Blonde, ragged hair trailed down my naked back as I left the house shirtless once again. I shoved off hard on my bike and into the long, straight street ahead of me, eager to create the whirl of wind in my ears. It was the end of summer and the air was filled with ladybugs. I swerved through the speckled light as I stood tall atop the pedals, coasting in and out of the shade provided by tall, swaying pines. I was 8.
That year I would hit a bump in the road and knock out half of my left, front tooth on my handlebars. That year my mom would give me a haircut with bangs and I would leadingly ask everyone I met if they thought I looked like Aurora. That year I would walk backward together with the neighbor-boy, dragging our feet as we danced to Michael Jackson... his dad would overhear me saying there were dead bodies in the vacation rental across the street, and promptly send me home. I was a little kid, carefree, with big ideas and an abundant imagination- and by the beginning of the following year, I would be wasting my time trying to mimic what the world told me a girl should be.
As autumn approached, my mom and step-dad would get divorced. We three girls would lose our home. Poverty would push us into the arms of anyone who would take us. And I would lose myself pretending that I was an orphan like Annie, escaping my woes through song and dance; placing all my hopes on magic and miracles.
Just before the weather turned cold, my sister and I were sent out on our bikes to the last place we had couch-surfed, in an attempt to collect our forgotten winter clothes. We could make it safely there by taking the back roads and staying off the main street.We retraced the same route on our way back; plastic shopping bags filled with coats and pants, banging against the tires as we pedaled hard uphill. Panting heavily at the top of a particularly steep hill, with a long distance still to go, I resolved to feel that freedom from worry again. I wanted all those simple moments back, I wanted to feel the ladybugs pelting against my face, as I tore through that dappled light, making my own wind. I shoved off. Pedaling fast.
“Emily… Emily Stop! You better stop!! I’m going to tell!! ...Emily!!”
My sister's cries became a murmur as gravity pulled me faster towards the quiet intersection at the bottom. The trees blocked any oncoming traffic from around the corner, but it didn’t matter. I was wind and light and I never even slowed down. If danger existed, I would narrowly escape it. Nothing could stop me.
And then a truck ran me over.
A concussion later, with a cast that ran clean from the top of my thigh to the tip of my toe, my mom stood beside the hospital bed recalling how I had eyeballed a girl with crutches just one week before. “I wish I had crutches” were the careless words that had left my lips.
Now I lie awake in my sleeping bag, an incessant itch behind my unreachable knee; my ankle bruised on my good leg from each bump against the tough, white exterior of the cast. I relearn to sit, and pee, and bathe and it feels like the damn thing is on for years, even though it is only a few months. My mom can’t say no and allows me to go swimming with the thing on, and afterward, the mildew stench creeping up from the dark confines of my leg are revolting. Coat hangers become my best friend, as I push the bent wire down between my irritated skin and the cast.
Finally, the doctor cuts it off. I am horrified to find my leg shriveled. Curly black hairs have evasively strangled out the blond. I can’t stand the way it looks. I am not Aurora. I am a monster with a skinny, smelly, hairy twig of a leg. That night in the bath, I shave off all of my leg hair. The clouded soup of bath water laps around me. My removed hair hangs on the inside of the white tub. No one can know how gross this is. I just need to be like everybody else. But my leg hair never stops growing back black, and so I begin the social conformity of shaving off my own body hair, before the age of 10.
Later, when puberty is on the brink, and my body flourishes like a weedy garden, my best friend’s older sister informs me that shaving from the knee down will not suffice for me. We three lie in a row on her back porch, bellies down as we sunbath. I twist around, propped up on my elbows to see her scrutinizing the dense hair that coats the back of my thighs. The sunlight bounces off each hair, creating a matt of texture over the smooth brown contour of my leg. Hideous.
At some point, I must have wished for body hair. It comes in droves. I am constantly monitoring my bushy laden privates, barely hidden behind the fabric of my bikini. I shave it off whenever I can that summer. Tiny red bumps riddle my skin, itching, burning. The older sister gives me Nair. The smell is enough to singe the hair from my nostrils, but I endure the sting, the mess, and nothing; my hairy coat of armor doesn’t budge.
I blame God for doing this thing; giving me hair where normal girls don’t have any. I pluck it from beneath my belly button so that my boyfriend won’t know I’m a wooly ghoul. The roots are deep and thick and I watch as my skin is yanked up with each hair. One painful hair down, an innumerable amount to still go, for as long as I am a girl, for as long as I am supposed to be hairless.
This whole routine happens behind the veiled curtain of “woman”. We are hairless. That’s what the world portrays us as. There aren’t many Frida Kahlo's walking around to defer a second opinion to. And hairlessness is just one of the legs supporting the weight of what we should be. Maybe shaving and plucking, and resorting to waxing on occasion, is your cup of tea. But I personally find it taxing, saddled alongside the need to be thin and pretty and always smiling as the world judges your worth.
It takes consistent effort to remember how whole I once felt as a girl, wild and free, before the pressure to conform to something sideswiped me. It took years to even consider if I wanted to shave all these parts of my body.
Eventually, I stopped because, fuck you, Gillette! And because my body constantly revolted by responding with repeated ingrown hairs and razor burn. I let the hair beneath my arms grow because I knew my daughter would soon grow hair beneath hers, and the last thing I wanted is for her to begin her journey into womanhood acknowledging that she must make herself less.
I will be her Frida, even when I still feel embarrassed by my own natural, God-given, mammalian hair; I will recall the strength and the joy of being that little, shirtless girl. I will give my own girls permission to make trusted, conscious choices about their own changing bodies.
Realistically, tackling social conformities takes time. I just recently wore a bathing suit with full fledged body hair but it was with my closest friends. I can’t say I won’t ever shave again. But It’s worth it that my girls see me question and even struggle, rather than blindly shave because I’m a “woman”.