So I've been thinking about body image. My body image, specifically, and how it applies to my dear darling dumpling babies. I know that the way that I feel about myself and the way I feel about my body seeps into the minds of my children - mostly subconsciously - and serves as a foundation for the way that they will view themselves in the future.
Why so deep? Because it's easy to think about food and nutrition (as I've been doing off an on in my Sweetgrass blog) and how they affect the body, but even more difficult to assess how ideas of self-image affect the body and the psyche. These ideas may not cause weight gain, but they do affect the way one interacts with the world and as little girls especially are bombarded with images of "beauty" day in and day out, I want my girls to feel confident with who they are as humans and comfortable in their own skin - regardless of weight or color or acne - all of those things which our society puts so much importance on but which are the most difficult to change.
Which brings me, dear reader, to the point where I reveal some shocking (to some of you) news:
I have hairy armpits [gasp!]
(My mother is probably groaning at my revelation of this to the entire world. Hi, momma!)
It all began when I was fresh out of high school. I had started shaving my legs when I was 12 - at summer music camp, because all of the other girls had bare legs and because my mother wasn't there to say "no" - and I hadn't looked back since. I could never quite master the knee area, and usually left the shower to look for bandaids to cover the little nicks that I had made, thereby dripping water and blood all over the bathroom floor in the process. The armpits were worse - I never really cut myself, but they were always itchy bits and sometimes while trying to remove every trace of my dark (almost black) hair, I would shave several of the topmost layers of my skin raw. It was, dear reader, not as glamorous as the magazines touted, and I could never get my legs to quite forget that hair grew there.
The worst part, though, was that, despite all of my efforts, it always grew back. I would get maybe one good day of hairlessness, but by the second day, I'd be stubbly. It was an exercise in futility.
So there I was, out of high school and embarking on a Baha'i year of service in Minnesota. Exposed to nine other souls who each had different viewpoints and life stories, and we would all impress our ideas and struggles upon each other in some way as we traveled the central states over the course of the next year. I was ripe for change and hungry for new views.
In our travels, I recall stumbling upon the idea that shaving - which at that point was one of my greatest nemeses - originated in Roman times, as a means whereby the wives of pedophilic aristocrats (which may have been almost everyone, according to some accounts) could please their husbands by emulating the nudeness (meaning hairlessness) of young boys. Regardless of the validity of this claim, it certainly made an impression. No way was I going to cater to the fancies of some old fat Roman guy. Ick.
Here was my out - I could turn my dislike of shaving into a political statement, thereby winning "cool points" from all the deep thinkers among my peers. Except in any large social gathering. Then I would have to shave, to save myself the embarrassment of explaining this entire story, or being compared against other girls, which is the prime pursuit of every young person, male and female alike. The boys do it to see which girl they like best, and the girls do it to see which of their compatriots they need to trump to win the favor of the boy they prefer. Good lord, what a complicated mess.
Fast-forward to my almost-married self - confident and hairy, and assured that the affection of my husband was not contingent upon my lack or presence of body hair, which I was very good at growing. Those of you who are entirely fair or entirely dark may not appreciate this, but I was in one of the worst predicaments - pale skin and dark body hair do not a model make! I had embraced my creation, and appreciated this aspect of my nature. However, the night before my wedding, I recall an interaction where I raised an unshorn arm to stretch and the friends in my presence raised eyebrows and exchanges glances. I felt belittled and embarrassed. The next morning, I got up early, pilfered a disposable razor, and shaved.
Thus began my sordid and complicated affair with my razor. If I shave, there are fewer "points off" in the beauty contest. If I don't, I feel better about myself. To a point. I still can't reconcile the ideas of beauty and body hair.
When I began this post, I thought that, by the end, I would reached some epiphany, wherein all would be made clear and I would be able to proudly declare myself either hairy or hairless. But, like all things in life, there's a bit of confusion and compromise.
I suppose it is best summed up by Ms. India Arie in one of my favorite songs, which starts something like this:
"Sometimes I shave my legs and sometimes I don't..."