulp. What do I say? How ’bout something stupider than an apology?

(Shrug) “Yeah. It’s blonde.”

Ugh. Ouch. You’re welcome to join me in a cringe. This is internalized body hierarchy at its finest. Blonde body hair is NOT less objectionable than any other color, and yet here I was offering it as a qualifier. Knee-jerk quick-draw smooth move to exercise my privilege. I still can’t believe I said it. Definitely stupider.

Everyone at the table stared at me. I floundered internally, arms still welded to my sides, the need for salt forsaken. My brain was overloaded with conflict so I eked out:

“I feel really self-conscious about it right now.”

She said:

“Well, I think it’s great. Be proud of it.”

Like the fellow earlier in the day, it was obvious she was being sincere. And in spite of all my social and emotional wellness work to date, I did not know how to handle it. I’m still baffled by my reactions. I thought I was proud of it but I am only talking the talk in the relative safety of a blog. I haven’t yet learned how to do it in public, much less walk the walk.

The walk wherein I deserve sincere compliments about my body hair and I am capable of graciously receiving them. Without apologizing for it. Without the instinct to duck and cover. Without self-inflicted body terrorism. Without caveats rooted in body rankings. So far I’ve only learned to discuss it defensively. I am utterly deficient in the ability to discuss it as a celebrant. So there is still a lot of work to do here and I’ve just gotten a lesson in which work is going to serve me better. I can practice popping off comebacks to folks who aren’t making negative comments just in case they do, or I can practice taking a compliment about something I think no one in their right mind would compliment.

Well played, Universe. I’m on it. If you’re looking for me later I’ll be out in left field. Working on my game.

— Mercy

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