I’ve been thinking about hair lately. Body hair. My body hair.
You see, at the end of August, my friend Jackie and I are hosting a Body Positivity Party at our local mall. We’ll be putting body positive messages on post-it notes and colorful signs in the mall dressing rooms. Notes saying “Be Your Own Beauty” and “This dressing room celebrates bodies of all sizes, shapes, and curves.” A create-your-own-reality art project destined to bring together a creative and courageous group of souls.
While this may appear to be an act of generosity for others, it is ultimately a selfish act. You see, I’ve disliked my body (at least parts of my body) for much of my life. And, even more dangerous, I numbed myself to the fact that this inner behavior was happening. But…
Three things have happened and I’ve had to out myself.
- I’ve committed to stop numbing myself to avoid my own discomfort. Just this intention has helped me be more honest and vulnerable with myself and others.
- I discovered and quickly became a huge fan of the Body Trust movement. This movement has helped me realize there is indeed a new story being written that can take all of us beyond the cultural obsession with diet and weight founded on body-distrust.
- I started online dating. On these dates (and even just the ideas of these date-to-be and future partnerships) I’ve starting to awaken my sense of embodied beauty and sexuality in a way that’s been dormant for years…which has meant confronting the parts of me that are ready to be naked with others and the parts that are still terrified.
This is where the body hair comes in.
“Leah, your hair gets everywhere. How do you do that?!” This has been a common sentiment among all of my previous partners (and some housemates when we share a bathroom). All in humor. And it is true.
My hair is tricky because it is what others have found so attractive about me and what I’ve also found to be so grotesque…because I have different kinds of “hair.”
First, there is my head of hair that naturally curls after a swim in the river and becomes golden in the sunlight of summer adventure. It is so easy to love. Yet it is the same hair that grows fast, coarse and thick in the often dark places full of cracks and folds and touched only by my own or my lover’s hands.
I’m thinking about hair because I used to think I was less of a woman because of all of my hair, which I’ve never been inclined to bleach or wax away.
My sisters with PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome– a poor name for an endocrine imbalance quite common in women that may result for some in hirsutism, defined as “excessive hairiness”) know what I mean.
Many of us are blessed with the monthly chin hairs, cheek hairs, and a neck hair. (Sometimes in exploring my acts of body love I leave them, other times the tweezers do their work).
My tenderness is this.
When I am not sharing my body with others, I feel pretty solid in loving (or at least acknowledging) these formerly exiled features of my body. Yet, to imagine sharing my body with another, inviting someone else to love the hair from top to bottom shows me I still have some work to do in loving myself exactly as I am. Shame-free. And what about beyond shame-free?! An invitation to even more pleasure.
One more side-story. It is relevant and ode-worthy. I promise.
In high school, I was totally blessed with acne (another symptom of PCOS and self-hatred). Well, it really started in 4th grade, but by high school, it was most definitely classified as “severe acne” by a dermatologist I saw. Let me tell you, I was not disagreeing on this one.
One day, when I going to the bathroom during a class period, I heard two younger classmates talking at the small ceramic drinking fountain nearby. The tall lanky young man said to his friend with so much heart I nearly had a stroke, “I really think girls with acne are cute.” Cute. CUTE! It just crossed my mind that maybe he was an alien. I don’t remember seeing him after that day…but at that moment, had I not been so suppressed in my own “body-unworthiness” world, I would have given him my number (like a landline number…remember?) and said, “I love you! Let’s definitely talk!”
I have forgotten nearly all of the details of my history lessons throughout my entire time in high school, but I won’t forget that young man and this simple line.
Oh, acne. You taught (and continue to teach me) that our bodies tell a larger story of our lives and our energy. That loving myself and feeling my own worth is more important than anyone else’s definition of beauty.
Acne. You have made my spirit strong.
Growing (get it?!) my own definition of beauty
If I could hang one sign in a dressing room that could touch someone like that young man touched my tender insecurity, it would be so worth it.
At that point in my teenagehood, I had already spent two years asking the Western medical system to “fix me.” Body + trust were two words that no one (definitely not in PE curriculum or church or… at the time!) has ever told me about.
So, I’m learning to feel into my own definition of beauty. One I can age with. One that can celebrate the seasons and injuries and active adventures and rainy days my life may be blessed to hold.
But I need your help. I need other people to do this work with me. I can create my own story as I learn to love my hair blessed body and trust that someone else can come to do the same (and celebrate this about me!). Yet, let us work together to create a new cultural story about our bodies and what it means (and feels like) to find, know and live our beauty from the inside out. Self-defined.
A reminder that this prayer is for all of us.
These issues touch us all across the gender spectrum and all colors, shapes, and ages of bodies.
Wrapping this up, I am reminded of a great lyric from Michael Franti. He sings, as his bare feet jump, jump, jump around the stage,
All the freaky people make the beauty of the world.
I bow down to the liberation of our own freaky, self-defined beauty. And all I can say is, yes.
Yes, we do.